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Baetyls: Gift from the Gods or Nature?

Updated on January 19, 2018
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He wrote for IHPVA magazines and raced these vehicles with his father (who builds them).

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A Likely Event from Ancient TImes

On a starry night eons ago, something streaked across the sky before smashing into a distant land. It emitted a thunderous sonic boom and blinding flash that could be heard and seen for miles around.

The event shook building throughout the ancient world (considering that such things could be witnessed by many up to a thousand miles away). The people that saw it shuddered in fear, believing that some judgement from their gods had been issued with a fiery retort. But, soon after, the brilliant flash subsides and all appeared to return to normal. Now, fear among the people turned to curiosity. Was this a warning from the gods...or a gift?

Eventually people ventured to the crater and saw the fragments of the meteorites strewn along the valley floor, some dropped to their knees and started to pray. For them, they had come realize that the baetyls (the sacred stones) before them was a divine gift, after all.

These cosmic rocks had been known by many names and were worshiped in numerous ancient cultures

The scenario presented may sound far-fetched. How it is that one comes to worship space debris? Is it possible that religion as it was known in ancient times (as well as in modern times, too) was due in part to meteorites? As outlandish as it may seem, the evidence suggest it is true.

These cosmic rocks had been known by many names and were worshiped in numerous ancient cultures. Their impacts on these societies were very significant, including the Ancient Greeks who held the Omphalos of Delphi -- a suspected baetyl -- as one of the highest symbol of divinity. Also, it’s possible these venerated stones have helped to create modern religions.

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The Stones of Religion

Baetyls go by many names. The Phoenicians knew them as Beth-el or Baitylos. Judeo-Christian societies knew them as Bethel. The definition has also differed to some degree. While some cultures viewed them as venerated stones, others believed they were the "house of god" (Lendering, 2015). The Nabataens of the city of Petra (in modern-day Syria) knew them a "standing gods". Standing gods were the stones that were meant to represent a deity's presence or residence within a house (amnh.org, 2009).

Even the Bible has numerous references to Baetyls. Psalm 28:1 and Genesis 28:11-19 are examples. Psalm mentions the town of Bethel - which is a reference to God being likened to a rock. Another example is the numerous references of prophets of Israel and Judah in conflict with worshipers over these particular stones.

The Greeks infused the stones into their mythology and daily religious rituals. One baetyl in particular, the Omphalos of Delphi, was held in the highest esteem. It was often meant to represent the patriarch god, Zeus.

"Omphalos museum" by Юкатан - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Omphalos_museum.jpg#/media/File:Omphalos_museum.jpg
"Omphalos museum" by Юкатан - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Omphalos_museum.jpg#/media/File:Omphalos_museum.jpg

Omphalos and the Greeks

The story behind the stone's importance is confusing, considering that there are three stories about its origin. In fact, many ancient Greeks were not sure where it came from or which cult it inspired. One account mentions that it was part of the sanctuary of Apollo and may have represented a god with an “oriental” background (Lendering, 2015).

Another account cites that the stone was a ruse to deceive Cronus, the father of Zeus. According to myth, Cronus was paranoid and weary of his children. He attempted to swallow them. However, the infant Zeus was spared this fate when Uranus and Gaea substituted the Omphalos for him.

The third account states that the Omphalos was a representation of Zeus' experiment with eagles. He released two eagles at the edges of Earth. The birds met above Delphi. A monument was erected to celebrate the outcome of this "mytho-scientific" experiment: it was called the "omphalos" (navel) (Lendering, 2015). It was the purpose of the venerated stone to represent that important occasion of a god who supposedly discovered the roundness of the Earth.

Despite the three origins, the stone was carefully preserved in Delphi. Its existence was symbolically important for the Greeks. As a result, the priests in the sacred city anointed it with oil every day and decorated it with raw wool during festivities

Baetyls, however, are not merely a thing of the past. To this day, one particular baetyl is still worshiped by a modern religion.

Other Baetyls from Outer Space

The likelihood is that the Omphalos was a meteorite. Also, it wasn’t the only one of its kind to be found in region. The Romans had one. So did the Phrygian (pre-Roman tribe).

Baetyls, however, are not merely a thing of the past. To this day, one particular baetyl is still worshiped by a modern religion. The best known modern baetyl is the Black Stone in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This rock -- which is shrouded -- is considered so holy that Muslims from around the world will make a pilgrimage (the Hajj) to see it.

It is believed that the black rock was "sent by heaven" to be a guide for Adam and Eve to build an alter. Also, Islamic tradition states that Mohammad had preserved it intact within the walls of a structure commonly known as the Kaaba (Wikipedia, 2016)

The Black Stone is believed to be a meteorite, too. Like the Greeks, the baetyl in this religion has a sacred purpose that will last as a miracle of god, despite its origins in space.

Meteorites or not, baetyls have been idolized by true believer from nearly every religion from Europe through the Middle East. Whether they are an act of nature or a gift from God (or Gods), that's up to the true believers to decide.

"Baetylus (sacred stone)" by Saperaud. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baetylus_(sacred_stone).jpg#/media/File:Baetylus_(sacred_stone).jpg
"Baetylus (sacred stone)" by Saperaud. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baetylus_(sacred_stone).jpg#/media/File:Baetylus_(sacred_stone).jpg

© 2016 Dean Traylor

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