Gold and Good Luck
Rainbows have been known to carry a message of hidden gold and good luck. They are also known to cloak the true silhouette of demons, hold the power to change your sex, and may sever a finger if you forget your manners. This might leave you confused as to whether you should be dancing under the rain or running for dear life at the first sign of a cloud.
You’re not alone, because a lot of cultures have struggled with the meaning behind a rainbow. A lot depends on where you live. A rainbow is a fond farewell from a calming afternoon rain shower in mild climates. In rougher climates, a rainbow can be more of a lingering cackle left behind after a horrid natural disaster. But there are unlimited meanings, and at most, four rainbows at one time, so we better get started.
Half of the Full Story
A rainbow is always half hidden from your sight. It is actually a colorful halo that is only visible from either a tall mountain or aircraft. Since we have gravitated beyond the theory that the world is flat like a pancake, it is logical that we can only see the first half before it dips into the horizon below our view. So, when many cultures believed that a rainbow was only half of the arc and the other half resided in some spiritual realm – well, they were on the right track. A rainbow occurs when the sun projects light through a raindrop and the resulting “cone” of light is multiplied by millions of other raindrops. Since every color refracts light a little differently, we get multiple arcs of color, as opposed to a mud-colored stacking effect. When the sun gets reflected twice, you get a double rainbow, and this can happen up to four times in a droplet of water. That’s four rainbows (two with your back to the sun, and two facing it).
Rainbows are scarce, considering you need both moisture and low sun. But under the right circumstances, a low full moon can muster up enough light to sprout a “moonbow.” The moon is basically a dirty reflection of the sun’s light, so all seven colors would be present if it wasn’t for our inability to see color in dim light.
Did you ever try to find that pot of gold that the Irish say is at the end of every rainbow? Well, the rest of that story follows the Vikings, who plundered the Ireland shores stealing gold from hard-working folks. They would then bury their treasure as all pirates should. Well, the Leprechauns would unearth this gold, and bury it at the end of a rainbow for safe keeping. What made this plan so safe? We’ll get to that.
One Size Fits You
Being the witness to a rainbow is a very personal experience. The cone of light is a light show that is put on for only you. If you move just a few inches in any direction, you will then be witnessing an entirely different rainbow produced from a collection of different raindrops. In a sense, there are arcs of light all throughout the sky, but your eye can only see a very small portion of these. So, every step you take towards finding that pot of gold, the rainbow will always shift positions, teasing and taunting you (those leprechauns were a mean bunch).
Magic Number 7 (Sometimes 4)
A rainbow contains seven colors, in the order of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. According to Buddhists, these colors relate to the seven regions of the earth. Some rainbows (or more importantly, some eyeballs) may only see four colors. When that happens, each arc of color represents the four elements, including earth, water, fire, and wind. Science tells us that a rainbow consists of a bit more colors than that – about one million color variations. Unfortunately, our eyes fail us again, and we will only ever see a very small portion of those.
Pathway to Heaven and Hell
The rainbow to Native Americans was like a magical bridge that could be crossed to discover a world of divine spirits. Many other cultures saw this bridge as a sign the gateway to heaven had been opened for recently departed souls to find their way home. The Hindu saw the shape as a bow from which lightning would be shot at those who threatened their land and people. In Honduras and Nicaragua, the rainbow was a cloak where demons would hide their true form. Some cultures believed that at the end of a rainbow was not gold, but the ability to change your gender. And considering the old Gods could be grumpy, some believed that if you point at a rainbow, you’d either lose that finger or get a big purple pimple on the tip of your nose. Okay, I may have embellished the color and location of that pimple, but I’d prefer any cyst over a severed finger.
What is your favorite story about the meaning behind rainbows?
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