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XXI

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Baetyl, the Sacred Stone 

A baetyl was a meteorite or similar-looking rough stone thought to be of divine origin and worshipped, especially in the Middle East, but not only there, were as gods.  Perhaps the most famous baetyl is the stone which was venerated as the god Elagabal in Emesa and which his Highpriest Bassianus (the later emperor Elagabalus) introduced to Rome. Below is a coin depicting the sacred stone of Sidon.

Phoenicia, Sidon, Elagabal AD 218-222
AE 30, 20.23g
obv. IMP CAESAR - M AV ANTONINVS, draped and cuirassed bust right
rev. AVR PIA - SID - COL MET, two-wheeled cult cart of Astarte, r., with roof on four columns, from which two palms emanate; on the cart the sacred stone (Baetyl) of Sidon
SNG Copenhagen 255
about VF, nice sandpatina

Baitylia, 'animated stones', are said to be invented by Uranos. This is a mythological circumscription of its celestial nature as meteorites which is confirmed by other references too: Baitylia come from the sky and move jumping through the air; they occur lonely or in swarms. Of various, sometimes changing, colour they hold in its spherical cover an extraterrestrial core. Some have magic power and the gift of prophecy, and are so the place of supranatural power; its annunciations based on the authority of mighty gods (Zeus, Kronos, Helios). In this way they are related to the many aniconic stone idols.

While the relicts of a stone cult in the whole mediterranean area are not rare, the evidence of a special worshipping of Baetyls is originated in the sphere of the Semitic ethnic: still the late time knows beside the pre-islamic cube idol of the Kaaba in Mekka  the black cube of Dusares in the Nabatean Petra and the omphalos-shaped stone of Elagabal-Ammudates in Emesa.

The rites of wrapping and clothing these cult objects constitutes the beginning of an antropomorphization, i.e. the attempt to humanize them. Mythologically this is performed in the figure of Xaabou, the virgin-mother of Dusares, but in Baitulos, the son of Kronos, too. In addition to it inscriptions from Dura-Europos and Kafr-Neb for Syria testify the worshipping of a Zeus Betulos. The relation between Baitulos, the Baitylia and the jewish-aramaic god Bethel who is named in the Old Testament is problematic. They all to trace back to the aramaic bet'el 'the house of god' goes probably too far. But it seems to be a word of mediterranean origin.

With it our view goes to Asia Minor and Crete: there is the black meteorite of Ma-Kybele from Pessinus and the stone of the cretic Rhea, who was gorged by Kronos, then spewed out, in Delphi - where it came to earth - being salved and wrapped with bandages. It is named explicitly 'baitylos'. This reminds strong of the clothed syrean Baitylos. Behind this myth stands the cult of the aniconic Zeus Kretagenes. This is approved by Lykophron when he mentioned a Zeus Diskos.

Source: Der kleine Pauly