Victoria NeuroNotes

Into the Gray

The Meteor Storm That Spawned Mass Hysteria and Religious Revivals In America


Meteor_falling_courtesy_NASAYesterday, I was sweating it out.  The city I live in was hit with strong thunderstorms, and baseball sized hail. The main reason I was sweating it out was because the night sky might not be conducive to seeing the Camelopardalid meteor shower due to cloud cover.  But I was pleasantly surprised when the sky cleared around sunset.  Between 10 and 11 PM, I drank two large glasses of caffeinated iced tea, Southern style.  I was prepared to pull an all-nighter and psyched to watch the meteor shower.  My area had a good chance of seeing natures fireworks in full display.  It was predicted that we could see between 200 and 300 meteors per hour.  I was sorely disappointed.  As my eyes scanned the night sky in anticipation, I was reminded of the November 1833 Leonid meteor storm.

In 1866, Giovanni Schiaparelli,  an Italian astronomer and science historian, reportedly became the first person to link a specific meteor shower with a specific comet. Schiaparelli demonstrated that each November Earth travels through the dust trail left by Comet Tempel-Tuttle (55P / Tempel-Tuttle), a comet that orbits the Sun once every 33.17 years. The dust and debris that its nucleus leaves behind becomes the Leonid meteor shower.  Source

Victorian astronomy writer Agnes Clerke’s wrote:

“On the night of November 12-13, 1833, a tempest of falling stars broke over the earth…. the sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs. At Boston, the frequency of meteors was estimated to be about half that of flakes of snow in an average snowstorm. Their numbers … were quite beyond counting; but as it waned, a reckoning was attempted, from which it was computed, on the basis of that much-diminished rate, that 240,000 must have been visible during the nine hours they continued to fall.”

Can you imagine how spectacular that must have been?  From one vantage point, approximately 26 thousand meteors fell per hour. Some estimates by observers were in excess of 200,000 per hour.  At the time this event occurred, the world was largely ignorant of the cause of meteor showers and storms.  However, some records indicate that the storm could have been anticipated; even predicted by astronomers of that era.  It certainly would have helped in curtailing fear, religious superstition and mass hysteria.

Illinois Genealogy History Group writes:

“The meteor storm made a deep and terrifying impression on the American people. According to newspaper reports almost everyone saw it, awakened either by the commotion in the streets or by the moving glare of fireballs shining into bedroom windows.

In 1878 the historian R. M. Devens listed it as one of the 100 most memorable events in U.S. history. “During the three hours of its continuance,” he wrote, “the day of judgment was believed to be only waiting for sunrise, and, long after the shower had ceased, the morbid and superstitious still were impressed with the idea that the final day was at least only a week ahead.

Impromptu meetings for prayer were held in many places, and many other scenes of religious devotion, or terror, or abandonment of worldly affairs, transpired, under the influence of fear occasioned by so sudden and awful a display.”


Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons: A famous depiction of the November 1833 meteor storm, produced in 1889 for the Seventh-day Adventist book Bible Readings for the Home Circle.

Yale professor Denison Olmsted, who also witnessed the event, wrote:

“Imagine a constant succession of fireballs, resembling rockets, radiating in all directions from a point in the heavens,”

Because so many Americans were indoctrinated by Christianity and the bible, they believed the end was near — that the judgement day was close at hand.  It struck fear in the masses and spiked church attendance and spawned religious revivals throughout America.

Sky and Telescope Magazine:

“The 1833 shower has been credited with contributing to the intense religious revivals that swept the United States in the 1830s, which permanently influenced the national character and spread new sects and denominations that are well established on the American scene today.”



According to the reports, most Americans were awaken by bright lights from the meteor storms and the commotion, especially fear, among vast populations in the U.S.  The event left a lasting impression on most of the country.  The most famous image of the event, as seen above, was drawn more than 50 years later for the 7th Day Adventist — religious primer illustrating biblical prophecies fulfilled (Sky &Telescope: September 1987).

The founder and first leader of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, noted in his journal:  “This event was a literal fulfillment of the word of God and a sure sign that the coming of Christ is close at hand.”  (The Joseph Smith Papers Journals Volume 1: 1832–1839)

Illinois Genealogy History Group writes:

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

“It’s no stretch to believe that this meteor storm figured in the intense religious fervor of the age.  Abraham W. Carlock, another eyewitness from McLean County, told Duis that “this phenomenon alarmed the superstitious, as such things always do, and many people thought the millennium was surely at hand.” Many believed the stars were literally falling from the sky, and afterward the event became known as  —   “The Night the Stars Fell.”



The 7th Day Adventists is one of the fastest growing protestant denominations in the world, with approximately 17 million members and 25 million attending church weekly.  The denomination is endorsed by two American presidents.  Their prophet, Ellen White (now deceased), claimed that prophetic signs would appear before Christ’s Second Coming (based on biblical scripture) and were actually literal events that occurred in 1833.  She wrote:

“In 1833, two years after Miller began to present in public the evidences of Christ’s soon coming, the last of the signs appeared which were promised by the Saviour as tokens of His second advent. Said Jesus: “The stars shall fall from heaven.” Matthew 24:29. And John in the Revelation declared, as he beheld in vision the scenes that should herald the day of God: “The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.” Revelation 6:13.

This prophecy received a striking and impressive fulfillment in the great meteoric shower of November 13, 1833. That was the most extensive and wonderful display of falling stars which has ever been recorded; “the whole firmament, over all the United States, being then, for hours, in fiery commotion!  No celestial phenomenon has ever occurred in this country, since its first settlement, which was viewed with such intense admiration by one class in the community, or with so much dread and alarm by another.  Its sublimity and awful beauty still linger in many minds…. Never did rain fall much thicker than the meteors fell toward the earth; east, west, north, and south, it was the same. In a word, the whole heavens seemed in motion…”

There were Leonid showers long before 1833, and since then, such as the great meteor storm in 1966 and 2001.  The first verifiable mention of the Leonid Meteor Shower was November of 902 CE.  NASA estimates that the comet  Tempel-Tuttle crossed inside Earth’s orbit for the first time in 866 CE.




Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty.

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

~ Bertrand Russell


Next post — Four Neuroscience Techniques to Overcome Fear.   These techniques are used in Navy Seals Training.


Author: NeuroNotes

Victoria predominately blogs about religion, and the brain's role in religious type experiences.

66 thoughts on “The Meteor Storm That Spawned Mass Hysteria and Religious Revivals In America

  1. I’ve been out of town all week and missed blogging . Great post ! I wonder if Harold Camping was watching the meteor shower last night. 🙂


  2. A dash of ignorance and a squeeze of fresh imagination =


  3. I was outside last night looking as well. All I saw was a handful of stars and maybe a planet.


  4. Great story. Looking at religion today, I can see nothing much has changed!


  5. My incredibly intellectual comment this is that these people are seriously loopy. Ie if Christ didn’t come yet again, and the world didn’t go pop, wouldn’t you question your asinine beliefs? Rather than waiting for the next prophesied non-event?

    On a secular note it looks mighty pretty.

    And a question, did they happen elsewhere in the world at the same time, and if so, did the meteor showers lead to renewed religious fervour there too?


  6. Interesting post! I love the Bertrand Russell Quote 🙂


  7. It’s a shame we don’t appear to have moved on much in terms of religious ‘signs’, with a considerable loony religion proportion of society seeing floods and bad weather as judgement from the god God. And of course, the meteor shower in 2014 still gets similar reactions …:


  8. Great post, V! It would be so cool to be able to travel back in time and see events like this, and then travel into the future to see how things have changed. I do think, as a species, that we are not as superstitious. We’re definitely evolving, albeit slowly.


    • Hey Debbie, thank you. It would indeed be cool. I personally think we are evolving too slowly for our own good and I am not alone in this line of thinking. From the series “This Is Your Brain On Culture”.

      It’s like a self-fulling prophesy, and so many are trying to expedite it. I hope he’s wrong, but living where I live, and seeing the fundamental craziness going on in Congress and the SCOTUS can make me feel quite pessimistic at times.


      • “It’s like a self-fulling prophesy, and so many are trying to expedite it.”

        Boy is that ever true! As in, we need to make a war in the Middle East, preferably in Palestine/Israel somewhere so the god, Jesus, can come back. Or, the State of Israel needs to exist because that’s in the prophesy of the end times. And, sure enough, the unelected government, the State Department career professionals, the military are all deeply infiltrated by linked groups of end times fundies. It’s enough to ask how the weather is in other parts of the planet! The real American Dream will be destroyed by religion. Not outsiders, not plagues or natural disasters, but by the incredible stupidity of the religious addicts. What Communism couldn’t do, the Bible will.


        • Spot on. And right now the SCOTUS is deciding whether evangelical and Catholic corporations are people of faith. If the government loses the lawsuits, which is the consensus among experts, kiss America goodbye. We will indeed be one nation under the Christian Abrahamic god.


  9. Bertrand Russell sure knew what he was talking about Victoria. Great quote and post hon. Now we’re just waiting for the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’. LOL!


    • LOL — yeah, I even hear rumor that the U.S. Government is preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse. 😉 And I agree, Russel was spot on.

      Thank you for stopping by, Sonel. I’ve got to get over there to your neck of the woods and see your latest post and pics. xo


      • Well, I guess by the time that does happen, they will have the antidotes. LOL!

        You’re very welcome hon. Take your time. I am so behind in all my posts that I decided to stop stressing about it and just take things as they come.

        Now I am going to bed. You must enjoy the rest of your day. 😀 ♥ Big Hugs ♥


        • Thanks again, Sonel. You’re my kind of blogger friend. No pressure. We do, after all, have lives outside of the blogging world. 😀

          Sweet dreams and I hope you rest well.

          *A big hug back and a butterfly kiss*



          • You’re very welcome hon and believe me, I do understand. So really no hurry and I appreciate even ‘likes’ as well. I agree – we all do.

            Thanks sweetness and for the lovely hug and kiss and I wish for you the same. 😀

            ♥ Big Hugs and Lots of Love ♥ xxx


            • Sonel, I’m in your blog now, and you turned off your comments, you turkey. 😛

              LOVED those pictures. Very cool bird feeder, too. I’ve seen them made with peanut butter and seeds, but the toilet paper roll with the branches through them is pure genus. I will make one myself and position it so the squirrels can get to it. Oh, which reminds me — I think I remember seeing a squirrel pic in my reader from one of your more recent posts this past week? I may have to share a video with you, depending on the theme of your post and if you have your comments open. heheh *looks all innocent*


              • Not at my latest post, you’re not turkey! LOL! I still receive comments on it then. hahahahah

                Glad you enjoyed them. We had lots of fun making them. I place some in the trees by the porch and we think it’s Bush Babies that live in the roof that finished them. We can hear them at night but I wasn’t lucky enough yet to get photo’s of them. 😀

                No squirrel pics from me. We have them here but closer to the mountain. I am not that lucky yet! 😆

                The comments on my posts normally close after 7 days otherwise I get confused if people comment on posts of months or weeks back because I don’t have it on moderation anymore. Now only 2 or 3 of my latest posts will still have the comments open. 😀


  10. with many passages in the bible being metaphorical or allegory, one would hope the god believers would consider the second coming of Jeebus a metaphor and continue with their lives.
    On a more serious note, what is it with the religious that any spectacular event can’t be admired just as it is without invoking phantoms?


    • With over 41,000 Christian denominations, it seems none of them have been able to come together in agreement what what is metaphorical or allegory. I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

      “On a more serious note, what is it with the religious that any spectacular event can’t be admired just as it is without invoking phantoms?”

      So true. I’ve said it many times before, but for the sake of this post and your comment, I’ll say it again. I believe it is primarily due to the fact that fear-based religions tend to cause increased gray matter volume in the right amygdala (negative emotions, fear, anxiety). The evidence is not only visible in fMRI scans, but in their actions, and we’ve seen this behavior all throughout history.


      • If we were to have a single rep from each faction and asked them to vote, would that help them get a solution?


        • I don’t know Noel. The whole foundational structure is dysfunctional, which is one of the reasons why organized religion, especially authoritarian religions like Christianity, are rarely in one accord. You can’t have a hero figure, like Jesus, who goes around telling people to love and forgive one another; then comes back in the end and commits mass genocide on those who didn’t worship and submit to his daddy, and not expect dysfunction from ‘his’ believers.


          • They have been dysfunctional from the word go. I mean if a person believes daddy had no issue with mass murder, how would his minions find anything wrong with it and especially since god’s will and their will always seem alike.


          • As we have seen on Matt’s blog as well as some of the others, the NT was written over the course of over 200 years, then finally re-edited and codified under the direction of the Roman Emperor who needed a “new” religion to help in his control of his empire. That means that the airy-fairy love everybody, turn the other cheek, god is love stuff needed to be stiffened up to better serve a major world empire. Can’t have that stuff pushing the military, now can we? Elaine Pagels, in her books on Gnosticism, quotes extensively from the Church leaders showing how Christianity had already, by the Second Century (the 100’s) become dogmatic and exclusionary. Even before they had the civil power to do so these leaders had developed the “burn the heretics” mentality that carried them into the Renaissance and beyond. So, even from about 100 years after Jesus’ reputed life, Christianity had developed the split personality that it still had today. The same religion can on one hand spout God is Love and on the other produce the ghastly Left Behind novels. So the dysfunction is nothing new, and I didn’t even get into the problem that the earliest Christians firmly believed that the world was going to end in their lifetimes which is where the emphasis on chastity, abandoning family duties for god-following, and stuff comes from. All of this is not new, just has better media presence now. And, of course, because it really never had a founding religion, America is rife with oddball sects. How fun.


            • Fun indeed, and thanks so much for sharing that information. The religious hierarchy, who are clearly addicted to power, will continue to try and keep people ignorant of their history, and the fact that the 1st five books of the bible have been proven to be fictions. That brings into question the divinity of Jesus and the apostleship of Paul who mentioned Abraham and Moses. Ooopsie.

              Keep ’em illiterate to keep ’em loyal. $$$


  11. Very nice opportunity to post this one Victoria. We have spoken about this at length in private, as is the case with so many of the other topics you post, that I always find myself wondering about what else I can add that has not already been said.

    I tend to see events such as this as a classical symptom of the ‘god of the gaps’ mentality. It seems to link to the psychology of fear, doesn’t it? People so often tend to fear, what they do not understand. Filling the gaps of what they do not understand with ‘God’ can be a comforting, and good enough, explanation for many.

    Using God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. It is a curious thing. The frontiers of knowledge will always push further and further back, pushing ‘God’ back with them. Which is why I am such a big believer in free information.. the more knowledge we accumulate the more gaps we will fill out, and some may conclude this means this God-gap mentality then will be in continually retreat. Others might, at least, take the step to find their God in what we know.. not what we don’t know.


    • Thanks Morti — I’ve had this in draft for quite a while. I produced a short info video about this back in 2011, and have been wanting to do a post for a while. I hope to do a follow-up post with more data. I was stunned when I learned how much this event affected the national character of America which has played a huge role in the spread of Christian fundamentalism, a cancer to our country and the world at large. I laughed when I went to retrieve the video because it showed 666 views. Just think about how many fundamentalist Christians who saw that number would freak out. LOL

      Great to see you pop in. *huge hug* 🙂


    • “The frontiers of knowledge will always push further and further back, pushing ‘God’ back with them. Which is why I am such a big believer in free information.. the more knowledge we accumulate the more gaps we will fill out, and some may conclude this means this God-gap mentality then will be in continually retreat. Others might, at least, take the step to find their God in what we know.. not what we don’t know.”

      Very well said.


  12. Brandon: Of course it isn’t God’s judgement.
    SOM: It’s atheist propaganda trying to undermine western Christian values. Besides, if it were God he would only send meteors to fall on atheists.
    Dr Zakir Naik: I call for an immediate ban on the movie, Gravity as it shows the Earth to be spherical, which is against the Quran and thus insulting to Muslims.
    Brandon: Now don’t be silly, SOM, God is too busy fretting about all the football stars praying to him. Sorry…I mean Him.
    Dr Zakir Naik: Is anyone listening to me?
    SOM: He should drop meteors on heathen basketball players. I hate basketball. Basket case, more like. A sport invented by atheists to undermine western Christian values.
    Dr Zakir Naik: Hello, I know I can hear me speaking?
    Brandon: I like gravity. Since I don’t look at por…the P word anymore it keeps my thingy pointing down.
    SOM: Gravity is a movie by atheists to undermine Western Christian values. It’s pornographic….
    Dr. Zakir Naik: Thank you!
    SOM: …just like the Koran.
    Brandon: I’m confused.
    Dr. Zakir Naik. Me too.
    SOM: Confusion is an atheist plot to undermine Western Christian values.


  13. You know, I’m not sure there wouldn’t be a large amount of people reacting similarly if that happened today. I have friends that clutter my feed with praises for a God they are sure brought the rain. Surely a sky full of meteors would be a sign from the heavens as well. For all the advances we’ve made, we haven’t come very far.

    Great post, my friend. I’m looking forward to the next! Great teaser


    • Madalyn, I concur — and especially in the U.S. — the fear capital of the world. Western Christianity has perfected the technique that creates increased gray matter volume in the right amygdala (fear) and the more it’s reinforced the greater chance of these neural pathways creating networks making synaptic pruning very difficult. The more they network, the less likely the signals will make it to the frontal lobes for critical assessment.

      I’m so glad you stopped by, and thank you. 🙂


  14. I have noticed that I read each of your posts differently, depending on its content. Sometimes I linger over every sentence feeling my reaction, exploring my associations. Sometimes (like this time) I race through it trying to soak up all the information as quickly as possibly. What an amazing piece of information – I have never heard of it before, but really it is facinating.
    It gave me a thought: pagan religions are about praying for natural events (rain, sun etc) Have to admit that it kind of makes sense to me that when you wish for something you cannot create yourself, you ask for it. Christianity on the other hand twisted this by making external/naturalal events signs that are there to be interpreted (you can go and pray, but really it is all predestined etc). And that is the key to instilling fear: you are no longer asking for what you want, you fear what might happen…….
    You really do always make me think 🙂 thank you!


    • “Christianity on the other hand twisted this by making external/naturalal events signs that are there to be interpreted (you can go and pray, but really it is all predestined etc). And that is the key to instilling fear”

      Spot on, AC. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my posts and your thought provoking comments. It’s great to have you back. You were missed. 🙂


      • I am so sorry I “drop of the world wide web” once in a while but I guess one also has to visit the planet 😉 Always, ALWAYS enjoy reading your posts – they touch me!


  15. This post reminds me of when there was a church somewhere complaining that the Ebola scare was the beginning of a plague sent by God to punish us for something or other, probably gay marriage. It’s sad to see this kind of stuff spawning religious fervor. To use the God virus as an analogy, it’s like it’s a giant mutation and outbreak rolled into one.

    And it’s left a permanent mark, Victoria. There’s got to be something better than, “Oh well, it’s their beliefs.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said, SB. It certainly has left a permanent mark on humanity, and the repercussions seem unending. Your comment reminded me of a study I read recently showing that magical thinking increases in war-torn countries. It seems we can see the evidence of this when you consider that the most peaceful countries tend to be secular.

      In all honesty, I’m surprised our species has survived this long.

      Liked by 1 person

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