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
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
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.
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
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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