Old American Stars Would Look Fine on the American Flag
+ Von Del Chamberlain +
Copy for January 28, 1998
Perhaps no symbol has been more representative of high ambitions, valued ideals, lofty ideas and pure intent than has that of a star. They have been found carved and painted on rocks most everywhere humans have developed into sustained cultures. Stars adorn ceilings of chapels, walls of observatories, coins struck from precious medals, shields made to protect their bearers, banners and flags portraying groups and countries, fabrics worn throughout the ages, ceremonial artifacts, great pieces of art, travel posters, and many other things. Since 1923 stars have been projected on dome-shaped screens of planetariums.
A star! Unreachable, yet worth stretching for--untouchable, except in the mind. We have learned a great deal about such things as how far away stars are, how they came to be and what they are physically like. Isn't it amazing to realize that we have learned so much from the tiny bits of light that travel vast distances between stars and our eyes. They are gigantic thermonuclear furnaces radiating energy into their surroundings, and we thrive within the blessed illumination from one star bathing Earth with life-sustaining energy. The symbol of a star is worthy to represent our highest aspirations.
Stars have been portrayed in several ways. Most common nowadays is the five-pointed star symbol, yet they have been shown as having four, six, seven, eight and even more points. They have also been represented as dots, disks or circles. Our own American flag has five-pointed stars representing states of the Union. Why was the five-pointed image selected?
I have wondered about this for many years. The more I contemplate this question, the more curious it seems to me that we have five-pointed stars on the flag. In the early history of our country there have been other flags, including one with four-pointed stars. So, how did we end up with five-pointed ones? If anyone out there knows of a symbolic reason for five-pointed stars on our flag, I hope they will let me know. Perhaps it just came down to the personal artistic preference of those making the decisions when the flag was officially adopted.
The five-pointed star symbol seems to have originated in old Mediterranean countries. It is, for example, very common in hieroglyphs and paintings of ancient Egypt, where stars look amazingly like starfish. But if we look worldwide a more common symbol for stars is four-pointed. This is especially true in America. Stars on Native American rock art, on tipis, shields, clothing, robes, pottery and other items, were nearly always four-pointed. Sometimes the symbols were simple crosses (plus signs) and sometimes they were carefully made with sharp points coming from a circular center. Only after European contact do we find five-pointed star symbols in America.
If you look around as you travel across this magnificent land you will find star symbols everywhere on all kinds of things that range from buildings to kitchenware. If you pay close attention to the symbols used by Native Americans you will see that their old star symbol was usually four-pointed. White people migrating to America from across the waters brought with them the five-pointed star, and as nearly as I have been able to find out they casually put it on the flag without much thought about the origins of the symbol. Everything else in the flag seems to have been thoughtfully selected: thirteen stripes, alternating red and white, in honor of the original colonies; white stars, one for each state, on a field of blue, representing a new constellation on the face of the earth. But why five-pointed stars?
Doesn't it seem appropriate to have four-pointed stars on our flag instead of five-pointed ones? If we wanted to use a symbol that is native to our land, the four-pointed star would certainly be the choice. What a nice choice it would be to replace the foreign star symbol with one that has been used on American soil since remote times; how appropriate to honor Native Americans by including one of their symbols on the national flag. Perhaps the time will come when we will have learned enough as individuals, when we are sensitive enough as citizens, and when we have matured enough as a nation to be willing to change something as hallowed as the flag--keeping noble images of stars, but transforming them to better represent the history of our land and the people who reside here.