Monday, September 28, 2009

Those Famous Shooting Stars

The other night while I was walking along the river, I looked up into the Eastern night sky and witnessed a shooting star going across the horizon. Living down here on the river with no street lights or city lights, I get a great view of the night sky. This time of the year I see a lot of shooting stars on many of my nightly walks. So I thought I would write a blog about the folklore of these awe inspiring flash of lights in the night sky.

Of course, we know that the term shooting star or falling star really isn't a star at all. It's a small piece of interplanetary debris that falls towards the earth. A meteor is the debris that we see burning up as it enters the earth's atmosphere. The debris that doesn't totally burn up but gets through the atmosphere and lands on earth is called a meteorite. Our ancient ancestors didn't have the science to explain these phenomenons, so they came up with their own myths and folklores.
Many meteorites that fell to earth contained rron and that's where some of our ancient ancestors got their iron to smelt for their weapons, armor and trinkets.

Many ancient cultures thought that their gods that controlled the lightning and thunder also controlled the meteorites. They thought that when they saw the meteors shooting across the night sky, the gods were at war and the meteorites were pieces of their hammers, sheilds or other tools of weaponary that they were using in their heavenly war that would hit the earth.

The ancient Egyptians called these meteorites the "stones from heaven." The Sumerian word for iron meant sky and fire. One of the first cultures to use weapons that were smelted from the heavenly sent iron and called the metal fire from heaven were the Hitties. The Assyrians called it fragment from heaven.

Most of the time when we see the meteors hit our atmosphere, we see the long tail behind it. In Meditteranean cultures and the Chinese they were dragons or messengers sent from heaven. In Siberia, the sky was a dome of sewn hides which the gods would peek through, exposing the radiance beyond. Some ancients thought that the meteorites were gifts that were cast down from Angels while others thought the gods were displaying their anger towards us.

In many legends of Asia, meteors were fire serpents that crossed the sky. Sometimes these serpents brought problems and sometimes they brought treasures and riches.

Many of the Native American tribes had their own folklore and myths about these lights across the sky. Many thought meteors were fragments of the moon so therefore called them children of the moon.
The Blackfeet of Montana believed a meteor was a sure sign that sickness would come to the tribe in the coming winter or that a great chief had died.

The Cahuilla thought that they were the spirit of their first shaman, Takwich, who was disliked by his own people. Takwich was doomed to wander the night skies looking for people far from their tribe. When someone was found, he then stole their spirit and sometimes, even the person, took them back to his home and ate them.

The Shawnee believed that the meteors were beings "fleeing from the wraith of some adversary, or from some anticipated danger."

Many meteorites have been found in many Native American graves in the United States, especially at the Hopwell Mounds.
Many Greek and Roman temples actually enshrined rocks that, according to myth, had fallen from the heaven. Emperor Elagabalus was a keeper of a black stone that was thought to come from the heavens in Rome 218 AD. he insisted that the stone should be an object of public worship.

In the UK, it was customary to say that a child had been born each time a meteor was seen, but in other parts of the UK, it was believed it was because someone had died. That's the folklore that was believed and shared to me by my grandparents.

Also it was believed that a dragon was born. Again, in other parts of the ancient world, it was the opposite, a dragon had died.

In Switzerland, a meteor was considered to possess the power of God. Chile, one must pick up a stone when seeing a meteor streak across the sky.The Phillipines, one must tie a knot in a handkerchief before the light goes out.

Even though we have the scientific explanations of these wonderous light shows in the night sky, they still spark a sense of awe just as they did many years ago with our ancient ancestors.

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