Crepuscular rays are a natural phenomenon in which sunlight appears to burst through clouds in distinct beams.◊ They are known by many names, often religious ones like the "fingers of God", "Jesus rays", or "Jacob's Ladder" in reference to Jacob's famous dream from Genesis 28:12, where he dreamed of a stairway to Heaven.
In fiction, this shows glory at the Awesome Moment of Crowning, beauty in The Promised Land, and hope shining during the Darkest Hour. This is a very common device in religious artwork since it can show the glory of God or a heaven without having to draw them, which might be forbidden, impossible, or simply hard to pull off. It can overlap with Cue the Sun.
Natural Spotlight is a related trope for when the rays highlight an object specifically, rather than just being symbolic. Subtrope to Empathic Environment. Contrast with Gray Rain of Depression and Battle in the Rain. Compare Beam of Enlightenment.
- The Big O episode 14 "Roger the Wanderer". At the end of Roger's hallucination he rediscovers his sense of purpose and finds himself back in Big O. After he knocks down all three of the foreign megadeuses, rays of sunlight shine through the clouds above as he prepares his final attack, which disables his opponents and saves Paradigm City. Watch the sequence here.
- Bleach episode 309: After the defeat of Sosuke Aizen and the end of his threat to the Soul Society and the World of the Living, rays of sunlight shine through the clouds over Karakura Town.
- These are used frequently in Simoun to show normal levels of happiness and peace, especially in flashbacks. This is needed because the series is not exactly cheerful. There are also shafts of light down into the Spring, making it look as magical as it is.
- FLCL episode 2 "Fire Starter". Mamimi follows the robot Kanti to some burnt out ruins. He climbs to the top and then takes off into the sky, to Mamimi's delight. Rays of sunlight stream down through the clouds as he assumes a pose of prayer.
- In Sailor Moon Crystal, these rays appear as a visual accent shortly before Sailor Moon's tiara manifests during her Transformation Sequence, in an aesthetic nod to her royal nature.
- Naruto: Inverted at the end of the Naruto vs. Sasuke fight at Valley of the End. After the final clash, Naruto is laying on the ground with Sasuke looking down at him. Sunlight has broken through the clouds and one of the rays is on Naruto, but the cloud cover returns and the ray slowly shrinks to a point on his bare forehead and disappears, symbolizing the loss of hope for retrieving Sasuke.
- Inverted in Alexandre Cabanel's The Fallen Angel, the yet to rise sun casts crepuscular rays over Lucifer, but they do so from behind. This serves to pool the shadows on Lucifer's face and to signify that he has turned his back on God, therefore God's influence and divinity cannot reach him anymore.
- Engraver and painter Gustave Doré used it in several book illustrations:
- The biblical creation of light,◊ where the sun is revealed from behind the clouds for the first time, illuminating God's handiwork.
- Again from the Bible, the moment when Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden,◊ with sunbeams from behind a tree near the angel showing the beauty and righteousness from which Adam and Eve have fallen.
- The New Jerusalem,◊ where many rays through the high clouds pour glory on the city.
- Satan on his way down from Heaven◊ in Paradise Lost, where his dark body contrasts with the stars and clouds and sunbeams of Heaven.
- One of the illustrations◊ he made for Purgatorio, showing a figure highlighted by sunbeams from above walking amongst the tortured. The sunbeams are the main clue that the central figure is good.
- In Michelangelo Buonarroti's ''The Conversion of Saul, Jesus aggressively shoots a beam of heavenly light into Paul's face to let him know that A) He's legit about the whole God thing and B) he messed up with the whole killing the Christians thing.
- The black-and-white Chick Tracts are full of rays like these indicating Heaven and God's glory, as they are easy to understand when drawn simply in a small box.
- Clouds part to let streams of sunshine through onto the cub Simba when Rafiki holds him in the air during the opening of The Lion King (1994).
- And on his daughter and her husband at the end of the movie.
- The Thief and the Cobbler: There's a subtle one when Tack the Cobbler is seen the first time, shining on him. It's used to signify his pure nature. Particularly egregious as is seems to come through the ceiling.
- In Fantasia 2000, crepuscular rays can be seen at both the beginning and the end of the "Pomp and Circumstance March" segment. (There is also a rainbow at the end.)
- Kung Fu Panda when Master Shifu stops being a Jerkass and starts training Po for real. He leaps onto the rock where Master Oogway first developed the principles of Kung Fu, and with the sun shining through the clouds asks:
Shifu: DO YOU WANT TO LEARN KUNG FU?Po: Yes!Shifu: Then I AM your Master!
- Occurs whenever Wart/Arthur grabs the eponymous sword in The Sword in the Stone.
- In The Land Before Time, the Great Valley is revealed by a single ray from a cloud resembling Littlefoot's mother, then it is gradually joined by others until the scene is fully bright.
- In BIONICLE: Mask of Light, Mata Nui gifting the Three Virtues to his Matoran folk are represented via light rays shooting from the franchise logo in the sky.
- In BIONICLE 2: Legends of Metru Nui, Lhikan's spirit star illuminates Vakama's team, then bursts into six stars for each member as they've become Lhikan's worthy successors.
- The Blues Brothers: One of these hits Jake as he and Elwood are standing at the back of a church and he has an epiphany — "The band!"
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): When Mothra is arriving at Castle Bravo in the wake of Ghidorah's global Armageddon, one of the first signs of her presence is a golden shaft of light piercing through the dark stormclouds overhead that are being spread by Ghidorah. Then the stormclouds break apart under a blast of divine golden light and wind, unveiling the angelic Queen of the Monsters hovering in the sky. It helps that Mothra was made to look like an angel and that this moment signifies the return of hope for the cast.
- After Katniss proved to be willing to sacrifice her life to defeat the evil in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in a scene during night, a small but strong ray of sunlight from directly above illuminates Katniss' body, followed by her being lifted up into the sky in a crucified hero pose. This strongly symbolizes Katniss being taken away into heaven.
- Happens in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King when Gandalf the White arrives at Minas Tirith and incidentally rescues Faramir from a dark Nazgul attack. It's especially symbolic because the clouds were literally sent from Mordor to aid the forces of darkness.
- After "What Have I Done?" in Les Miserables, sunlight shines down on Valjean as he stands on the mountain and throws his papers into the air. It comes after him singing during the night and shows that he has decided to change his ways and become a good man with the help of God.
- Played straight in the dueling movie This Is the End where the rays of light is the ascension unto Heaven during the Rapture.
- Lieutenant Commander Fuchida notices the morning sun breaking through the last of the storm clouds, and remarks to his comrades that its rays remind him of the Japanese victory flag that was raised when they launched from the carriers in Tora! Tora! Tora!. This is regarded by all the Japanese pilots as a good omen: in effect, the blessing of heaven upon their mission to ravage Pearl Harbor.
- Used during "Over the Rainbow" in The Wizard of Oz, where a shot of these rays through the thick clouds is inserted in the middle of the song to emphasise the sky idea and the height of Dorothy's happiness.
- Flipped exactly on its head by the ending of The World's End (part 3 of Edgar Wright's Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy): rays from above represent the aliens who have been preparing humanity for entry into the galactic civilisation. Rejected by the protagonists, who feel that the aliens have been interfering far too much; leading to the film's Downer Ending.
- The Cataclysm in An Outcast in Another World has been described as rays of light falling from the sky. In a much more severe variation of this trope, the rays of light ravaged the lands and heralded a near-apocalypse. Flashbacks from people who lived through it show that they basically viewed it as the equivalent of a magical nuclear bombardment.
- In The Divine Comedy, the virtuous pagan who introduces souls to Purgatory is shined on by four stars. These stars represent the cardinal virtues (as opposed to the theological) and Dante says they shined with light rivaling the Sun, a common symbol of God.
- Towards the end of Eben Alexander's story about visiting an afterlife, Proof Of Heaven, he says that there was heavy rain for six days (starting when he entered the intensive care unit) and then on the day that he woke up he saw "To the east, the sun was shooting its rays through a chink in the cloud cover, lighting up the lovely ancient mountains to the west and the layer of cloud above as well, giving the gray clouds a golden tinge." He also claims that there was a perfect rainbow to go with it.
- Late in The Wheel of Time series (book 12 to be precise), the Dark One has covered the entire world with rolling storm clouds that yield no rain. At the end of the same book, Rand finally punches through his Despair Event Horizon and becomes a Messiah proper. Thereafter, the omnipresent cloud cover breaks and light shines down wherever he is. It actually becomes a liability, as he can't stay in one place long without his enemies seeking him.
- Doctor Who: At the climax of "The Vampires of Venice", the clouds are roiling and storming and getting darker every minute as the city's destruction draws near. When the Doctor shuts off the storm controller to save the world once again, the clouds dissipate and sunbeams burst through as people celebrate.
- Rush's song "Jacob's Ladder" from Permanent Waves has this phenomenon as its subject.
Bruised and sullen storm-clouds
Have the light of day obscured;
All at once, the clouds are parted,
Light streams down in bright unbroken beams.
Follow men's eyes as they look to the skies,
The shifting shafts of shining weave the fabric of men's dreams.
- GFRIEND's "Fallin' Light (Angel's Ladder)" also uses this phenomenon in its lyrics.
- Between 2005-2006, Vince McMahon ended up in a feud with God (long story there involving boasts of sporting a better work ethic than Him), culminating in an actual "Vince McMahon and Shane McMahon vs. Shawn Michaels and God" match at Backlash 2006. "God" took to the ring as a giant pillar of light in the dark (i.e. a spotlight), complete with heavenly choirs and harps as an entrance theme.
- At the end of Elisabeth as performed by Pia Douwes and Uwe Kröger, these rays shine down on Elisabeth and Death when he comes for her after her assassination. This shows how, in death, she has the freedom she had always longed for; she has hope; she can go up to the sky.
- Tanz Der Vampire has the song "Stärker als wir sind", or "Stronger Than We Are", which is a prayer. At its climax with virtually all named characters singing the prayer together, rays shine out from behind the stage, glorifying the moment and adding to the religious theme.
- Brütal Legend utilizes heavenly rays (which are portrayed as literal stage lights in the sky) that point you to your waypoint and can even be controlled during strategic battle segments to mobilize your troops.
- DC Universe Online: "Guardian's Light" from the Celestial Powerset is a healing power that involves the player calling forth a beam of light from the heavens.
- When you clear the Den of Evil in Diablo II, the place gets illuminated with rays of light apparently breaking through the stone roof of the place as a heavenly-sounding choir can be heard above the music. If you're playing a Paladin, the quote he gives at this point is quite fitting: "My duty here is done."
- Both the "We Are Overwatch" and "Zero Hour" trailers for Overwatch and Overwatch 2 feature Mercy's arrival accompanied by one of these. Appropriate, as both times, she is arriving to help injured people.
- In Pokémon Emerald, such rays appear when Rayquaza comes to Sootopolis City to pacify Groudon and Kyogre.
- Umineko: When They Cry:
- This visual novel does this at the end of Ep 7 after Will solving all of Beatrice's games and riddles, letting Beatrice, in the form of Claire, die in peace. Lion also learns how lucky s/he should be in not having become Yasu. The sunlight is even described as looking as a staircase to heaven.
- Subverted in the Tea-party when Bernkastel revealed her true goal, brings Claire back from the dead to torture her and shows Lion that no matter the fragment s/he will always die in the massacre. To top it all of she also reveals to Ange that her parents were potentially the ones behind the massacre (which is strongly hinted to be true) and that her mother never cared about her.
- The Soviet war cartoon Fascist Jackboot Shall Not Tread on Our Motherland ends with three planes flying into a beam of light shining through parting clouds, accompanied by a song talking about glory to be won in the battles to come. It helps show how the planes are for a just cause and it hopes to inspire you to join.
- Phineas and Ferb: The episode "Phineas and Ferb Get Busted!" has this happen to Phineas when he regains his creativity and holds a hammer up in triumph.
- Gravity Falls: In the "Mabel's Guide to Dating" short, heavenly rays appear behind Soos when it's revealed he somehow got a twelve out of five on Mabel's dating survey.
Soos: My grandma was right all along, I am the world's most perfect man!