The symbolism of stars has captivated humans for millennia, inspiring us to gaze upon the night sky and question how we are connected to this mystery surrounding us, the cosmos.
Throughout history, for some, it’s the divine, the infinite, inspiring art, literature, and design, representing a symbol of hope for humanity.
Whether you’re a stargazer, a designer, or a seeker of spiritual meaning, understanding the symbolism of stars can offer a deeper appreciation of the mystique and beauty of our universe.
Symbol of Life
Our ancestors took notice of the stars. Points of light sprinkled across the night sky beyond their reach, both physically and intellectually.
Gazing upon these familiar lights at the end of the day placed wonder in their minds and evoked a need for satisfaction from the explainable.
Many cultures revered and worshiped the stars, each passing down their unique story describing the origins of these celestial bodies of light, trying to make sense of it all.
We Come From Stars
As we know, our Sun, a star, provides warmth and energy, supporting life here on Earth. The ancient Egyptians and Aztecs, civilizations from different parts of the world, sensed this connection of life-giving properties and built their belief systems upon the foundation of the Sun as a symbol of the creator, a symbol of life.
The Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, believed the soul was connected to the stars in a way he named Musica Universalis or Music of the Spheres.
It was thought the human soul originated from the stars descending to Earth to learn important lessons while on this physical plane of existence. Each star had its unique vibration of sound only audible to the soul, creating a golden ratio resulting in universal harmony.
Science and astronomy have deciphered that the very matter within us and all other living organisms come from the remnants of giant red stars. Upon their demise, at the end of their unimaginable span of existence, these red stars release elements, the building blocks of life, scattered with a bang throughout the cosmos.
As the famed writer and poet Walt Whitman proclaimed, “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” He, too, sensed that feeling of significance so many before him felt. He was spot-on more than he ever realized. The molecules within us were forged by these red giants.
What the ancients perceived and got right was the importance of stars. We come from stars.
Symbol of the Divine
In ancient times for many cultures, the stars, Sun, and Moon were woven into the fabric of spirituality, symbolizing the divine power. Each culture and era had its own stories and beliefs with different meanings.
The Spirit World
The Maories, indigenous people of New Zealand, believed each star was the soul of one of their war heroes, and the brightness of the star related to how many enemies the hero had slain in battle.
Chaldeans who lived in the area of present-day Iraq and Syria believed the stars to be lamps managed in the sky by angels.
The ancient Greece philosopher Homer believed the stars moved across the sky in chariots of the gods.
A falling or shooting star was a reminder the gods were watching from above, presenting a good time for making a wish and asking for their help or forgiveness. It was the beginning of shooting stars becoming a symbol of good luck or fortune. Depending on the earthly followers’ actions, these spirits of the other world could give favor or do harm.
Shooting stars, although not actual stars but meteors, were also seen by the ancient Greeks and Romans as messengers sent by the gods, the foreboding of an event soon to happen, possibly bad or good.
The pentagram, a five-point star, once used by the ancient Babylonians as a charm warding off evil spirits, later became adopted by the early Christians. Many symbols over the centuries were borrowed from other groups and altered, creating their own new meanings. The occultists often did this with Judeo-Christian symbols attributing some form of magic or spiritualism. The Wiccans’ and Druids’ version of the pentagram usually appears within a circle referred to as a pentacle. It is the star symbol most often referenced in magic. Its five points represent “Spirit,” “Water,” “Fire,” “Earth,” and “Air.”
It has only been in the past few centuries that the pentacle has become associated with evil due to the adoption of the modern occult, Satanists, and most recently sensationalized by Hollywood.
There have been many variations of stars throughout history associated with all aspects of spirituality, good and evil.
Symbol of Navigation
The ancients not only looked to the stars for spiritual guidance but learned they could count on certain stars to help them navigate from one place to the next. Stars like the North and Evening Star became a traveler’s beacon guiding them to the end of their journey, by water or land.
Finding Our Way In The World
The North Star, also known as Polaris, is not the brightest in the night sky, but its importance comes from its position. It sits in the sky, steadily tracking the north pole through the night, while the Evening Star and others move across the horizon, helping sailors or travelers follow their journey’s required direction.
The brightest star appearing in the night sky is Sirius, a star of importance for many, especially the Egyptians. After the Moon, the 2nd brightest object in the night sky is the Evening Star, also known as the Morning Star. It is not actually a star but the planet Venus.
During the era of slavery in the United States, the North Star became a symbol of hope and freedom for the enslaved people as they relied on this white star to help navigate their escape through the many nights before reaching the northern states and Canada.
Stars have become symbols of leadership, guidance, protection, and trust.
Symbol of Religion
Most cultures incorporated celestial elements to symbolize or portray important events within their spectrum of faith, their religion. In all cuneiform and hieroglyphic languages, the symbol for god was a star.
Symbols of The Faithful
Let’s look at a few examples of the many symbols of stars associated with religions.
For the Christians, two stars stand out with religious significance, the Star of Bethlehem, also known as the Christmas Star, and the five-pointed star, a Pentagram, with each point of the star symbolizing one of the five crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ.
The Star of Bethlehem
The Star of Bethlehem, a guiding light that led the Magi to Jerusalem in search of the newborn baby, Jesus, the son of God, not only symbolizes the birth of Jesus Christ but both new beginnings and renewed hope.
The Pentagram, a five-pointed star, symbolizes to Christians the five wounds Jesus endured while crucified on the cross. One wound for each hand or wrist, one for each foot, and the last due to the Lance of Longinus piercing his side. The 5 points of the star represent a total of five wounds.
Judaism’s most prominent symbols of stars are Solomon’s Seal and the Star of David. Both are related in designed and inspired by earlier cultures of the middle east.
The Seal of Solomon
The Seal of Solomon is depicted as either a six-pointed star (hexagram) or a five-pointed star pentagram. The signet ring belonging to the Israelite King Solomon has meaning in Judaism, Islam, and Western occultism. It symbolizes power and magic as it allowed Solomon to speak with animals and command the supernatural. It was the precursor design to the Star of David.
The Star of David
The Star of David, an important symbol of the Jewish faith, is a six-pointed star shaped from two equilateral triangles, one triangle placed over an upside-down triangle, also known as a hexagram. The ancient Muslims and Kabbalistic Jews created its design. It was later adopted by the Jewish people in the 17th century representing the shield of the Israel King David, symbolizing strength and protection. It now adorns the flag of Israel.
Hinduism has many symbols of stars. Let’s look at one of the most well known which is an eight pointed star.
The Star of Lakshmi
The Star of Lakshmi comes from the Hindu religion symbolizing the goddess of Lakshmi. It is a symbol of prosperity, both material and spiritual.
Symbol of Inspiration
Stars have inspired the creative side of human history since our ancestors first used a piece of burnt wood on a cave wall, drawing scenes they had lived and witnessed. Writers, poets, painters, and in more recent history, photographers have all tried to capture the splendor and mystery evoked by the stars.
Creations of Art
Vincent van Gogh, a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter during the late 19th century, was inspired by the twilight view from his bedroom window while receiving care at a mental asylum in France. The result was the infamous “Starry Night” painting.
Classical writers such as Shakespeare or the 19th Century’s Henry W. Longfellow borrowed stars for their metaphors and similes, connecting their poetry and writings with familiar skyscapes and symbolic meanings for their readers.
“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”
Love and Romance
A starry sky has a way of setting the mood for romance, as depicted in this Van Gogh painting of a couple enjoying the stars and city lights while strolling along the river Rhone (‘Starry Night over the Rhone.‘) Stars symbolize love and romance as people yearn to find and share that special connection with someone.
Symbol of Destiny
Astrology has mostly remained the same today since the Babylonians first brought it to the Ancient Greeks. The twelve zodiac signs are based on the positions and motions of stars and other celestial bodies in the heavens. Some believe these otherworldly movements guide, shape, and influence our present and future.
“Written in the Stars”
The common phrase “It’s written in the stars” was born from the thought our fate is predetermined and can be foretold by reading charts associated with astrology, something our will alone cannot change.
Writers like Shakespeare have used similar thoughts and descriptions, such as “star-crossed lovers,” meaning the universe has a different path set for them, a different destiny other than the one they desire.
A symbolic star born in modern times is a birthday star. Once astronomy had deciphered the speed of light and the amount of time it takes to reach Earth, a meaningful connection was made as one’s life journey intersects the light of a star. A birthday star is a star whose light has taken as many years to reach Earth as the number of years in your life. Stars symbolize destiny.
Symbol of Achievement
Distance in space is hard to comprehend. Stars can appear much closer than they actually are. In reality, the light from the nearest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, takes 4.2 years to reach our eyes. Stars have always seemed unobtainable. If we could only get there, it must be heavenly. Hence the term “Reach for the stars!”
“Reach for the Stars”
Gold stars symbolize achievement, excellence, and sacrifice awarded for reaching the highest and most difficult positions and accomplishments. People may be described in their industry as “They are a star” at the pinnacle of their industry. Cultures award gold stars in academics, the military, and even showbiz success will warrant a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The Five Most Common Star Shapes
Their Symbolic Meanings
The four-pointed star usually refers to the Christian ‘Star of Christmas’ or the cross of the crucifix. It symbolizes new beginnings, peace and hope.
The five-pointed star, known as a pentagram, has a rich history with several meanings depending on the culture.
- In paganism, it represents Earth, wind, fire, water, and spirit.
- In Christianity, it is known to symbolize the five holy wounds Jesus acquired during the crucifixion.
- It’s a symbol of the Five Pillars of Islam and, in other cultures, a symbol of achievement, power, success, and fame.
The six-pointed star, a hexagram, is most recognizable as the Star of David but there are many other cultures who have used the hexagram design such as the Buddhists Star of Peace. In the 1970’s the Star of Life became a universal symbol of “medical Emergency Services”.
The eight-pointed star, an octagram, is tied to the Greek and Roman Goddess Venus. In the Hindu culture, this star symbolizes the eight types of wealth: nourishment, health, mobility, patience, knowledge, prosperity, riches, and victory. To the Chinese, it represents life, from birth to death. For the Native Americans it symbolizes hope, protection and guidance.
The nine-pointed star, to the Ba’hai faith, is a symbol of unity and perfection. It also represents the Fruits of the Spirit in the Bible: joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, and faithfulness.
Symbols are powerful instruments delivering a message or meaning in both conscious and subconscious ways. The next time you look at a flag, the emblem of an organization, a currency, or a company’s logo, take notice of the objects within the design. The symbols have a message and history, created in much the same way as the symbolism of stars.