Meteorite Legends

People all over the world have different beliefs about meteors and meteorites. One thing they have in common though is a belief that meteors are extraordinary. The following legends and stories have been excerpted from Cosmic Debris: Meteorites in History by John G. Burke (University of California Press, 1986). I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of meteorites.

Meteors as Omens

  • In Switzerland, a meteor was considered to possess the power of God.
  • Swabians believed that a shooting star presaged a year of good fortune, but if one saw three in one night, then he was doomed to die.
  • In Chile, one must pick up a stone when sees a meteor.
  • In the Philippines, one must tie a knot in a handkerchief before the light is extinguished.
  • Modern Hawaiian Japanese are reported to believe that if a meteor comes in your direction, you must open the collars of your kimono to admit the good luck.
  • In Baltic countries and central Europe, people believed that everyone had a personal star which fell upon his or her death. This led some to say such things as 'rest in peace' or 'may God guide you to a good path' upon seeing a meteor.
  • Pointing to a meteor or talking of a meteor was considered bad luck by some in America.
  • Among those who believed meteors signaled ill-omen, saying certain words could avert the bad luck--for example, 'amen,' 'God guide it,' or 'go away, go away, all by yourself.'
  • Perhaps the most famous omen was that divined form the Ensisheim stony meteorite which fell in Alsace (now in France) in 1492. The Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian assembled his council to help determine the meaning of the fall. The council determined that it as a good omen in his wars with France and the Turks.

    Worship and Veneration of Meteorites

  • The ancient Greeks held meteorites as objects of veneration. A stone held a place of honor at Apollo's temple at Delphi--one of the most important sites of Greek religion. "The myth surrounding its location at Delphi was that Saturn (Cronos) had devoured four sons that Cybele (Rhea) had borne him, but when Zeus was born she gave him a stone in lieu of Zeus, which he proceeded to swallow. After Saturn's dethronement, he disgorged the stone, and either he or Zeus threw it from heaven to a place that was considered the center of the Earth. Later, the site became Apollo's temple, but the stone or omphalos remained." (from Burke at pp 219-220).
  • A keeper of a "conical black stone" in Roman times was named Emperor in 218 AD. As Emperor Elagabalus, he insisted that the stone be an object of public worship. Perhaps it is indicative of ill omen, that he soon murdered.
  • Many other Greek and Roman temples enshrined rocks that had reportedly fallen from heaven.
  • The wall of the Ka'ba, the holiest shrine of Islam at Mecca contains a black stone that has been reported to be of meteoritic origin. The stone which measures 16 by 20 cm and is held together by a silver band. Legend has it that the angel Gabriel gave the stone to the patriarch Abraham who built it into his house. The stone passed to the prophet Mohammed who built it into the wall of the Ka'ba. The black stone is not an object of worship, but is a venerated relict. Students of the matter now believe that the black stone is not meteoric, but may be impact glass, perhaps from the meteor crater at Wabar, about 100 km from Mecca.
  • Meteorites have been found at Indian graves in the United States--including at the Hopewell Mounds--in situations suggesting that they were worshipped.
  • Many other instances of meteorite worship have been noted from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

    Ceremonial Uses of Meteorites

    Meteorites have been used by pre-industrial peoples to create tools and objects of decoration and worship. Among these are beads, plaques, knives, daggers, amulets, mace heads, ax heads, buttons, and other ornaments.

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