Pele - Journey Beyond the Caldera

The Unihipili

The Unihipili is a ritual that was published in the late 1800’s and read aloud to the Hawaiian Historical Society in 1892 and is listed in the References section as the “The Lesser Hawaiian Gods”. The word itself means the leg and arm bones of a person and reflects a ceremony held for family members. Originally, I was not going to include this ritual in this grimoire, as I was determined to stay away from published materials that may be seen as historical religious practices. In ritual one evening in June of 2020, Madame Pele asked me to include it.

I was hesitant, because it has nothing to do with her, specifically. She felt that the practice, as given, could hold value to those wanting to work with deceased entities of different sorts. The original rite details the binding of a deceased person. Madame Pele asked that the original be given and a more modern equivalent, using animal bones as a viable option, that a person wanting to work with deceased animal spirits, instead of binding deceased humans, could also be given something of value to start with. Please note that they use translated terms for the Keeper of the spirit. I will be using the term magician.

There are some other details that should be brought up that are not in the ritual itself. This is listed as a “familiar” spirit, whose scope is simply doing the magician’s wishes. What those wishes are or their scope is not stated. This is like not listed with limitations because it was a human spirit that was being bound, rather than an animal. It may have been assumed that the level of intelligence was at least child-like to begin with. As this was a spirit that was kept around for the lifetime of the magician, it could also be assumed that the intelligence would grow and not be limited to that originally possessed at the time of death.

Another interesting detail was that the body of the deceased “child or the near relative or intimate friend” was not to be buried immediately after death, but would be “secreted” in the living space of the magician. The body is stripped of everything down to the bones. The bones and hair are gathered together “into a bundle”. It doesn’t state that these are deposited into any sort of container or cloth item to keep them together.

Note - There was no mention of using the bodies of strangers, but this could be a cultural disconnect, as most of the Hawaiians consider each other some form of Family. It continues today, with older women calling themselves “Auntie” and older men “Uncle”, with local variations of the same principle.

There are obligations that the magician has to the spirit, some of which are in the footnotes, others in the body of the document (and ritual) itself. This magician, the keeper of the bones, is also thought of as a sort of guardian or care-giver. There is an obligation to protect the bones and hair of the unihipili and to also continue to provide it clothes, food, drink, and a place to live with the magician.

This is not simply a living magician exerting will or control over this spirit they way we think of, say, the genie in a bottle. This will likely depend on the previous relationship between the two individuals. Given what information we now have access to, the relationship will likely depend on the evoker’s will and intent, provided the ability to call forth and bind the deceased spirit is held by the magician. As this spirit is thought to reside in the living area itself and Hawaiians place emphasis on good relations with others (when it wasn’t time to try to conquer their neighbors), it makes sense that this was more of a cooperative relationship than adversarial one.

According to the text, the ritual words must be said at every meal, but the reasoning for this is in other footnotes. There is a concept that suggests the spirit may not have had much in the way of power, but through the magician worshiping the spirit, the spirit becomes powerful over time. This is similar to how some modern magicians reference egregores or servitors, with an initial creation and a charging phase, with perhaps specific skills or intents being conveyed. Here, the concept is that the spirit has already been created, will be charged over time, and will go forth to do the will of the magician.

As a final note before going into the ritual text, I wanted to bring up the multiple references in the document with regards to children being used in this practice. While the thought of this happening to a child can be disturbing to us, it must be remembered that this was pre-modern medicine and childbirth (and childhood) was much more dangerous. Child mortality was likely high, even if no official figures were likely kept (or accurate). While it is never stated as such, this may have been thought of as one way to keep the family together, in the same living space, sharing meals and items of necessity with the rest of the living family.
The translated meal invocation/prayer (with {} and () being my insertions):
“Return, O {name of deceased}.

Here is thy food.

Here is thy fish.

Here is thy clothing.

Here is thy awa (kava drink).

Here is thy malo (male loincloth).

Come and eat thy fill.

Then go again to thy play and skip around. Amen.

The tabu (taboo) is lifted and we are free.

Unto {name of deceased}, the spirit separate from the body, a spirit body”

So, where’s the ritual? The entire process is the ritual. All of these items were made or prepared by hand and iron tools were not available to Hawaiians until the first Western sailors made contact with them through ship exploration. The preparation of the body down to the bones and hair, the offering of the red and white loincloths, which were hand made from beating certain fibers until soft, then woven by hand. The offerings of the blanket (also beaten, woven fibers), the kava cup, and other daily use items that were set aside for their use. It doesn’t state whether all of these items were made from scratch as part of this ritual or whether they belonged to the deceased. When reading all of the items given prior to and stated in the prayer, you find similarities to ancestor worship and burial practices in other cultures.
The charging of the spirit through the worship at meals lasted for some period of time that isn’t stated. The example given in the text suggests that a period of months may have been needed. Nothing is mentioned about whether a recharge period was needed, nor only recharging once a day or week after the initial build-up. It was interesting that the magician had to take a piece of bone or hair and all of the daily use items, if they were to have to go away during the charging time for several days. It doesn’t state whether the magician keeps up with the prayer while traveling (and possible), but since it would be in their best interest to do so, it should be assumed they did it if possible.

And this is only the first part of the process. Once the magician feels the presence grow strong, it is time for the second phase. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, it is not possible to fulfill the second part of the process. Kilauea’s lava lake is now solidly underground.

The second phase involves splitting the remains into four parts and depositing those parts into certain geographic regions to then have them transform into an elemental spirit. Part of the hair is thrown into the lava lake at Kilauea, to be transformed into a “wind body”. Most of the bones and some of the hair is thrown into the sea, to become a shark. A “finger or fingernail” is thrown into an inland body of water (“river or pond”), to become a lizard. And the final portion is wrapped in the kapa (blanket) and deposited into a secret space in the magician’s home. Once again, the magician is said to need to recite the prayer, exactly as before. When the magician dies, this spirit is inherited by their heir. If the family dies out with no heir, the spirit is left to wander on it’s own.

It is thought that when this process is complete (and the prayers done properly), they magician (or heir) now has the power of three elements in one (or split?) spirits – the shark in the sea, the lizard on land, and the air spirit (wind body). These are loyal only to the magician and can be unleashed upon others at the will of the magician – so long as they continue to properly perform the prayers. If they do not live up to their vow (which isn’t described in the text in any form) or neglect the prayer (how many times?), the power of the spirit is brought back on the magician (and his family) seven fold. What gives pause is that the first part of the ritual is as much about honoring the spirit, maintaining its contact with the magician, it is honored at every meal, and that such care is taken to ensure it has all of the implements it needed in life, yet, in the second phase, it somehow reverts to a demonized version of the caring soul one would go to that length to honor. Together with the “Amen” when the rest of the prayer is clearly more towards an ancestor/friend honoring ritual, it smells of the influence from Christian missionaries that, while establishing a written means of the Hawaiian language (which didn’t exist prior to them), also cast the old rituals as something dark, sinister, and to be perilous to all involved.

The text goes on to describe how lesser unihipilis are made, which involve casting infants into various bodies of water, so that a more mild, but less powerful version could be obtained. There wasn’t a mention of responsibilities or of an initial charging of the spirit. The usage examples given are more about obtaining information or instruction. It is noteworthy that there may be some translation issues with these lesser unihipili. When the shark version is created, it is called a Unihipili Mano, but in the description of its use, it’s called a shark aumakua. In this context, the term was likely used in the context of a Land Spirit.

Altering the Unihipili Ritual

There are several modifications that will have to be made when using this ritual, both in its original version using human remains and in the adapted version using animal remains. We will also have to modify the entire preparation process, which is, essentially, the ritual. Another alteration will reside with making appropriate alterations to the second phase of the ritual, to capture the essence of what those places/locations/features meant, that we may adapt them to our modern dwellings and feature availability.

There are a few things that have to be assumed as I write this. I will assume the practitioner is familiar with a method of calling forth a spirit to their location. I will assume that the practitioner can sense the presence of nearby spirits or be able to use some alternative means to help ensure that this spirit is present. I will also assume that the practitioner will be able to gather their own remains, regardless of type, in a responsible and respectful manner.

Which type of remains should you use? That’s up to you. I’m not about to dig through a graveyard and disturb/desecrate a grave. I also live on Oahu, so this means I don’t have a ready supply of butcher shops available. While the invasive Western Asian Mongoose and feral(?) chickens are plentiful, I don’t have time to catch them. Thus, I will be doing the ritual using the remains of a crab (likely eaten by a mongoose) and a whole chicken from the supermarket. I don’t know that the hair/fur/feathers is/are needed, as the essence of the animal is in the DNA and will be present in their bones/cartilage. In the end, I need bones or equivalent, a minimum of four pieces.

That was the plan. After literally “coming clean” with my atheistic wife about making my grimoire for Madame Pele, her friend messaged that a bird they had been caring for had just died. Literally. The bird sanctuary was full and they had been caring for this injured egret for almost a week, by hand. Their dog would dig this bird up if they buried it and they didn’t know what to do. Understood, Madame.

After getting the bird, I, carefully, explained the purpose, but not in the dogmatic – this will hurt everyone else – sort of way we’d expect from, well hardcore anything, really. No, I lit four different kinds of incense, started a new candle, said a few kind words while passing the wrapped body over the incense. In an unexpected gesture, my son had come out to help me. Unusual, as he is young enough to not really understand what I believe (and I don’t proselytize). I had called Madame Pele and made sure she was there, as well as those others I regularly work with that had been “suggesting” I do this work.

As I brought the container towards myself, to show it to the thumbnail moon, I gave one final promise – that this bird would not be passed on. I asked it to serve only me, for the brief time I asked/compelled it to, and promised that I would not pass it on. I let the promise sink into the bones, made in front of Madame Pele and others, with the interested Land Spirits I’ve interacted with also in attendance… The remembrance done, I placed the body in a plastic container and weighed it down with Olympic weights. The ants can get in, but everything else should stay out.

I petitioned the local Land Spirits I have befriended, gave Madame Pele a drop of blood in thanks, and then had to sit and think about what others would’ve done. The truth was that I expected to scavenge the crab and buy a whole, headless chicken at the grocery store. If I was lucky, I told myself, I would luck upon a turkey.

An important point in this is that Madame Pele insisted that nothing be killed for this ritual. I asked about the abundance of examples given to “little infants” in the reference materials and she confirmed that it wasn’t her desire to have healthy, living organisms sacrificed for this ritual, whether human or otherwise. Between wars and the trials of growing up, there were more than enough “bodies and spirits” to keep any serious magician busy. I asked about the availability of these “bodies” given current medical practices/standards and she mostly shrugged. “Why kill the living when the dead are just as useful” was the response I got when asked how to bridge this gap.