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The many meanings of Stars

Since the dawn of man, humans have looked up to the sky and given meaning to the bright lights known as stars. This is a practice that has continued into the modern-day. Even as scientists discover more and more knowledge about what stars really are, humans still give stars many meanings.

Throughout history, humans tried to use the stars to answer many of life’s hardest questions, including “how did we get here?” and “where did we come from?” To this day, many people still look up to the sky and see links between the stars and our common human origins.

This article breaks down the many meanings of stars, both historical and modern. This includes practical historical meanings like stars being seen as calendars and waypoints for navigation and stars being linked to mythology, religion, and more.

This article dives into how stars were named in history and in the modern era, as well as the many different methods for naming stars even today. In addition, where these names come from, and the differences between star designations and names will be discussed. 

Historical meanings

Many people forget that before the advent of electricity, our ancestors could see many more stars than we can today. In addition, up until recently, humans had no idea what stars were. So, many ancient cultures came up with their own interpretations of what the stars in the night sky meant. Some cultures gave the stars more practical meanings, seeing them as calendars or tools for navigation. Other historical cultures gave stars more symbolic meanings as links to their heritage and religion.

Stars for navigation

Many ancient seafaring cultures believed that the stars had meaning as tools for navigation. Starting in the thousands BCE, ancient cultures in Asia, the Mediterranean, and Indo-Pacific regions realized that they could use the stars in the night sky to navigate around the world successfully. 

This is a process known as celestial navigation. These seafaring cultures were able to make charts that tracked the movements of stars. Then, they would use certain prominent stars to track their heading. As time progressed, more and more civilizations came up with special tools to measure the stars and track them for navigational purposes. This practice reached its zenith during the “Age of Exploration,” when European sailors landed in North and South America.

Telling time/ceremonies

Before clocks were invented, many ancient cultures used stars as effective calendars. Because stars move in predictable patterns, ancient peoples could track them and use the stars to tell time.

One tangible example of this is Stonehenge. Some scientists believe that the people who built Stonehenge put the stones in a very specific order. On the summer solstice and winter equinox, the sun cast its light into the middle of the monument. Scientists believe that this told the ancient people of England when they should begin important ceremonies or traditions.

There is also archaeological evidence that the Chumash Native American peoples of California carved glyphs of stars on trees that aided them in telling when certain months or days passed.

Links to Mythology

One of the most popular meanings given to stars by ancient cultures was that stars represented figures from that culture’s mythology. According to the ancient Greeks, the stars were put in the sky by the gods to serve as reminders of proper behavior by depicting figures from mythology.

For the Greeks and Romans, constellations could spell out entire mythical stories. They named constellations such as “Orion” after mythical figures from their ancestry. The Orion constellation is never seen at the same time as the Scorpius constellation because, in Greco/Roman mythology, Scorpius killed Orion.

The Greeks believed that constellations that they believed looked like animals, such as Cancer, Taurus, and Leo, all represented the beasts that Heracles had to defeat in Greek mythology.

Nighsky over snowy mountains

Links to Religion

One of the most popular meanings given to stars by ancient peoples linked stars with religion. Many ancient peoples looked up at the stars and believed that they were evidence of their creator and deities. Many cultures engaged in this practice, but two of the most popular examples are the Hindu religion of India and the Christian religion in the Middle East.

In ancient Hindu culture, constellations and stars were often seen as signs from the gods that certain events would play out. The presence of a constellation could spell fortune or misfortune for farmers, artisans, and more, depending on the circumstances. 

In the Hindu religion, there are also deities that are directly related to the stars. These celestial gods are often depicted as mischievous beings who can negatively affect people’s lives. In addition, followers of Hinduism believe that one of their gods rides a chariot across the starry sky each night to herald the morning.

In Christianity, stars are featured prominently in the Bible. The Christian Bible serves as the chief religious text for Christianity. In it, a large star illuminates the path for travelers to the birth of the baby Jesus, the son of God who Christians believe came to wipe away the earthly sins of humans. In addition, Christians have long associated stars with angels and other divine beings.

Modern meanings of Stars

Even though humans now know that stars are merely giant flaming balls of nuclear fission, we still tend to put meanings on stars. Today, the two most popular meanings for stars are zodiac signs and excellence.

Excellence

Many rating systems around the world are based on a system of stars. Movies, restaurants, books, and nearly all forms of entertainment use stars to rate how good they are. If someone is labeled as a “star,” that means they have achieved a degree of excellence.

Famous athletes, musicians, and actors are all colloquially referred to as “superstars” by adoring fans. Many people often say phrases like “reach for the stars” and “the sky’s the limit,” all of which imbue stars with a meaning of excellence.

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Zodiac signs

Many young people are obsessed with “zodiac signs.” Depending on when a person is born, they are given a special sign that supposedly determines many aspects of their personality. These signs are often used as a source of identity and confirmation of why certain people like certain things. Zodiac signs in use today include “pisces,” “taurus,” and “sagittarius.”

These “signs” are actually all originally constellations that were first recorded and named as far back as ancient Babylon. Ancient cultures noticed that there were twelve animal-like constellations, all in a belt. This is known as the zodiac belt.

To this day, many people look up at the zodiac constellations and believe that they dictate how humans born in certain months will act and behave.

Stars as a symbol of Love

For the biggest and most important symbol of the stars, we have dedicated its own article, which you can find here.

Conclusion

All in all, stars have had very many meanings throughout history. Today, stars are usually associated with either excellence or zodiac signs. Our modern society sees stars as a symbol of excellence and an explanation of why certain people act a certain way. 

Historically, stars were given a number of meanings. People believed that stars were linked to everything from mythology to religion. In addition, ancient peoples used the stars for more practical purposes like celestial navigation and telling time.

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