Stars are one of the most popular symbols to appear across all eras and cultures. It’s not surprising, therefore, that they have such an important place in tattoo design and are such a common choice.
What do star tattoos mean? Well, there’s no simple answer to this question, just as there’s no simple answer to what the symbol of a star means in the first place. Stars can appear in tattoos purely for aesthetic effect, or they can hold specific meaning. In this article, we’ll look at the symbolism of differently shaped stars and their significance in tattoo designs.
Don’t forget to check out our massive gallery of awesome star tattoos!
Stars as symbols of excellence
In general, in modern Western culture stars are mostly associated with exceptional excellence. A celebrity can be referred to as a ‘star’, hotels are rated based on a star system, and kids get gold stars for performing particularly well at school. ‘Aiming for the stars’ means to attempt to achieve something incredible. Military ranks are often indicated by symbols involving stars… You get the idea, we could go on like this forever!
In its most basic form, then, the five point star in a tattoo can symbolize achievement, hope, and aspirations. It can also serve as a personal reminder of being exceptional and unique. For specific star tattoo designs meaning achievement, consider:
- Single star tattoo – a tattoo with a solitary star refers to being unique and exceptional.
- Three stars tattoo – a tattoo with three stars in a sequence symbolizes the journey towards success. In this design, it’s common to have the stars go from small to large (small star followed by a larger one followed by the largest one). This underlines the idea of small beginnings and gradual path towards great achievement.
- Multiple stars tattoo – you’ll see many tattoos out there composed of many small stars, arranged in different shapes and designs. Many people choose this design in order to add another star each time they achieve something or complete an important step or milestone. Then again, this design can be a purely aesthetic choice or have other personal meanings (such as one’s place in the galaxy or an affinity for astronomy).
Stars as symbols of hope and reassurance
Another broad meaning associated with stars is that of hope. It’s closely associated with the idea of achievement – hope and aspirations go hand in hand.
The notion of stars as symbols of hope comes from the fact that they offer bright points of light among the blackness of the night sky. Before the appropriate technology was developed, stars were used for navigation. They’re therefore also associated with the hope of finding your way and reassurance of never being lost, even during the darkest night.
As far as the idea of navigation goes, both spiritually and literally, the most direct symbolic representation is the nautical star. We’ll discuss this design in more detail below.
Stars as religious and spiritual symbols
Stars appear in the symbolism and emblems of many religions, most notably Judaism. The six-point Star of David is considered to be a symbol of Judaism and when featured in tattoos, it usually represents the person’s religious belief and belonging to the faith.
Another example is the pentagram – used as a symbol of the Wicca religious movement. The symbol of the pentagram has a whole range of meanings in different contexts (more on that below). For Wiccans, the top point of the star represents Spirit. The other points stand for the four Spiritual Elements: Air, Earth, Water, and Fire (clockwise from the top point). The circle around the star represents the universe which contains and connects them all.
The pentagram used to be associated with early Christianity to some extent, where it represented Christ’s five wounds. Nowadays, though, this connection has largely disappeared.
It’s worth mentioning that there is a popular misconception that the crescent moon and star symbol represents Islam. As a matter of fact, it’s an emblem deriving from the Ottoman Empire and although it appears on the flags of several Islamic countries, it is not officially accepted as symbolic of the religion.
Five point star tattoo meanings
A star with five points is by far the most popular choice for tattoos, so let’s start with those. As tattoo elements, they can be purely decorative or hold personal meaning to the person. At the same time, though, some 5 point star tattoo designs have universal symbolic meaning.
The pentagram is one of the most complex symbols with a long history and a range of associations. We won’t go into all of them here – entire books have been written on the pentagram – but here are some of the main meanings and uses of a pentagram:
- Wiccan – as we’ve already seen, Wiccans have adopted the pentagram as their main symbol.
- Spiritual – also outside the Wiccan movement, the pentagram is often seen as a symbol of the elements and the interconnected nature of the universe. A pentagram tattoo in a spiritual context can therefore mean that you feel a close connection to the elements and the world around you. In spiritual and occultist contexts, the pentagram has also been associated with protection – since the five spiked arms seem to ‘protect’ the center of the star.
- Mathematical – because of its construction, the pentagram as a mathematical figure is a representation of the golden ratio.
The pentagram can be drawn with the point up, or point down. Point-down pentagram, also known as inverted pentagram, is commonly associated with the occult and with Satanism, though this is not true in every instance. The Church of Satan has adopted the inverted pentagram (with the head of a goat drawn within) as one of its main symbols. However, this doesn’t mean that every use of an inverted pentagram should be associated with the dark side of the occult or with ‘evil’.
If you’re considering getting a pentagram tattoo, you may want to do some further research on the symbol to get to know all of its history and meanings. The most popular tattoo designs include a simple, line-drawn pentagram in all black and a 3D pentagram resembling a metal pendant.
The nautical star
The nautical star is a staple of tattoo art, partly due to its pleasing design and partly due to the meaning. The origins of the symbol are, as the name suggests, connected to sailing and navigation. It represents the North Star – the main reference point for navigation – and the rose of the compass.
This is an important symbol in the emblems of naval units of many countries, including the U.S. Navy and the Marines. Sailors would get nautical star tattoos as good luck charms to ensure they would always get home safely.
A nautical star tattoo can mean staying on course, finding your way, and an eternal connection to something or someone that you find ‘guides’ you through life. It can also be a symbol of good luck and safety.
Nautical star tattoo designs usually involve just the one star, often with the use of black and/or red ink. The star is often combined with other elements to underline its connection to navigation – commonly a piece of rope or an anchor.
The nautical star as a symbol is also associated with the Ireland and Irish people, as well as the punk rock subculture. For a time, this design also held a connection to the LGBT community.
Other star tattoo meanings
Though the five point star is the most popular variation, there are other star shapes, each with their own meaning and history. The most popular and culturally significant stars are described below.
Hexagram (The Star of David)
This star takes the shape of two overlaid triangles forming a perfectly symmetrical six point star. It’s particularly significant in the Jewish faith – in the 17th century, it became the official seal of many Jewish communities.
Throughout history, there have been many other meanings and uses for the hexagram, including in mathematics, the occult, and various faiths. Still, nowadays the hexagram is primarily associated with Judaism and Israel.
This is another six point star, though it looks entirely different than the standard hexagram. ‘Unicursal’ means that (unlike the Star of David), it can be drawn without lifting the pen off the paper.
It has been popularized by the infamous British occultist Aleister Crowley – the symbol features heavily in Thelema. Thelema is a spiritual philosophy devised by Crowley. Within it, the unicursal hexagram is said to represent the interweaving of the microcosmic forces (the 5 earthly elements) with the macrocosmic forces (planetary and cosmic).
As a tattoo, this symbol will hold the most acute meaning to those familiar with the occult and with Thelema. Bearers of this tattoo report that to them it represents things such as the balance of opposites, alchemical principles, and invoking the planets or drawing on planetary forces.
Star of Lakshmi
The Star of Lakshmi is an octagram, meaning it has eight points. It’s a symbol used particularly in Hinduism, where it represents the eight forms of wealth represented by the goddess Lakshmi. These include prosperity, good health, knowledge, strength, progeny, and power.
Native American Hope Symbol (eight point star)
In some Native American tribes, an eight point star encased in a circle and with a smaller circle in the middle was considered a symbol of hope.
The outer circle symbolizes protection, while the four points in the inner star (in the front) stand for the four directions – North, South, East, and West. The outer star (the points in the back) refer to the solstice and equinox points of the Sun.
Russian Thieves’ Star Tattoo
Elite members of organized crime in Russia, known as ‘Vor V Zakone’ (‘thief by law’) have a system of tattoos indicating things such as rank, types of criminal activity, and time done in prison.
The main tattoo for Vor V Zakone is a star with 4 large arms, 4 medium ones, and 8 small ones, in what looks like 3 layers. Each arm is half-black, half-white (or unfilled), in a pattern resembling the nautical star.
It’s said that a Vor V Zakone star on each shoulder indicates a position of high authority. Stars on each leg or knee mean that the person won’t kneel before anybody.
Shooting star tattoo meaning
As you’re probably already aware, shooting stars are considered to be symbols of good luck in just about every Western culture. The saying goes that if you see a shooting star, you should make a wish – it will eventually come true.
From a spiritual perspective, seeing a shooting star means that there is going to be a big change in your life. Since it’s universally seen as a positive symbol, presumably the change will be positive, too.
A shooting star tattoo, then, can be a good luck charm. Some people see it as a reminder to never stop dreaming and keep making wishes. To others, it could symbolize having the courage to make decisions and changes in their lives, with faith that it will all work out for the best.
We’ve already touched on plenty of star-related tattoo designs and their meanings, such as the three-star design, the nautical star with anchors or ropes, or the shooting star. Here are a few more designs to consider:
- Star with a name – it’s not uncommon to see tattoo designs combining the image of a star and a person’s name, usually that of a loved one. This can mean that the person is a source of guidance and hope for the tattoo bearer. Sometimes, people opt for this design to commemorate the loss of a loved one.
- 3D star tattoo – these designs tend to involve a hyper-realistic symbolic star, resembling a pendant or a metal emblem. Another 3D option for star tattoos is a design that looks as if the skin is ‘missing’ in a star shape, with writing or an image within.
- Matching star tattoos – stars make for excellent matching tattoos for couples, friends, or family members. They can be small and discrete, look identical, and are infused with positive meanings. The process for tattooing a simple star or set of stars is very quick, too, meaning this is a good choice for tattoo first-timers.
Star tattoos are meaningful, versatile, and easy to personalize. They work great both as purely decorative elements and as expressions of values or personal meaning.
Given that the most basic star shape is very simple, the tattoo can be scaled down to a truly minuscule size. Other star designs can cover the entire back or make the perfect sleeve – it’s entirely up to you!
Hopefully, this article has helped you find the right star tattoo for you. The gallery below will provide you with lots of popular examples of star designs – but don’t be afraid to experiment and make your tattoo truly your own!