Humanity’s fascination with the stars above us is perhaps the longest-gripping one we have ever had in our existence. The night sky‘s sparkling drape has protected our ancestors from the dark and given hope during humanity’s most turbulent historical periods.
Art, religion, science, spirituality, and every aspect of our existence on this little blue planet are tightly intertwined with the stars. The oldest depictions of stars are on the walls of caves dating 15,000 years ago. What this tells us is that the moment people learned skills, the first thing they did was carve the night sky on the walls for future generations to see.
There are vast differences and similarities regarding the stars symbolism and meaning in ancient civilizations and cultures that many consider them sacred even today.
The stars symbolize: Polaris and navigation, humanity, lunar calendars, spirituality, religion, hope, art, love, and life.
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Stars Symbolism and Meaning
The most common meanings stars held and still hold today for humanity are related to navigation, humanity, spirituality, religion, hope, art, love, and life. The stars have helped humans make the first maps and calendars, and many of humanity’s achievements are deeply tied to the stars.
The Stars and Humanity
Symbolism and appointing symbols to things is an inherently human thing that holds incredible power. Symbols unite individuals in a group that shares the same beliefs and wears the appointed symbols to identify each other. The star may be the most prevalent symbol in various cultures and religions.
Below I will go into more detail about the different meanings and symbolism of the stars.
Polaris, or the North Star, was believed to be the brightest star in the sky and a beacon of hope for explorers and travelers. While it is not the brightest star in existence, we cannot fault our ancestors for believing so with limited scientific knowledge.
The North Star, after all, from our planet shines the brightest. In the past, for travelers on land and sea, the sight of clear skies with bright Polaris meant finding their way home.
Metaphorically Polaris is often considered a lighthouse leading people to fulfill their dreams.
You may have come across a post online saying that we are made of stardust, which sounds deeply romantic. But did you know that there is also scientific backing behind the saying?
Humans are made from the same elements that stars are made of, but also supernovas. The heavier elements we contain, like copper and zinc, are believed to be flung into space during the Big Bang. So, you are as old as the universe, made into a person from pieces and bits of cosmic and stardust.
The connection between the stars and us is not even a modern belief. Pythagoras’ 5-pointed star, or the pentagram, symbolized humanity. Each point of the star represents earth, wind, fire, water, and spirit.
Our ancestors used the stars to create the first lunar calendars. Among the oldest discovered relics depicting astronomical phenomena is the Nebra sky disc, which dates back to the Early Bronze Age Unetice culture. The disc is believed to be a part of the lunar calendar.
Turkey has a pillar dating back to 1,100 BCE etched with images of a bear, scorpion, and a bird, representing the Virgo, Scorpio, and Pisces constellations. The ancient Mayan and Egyptian calendars were made relying on the stars.
Many cultures across human history have and still do attribute spiritual symbolism to stars. For example, many Native American tribes sent out members to take meaning and guidance from the stars on a spiritual journey.
In some ancient civilizations, the stars were worshiped as deities, such as the Sun being seen as God in Egypt. In Hinduism, they are also seen as divine beings that provide protection and guidance to people.
The most widespread spiritual meaning attributed to the stars is in astrology. Each of the 12 astrological signs correlates with a constellation.
The stars have been used as symbols since the earliest religions, with their roots in Paganism. In Abrahamic religions, more notably according to Judeo-Cristian beliefs, the stars represent the angels in heaven.
For Christians, the five points represent the five wounds of Christ and the virtues of a medieval night. For Muslims, the five points represent the five principles of Islam. The Star of David represents divine protection for those of the Jewish faith.
For many, the starry sky represents hope. Falling stars are seen as a sign of the good fortune that a person may receive should they see one. You have also likely made a wish upon a falling star.
While making a wish upon a falling star may seem childish most people cannot resist and make one. This is fuelled by the hope that the universe hears our desires and dreams and helps us achieve them.
The stars have always moved the creatives. That is why we have so many art pieces and poems about the stars, each an intimate showcase of the artist’s relationship with the stars. Art pieces particularly show how every human sees the stars in their own way.
Let’s take Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Starlight Night. In these two paintings, the representation of the starry sky is strikingly different. Whereas Van Gogh’s piece shows the fluidity and disorder of the stars, O’Keeffe paints the stars to represent the human need to impose pattern and order on everything we see.
The poet’s fascination with the stars has led to the creation of some of the biggest contributions to the literary world. There are countless poems written about the stars, such as Rainer Maria Rilke’s Falling Stars and James Joyce’s When The Shy Star Goes Forth In Heaven.
Stars, for centuries, have symbolized love. Shakespeare himself coined the term “star-crossed lovers” as a symbol of two people in love being torn apart due to circumstances outside of their control.
On the other hand, the term “written in the stars” describes two people we believe are fated to be together, whose love is so big that the universe has brought them together. Either way, the stars symbolize the great love that can be shared between two people.
There is no life without stars, and the biggest testament to that is the closest star to us, the Sun. The warmth and light from the Sun have made life on Earth possible. Should it go out, so will we. Our existence is dependent on the warmth it provides us.
The warmth from the Sun provides us with vitamin D, which is essential for building bones and teeth and helps our body absorb calcium. Without the stars in the sky, the universe is just an empty and cold vacuum.
The interpretation of the star’s symbolism and meaning can differ based on cultural, religious, and historical differences. However, there are still some ways in which the meanings are similar, and stars are often seen as a beacon of hope by most.
This fascination with the stars has been prevalent throughout human history. The moment humans could draw, they drew the stars. The moment they invented words, they dedicated songs to the stars, and how could they not? After all, we are made of stardust.