Meteorites in History and Folklore

Information about meteorites in folklore and antiquity is hard to come by. There are scattered anecdotes from various sources, but nothing definitive on the subject has ever been written. In the course of my extensive readings over the years, I have gathered together many of these anecdotes and quotes below. 

Profusely quoted from :

John G. Burke's "Cosmic Debris - Meteorites in History"

Meteoritical Society, Meteoritical Bulletin Database

The Catalog of Meteorites by Grady.

Other sources as noted.

The Hopewell Indians, like many other native American tribes, venerated meteorites as messengers or gifts from the gods. Several Hopewell burial mounds in Southern Ohio and Central Illinois contained items made from or inlaid with meteorite. One mound, located in Little Miami Valley Ohio, contained a piece of pallasite. This pallasite was analyzed and was found to be a part of the Brenham meteorite. The Brenham site in Kiowa Kansas is 1000 miles from the site of the Hopewell burial mound. This shows that the American Indians of that time placed great value on meteorites and they recognized them as something special and celestial.

The Clackamas indian tribe (in the northwest area of Oregon) venerated the Williamette iron meteorite. They called it "Tomanowos", which means "Visitor from the Moon". Before major battles, the warriors would wash their faces and dip their arrows in the rainwater that collected in the hollows of the meteorite!

The Wanika tribe of Kenya venerated a meteorite which fell in 1853. They built a temple for the stone which weighed 577-grams. The Wanika annoited the meteorite, clothed it and placed pearls on it. They steadfastly refused to sell the stone to missionaries, nor would they let outsiders see it. A few years later, a raid by rival Masai tribesmen destroyed Wankia villages and laid waste to their livestock and fields. The Wanikas then lost all respect for the stone, which had obviously failed to protect them, and sold it to German missionaries.

In 1925, an H6 chondrite called Queens Mercy fell near Matatiele in Cape Province South Africa. The fall occurred at night and was heralded by a series of bright lights and thundering detonations. The local natives were greatly frightened and ran away into the bush. In the morning, they returned to find the largest stone "smoking hot" laying on the ground. The tribe medicine man declared that unless someone bravely touched the stone, a cattle plague would ensue. He also declared that whoever touched the stone would die. The only volunteer was an old woman who said she did not have long left to live anyway, and when she touched it, her hand was burned. (she did not die)

The medicine man then said that whoever wore the stone as a talisman would enjoy good luck. Upon hearing this, the tribe broke up the stone on the spot and distributed the pieces amongst themselves.

(luckily, two other stones were also recovered from this fall and did not suffer the same fate)

More Shooting Star Lore :

Some scholars speculate, based on common legends between various cultures around the globe, that the old practice of "wishing upon a shooting star" originates from a time when people believed that the gods would occasionally open the dome of heaven to peek in on what the mortals were doing on Earth. This opening of the dome released a star, and if one made a wish while there was still light, and before the dome slammed shut, the gods might hear and grant the wish. 

In Switzerland, it was though that shooting stars possessed the power of God and could ward off pestilence.

The Swabians believed a shooting star foretold a year of good luck.

In Chile, a shooting star is also an omen of good luck, but one must quickly pick up a stone to guarantee the luck.

In the Philipines, one must tie a knot in a handkerchief before the light is extinguished to capture the good luck of a shooting star.

Some people of Hawaiian or Japanese descent believe if you see a shooting star coming in your direction, you must open the collars/breast of your kimono to admit the good luck.

Also in Swabia, a person seeing 3 shooting stars in one night was doomed to die.

In Lithuanian folklore, it's believed that a spinner spins a thread for each new life and attaches it to a star. At the moment of a person's death, the thread breaks and the star falls to Earth.

The Seneca indians believed that pointing to a shooting star would reveal one's location to the star, with ill effect.

Some Hispanic cultures believe that one must utter "God guide it" upon seeing a shooting star to avoid bad luck.

The Baronga culture would spit on the ground upon seeing a shooting star and cry out "go away, go away, all by yourself" to avoid bad luck.

In some parts of the Catholic deep south US, it is believed that shooting stars are souls leaving purgatory for heaven.

In Catholic Germany, it was believed that a shooting star was a suffering soul seeking prayers from those who observed it. If one recited "rest in peace" three times before the light extinguished, then the soul would be delivered from purgatory.

In some Phillipine cultures, it is believed that shooting stars are the souls of drunkards which return to Earth at night to sing "do not drink, do not drink". Each day they attempt to climb back up to heaven, but fall down each time.

Some Muslims believe shooting stars are fireballs thrown down on devils by vengeful angels.

Some old Russian cultures believe shooting stars are demons who were transformed and chased out of heaven.

In Austria, upon seeing a shooting star near one's house, the children were brought inside and sprinkled with holy water.

It was thought in some Germanic cultures, that shooting stars were fire-breathing dragons, if you insulted or cursed one of them, they would rain stinking cheese and rubbish down upon Earth. Some believed in influencing the dragon with an offering, whereupon the passing dragon would leave a gift of ham or bacon. The fire dragon also carried money which it would sometimes drop, making people rich.

In Polish folklore, it's thought that a falling star would drop one of three things - a treasure, a gelatinous mass, or cow dung.