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The famous Omphalos considered to be the center of the Universe for ancient Greeks, Delphi, Greece.

The Sacred Omphalos Stone, Navel of the World and Communicator of the Gods

An omphalos is a powerful symbolic artifact made from stone. Considered the ‘navel of the world’, the central point from which terrestrial life originated, an omphalos was an object of Hellenic religious symbolism believed to allow direct communication with the gods.

In Greek mythology, it is said that the titan Cronos devoured his children as soon as they were born, due to his mother’s prophecy that he would be overthrown by his own children. Although Cronos managed to devour his first five children, his wife, Rhea, sought Gaia’s help to devise a plan to save the sixth child, Zeus. As a result, Zeus was hidden in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete and escaped being eaten by his father. In the meantime, Rhea wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes and gave it to her husband, who promptly swallowed it, thinking that it was his son. When Zeus had grown up, he forced his father to disgorge the contents of his stomach using an emetic. The stone came out first, followed by Zeus’ siblings. When the help of his brothers and sisters, Zeus defeated the Titans and became the new king of the gods. The story of the stone, however, does not end there.

Cronos devours one of his sons by Peter Paul Rubens, c 1638

Cronos devours one of his sons by Peter Paul Rubens, c 1638 ( Wikimedia Commons )

In another Greek myth, Zeus is said to have released two eagles at opposite ends of the world, and commanded them to fly across the earth to meet at its centre. It was at Delphi that the two eagles finally met, and Zeus placed the stone under the glens of Mount Parnassus as a sign to humanity. As this stone is placed at the center of the earth, it was called the omphalos stone, the meaning of omphalos being ‘navel’. A later legend states that the god Apollo slayed the great serpent Python so that he could establish his oracular temple at Delphi, and that the omphalos marked the exact spot where he slayed Python. This myth may sometimes be found on ancient coins which depict an omphalos stone with a serpent wound around it.

Navel of the world at the Temple of Apollo, Delphi, Greece.

Navel of the world at the Temple of Apollo, Delphi, Greece. Credit: Anze Bizjan / BigStockPhoto

Although the omphalos stone at Delphi is the most famous of its kind, it is by far not the only one. Another omphalos associated with both Apollo and divination is the omphalos found at Kerameikos, northwest of Athens’ acropolis. In 2012, archaeologists were cleaning the stone when they discovered that it was actually a fancy lid covering a well. The stone was mounted on a slab of marble, so archaeologsits moved it. They discovered that the well’s walls were covered in 20 repetitions of the same ancient Greek inscription: “ΕΛΘΕ ΜΟΙ Ω ΠΑΙΑΝ ΦΕΡΩΝ ΤΟ ΜΑΝΤEΙΟΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΣ” (“Come to me, O Paean, and bring with you the true oracle”). Paean here refers to Apollo. In 2016 it was reported that the well was likely used in hydromancy (divination with water).

Omphalos stones have also been found at sites such as Thebes and Karnak in Egypt and in buildings of the Vinca culture in Southeastern Europe. Yet, these stones probably functioned differently from the Delphic omphalos stone. For instance, many buildings of the Vinca culture contained an omphalos stone, indicating that they may have held some ritual significance to the people of that ancient culture.  

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Another type of omphalos stone is the baetyl, which were sacred stones found in various places in the ancient Levant. Rather than marking the center of the earth, baetyls were more closely associated with the divine. It is unclear, however, whether the baetyls were themselves objects of worship or aniconic symbols of divine presence. The word baetyl may have originated in the Punic ‘betel’ or Semitic ‘bethel’, both meaning ‘house of god’. According to some ancient authors, these baetyls were believed to be meteorites. One of the most well-known baetyls in the ancient world was the baetyl of Emesa. During the reign of the notorious Elagabalus, the baetyl of Emesa, which was a black stone sacred to the god Elah-Gabal, was brought to Rome and installed as the head of the Roman pantheon. Prior to becoming emperor, Elagabalus was a priest of Elah-Gabal, hence his decision to elevate the status of the god he served. On coins, the stone is shown to be smooth, and an eagle is sometimes shown in front of or on top of the stone. Coins from Ealagabalus’ reign also show the baetyl in ceremonial procession, perhaps depicting the sacred stone’s entry into Rome.

This niche in the vicinity of the Urn tomb contains a row of four baetyls ("god blocks") for worship, Petra, Jordan

This niche in the vicinity of the Urn tomb contains a row of four baetyls ("god blocks") for worship, Petra, Jordan ( Wikimedia Commons )

Although not marked by an omphalos stone, there are several other places on earth that are claimed to be the center of the world. These include the Incan capital of Cuzco in modern day Peru, the Sumerian city of Eridu in modern day Iraq, and Allahabad in India (believed to be the creation point of the universe). By inhabiting the central area of the world, a people may obtain a heightened sense of importance. If so, then it is no wonder that so many places in the ancient world have been claimed to be the center of the world. This desire to be at the center of the world is perhaps still with us today, though the earth’s center is seen not so much in physical terms, but in political, economic and cultural terms.

Featured image: The famous Omphalos considered to be the center of the Universe for ancient Greeks, Delphi, Greece. Credit: efesenko / BigStockPhoto

References

Lendering, J., 2013. Baetyl. [Online]
Available at: http://www.livius.org/ba-bd/baetyl/baetyl.html

sacredsites.com, 2014. Delphi. [Online]
Available at: http://sacredsites.com/europe/greece/delphi.html

www.ancient-wisdom.co.uk, 2015. Earth Navels: (Navel's of the earth, Omphalos). [Online]
Available at: http://www.ancient-wisdom.co.uk/earthnavels.htm

www.forumancientcoins.com, 2014. Ancient Coins Showing Sacred Stones. [Online]
Available at: http://www.forumancientcoins.com/moonmoth/baetyl_coins.html

By Ḏḥwty

Comments

Peter Harrap's picture

The Omphalos stone is a Lingam. The Hindu gods symbols and weapons very closely mirror our own Greek versions of them and their names have just been changed. Welsh is directly related to Sanscrit. It goes on, but I am not going to here.

Agreed that the omphalos is a lingam, or rather that they are both phallic stones. Phallus worship and sun worship seem to be the dominant cults of the ancient (and present?) world.

I do not assume that India is the origin of these phenomena, though. It's just that ancient forms of worship have persisted in India more obviously than anywhere else.

I suspect the synarchy currently dominating the world is a sun/phallus cult at its core.

Anyone notice how the stone closely resembles the nose cone of a modern rocket?

We get reference from Puranas regarding a stone carried by Shri Krishna from Lord Indra which was meant to facilitate communication between humans and heavenly Gods. The stone fell during the journey from heaven to earth and got fixed at the particular location.

Worshipping Sun God Bal of Ancient Ba(u)lgarians and worshipping Phaloss as a symbol of Bal God are all the same worshipping. Not only phaloss / omphaos / lingam worshipped Ancient Bulgarians as a symbol of God light creating the man, but also they worshipped the female symbol of Mother womb symbolized by the many caves wombs in Bulgaria. Ancient Bulgarians first human beings on earth were very aware of the genesis of human being on earth and venerating phalos and womb is part of this creation story. Not only stones, but also gold jewellry in the form of phaloss was part of this worshipping dating more than 10000 years in Bulgaria. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=741847742601518&set=pb.10000...

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