For thousands of years, man has gazed at the stars and wondered what they are. He made up stories and legends about them. One of those stories was that stars were souls or spirits, watching down upon the Earth.
This probably has its origins in modern stories in two sources. The first is Greek Mythology, in which many of the constellations were heroes placed there by the gods for their heroic deeds. The second is Plato's Cosmology, which asserted that every soul has a companion star that it returns to upon death, so long as it lived a just life.
Another common interpretation inverts the original assumption, and instead holds that each star represents a living soul. When a new child is born a new star will appear in the sky and, when the star's associated person dies, it disappears. Some versions blend these two takes by having the star that appears to mark a person's death be, specifically, a falling star than soon vanishes over the horizon.
This is Older Than Feudalism. This trope exists because of the logic of its Super-Trope, Heaven Above, where anything skyward is associated with everything divine. Related to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence and Died Happily Ever After. For cases where someone becomes a constellation or a specific star, see Stellification. Compare to Winds Are Ghosts for another natural phenomenon associated with deceased spirits.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
- Darker Than Black: Each star in the Alien Sky above Earth represents a living Contractor, which falls out of the sky when the Contractor dies.
- Cowboy Bebop: Everyone has a representative star, and it goes out when they die.
- Pokémon: The First Movie: Ai (Amber) believes she may become a star during her post-death monologue in The Birth of Mewtwo radio drama.
Dr Fuji: Ai! Come back!
Ai: Sorry, Papa. I can't go back.
Dr Fuji: No, I want to get you back! I don't want to be by myself!
Ai: It can't be helped. I'm probably going to become a star.
- Sailor Moon:
- Sailor Moon: The final scene has Usagi placing her hand over her heart and saying a star was just born (her daughter conceived).
- Sailor Moon: The '90s anime has an episode where a dreamy astronomy teacher references this trope during a show in which he and Taiki are participating. He believes that people become stars when they die. Taiki gets annoyed and says that stars can only be made by living people. Particularly interesting because in Sailor Moon a senshi's Star Seed is her essence — this is what Taiki is referencing in this case. But a senshi can be reborn after death as long as her Star Seed intact, so it's the same thing as a soul.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's: Greiger seems to become a falling star when he disappears.
- Happy Heroes: Kalo mentions at the beginning of the "God of War Legend" story arc that he's heard a legend about heroes turning into stars in the sky upon their death, as rays of light and hope, and he wonders to himself if he'll become a star. He actually does perform a Heroic Sacrifice at the end of the arc, and Arcas consoles his friend Careful S. afterwards, repeating this same sentiment.
- Man-Thing: In one issue, Korrek recounts a story from the mythology of his people that has a man venturing into the sky to pick a star as a gift to his lover. The stars are made of the souls of warriors, so upon bringing the thing down, it turns back into one, who kills the man and steals his woman.
- Marvel Comics 2: In Last Hero Standing, Loki made a last ditch attempt to destroy all the heroes. He was thwarted, but not without heavy casualties, Captain America among them. Allfather Thor honors him by transforming his body into a star whose corona resembles his shield, visible from Earth to all as an enduring symbol of hope.
- The Circle of Friends: Twilight Sparkle's five deceased friends form a circle of five stars in the night sky, with a little empty space for one more star.
- Fallout: Equestria - Project Horizons: In the sequel Homelands, the shamanistic zebras regard the stars as particularly dangerous spirits, whom only the most insane and/or evil shamans dare to deal with. There's a tribe of star worshippers, the Starkatteri, shunned and distrusted by the rest, who once tried to to use the star-granted power to Take Over the World and ended up nearly destroying it.
- TheNamelessDoll: Ariel's death in Young & Beautiful is signified by stars twinkling.
- Pony POV Series: The Celestial Bodies of the Alicorn Elders have stars that are this trope. In the case of the Father, he's Heaven and the stars are the souls of the righteous dead inhabiting him. In the case of Fauna Luster, she's the birthplace of souls and the stars are souls preparing to depart for life.
- Some Semblance of Meaning: When Vale is stargazing and comments about how stars last forever, and Obsidian tells her that they fade and die like people do. She then tells him that, like people, they might go out eventually, but while they live, they're all given an opportunity to shine, and once they die, more stars are born to take their place, so the sky is never dark.
- Tell me about your Ancestors: ShadowClan cats believe in the canonical StarClan. After death, a cat's spirits ascend to live in the stars. Once a cat's name is no longer spoken by any living cat or any StarClan cat they knew in life, the cat is reincarnated.
- Disney Animated Canon:
- The Lion King:
- The Lion King (1994): Simba says he was taught that the stars are the spirits of the old kings, which gets a confirmation when he later gets a starry vision of his father. Timon, on the other hand, claims that stars are fireflies that got stuck in the sky. Amusingly, Pumbaa proposes the scientifically correct explanation ("balls of gas burning billions of miles away") and is brushed off. When Simba tells them what he thinks, they laugh at such an idea.
- The Lion King II: Simba's Pride: Kiara mentions that Simba told her the above all the time, leading Kovu to wonder if Scar is also up there.
- Pocahontas: Originally, Pocahontas' mother's spirit was supposed to be represented by a single bright star in the sky. However, because the Lion King team was already using this trope, it was decided that the Pocahontas crew needed to do something different, hence the motif of leaves blowing on the breeze.
- The Princess and the Frog: Ray the firefly is in love with the Evening Star, whom he thinks is a lady firefly named Evangeline. When he dies, he becomes a star, and hangs right next to "her" in the sky. Meaning Timon was right all along.
- The Lion King:
- Dragonheart: Good dragons who die become a star in the Draco constellation. This happens to Draco when he dies.
Draco: "To the stars Bowen. To the stars."
- Don't Eat the Pictures: Prince Sahu and his cat join his parents as stars in the sky.
- It's a Wonderful Life: At the beginning, some angels are talking and the visuals shown are a galaxy and a nebula that flash in synch with their voices. Then Clarence is summoned and a smaller star shoots into view. Clarence is also explained to have died previously, although it's not mentioned whether the other two angels were ever people.
- The Darkangel Trilogy: Deceased people become stars in the night sky; when the protagonist frees the darkangel's victims/wives from undeath, they form a new constellation with a gap in it, and she figures they've reserved a space for her when it's her time.
- The Divine Comedy: Subverted. Upon ascending into Heaven, it seems as if every human soul ascends to a different Heavenly body, whether it be a star or one of the planets. Our hero finds it odd that somehow the pagan philosophers were right about this, but God's messenger, Beatrice, explains that the souls only appear on different stars and planets to help our hero understand the distinctions between types of saints.
- Dragonlance: Stars over Krynn are portals to the plane of Radiance, but each new one is created upon a Heroic Sacrifice — inhabitants of the world being aware of this fact, and supposedly rejoicing.
- Earth's Children: The Clan of the Cave Bear contains a scene where Creb tells Ayla and Uba that stars are the hearth fires of those who have died and passed on to the world of the spirits. He also says the Clan's totem spirits have their own "fires" and points out the "fires" of the Cave Bear and the Cave Lion.
- János vitéz, a Hungarian epic poem by Sándor Petőfi, has a scene where the eponymous János is travelling in the mountains with his comrades in the army at night and they are so high up they can literally reach the stars. János muses to himself, "They say each star is the soul of someone living..." then goes on to say that the Wicked Stepmother of his Love Interest should count her blessings János has no way of knowing which star is whose because if he did he would knock it off of the sky, killing her.
- The Little Match Girl: The little girl's grandmother told her falling stars represent someone dying. As she sits in the cold, unable to get warm, afraid to go home since she's sold no matches, the little girl sees a star fall.
- The Lord of the Rings: Eärendil doesn't die, but he became a star anyway because the Silmaril on his ship that he uses to sail in the void among the stars shines brightly enough to be seen as one.
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians: In The Titan's Curse, the goddess Artemis's Lancer Zoe Nightshade is killed. She is honored with a whole constellation called the Huntress.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: The Dothraki believe that the stars of the spirits of the valiant dead, riding flaming horses across the sky.
- Tailchaser's Song: At the end, Viror Whitewind's spirit is freed after his evil brother Hearteater is killed, and he becomes a new star in the sky.
- Warrior Cats: When a Clan cat dies they go to StarClan. (Except the evil ones, who instead go to the Dark Forest.) The Tribe of Rushing Water, which shares a common ancestry with the clans, calls it the Tribe of Endless Hunting.
- West of Eden: The stone-age people believe the stars to be "tharms" (souls) of dead warriors.
- Blackadder: Baldrick seems to believe that, when George dies Blackadder the Third, a new star appeared in the sky. He also believes in a giant pink pixie in the sky.
Baldrick: "There's a new star in the heavens tonight. Another freckle on the nose of the giant pixie."
- When Ultraman is forced to dispose of the peaceful drawing-based kaiju Gabadon to the dismay of its child creators, he instead turns the creature into a constellation so the kids will always be able to see their handiwork in the night sky (not unlike what the Greek gods do).
- Return of Ultraman: Ultraman Jack turns deceased kaiju into constellations on two different occasions. First time to the undead Stegon when children beg him not to kill the creature as sympathy for its grave being disturbed; and second time to Magnedon, a Gentle Giant with Magnetism Manipulation whom Jack feels bad for killing.
- Janet Jackson has "Together Again", a song about accepting the death of a loved one, whose chorus says that she can see her lost one smiling down as a star in the sky.
Everywhere I go
Every smile I see
I know you are there
Smilin' back at me
Dancin' in moonlight
I know you are free
'Cause I can see your star
Shinin' down on me
- Lemon Demon: Parodied in Jaws, which states that after a character is killed he becomes a shooting star.
but OH MY SHIT!
Jaws jumps out, and Quint gets bit!
Right in half, like a kit-kat bar!
Up in the sky there's a shooting star
That's Quint. Up in heaven. He's a star now.
- Rammstein: "Engel" (Angel) states that good people become angels after death, which are visible in the sky as stars.
Who in their lifetime is good on Earth
will become an angel after death (...)
Once the clouds have gone to sleep
you can see us in God's keep
we are afraid and alone.
- Linkin Park: One More Light uses the inversion.
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone's time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We're quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well, I do.
- Classical Mythology is rife with this.
- Orion was made into a constellation after being killed by Apollo's scorpion (also a constellation).
- Perseus and Hercules each got one constellation commemorating their exploits.
- Leo is the Nemean Lion. Sometimes there's no reason he's up there, sometimes Hera put him up there.
- Cancer is Karkinous, the crab Hera sent to attack Hercules while he was battling the Lernean Hydra. One version of the myth has it that this Giant Enemy Crab was only a minor inconvenience to Hercules, who kicked him so hard that he flew into the sky and that was how it turned into a constellation.
- Canis Major and Minor are the hound Laelaps and the Teumessian Fox—the hound could catch any prey and the fox could never be caught. Turning them into constellations was the only way out of the Logic Bomb.
- Aquarius is Ganymede, Zeus'... cupbearer, among other things. Hera was so not amused by Zeus giving him the job (which was filled by their daughter Hebe beforehand) that Zeus had to turn Ganymede into a constellation to keep him safe.
- Depending on the myth, the constellation Auriga is made up of charioteers placed there by the gods in thanks for the invention of the chariot.
- Bootes is either the inventor of the wagon placed there in thanks, or Icarus who was murdered when his wine was mistaken for poison and placed there by Dionysus.
- Centaurus (or Sagittarius depending on the version) is Chiron, the wisest of the centaurs who surrendered his immortality after being pricked with a poison arrow.
- Corvus is Coronis, a lover of Apollo's. When she was unfaithful to him, his twin sister Artemis killed her and Apollo placed her among the stars.
- Andromeda and her mother Cassiopeia were put in the sky as constellations for bad-mouthing the gods. How becoming a constellation can be a used as a reward and a punishment isn't clear — maybe it depends if the gods draw a flattering picture? Although Cassiopeia was supposed to be sitting in a topsy-turvy throne, hanging upside down forever.
- Ursa Major and Minor:
- Ursa Major and Minor were said to be one of Zeus' mistresses and her child. Supposedly Hera ensured the two never dipped below the horizon because she carried a grudge; this predicates on a story that the area where the stars live is hot, and the stars welcome a cool dip in the ocean when they descend below the horizon.
- Another version of Ursa Major and Minor has the mistress being turned into a bear not by Hera, but by Artemis, as said mistress was her hunter raped by Zeus.
- In one version, the child was turned into a bear(cub) when he happened upon his mother (in bear form), in a desperate bid by Zeus to prevent from the mother bear from killing him. It worked.
- In another version, the son of the mistress was found and raised by a human family, growing into a hunter. Zeus turned him into a bear cub to prevent him from hunting his mother, who'd had no problem recognizing her son, but forgot that bears are scary.
- The Pliades, who were turned into stars by Zeus to confront Orion, their father (who is also a constellation.) There's also a myth that they were saddened by their father's fate or their siblings' fate, and Zeus turned them into stars.
- Gemini, the twins, are Castor and Pollux, (half)twin brothers of Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. One was mortal, the other was not. When the mortal one died, his brother either got so depressed that Zeus took pity on them and made sure they were never separated again, or marched down to the Underworld, found his brother there, and refused to leave until Zeus made sure they were never separated again.
- The stars Vega and Altair are said to be a pair of lovers separated by a great river (the milky way) in many eastern legends. There's a festival when they meet once a year in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and possibly other places.
- In Japan, children are commonly told that a deceased person has become a star in the sky. (Rather than mythology this is more akin to the "babies come from storks" explanation.)
- Gnosticism mocks this idea (which was popular with pagan and Christian beliefs at the time) by suggesting that the Archons (which typically embody the celestial bodies) eat the souls of the deceased.
- Several Aboriginal Australian Myths suggest that the souls of the dead reside in the sky (the "sky-world"). Some modern interpretations take this as representing the souls as stars.
- Dungeons & Dragons: 4th Edition cast a negative light over this trope: each star in the sky is an aspect of an Eldritch Abomination outside the world, peering into reality. The Warlock class (who are not nice people) gain power from those stars, and their magic spells have particularly Lovecraftian flavor. Would anyone want to be watched by those stars?
- Exalted: Gods and mortals alike each have their own star which represents their Destiny. When someone dies, their star flickers out. One can affect someone's Destiny by affecting their star, though this is a privilege belonging to the members of Bureau of Destiny (e.g. Sidereals).
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: Alluded to in the song "One More Angel in Heaven", where Joseph's brothers inform Jacob about Joseph's "death" by saying that there's one more angel in Heaven and one more star in the sky.
- Kingdom Hearts: The stars in the represent worlds as a whole and disappear from the night sky when that particular world is submerged in darkness. Kingdom Hearts II has the Pride Lands as a world, which reaffirms the plot point from the movie that the old rulers of Pride Rock become stars in the sky upon death. This is also shown in Birth by Sleep, when, after Master Xehanort strikes down Master Eraqus in front of a horrified Terra, Yen Sid notes, "Eraqus's star has blinked out." The contradictions can just be chalked up to the worlds running on the Theory of Narrative Causality.
- Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals: Maxim and his comrade/wife, Selan, kick the bucket at the conclusion. However, the epilogue expands on the events, with Maxim soldiering on even after his party has frittered away and Selan has been killed. He dies from exhaustion after completing his mission, whereupon he sees Selan's spirit and turns into a star. The pair of them float across the world map and take one last look at their infant son, who seems to sense their presence.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Justice For All: Discussed. A ringmaster uses this as an euphemism for death for his animal tamer daughter. (In the Japanese version, the ringmaster says the dead are sleeping.) Problem is, the daughter truly believes in this, and in a roundabout way this leads to a murder.
- The Revenge of Shinobi: If you take too long defeating the Final Boss, your girlfriend gets crushed, and you see her in the sky instead of at your side in the ending cutscene.
- Spiritfarer: Spirits brought to the Everdoor become new constellations.
- In World of Warcraft, after Ysera, the former Green Dragon Aspect, is slain, the moon goddess Elune herself reaches down, purifies Ysera's soul from the Emerald Nightmare's corruption and places it in the sky as a constellation.
- Yoshi's Island: When you defeat Raphael the Raven, he becomes a constellation.
- Serina: In the religious beliefs of the woolly trunkos, the dead become stars and watch over their living relatives.
- Zero Punctuation: In an Extra Punctuation entry released after Yahtzee played Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, he relates that he (forcibly) made friends with a certain orc named Khosh the Drunk, which he went on many adventures with. When his buddy was killed in a castle raid gone awry, he says that "There was a new star in the sky that night. A little sweaty green one that drank too much."
- BIONICLE: Spirit Stars appear before a Toa is created or when a Toa completes a certain task.
- Courage the Cowardly Dog: In "Last of the Star Makers", the mother Star Maker (a giant space squid) dies and turns into a huge carpet of stars.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Apple Family Reunion", Applejack's absent parents (heavily implied to be dead) are represented by a pair of shooting stars.
- Carl Sagan once pointed out, from a physics perspective, that "The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff." In other words, stars aren't made of dead people, people are made of dead stars. However, some individuals believe that the remains of people who are launched into space will eventually become stardust, and maybe even stars again via decomposition.
- There exists a fringe scientific hypothesis that the stars are conscious, called Panpsychism or Stellar Consciousness. This is an alternative to the Dark Matter hypothesis (which is widely accepted by scientists but hasn't been definitively proven) and is one explanation for why stars move around the centers of their galaxies faster than can be accounted for by the gravitational pull of observable matter; they're moving of their own volition, and are in a sense alive. It should be noted, though, that even if the stars are conscious, they would likely have thoughts and goals that are utterly alien to humans, making them much closer to Eldritch Abominations than this trope.