The Incas believed that rainbows were
a gift from the sun god
Ancient Arabians saw them as sky tapestries
woven by the south wind
Both Norse and Navajo sages told of radiant arcs
bridging the gulf between heaven and earth.
According to Polish folklore,
angels leave gold at the ends of rainbows,
but only a naked man can find it.
According to Kenyan legend,
God creates two rainbows -male and female-
which must work together to stop the rain.
Like the sailor's proverbial red skies,
rainbows at night are said to portend fair weather.
Old Testatment, God shows Noah a rainbow
as a gesture of mercy to mankind after the Flood.
A Mayan tale tells of a rainbow ending an epoch
of fiery rain and destruction.
The Mojave Indians of Arizona look upon the rainbow
as a succession of charms needed by the Creator to bring the rain to an end.
To terminate a violent storm, the entire sequence of colors is needed.
In African mythology the rainbow is thought of as a
giant snake that comes out after rainfall to graze;
and the hapless person upon whom he falls will be devoured.
The Shoshoni Indians believe the firmament is a dome of ice
against which the rainbow, a giant serpent, rubs his back.
Particles of ice thus are rubbed off and fall to the earth,
in winter as snow, in summer as rain.
Among Finns and Lapps it was the sickle or bow of the Thunder God,
a skillful archer whose arrow is the lightning.
In middle and northern Asia it is related that the rainbow
is a camel with three persons on its back:
the first beats a drum (thunder); a second waves a scarf (lightning);
and the third draws reins causing water (rain) to run from the camels mouth.
The Blackfoot Indians called the rainbow "Rain's Hat"
or "The Old Man's Fish Line," or "The Lariat."
Among Germanic myths is one which looks on the rainbow
as the bowl which God used at the time of creation in tinting the birds.
To the Greenlander the rainbow has been the hem of a god's garment;
to the ancient Welsh, the chair of the goddess Ceridwen.
Primitive Peruvians held the rainbow in such awe
that they remained silent during its duration.
A Medieval Germanic tradition held that for forty years before the end of the world there would be no rainbow, and from this belief men drew comfort whenever they saw a bow silhouetted against the dark sky. A Hebrew belief asserted that if Yahweh lays aside his bow and hangs it in the clouds, this is a sign that his anger has subsided.
In ancient classical literature the rainbow sometimes was deified as Iris; ...In ancient Greece, where all the natural elements were personified as Gods and Goddesses, the rainbow was deified as Iris: granddaughter of Oceanus (the Ocean); daughter of Thaumas (God of Wonder) and the Oceanid Electra; and wife of Zephyrus (the West Wind). That she had the power of healing is symbolized by the caduceus she carries, thus interchanging her identity with that of Hermes and Mercury. "She was the messenger of heaven, who flew at the speed of the wind from horizon to horizon and even to the bottom of the sea. The rainbow that men saw showed Iris' path as she streaked across the sky on an errand, her colorful wings and clothes catching the sunlight." Iris survives today as the name of a flower, and as the name of that circle of color, around the black dot, in the middle of our eye.
At other times it was regarded merely as the route traversed by the messenger of Hera. The conception of the rainbow as a pathway or bridge has been widespread. For some it has been the best of all bridges, built out of three colors; for others the phrase "building on the rainbow" has meant a bootless enterprise. North American Indians were among those who thought of the rainbow as the Pathway of Souls, an interpretation found in many other places. Among the Japanese the rainbow is identified as the "Floating Bridge of Heaven"; and Hawaiian and Polynesian myths allude to the bow as the path to the upper world. In the Austrian Alps, the souls of the righteous are said to ascend the bow to heaven; and in New Zealand the dead chieftains are believed to pass along it to reach their new home. In parts of France the rainbow is called the pont du St. Esprit, and in many places it is the bridge of St. Bernard or of St. Martin or of St. Peter. Basque pilgrims knew it as the "puente de Roma." Sometimes it is called instead the Croix de St. Denis (or of St. Leonard or of St. Bernard or of St. Martin). In Italy the name arcu de Santa Marina is relatively familiar.
Associations of the rainbow and the milky way are frequent. The Arabic name for the milky way is equivalent to Gate of Heaven, and in Russia the analogous role was played by the rainbow. Elsewhere also the bow has been called the Gate of Paradise; and by some the rainbow has been thought to be a ray of light which falls on the earth when Peter opens the heavenly gate. In parts of France the rainbow is known as the porte de St. Jacques, while the milky way is called chemin de St. Jacques. In Swabia and Bavaria saints pass by the rainbow from heaven to earth; while in Polynesia this is the route of the gods themselves.
The physical origin of rainbows remained a mystery until the seventeenth century, when the French philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes investigated interactions between light and water. Around the same time, across the Channel, Sir Isaac Newton determined that "white" sunlight is actually a combination of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet light - exactly the colors that make up the spectrum of a rainbow. Further study showed that raindrops "separate" the colors in sunlight, producing the familiar, many-hued arc in the sky.
Rainbows occur when raindrops refract (or bend) and reflect the sun's rays, much like tiny, curved mirrors. Each raindrop creates its own tiny spectrum, and when millions of luminous drops combine forces, a rainbow
many appear. However, not just any sunshine produces a colorful bow out of plain rain: As Descartes discovered, to see a rainbow you must have the sun at your back, and the angle of reflection between you, the drops of water, and the sun must be approximately forty degrees. The limited range of that angle explains why rainbows usually appear early or late in the day, arching close to the horizon as the sun rises and high in the sky when the sun is setting.
Some Buddhists maintain that the colors of the rainbow represent the seven planets or seven major regions on earth.
In Islam, however, rainbows are said to comprise just four colors -red, blue, green, and yellow- representing the four elements.
Other cultures assert that the colors number in the hundreds or even thousands.
Clearly, rainbow hues are in the eye of the beholder, which also makes sense scientifically. Since each viewer's sight line is unique, and rain is constantly moving, no two people behold exactly the same rainbow.
Violet and blue-the shortest light waves- always appear on the inside rim of the bow, while the rest of the spectrum graduates through ever longer waves until reaching orange-red on the outer edge. There is one
exception to the rule: In double rainbows, where a paler, "secondary" rainbow is visible outside and parallel to the "primary" one, the standard color sequence is reversed in the outer bow. This mirror image
results from light rays being refracted and reflected twice in drops of water.
The element of surprise is part of every rainbow's magic, although mere mortals can make a stab at predicting when one might occur. Because
rainbows require bright light and rainfall at the same time, they appear most frequently in the spring and summer. (Winter's freezing rain or snow can produce circular halos, cylinders of colorful radiance, or splashes of the spectrum called sundogs - but rarely a true rainbow.)
Not all bows are created equal: those composed of small raindrops tend to be faint, while large raindrops make for the brightest rainbows. And curiously, some show up when there's no sun at all. Even though
moonlight has one-millonth the brightness of sunlight, lunar rainbows glow in night skies. Less brilliant than their daytime counterparts, these tinted rings, or coronae, may surround the moon when rain falls. The best time to observe them is when the moon is full and at its brightest.
The colorful arc universally symbolizes optimism about things to come. No matter which myths we call our own, at the end of a storm, a rainbow still means one thing: clear and sunny skies ahead.
"Rainbow at night, shepherd's delight;
Rainbow in morning, shepherds take warning,
"If there be a rainbow in the eve, It will rain and leave;
But if there be a rainbow in the morrow,
It will neither lend nor borrow",
Rainbow to windward, foul fall the day;
Rainbow to leeward, damp runs away."
Describing a rainbow as "one of the most spectacular light shows observed on earth".
Indeed the traditional rainbow is sunlight spread out
into its spectrum of colors and diverted to the eye of the observer by water droplets. The "bow" part of the word describes the fact that the rainbow is a group of nearly circular arcs of color all having a common center.
Some have said that the arc looking like a bridge or
gateway, is our passage into Heaven.
" Believing that the rainbow is a ray of light
falling to earth lighting our pathway into heaven.
Thus the saying of finding your pot of gold at
the end of the rainbow.
" The falling rain dissolves into mist
And the thunder begins to die
As the sporadic lightning fades
An arch of color pours from the sky.
Rainbows appear after mighty storms
When things look their worst
Just when the sky is darkest gray,
Out of Heaven does a rainbow burst.
God first sent the rainbow to Noah
As a sign that His word is true
The rainbow's eternal message
Still speaks to me and you.
The rainbow is a sign of God's promise
That He will guide us through any storm
That He will ease all our troubles,
No matter what their form.
When you feel battered by life's storms
And you are filled with doubt and dismay
Just remember God's rainbow is coming,
For it's blessing you have only to pray."
Spotting a rainbow can be a matter of serendipity, but knowing where to look for one can increase and enhance your spectrum-sighting chances.
FROM A PLANE:
A window seat affords excellent opportunities to spot circular rainbows, or "glories" which occur when a plane passes between cumulus clouds and
the sun is at the viewer's back. Glories (and other rainbows) can also be seen clearly at high altitudes. The next time you go for a mountain hike, look for one.
IN WATER SPRAY:
Waterfalls, ocean spray, the garden hose, and other sources of water spray produce "surf bows" as well as rainbows. When using a hose, have the sun at your back and experient by holding the hose nozzle at various
angles; eventually you will see a rainbow -or several at once, called supernumerary arcs - in the man-made mist.
IN THE MORNING DEW:
Spider webs, meadows, clumps of ornamental garden grasses, lawns, and other places where drops of dew collect often capture glittering fragments of the rainbow color spectrum that can be seen early in the day.
OVER LAKES AND PONDS:
Large, still bodies of water enhance the intensity of existing bows, creating "reflection rainbows" with the most brilliant tones of all. The mirrorlike surface of the water reflects light from the rainbow back to the sky, intensifying the colors you see.
IN A DROP OF WATER:
A single droplet glistening on a leaf can produce the tiniest, most accessible spectrum of color. With the sun at your back, hold the leaf about an inch from your eye, moving it until you find the precise "rainbow angle" that transforms white sunlight into the colors of the rainbow.
A NEW YEAR'S RAINBOW
-James S. Gilbert
It rose this morning out of the sea,
Just as the sun was peeping,
With glances bright at the distant night
That still in the West was sleeping.
The rain that in the sombre dawn
Like tears from the clouds was falling
Had passed away while the god of day
The darkness was enthralling.
And it said, "Faint heart, take cheer! Take Cheer,
And behold the sign and token
I bring to thee from over the sea,
Of the promise never broken!
The grief I follow shall ne'er return:
Oh, list to my joyous message!
Dost thou not know that my gleaming bow,
Of a glad New Year is presage?"