~ Beliefs and myths about rainbows among different cultures and/or religions. ~
Judeo-Christian – God placed the rainbow in the sky as a reminder of the covenant He made to humanity - to never again destroy the earth via flood.
Mayans – Similar to Judeo-Christian, but rather than the destruction of the world by rainwater, they believed their world was destroyed by fire rain. Those who escaped the destruction saw the rainbow in the sky as a symbol that their gods were not angry anymore.
Some Africans believed that the rainbow is actually a full circle, only half of which can be seen at any given time. Furthermore, they believed that circle separates the earth from heaven. (Scientifically, the rainbow is actually a full circle. We can only see half of it because the other half is below the horizon. That’s why you can see a full circle rainbow sometimes in sprinklers, fountains, and other mediums).
Some Buddhists related the seven colors of the rainbow to the seven regions of the earth. Viewing the rainbow is the highest state achievable before attaining Nirvana where individual desire and consciousness are extinguished.
In Islam, the rainbow is said to have only four colors – blue, green, red, and yellow – all of which are related to the four elements of earth, water, wind, and fire.
Beliefs about rainbows among Native American tribes were as varied and different as the people within. Some believed the rainbow was the drinking fountain for all the souls of heaven. Others called it the bridge between the human world and the world of the gods, although not necessarily heaven as we typically know it. Still other tribes believed it was merely the pathway the gods used to move between the realms. In other Native American cultures, the rainbow is believed to be the symbol of their healing goddess.
The Cherokee believed the rainbow represented the hem of the sun god’s coat.
The Hindu, on the other hand, believed that it represents the archer’s bow of their god of war. They further believed that the god used the bow to shoot arrows of lightning to kill a demon that threatened their land and people. Many Scandinavian cultures held similar beliefs.
According to Germanic myths, the rainbow was the bowl that God used during creation to color the world.
The Incas believed it was a gift from their sun god.
The ancient Arabians thought it was a tapestry woven by the south wind.
Some cultures took it as a symbol of something mysterious and “lucky.” Being part Irish, I was raised on tales of leprechauns and the pot of gold that could be found at the end of the rainbow.
Poland holds similar folklore. It seems, however, that they believed the gold left at the end of the rainbow was a gift by the angels.
In many cultures, however, the rainbow was nothing more than a symbol of the gods and goddesses. To Aborigines, for example, it represented the Rainbow Serpent Mother who they believed to be the goddess of creation. A similar belief existed in parts of Africa. They believed that it represents the Rainbow Goddess.
In Greece, the rainbow was the symbol of the goddess Iris who was also the goddess of healing. Iris always dressed in colors and delivered news.
In Roman mythology, the rainbow was believed to be the pathway used by the messenger god, Mercury. There was a similar belief in Polynesia, where the rainbow was believed to be the route taken by all of the gods.
Norse – One of the most celebrated rainbow bridges in Western mythology is Bifrost, which connects Earth with Asgard, home of the Norse gods. Bifrost can only be used by gods and those who are killed in battle. It is eventually shattered under the weight of war – the Ragnarök. The notion that the rainbow bridge to heaven is attainable by only the good or virtuous, such as warriors and royalty, is a theme repeated often in world myth.
Peruvians held the rainbow in such high esteem that they didn’t utter a sound during its duration.
In Bulgarian legends, it is said that if you walk beneath a rainbow, you will change genders: if a man, you’ll begin to think like a woman, and if a woman, you’ll begin to think like a man.
A few cultures even managed to turn the rainbow into something negative. For example, in Honduras and Nicaragua, the people believed it was a symbol of the devil and they would hide inside their homes until it passed. They believed that looking at it put a curse upon them.
At a certain period in Japan’s past, the rainbow was viewed as a bad luck omen because it reminded them of snakes, which were generally considered evil.
According to Slavic mythology, a mortal once touched a rainbow and was turned into a demonic-creature by the god of lightning and thunder.
In Amazonian cultures, rainbows have long been associated with malign spirits that cause harm, such as miscarriages and (especially) skin problems.
Many different cultures and groups believed that the multi-colored bridge spanned the distance between heaven and earth. Some simply called it the gateway or bridge to heaven, believing that it only shows up in the sky on those eventful days when St. Peter opens the pearly gates to usher in new souls. The rainbow colors were believed to represent the magnificence of heaven itself.
Some cultures think it is a link of six or seven bridges (depending on each culture’s belief about the number of colors in the bow) that souls must successfully traverse in order to reach heaven.
No matter what culture, group, or religion, the rainbow is an enchanting phenomenon – perhaps one we aren’t supposed to dissect with reason and logic. Sometimes we just need to enjoy the beauty of nature!