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Although the word wormwood appears several times in the Old Testament, translated from the Hebrew term לענה (la'anah), its only clear reference as a named entity occurs in the New Testament, in the book of Revelation: "The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter." (Revelation 8:10–11, New Revised Standard Version).
Certain commentators have held that this "great star" represents one of several important figures in political or ecclesiastical history, while other Bible dictionaries and commentaries view the term as a reference to a celestial being. A Dictionary of The Holy Bible states, "the star called Wormwood seems to denote a mighty prince, or power of the air, the instrument, in its fall."
Various religious groups and figures, including Seventh-day Adventists and the theologians Matthew Henry and John Gill, regard the verses of Revelation 8 as symbolic references to past events in human history. In the case of Wormwood, some historist interpreters believe that this figure represents the army of the Huns as led by king Attila, pointing to chronological consistencies between the timeline of prophecy they have accepted and the history of the Huns' campaign in Europe. Others point to Arius, the emperor Constantine, Origen or the ascetic monk Pelagius, who denied the doctrine of Original sin.
Various scientific scenarios have been theorized on the effects of an asteroid or comet's collision with Earth. An applicable scenario theorizes a chemical change in the atmosphere due to "heat shock" during entry and/or impact of a large asteroid or comet, reacting oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere to produce nitric-acid rain. Acid rain from the heat shock of a large comet or asteroid's impact with Earth is believed by some to fit the Biblical description of the bitterness produced by the Wormwood Star upon a third of the Earth's potable water.
Gerardus D. Bouw, Ph. D. in his white paper "Wormwood" theorizes that since the term wormwood refers to a bitter or poisonous plant, specifically "apsinthos, that is, absinthe wormwood" in Revelations 8:11 and that a star falling would likely be a asteroid or comet ... the most reasonable scenario being a comet, since they could have a chemical makeup that would make the waters bitter and poisonous and would have to break up by some means, "in order to fall on deep sources of water and rivers, the object cannot be in one piece when it arrives in the atmosphere."
A number of Bible scholars consider the term Wormwood to be a purely symbolic representation of the bitterness that will fill the earth during troubled times, noting that the plant for which Wormwood is named, Artemisia absinthium, or Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, is a known Biblical metaphor for things that are unpalatably bitter. One interesting theory is that nuclear weaponry could be called wormwood. For example: Ukrainian synonymy 'wormwood'. They do poison the water where they are detonated, thus explaining the correlation. Some even point to the Chernobyl disaster as a possible fulfillment of this prophecy, as the name Chernobyl is said to translate to "wormwood."
The character Lebedyev in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot interprets the "Star of Wormwood" as the network of railways spread across Europe. In the Christ Clone Trilogy by James BeauSeigneur, Wormwood is an asteroid.
In the Stephen King short story Home Delivery, an alien object enters Earth's orbit and causes the dead to rise as zombies and attack the living; the hellish object, a meteor-sized ball made up of many writhing worms, is referred to as "Star Wormwood." Also, in "The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger," Sylvia Pittson, the preacher-woman in the town of Tull, makes reference to the "Star Wormword" while she speaks of Satan during a Sabbath. In another Stephen king book, Under the Dome, Star Wormwood is mentioned several times by Chef Bushey. Star Wormwood is also mentioned by Mother Carmody in King's short story "The Mist" and its film adaptation. Similarly, in his early novel Carrie, the title character recalls her religiously fanatical mother citing the name. Finally, in King's novel Cell (2006), a woman mentions star Wormwood when comparing the previous events in Boston to the Book of Revelation, shortly after Clay, Tom, and Alice leave the city.
In The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, a meteor called Wormwood is heading for our planet. In the Shadowmancer series of books by G.P. Taylor, Wormwood is a comet headed straight for London which will destroy Earth.
In "Invasion of the Bane", an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Sarah Jane Smith speaks of the star called Wormwood falling to Earth and poisoning the water. The enemy in this episode was an alien called Mrs. Wormwood. In the manga series Angel Sanctuary, the Egg of Wormwood is kept hidden in Hades, and used to summon a meteor that will wipe out one third of earth's population, the devils and those who have blasphemed against God.
In the Rifts role-playing game, Wormwood is an alternate dimension, specifically a living planet which is the only accessible location within the dimension. In Vampire the Masquerade, Wormwood is the vampires' name for the star Nemesis as it appears in the sky, growing brighter and larger, in the events leading up to the possible end of the world in the year 2000.
In the 6th season of the Dexter television series, Wormwood represents the penultimate tableau of the Doomsday Killers plan to end the world.