Culture and religion

Aquarell vom Barringer-Krater

Watercolor of the Barringer-crater in Arizona, findplace of the Willamete

Willamete Meteorit

The Willamete meteorite (to the left) in the main hall of the Rose center for Earth and Space in the New York American Museum of Natural History is demanded back by Indian tribes as a tribe sanctuary.

Since prehistoric times meteorites were considered by numberless cultures and peoples as the essence of the holy. Their heavenly origin as well as their unpredictable emerging with light appearances, sound and smoke were always impressive enough to drive the "shower of the holy" through each one witnessing such an event and freeze the the watcher in fear
and respect. Naturally the remnants of such a spectacle, the actual meteorites, became holy stones, power and cult objects, which often were granted a reliclike worship .

Thus the North American tribes of the Kiowa regarded the almost 15 tons big Willamette meteorite as their central sanctuary. Before each hunting, the men immersed their spear- and arrow tips into the water that gathered in the large moulds of the iron meteorite, to make them accurate and fast like a meteorite. Other North American tribes worshipped the fragments of the Canyon Diabolo meteorite, also a powerful iron meteorite (total weight over 30 tons), which about 50.000 years ago stroke the world-famous meteor-crater in Arizona. Already in precolumbian time, a lively trade with these holy irons existed, as new archaeological findings in North America and Mexico testify.

Comparable cults are found in many primitive nations and are as well found at the Inuit in Greenland as well as in some tribes in Tibet, Mongolia and Australia. But also advanced cultures of the old and new world worshipped meteorites as heavenly messengers and used knives and tools out of meteoritical iron for special cultic purposes. Such knives and daggers were found in Egyptian king graves, in the holy sites of Mesopotamia or in the graves of the South American Inkas.
In Bali and in many parts of Indonesia nowadays magic Kris (ritual daggers) out of meteor iron are still proudly passed along from one generation to the other.







Hadschar al Aswad

The "Hadschar al Aswad" in the Kaaba in Mecca.

With these manifold examples, it isn't amazing, that also in the Greek-Roman history again and again one steps on meteorites-cults. According to the religious historian Mircea Eliade, both the Palladion of Troja, the Arthemis of Ephesus as well as the cone of the Elagabal in Emesa are of meteoric origin. A further example is the meteorite of Pessinunt in Phrygia, which was worshipped as "needle of the Kybele" and after the Punic war by an advice of the oracle of Delphi was brought in a powerful procession to Rome, where the meteorite for further 500 years was worshipped as a fertility giving sanctuary.


Even in the monotheistic religions of judäo-christian tradition traces of the old meteorite cults can be found. In hebrew language, the stones fallen from the sky are called Bethel (hebr. "House of God"). In the old testament it is reported, how Jakob, the tribe father of the Israelites, had his vision of the sky ladder, when he had fallen asleep in the desert with his head placed on such a Bethel-stone. According to the story after this he erected a temple around the stone, of which today unfortunately no more traces can be found.


The most wellknown - and probably most talked about- example of meteorite worship in newer time is in the Islamic tradition. In spite of the banning of any making a picture of God and the ban of worship and adoration of any objects, in the central sanctuary of all Muslimes, the Kaaba in Mecca,there is a black stone, which each Mecca-pilgrim kisses after his tour around the sanctuary. This stone, by the Muslims called "Hadschar al Aswad" (black stone) or according to the Prophet "Yamin Allah" (the right hand of God), is supposedly a Bethel-stone from the times of Abraham and is taken by numerous modern scientists for a meteorite. Many muslim scholars however deny this in order to put out of question each suspicion of a possible idol worship in Islam. Unfortunately by this religious reservedness until today it is not clarified unambiguously whether the Hadschar is now of cosmic origin or not.


Not only the example of the Hadschar al Aswad gives evidence of the conflict between modern science and traditional religion. The Vatican, which on one hand has difficulties to move away from a geocentric world view and until today has not rehabilitated a Giordano Bruno, possesses on the other side one of the largest and bestguarded meteorite collections of the world. The American Museum for Natural History is refusing steadfastly the demand of the Kiowa to give back the Willamette meteorite -after all it is one of the central display pieces in this modern temple of the science. And in India meteoritologists again and again have problems when a new meteorite fall in their country is observed: usually their hindu countrymen erected already a shrine around the holy stone before the scientists are on the spot at all. Perhaps a little understanding on both sides would be quite helpful...