From prehistoric times stones have played an important role, and on a worldwide basis, in religion and magic. Stones symbolize power and duration, and have served many purposes as instruments. However, they were usually venerated as symbols of, or as dwelling places of, divinity rather than as objects of worship in themselves. Stones were set up as funeral monuments to give peace and protection to the soul or spirit of the dead. In the case of violent death, the monument was often erected on the spot where the victim was killed. This monument, the dwelling place of the dead, could either help the living or prevent the spirit of the dead from harming him.
In many cultures, certain stones, according to their form, were venerated as symbols of the male generative power and of female fecundity. Meteorites, as "stones fallen from heaven," were especially important in this respect, as manifestations of divinity, bringers of rain, and efficacious sources of fertility for the women who touched them.
Naturally stones were most appropriate for altars, and either as altars or as sacred objects were usually associated with sacred trees and springs in holy places. The notion that a certain stone deserved special veneration as the omphalos, or navel of the universe, is common not only among the early Greeks but among other peoples as well.
Bibliography: j. goetz, Religionswissenschaftlichens Wörterbuch, ed. f. kÖnig (Freiburg 1956) 835–836. k. galling, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 6:348–350. e. s. hartland et al., j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics, 13 v. (Edinburgh 1908–27) 11:864–877. m. eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. r. sheed (New York 1958) 216–238, an excellent treatment with copious bibliog.
[m. r. p. mcguire]