Rainbow in Mythology

23 May 2010 at 10:05 am (Fenomena, Mythology) (, , , , , , )

Semicircular double rainbow. Supernumerary rainbows on the inside of the primary arc. Shadow of the photographer marks the centre of the rainbow circle (antisolar point).

The rainbow, a natural phenomenon noted for its beauty and inexplicability, has been a favorite component of mythology throughout history. The Norse saw it as Bifrost; Judeo-Christian traditions signs it as a covenant with God not to destroy the world by means of floodwater. Finding a mythology that does not include the rainbow somewhere may be the true challenge. Whatever the culture or continent, our species’ earliest rainbow is the rainbow of the imagination. Whether as bridge, messenger, archer’s bow, or serpent, the rainbow has been pressed into symbolic service for millennia. The myriad rainbow bridges and myths built by the world’s peoples clearly tell us more about human hopes and fears than they do about nature’s rainbow.

In 1866, Constantino Brumidi’s oil on canvas Apotheosis of George Washington “America’s founding father wears a [calm] expression… as he is propelled heavenward on a rainbow… Surrounded by thirteen maidens, Washington serenely supervises an armed Lady Liberty beneath him as she tramples out the powers of kings and tyrants.” The Victorians of Brumidi’s age were merely “inheritors of a long tradition of exploiting the rainbow’s powerful visual symbolism,” perpetuated by thousands of years of human communication. Even before humans could communicate enough to teach and learn – we have wanted to understand the world around us, and understand the meaning and origin of life. Unable to do this, cultures developed a belief system, a history of their existence to satisfy this innate need for knowledge. It may be no wonder, that the rainbow—bright, elusive, and heavenly—plays a magical, otherworldly part in most ancient and modern belief systems around the world. Again we see the myriad of human belief concerning the rainbow. The complex diversity of rainbow myth is far-reaching; its inherent similarities are also. Whether as a bridge to the heavens, a messenger to the gods, divine archer’s bow, or mystic intangible entity, the rainbow persists as a multifaceted lesson. Because while any particular idea (i.e. the rainbow) can be perceived in one way to one person – someone else can picture that idea in a very different way. And while we may not be able to fully explain the workings of the world or the purpose of life— Read the rest of this entry »

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