The First Rainbow?
When I was a very young child I was taught the story of “Noah and the Ark” in which God gives the world a rainbow as a symbol of his promise to never again devastate the earth in such a way. Given that Noah had just released birds, Disney had released an animated film of Cinderella with birds, and my girlish imagination – I always imagined that first rainbow with a hair bow tied on top. It was very pretty.
My First Song
It wasn’t too many years later that I discovered the piano and began “composing”, if you can call it that. Tinkering is more like it. My first song was called, “I Love you Rainbow” and said those 4 words quite a lot. Here’s some of the lyrics:
“Rainbow! I love you rainbow. Rainbow – I love you today. Strips of colorful ribbon that sunbeams slide down to come and play! When I woke early this morning, I didn’t think it would be a good day today, but then I say you rainbow with sunbeams sliding down to come and play; and I knew that it would be a good day today. Rainbow! I love you rainbow. Rainbow – I love you today. Strips of colorful ribbon that sunbeams slide down to come and play!” © 2002
Times Have Changed
Many years later I attended an event with two lesbian friends who were not “out” officially yet. A few of us knew, but that was enough for the time being. Also at the event was a woman who gave them rainbow bookmarks. Nervously they asked me if the woman knew their secret and I had to laugh. No, I told them, sometimes a rainbow is just a rainbow – she just can’t settle on any one favorite color, so tends to make things in rainbows. “Are you sure?” They asked me, finding it hard to believe; but soon saw the truth of it in her actions. She had no clue it was a symbol of anything other than a love of color.
Confusion in Commercialization
So there I am one day at a thrift store – and I hear an argument between a parent and child. It seems the child wanted to wear a shirt with a rainbow on it and the mom was awkwardly saying no. It was clear to all the adults that her reason was an anti-gay attitude, but she didn’t want to say so. It was also clear that the child just saw it as a rainbow. The woman just kept looking around for support, hoping someone would rescue her, but no one did. I wanted to rescue the child, but I know all too well that you can’t infringe on the parental rights, so I chose a different tactic. I explained my strategy quickly to my boyfriend, maneuvered to a nearby aisle, began “searching” for an item as we continued our discussion. It was about stickers on a card I had sent to someone. In this make believe instance (of course the mom never heard the part of it being make-believe), this person had gotten upset at me for putting rainbow stickers on their child’s birthday card and it was a shame, because sometimes a rainbow is just a rainbow…especially to a child. I never saw her face since I’m in a wheelchair and thus hidden by the racks. (That’s part of why I can do such things – it makes it less confrontational), but I do hope it helped.
Why the Rainbow?
What is it about these bands of color that get us so determined to find meaning? Is it their transience…their lack of predictability…their beauty? It’s likely a combination of all three and more, perhaps also a lack of understanding of what they really are. No matter what causes it though – no one can deny that they do present excellent analogies to societal learning.
The Technical Stuff – Old Guys
The rainbow actually consists of two rainbows, the primary and the secondary. Between the bows, the sky is darker than otherwise. This area is called Alexander’s dark band after Alexander of Aphrodisias (A.D. 200), who was the first to describe the dark area. (http://www.datalyse.dk/Rainbow/history.htm)
The Technical Stuff – What it is
A rainbow is an optical and meteorological phenomenon…It takes the form of a multicolored arc. Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the sun. All rainbows are full circles; however, the average observer only sees approximately the upper half of the arc…In a double rainbow, a second arc is seen outside the primary arc, and has the order of its colors reversed, red facing toward the other one, in both rainbows. This second rainbow is caused by light reflecting twice inside water droplets.
Now that we’re on the same page and we understand what a Rainbow really is (were any of you doubting?) I want you to think about that for a moment. Here’s this band of light that’s constantly symbolically connecting Heaven and Earth and it turns out there’s a dark band in the middle! Aside from the obvious thought of Yin/Yang – that’s just freaking cool. Now consider that ever rainbow you’ve ever seen was a full circle. All that beauty was just a portion of what was really there…and what you saw was, itself, illusion. Yeah, that’s kinda trippy.
The Rainbow Bridge
Down below you’ll see the Norse version (Bifröst) but I’m talking the one for our pets here. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look at this – it’s often given to those who have lost a family member of the animal kind.
“Just this side of heaven is a place called the Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to the Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water, and sunshine and our friends comfortable.
All the animals who have been ill are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of times gone by. The animals are happy except for one thing; they miss someone that had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day finally comes when one of them suddenly stops and looks into the distance. Their bright eyes are intent, the eager body quivers. Suddenly it begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, legs carrying it faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face, your hands once again caress the beloved head and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your animal friend, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge Together.” (~Annon)
Most people know that if you find the end of a Rainbow, you’ll find a Leprechaun’s Pot O’ Gold. I remember driving towards many rainbows on road trips as a child and fantasizing about that. Then I learned that the rainbow only exists in your eyes – not in a particular place, and I imagined countless people throughout the ages running off into odd directions waving their hands about (not sure why they had to do that, but in my daydream they always did), trying to get that gold.
So the gold exists at the end of something that’s only found in our own eyes. Another way of saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder perhaps? Or a fool’s errand? I wonder how many times people go off in search of something that really isn’t there…but only exists in their own vision.
Here’s some other Rainbow Myths:
- Bifröst (pronounced BIF-roast), was the burning Rainbow Bridge in Norse legend that connects Asgard (realm of the Gods) to Midgard (our world).
- In Greek stories, Iris was a Goddess first of the Rainbow and later who traveled the rainbow. She was a messenger and had numerous other small, but significant duties.
- For the Australian Aborigines, all rainbows are actually gigantic snakes and the Rainbow Serpent is the creator of the world and of all beings. During the dry season it retreats to deep waterholes. While it can give fertility by creating rain, it can also destroy with disease and other pains. It’s interesting to note that the Rainbow Serpent has no gender.
- Indra, the Hindu god of war and thunder, uses the rainbow to shoot arrow of lightning – killing an ancient demon.
- In Navajo tradition a pair of rainbows led to the creation of their people.
- In China, two lovers can only be alone when the rainbow is present. One of them is the red color and one is the blue.
- In Buddhism we find the concept of the “Rainbow Body”, which is essentially the highest level you can attain in your physical body just before reaching Nirvana.
- In Japan, Burma, Bulgaria, the Amazon cultures, Inca, Peru, Slavs, Honduras and Nicaragua the rainbow was seen as either bad luck or dangerous.
- In Hawai’i, despite the frequent misunderstanding of their sports name, “The Rainbow Warriors” we find the mythological Rainbow Women and Rainbow Men or Rainbow Warriors. These were wise ones who understood the connection to the land and respected it. The Rainbow Women were fertile and the Rainbow Warriors would die, if necessary, to keep their land in balance. The petroglyph is often interpreted as “Keeper of the Aina” (“Keeper of the land and its people”). In fact, Hawai’i has a lot of depictions of the rainbow, used as a means of travel for deities and for the deceased, it’s used as a footstool to another special one and the list goes on and on.
Yes, these are real trees. They’re called Rainbow Eucalyptus and each one is different.
What is it about Color?
The list goes on and on for other cultures, too. In the midst of it all I look around me and see a world that still divides itself into colors it thinks are “races” (Scientifically speaking there is only one human race.) There are “Blacks” and “Whites” and in my naiveté I thought that was all, but to my horror I found we’ve divided ourselves into “Reds” and “Yellows” and “Browns”, too. How awful! To think that many people out there still think that we need purity, a separation of colors…I think it’s shameful.
Okay, so some may use my own analogy against me and say, “what happens if you muddle up all those colors though – mix them all up? You’d just get an ugly brown. The rainbow itself is separated.” Here is my reply:
1st – we’re talking people, and brown is not a bad thing – one look at the tanning industry and you know that!
2nd – no you wouldn’t, because light itself is already muddled up – it already HAS all those colors inside it. When that light hits a prism (like water) it separates – just like people have always done and will always do – we just don’t separate into something as superficial as skin tone groups. We separate into groups like: writers, gamers, sports fans, and artists.
It reminds me of a poem I saw once:
We’re a rainbow made of children; we’re an army singing songs, there’s no weapon that can stop us, rainbow love is just too strong. I was taught that black was evil. I was taught that white was good, but when you’re in a rainbow every color is understood. (© Billy Jack 1974)
Personally though, I grew up watching Sesame Street. So I don’t care about black or white – you can be orange or purple, huge and feathered, or slow with a big trunk – maybe you have a fetish for being tickled or live on the street in a trash can – frankly I don’t care! I just want to get to know you for who you are. Besides, my favorite characters were the aliens.