Shooting Star Meaning, Spirituality and Superstitions

By: Bambi Turner & Sascha Bos  | 
stars  in night sky
Shooting star symbolism dates back thousands of years. shunli zhao/Getty Images

In the days before the world was so readily connected — before the internet, round-the-clock news stations, telephones and radio — humans relied on the natural world around them to make predictions and help guide their choices.

Science tells us that the most literal shooting star meaning is a meteor burning as it enters the Earth's atmosphere. But many cultures assign a deeper spiritual meaning to falling stars.


What Is a Shooting Star?

The word “star” in “shooting star” or “falling star” is a bit misleading. Technically, it’s not a star that “shoots,” but a burning bit of rock and dust (space debris) that shines in the dark sky. When meteors fall, they burn and accelerate toward the earth, thus earning the name of shooting stars.


Is Seeing a Shooting Star Good Luck?

Shooting stars, also known as fallen stars, send streaks of light across the night sky before burning out into a point of inky blackness. Superstition has it that simply spotting a falling space rock can bring good fortune, though the rationale behind this good omen changes based on who's telling the story.

For many, the celestial spectacle of a shooting star serves as a connection between the physical world and the spiritual world, representing divine guidance or a sign from the universe.


Shooting Stars as Traveling Souls

In many different cultures, stars represent souls. Therefore, a shooting star means a soul is on a journey. Different cultures assign different spiritual meanings, whether that’s deceased souls departing purgatory for heaven (France, Germany, Poland and the United States), wandering souls looking for the right path (Chile), new souls of a babies (Britain) or the end of life for old souls (Lithuania).


Wish Upon a Star

In North America and Eurasia, it is widely believed that your wish is granted if made upon a falling star. Scholars suggest the practice of making wishes on shooting stars has its origins in the popular belief that shooting stars appeared when the gods opened heaven to peer at earth. If you make your wish before the shooting star disappears, the gods may hear and grant wishes [source: Burke].


Can Shooting Stars Be Unlucky?

child pointing at stars
Watch where you point! Pointing at a shooting star can bring bad luck.

Not everyone believes a shooting star is a good sign. In the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, a shooting star almost always meant a bad omen. In Greek mythology, shooting stars were the result of the god Zeus' throwing stones down from the heavens to Earth when he was angry [source: Burke].

If you want to avoid bad luck, don’t point at a shooting star. In Seneca Native American culture, people believed pointing at a meteor could make the star reveal your hiding place [source: Burke].


The type of luck you end up with could depend on something as random as the evening star’s position in the sky. If you see a shooting star on your right, it means good luck, while one on your left indicates misfortune will follow. If you're quick, you can shift position as the star travels to change your luck [source: Dillon].

How Likely Is It to See a Shooting Star?

Seeing a shooting star may feel special, but they aren't actually a rare occurrence. According to NASA, approximately 48.5 tons of “meteoric material” enter Earth’s atmosphere every day, with most of that space debris getting burned up in the atmosphere as shooting stars. With that much daily meteoric activity, you may be able to see several shooting stars on any given night — barring light pollution [source: NASA].

Your chances of seeing stars falling will increase dramatically during a meteor shower. During yearly meteor showers like the Leonids in November and the Perseids in August, you can see hundreds of meteors per hour as small rocks break off a larger comet [source: National Geographic].


Colors of Meteorites

Have you ever seen a blue or green shooting star? Meteors can have different colors, based on the type of metal they contain. Magnesium gives shooting stars a blue-green light, iron can make them look yellow, sodium adds an orange-yellow light and ionized calcium brings violet. Atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen in the air surrounding the meteor can make them look red [source: Nasa].


Shooting Stars FAQ

What is a shooting star?
The word “star” in “shooting star” or “falling star” is actually not totally accurate. Technically, it’s not the star that “shoots,” but a burning bit of rock and dust that shine in the dark sky. When meteors fall, they burn and accelerate towards the earth, thus being called shooting stars.
Is it good luck to see a shooting star?
Although it’s a superstition, some people believe that seeing a shooting star is the symbol of good luck. Others say that it leaves a magical aura that gives positive energy and strength.
Does wishing upon a shooting star work?
Lore has it that your wish is granted if made upon a falling star. This is a superstition dating back to early European times. According to Ptolemy and other Greek astronomers, shooting stars are caused by gods.
How likely is it to see a shooting star?
The chance of seeing at least one shooting star in a given hour between midnight and sunrise is 84 percent.

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Superstitions About Stars

The first time I really saw the stars, I was in my early 20s. Sure, I'd taken a peek up at the night sky once or twice before then, but because I grew up in a busy east coast city, I never really got to see much. It wasn't until I took a cross-country road trip after college and ended up camping in a secluded area in eastern Texas that I really saw the night sky in all its glory. When you finally get to see the full effect of a sky full of stars, it's easy to understand just why ancient people were so fascinated — and why they believed they might find answers in those far-off spots of light.

Related Articles

  • Dillon, Charles Raymond. "Superstitions and Folk Remedies." iUniverse. March 1, 2001. (Jan. 5, 2015)
  • Goldsmith, Milton. "Signs, Omens and Superstitions." G. Sully. 1918. (Jan. 5, 2015)
  • Murrell, Deborah. "Superstitions: 1,013 of the Wackiest Myths, Fables and Old Wives' Tales." Amber Books. 2008.
  • NASA. "How Many Solar Systems Are in Our Galaxy?" (Jan. 5, 2015)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "Fishermen of the United States: Superstitions." June 8, 2006. (Jan. 5, 2015)
  • Radford, Edwin and Mona Augusta Radford. "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." Barnes & Noble Publishing. 1961.
  • Rao, Joe. "Reading the Weather Using the Sun, Moon and Stars." April 26, 2011. (Jan. 5, 2015)
  • Roud, Steve. "The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland." Penguin UK. 2006.
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