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In common parlance, petrifaction means turning into stone, or to be paralyzed with fear, it can be contrasted with Pygmalionism, the process of inorganic objects coming alive.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In geology, petrifaction or petrification is the process by which organic material is converted into stone or a similar substance. It is approximately synonymous with fossilization. Petrified wood is the most well known result of this process.


Petrifaction is also a common theme in folklore and mythology, and is associated with the legends of Medusa the Gorgon, the basilisk, and the cockatrice, among others. In fairy tales, characters who fail in a quest may be turned to stone until they are rescued by the successful hero, as in The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body or The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird.

In Cornish folklore, petrifaction stories are used to explain the origin of prehistoric megalithic monuments such as stone circles and monoliths. For example, the name of the Merry Maidens stone circle, and the nearby Pipers monoliths, comes from an associated myth about a party of young women who danced on poles through Saturday evening and into Sunday morning. For their sins the nineteen maidens were turned to stone, as were the two pipers accompanying them. Several other Cornish stone circles have similar themes in their names ( The Nine Maidens of Boskednan, the Tregeseal Dancing Stones), and there are variations such as The Hurlers on Bodmin Moor - turned to stone for playing the Cornish game of hurling on a Sunday. Several isolated standing stones have names associating them with pipers or fiddlers.

Petrifaction is a major plot element in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In this, however, they are not actually turned to stone; they are just put into a cold, lifeless, paralysed, dead-like state.

In various role-playing games, petrification is a state characters can enter as a result of magical spells or artifacts. In this state characters are unable to perform any physical action, and may be unable to perform mental actions as well. They may be dead. They usually must be recovered (if at all) by some magical means, such as a "stone to flesh" spell in Dungeons & Dragons or a "soft" potion in Final Fantasy games (which is sometimes known as a Golden Needle).

Figuratively, the word can also refer to a state of paralysis resulting from fear.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Petrifaction" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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