Heaven Above

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C'mon, Satan, God's this way.

"In your religion and all the religions, as far as I know (and I know everything), the sky is made the symbol of everything that is sacred and merciful."
Professor Lucifer, The Ball and the Cross

The sky is equated with things pertaining to the divine.

Whether it be the Lord, the gods, fate, or the afterlife, nearly any supernatural concept can be brought to mind by mentioning "the heavens," holding one's hands together and looking upwards, or showing clouds flying across a starry sky.

There isn't one single origin of this trope, since the sky's association with the unknowable or transcendent comes from humanity's natural awe of the stars and ignorance of what they truly are. So if you want to indicate something beautiful, distant, and far greater than man, the sky is nigh-universally the best symbol to use.

Related to Light Is Good, since the sky and the light-bearing suns often go hand-in-hand when depicting God. This trope's relationship with the sun can often lend it to be used similarly to Rays from Heaven, Cue the Sun, and Watching the Sunset. This trope will often be used to show a Rage Against the Heavens by having a character rant at the clouds as if God was hiding behind them.

This trope is why the name for an afterlife of eternal joy is called Heaven (hence the redundant article name) and Heaven's most popular sub-trope is Fluffy Cloud Heaven, where Heaven looks just like the heavens. Other sub-tropes include Divine Birds, Stars Are Souls, and other tropes connecting the skyward with the sacred.

This association is also why Winged Soul Flies Off at Death, why people only Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, and why those mad at their fate will generally give a Skyward Scream rather than a Horizon-Oriented Yelp.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • The realm of the death gods from Death Note is separated from the human world by a hole, which they can jump into to "drop" into our world. From our perspective, it looks like these monsters materialize in the middle of the sky and fall down. Like angels, these death gods come with wings which both make descent easier and also hint that they come from above.
  • In Dragon Ball, Kami's Lookout ("Kami" meaning god) is located in the upper levels of Earth's atmosphere. The Guardian of the Earth can look down and monitor the state of the Earth below checking for trouble. In times of peril it can also be used as a refuge for the major characters.
  • The doorway to God/The Truth in Fullmetal Alchemist apparently lies above the Earth, right in front of either the Moon or the Sun. It's hard to say which, since the door is opened during an eclipse which allows the villain to obtain the power of God.

    Art 
  • The bizarre The Apotheosis of Washington presents the first President and Lady Liberty as gods looming above the residents of the U.S. Capitol building. I don't mean that there's an image of the Capitol building in the painting, no, it sits on the ceiling of the real-life Capitol Building to remind senators that George is watching—from beyond.
  • Raphael's The School of Athens has Plato pointing his finger skyward, which visualizes his philosophical focus on identifying the Metaphysical Form of the Good which produces goodness like the sun produces light.
  • How does the Sistine Chapel's altar painting show saints entering into God's love? Well, by being pulled into the sky, where God's throne awaits them.

    Comic Books 
  • In All-Star Superman, Pa Kent's description of how he prayed to God for a son is put against a page-wide panel dominated by the starry night sky.
  • Volume Four of The Sandman includes a description of God's realm as a Silver City "above" the universe proper, which angels can only leave by "falling toward the world." The odd thing about this is that the Silver City isn't just "above" the Earth, but it is also above the psychic realities that makes up the Kingdom of Dreams, Asgard, Hell, and other places that can't properly be said to be "above" or "below" anything else.

    Film—Animated 
  • The bridge that leads to the afterlife of Coco can be easily recognized as such because the bridge arcs up into the misty sky, indicating it goes beyond our mortal Earth.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings portrays the gods as distant, uncaring tyrants with no concept of human life. Naturally, they live in unchanging, transcendent sky like many portrayal of gods, but significantly considering their sinister nature, they are only described as coming from the night sky.
  • The magical fairy who blesses Pinocchio with life lives within the wishing star. The Blue Fairy descends from her home in the sky only when Gepetto prays up to the sky in his petition to be blessed with a son.
  • The song "Through Heaven's Eye" from The Prince of Egypt has a wise old man motion upwards to the clear, night sky when advising Moses to look at life as God would see it.

    Film—Live-Action 
  • Batman V. Superman uses Superman's Flight to make his role as a Messianic Archetype obvious, leading to scenes where Superman is floating above a flood victim covered in sunlight while the two stretch their arms out to each other like they're in the Sistine Chapel. And if that wasn't explicit enough, Lex Luthor goes on a rant about how Superman reminds him of God, describing them both as "a man in the sky" while questioning why either allows evil in the world.
  • Bruce Almighty:
    • Bruce starts his journey with God by cursing and yelling at the sky as if God's hiding behind a cloud. When He does meet Bruce, he does so by climbing down a ladder (implied to go directly into Paradise) and then teleporting the two to Mt. Everest, which is so high up Bruce thinks he's died and gone to Heaven. When he does die and briefly go to Heaven in the third act, the camera rapidly zooms up and away from Bruce's body. When he's revived, the camera rapidly zooms in and down onto Bruce's face.
    • When Bruce begs God not to leave him, he appeals to a need for answers. Morgan Freeman's God laughs and says that the problem with humanity is that they keep looking "up." Up here seems to refer to the divine plan for each person that only God can know, meaning God is saying to focus on what is rather than what should be.
  • Death Note (2017) kicks off with the titular Artifact of Doom dropping from the sky, implying that the death god that created it lives in the sky, looming above humanity.
  • The Green Mile: One of Tom Hanks' urination scenes ends with him struggling so much he has to lie on his back and look him to the sky and say, "Oh God, why?" It also foreshadows the weirder events from later in the movie.
  • The Grey ends with Liam Neeson's character yelling into the sky to ask God for help. With no sign of response, Neeson's characters curses under his breath and goes into the final fray with the wolves alone.
  • Hail, Caesar! ends with the narrator describing how the protagonist's story is "written in light everlasting," as a choir plays and the camera shifts up to the sky. Along with the film's use of the Confessional and an In-Universe Passion Play, the ending shows the essential role the protagonist's relationship with God plays in his life.
  • Whenever Clarence the angel talks to distant superiors in It's a Wonderful Life, the audience will know he's not just talking to himself because he's looking straight up at the sky, which is where angels are supposed to live.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe repurposes Asgard, city of the gods, as a pocket dimension that can access other realms through a wormhole called the Bifrost. Even with this sci-fi twist, the Bifrost wormhole conveniently always opens up so that the gods enter into other realms by falling from the sky and leave said realms by being shot up into the air.
    • Thor has on odd scene where the titular character angrily demands to be returned to Asgard by yelling into the night sky, even though he should know the people operating the Bifrost aren't actually floating above him.
    • Thor: Ragnarok introduces another wormhole that can lead to Asgard, the Devil's Anus. Of course, this entrance to the gods' realm is located in the sky, forcing anyone who wants to visit the gods to literally ascend from the realm of mortals.
  • Crudely, Monty Python and the Holy Grail depicts God as a giant Sky Face who rips open a cloud to start a conversation with King Arthur.
  • The genocidal villain of Noah frequently looks to the sky and yells for God to reveal himself to him, only to find the sky shrouded in the clouds that will flood the world. The skies only clear and allow humanity to see the light once Noah realizes God's desire for humanity: for them to be merciful to each other.
  • When The Passion of the Christ ends with His death, the camera angles above the crucifixion scene to show a lone tear drop falling down towards Jesus's corpse. The effect is similar to a Single Tear, as if the Father in Heaven is crying for His Son.
  • Stations of the Cross ends with the camera (which hasn't moved the entire movie) ascending into the clouds, but in contrast to the church's dogmatic view of religion, the sky is hidden and unclear.
  • There isn't much of a heaven inside the computer world of TRON, but still, whenever Tron and other programs think about or make a sign to the Users who created and act as their god-equivalents, they look up to the sky and maybe even hold up their identity discs as a sign of trust.
  • In The Truman Show, the massive control room where Christoff manages the entire world Truman knows is located in the sky, covered by a fake sun during the day and a fake moon during the night. This is one of many elements that makes it clear Christoff is usurping God's role in controlling so much of Truman's reality and in case the association is too subtle, the movie ends with Truman talking to Christoff, "the creator," by looking straight into the sunny sky.

    Literature 
  • In Alexis Carew: HMS Nightingale, the neo-Luddite Cult Colony Man's Fall believes darkspace (an alternate layer of space-time equivalent to hyperspace) is in fact Heaven. The belief is backed up by darkspace's ability to shut off technology, but the fact that darkspace is only accessible by flying into a Lagrange point in normal space, meaning one has to fly past the Heavens to reach it, helps reinforce the divinity idea.
  • G. K. Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross has Professor Lucifer discuss the sky's divine association to a monk he kidnapped as he ascends through the heavens in his flying machine. The point Lucifer is making is that the skies are as physical and dour as the underworld and expects the monk's faith to shatter, only for the monk to point out that Lucifer's rambling has distracted him from flying the ship. The Professor screams like a girl and nearly dies in a crash.
  • In The Berenstain Bears when Goldie the fish dies, Papa Bear says that she went to the a big castle in the sky, a metaphor for the afterlife.
  • The Divine Comedy of Dante plays with the association of the sky and the realm of God by assigning each type of saint a planet, which would also be divine places under this trope's logic. The closer they are to Earth, the farther they are from God, who is portrayed as a sphere outside the physical universe who moves everything else. In Dante's imagery, God is the sky to the ground of the universe.
  • Although The Great Divorce avoids portraying Heaven as a cloud-filled candyland, it does demonstrate the radical distance between Hell and Heaven by having the bus between those two realms have to fly miles and miles and miles above Hell before it can reach the doormat of Heaven.
  • The original fairytale has The Little Mermaid describe Heaven as "that glorious world above the stars." This description of Heaven as sky also furthers the distance between the mermaid and the eternal realm, since land-dwelling humans are closer to the sky while the soulless mermaids are hopelessly far from those same stars. The story also describes angelic spirits as "Daughters of the Air."
  • Our Dumb Century, a book by The Onion, features a spoof headline from the week after the airplane was invented, about the government planning airplane expeditions to Heaven. The story reveals that within ten years, it will be possible for the average American to vacation there.
  • Whenever Mr. D from Percy Jackson and the Olympians swears, the sky either clouds up or thunders to let him know the gods are displeased, forcing Mr. D to look straight up and apologize. This is all a formality, as it would be ludicrous for the gods to live above D's camp on Long Island; they live above the Empire State Building instead.
  • In Survivor Dogs, dogs and wolves have many gods; however, the Sky-Dogs are their supreme gods.
  • In Warrior Cats, the cats' afterlife is StarClan, which is said to be located within the collection of stars above, locally known as Silverpelt (we'd call it the Milky Way).

    Live Action TV 
  • Michael from Arrested Development wistfully ponders how easy life would be if there were instructions sent from "on high." He then tells his son to watch his head as they duck under a memorial to the Ten Commandments being brought down from on high by a crane.
  • The Crown (2016) episode "Act of God" focuses Queen Elizabeth's lack of clarity on the relationship between the monarchy and God, a theme that is visualized by the Great Smog that blocks out the London sky for the entire episode.
  • One of the few acts of Divine Intervention in Friday the 13th: The Series appears in the form of a series of divine lights flashing across the sky, with the heavenly changes contrasting with the grounded work of the show's Fallen Angels. This upstairs action even kills the demonic Astaroth.
  • Not three minutes into The Good Place, recently deceased Eleanor distinguishes between Heaven and Hell by pointing upwards to indicate Heaven and downwards to indicate Hell.
  • The characters on How I Met Your Mother occasionally pray for help (though only to "the universe) in tough spots, and they always do this by looking up and begging. In the case of the first season finale, a prayer to the sky even leads to a uniquely heavenly miracle: a heavy rain inexplicably appears and keeps the protagonist's love from leaving with the wrong man.
  • Whenever God appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, He's always peaking over a cloud on the ceiling, forcing Stephen and the audience to crane their necks up to have a conversation with the guy.
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • In the season 5 episode "Nimue," a young Merlin looks into the clouds and asks permission to drink from the Holy Grail so he may live. Unlike the man who failed to ask whatever god may be listening, Merlin does not disintegrate and is blessed wiith eternal life and unparalleled magical power.
    • Whenever a character in the Underworld "finishes their business," a bright light will appear over the Underworld's fires that they can follow upward to join almighty Zeus in paradise.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Bajoran religion states that their gods, the Prophets, live in the Celestial Temple above the skies of Bajor. In the pilot episode "Emissary," the Temple turns out to be a wormhole that terminates in the Bajoran solar system that Sufficiently Advanced Aliens traveled through.
  • Heaven is a regular setting on Supernatural that's often referred to by pointing upwards or talking about what's "above." The only really consequential use of this trope comes late in the show when the Darkness attacks Heaven, which causes Earth's sky to be ravaged by thunderstorms.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and English editions of The Bible, the word for skynote  is also used as the word for the Kingdom of God.
    • Even though God preceded and created the sky in the Book of Genesis, Nimrod and the rest of humanity still believe they can reach God just by building a really, really, really big tower. For their arrogance, God creates the original Curse of Babel to keep humanity from organizing and attempting the impossible task of invading Heaven. This example makes the trope Older Than Feudalism, if not Older Than Dirt.
    • God is frequently described in the Old Testament as emerging from storms, whirlwinds, or other heavenly disasters to demonstrate his power, most famously at the end of the Book of Job. There, God's appearance as a massive storm uses the violence of the sky to demonstrate his power and expansive nature.
    • When Jesus returns to the spiritual realm of the Father, how do The Four Gospels describe it? Oh yeah, he was taken up and he ascended. So, unless he's actually supposed to be flying around in the clouds waiting to come down and burn the sinners, the reader is supposed to associate going up with entering the realm of God.
    • The Book of Revelation describes the evil angels who follow Satan as "fallen stars" that were "thrown down to Earth." This story of angels being thrown down to become demons is where the term Fallen Angel comes from.
  • Of all the places in Greece they could have lived, the Greek Gods decided to seat their thrones on the highest mountain in the nation, Mount Olympus, placing the gods on the point closest to the heavens.
  • In Norse Mythology, Asgard, the realm of the gods, is said to be one level up on the world tree Yggdrasil from Midgard, the realm of mortals (i.e. Earth).
  • In Japanese Mythology the celestial planes where the primordial divinities lived were the first things in existence. They were also the lightest so when the denser earthly world came into being, they settled above all others.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • At the end of Bo Burnham's "what." routine, he points his finger in different directions to prompt different people to talk. When he points down, he hears an ungodly "I am Satan, Lord of Darkness!" He hopefully points straight up to hear... crickets.
  • George Carlin has described God as both "the man who lives in the clouds" and "and invisible man, living in the sky" in different routines, mocking Christians under the assumption they believe in a vertically-inclined Physical God.

    Tabletop Game 
  • Warhammer 40K:
    • The natives of Fenris believe that the Sky Warriors will come down to young warriors on the brink of death and bring them back to their heavenly domains to feast and fight for all eternity. In fact, the Space Wolves monitor the constant battles waged by the natives and use them to select candidates for Space Marine training and transformation.
    • Similar beliefs are held by backwater planets who witnessed the Space Marines (also known as the God-Emperor's Angels of Death) descending to save the planet. Local authority rarely sees any need to disabuse them of the notion (and depending on the level of isolation, it's possible only the government is aware that there is an Imperium to belong to).

    Theatre 
  • The Clouds presents Socrates as an atheist who denies the existence of a god who throws thunderbolts in favor of worshipping the clouds who shit out the thunder. As a parody of Socratic philosophy, the idea of worshipping clouds, the sky, and other objects of study in place of the actual gods is Played for Laughs.
  • Just before the death of the titular character of Hamilton, time freezes and he talks about seeing his dead friends and family "on the other side." As he says their names, his best friend, his son, his mother, and his father figure all walk across the balcony across the stage, implying this "other side" is above Hamilton. This upwards view of heaven is further emphasized when Hamilton desperately cries "Rise up" just before he is shot.
  • King Claudius from Hamlet uses the sky twice as a metaphor to explain how horrid his soul has become:
    • He starts off his remorseful prayer by saying his offense is so rank that "it smells to heaven." Obviously, if something can be smelled from the sky, that is way too strong. So Claudius is saying his sin is as strong as that smell and as difficult to get rid of.
    • As the King begins to think his remorse is futile, he asks of his sin, "Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens to wash it white as snow?" He seems to think the answer is no, since he did something infinitely evil, and like rain in the earthly heavens, there can only be so much forgiveness in the celestial Heaven.
  • In the Heights: Abuela Claudia has a habit of saying "Alabanza" and holding up whatever she has in her hand. In act 2, we learn she does this to "hold it up to God's face and say, 'Praise to this.'" Turns out God's face is in Heaven with the Abuela's birds, alongside Abuela herself in Act 2, which prompts all the characters to sing "Alabanza" to the skies.

    Video Games 
  • If you became a god, say, in Final Fantasy VI, how would you let people know? If you were a magical, misanthropic Monster Clown, you might build a tower taller than any mountain, put yourself right at the top, and turns yourself into a winged creature surrounded by clouds and sunlight. This strategy tells visitors about your divinity without chit-chat, so when they fully ascend your Dante-esque ladder of writhing flesh and confront you, you can smite them without much monologuing.
  • The angelic protagonist of Kid Icarus and Kid Icarus: Uprising serves Skyworld and its good goddess, Palutena. The realm is overflowing with clouds, brave soldiers with wings, and glowing white temples dedicated to Palutena. In case you forget where the good guys work after all that, every level in Uprising ends with the protagonist being surrounded by Rays from Heaven and flying straight up towards the realm of Palutena.
  • Unsurprisingly, the sky in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is quite the godly place.
    • Whenever Link needs to call upon the Goddess's magical power into his sword, he aims it right into the sky.
    • Story-wise, the Goddess Hylia sent the last bastion of humanity into the heavens to protect from evil as the ground was consumed by darkness.
    • The association of ascension and divinity is presented in Link's battles with the Imprisoned, where that monster will rise up from underground and climb up a spiraling pathway up to a towering temple. Link must force the monster back into the ground, or else the rising evil will be high enough to destroy the power of the divine. Essentially, Link must do whatever he can to keep evil out of the sky, which becomes much more obvious once the Imprisoned learns to levitate.

    Web Comics 
  • Ever since God's second appearance in Dinosaur Comics, his text has always been portrayed as coming down from the sky, since of course God lives directly above our two dinosaur protagonists. Also, according to this strip, he used to intervene by reaching down his giant hands from the sky, but reaching that far tired him out and he stopped.
  • The Game Within a Game of Homestuck requires character to build towers starting from their houses that rise miles and miles and miles through the skies and deep into space. Only by ascending this self-created tower can they complete the game, fully master their abilities, and collect the mysterious Ultimate Reward which is in the mystical realm not-so-subtly named Skaia. It is only halfway into the nearly eight thousand page comic that Skaia's Reward is revealed: the opportunity to become the gods of a new universe.

    Web Original 
  • In Monster Factory's Spore playthrough, they create a horrible abomination and give it eyes facing straight up, to better angrily glare at God for creating him so horribly.
  • In Plumbing the Death Stars Let's Play of Ultimate Chicken Horse, Duscher abuses the ability to have his character looks upwards to make his cute chicken man look to the sky as if he were pleading to God while talking about how he wants to be spared from a violent death.

    Western Animation 
  • The Justice League episode "The Terror Beyond" has Hawkgirl, an alien from a planet that only ever worshipped Eldritch Abominations, scares away Hades' minions, beings who work for a polytheistic god, by pointing up to the sky to claim she works for capital-g God. Looks like the "sky=God" trope is literally universal.

    Other 
  • The Astrologer trope, and real life Astrology, relies on the assumption that the bodies of the skies are in control of the lives of us mortals down on Earth. Talking about the stars and planets as an astrologer can often resemble how others may take about the gods.
  • Idina Menzel's song "I Stand" includes the lyric "I don't know if the sky is Heaven, but I pray anyway." Menzel seems to find any non-vertical prayer entirely ludicrous, in large part because of this ancient connection between the sky and the divine.
  • There is an Urban Legend that the first astronaut, Yuri Gagarin, has said something along the lines of "I've been in space, and I've seen no God". Most of the reliable sources agree that if something like that was ever said, it was Nikita Khrushchev claiming Gagarin had been in space and saw no God.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HeavenAbove