Out of all the natural meteorological phenomena of the World – thunderstorms, hail, snow, drought, St. Elmo’s fire – there are so many – but the rainbow has to be one of the most beautiful and cheering among them….
Every time you spot one you can be safe in the knowledge it is a gift especially for you…. Even if you are seeing it with a group of other people, you can be assured each of you are seeing your own unique rainbow – as they are in fact an optical illusion….
Sunlight is made up of many colours but we generally see it as ‘white light’. If the sun is behind you and there happens to be moisture in the air ahead of you, be it rain, fog or perhaps even a fountain or waterfall – and if the angle is right – you may be lucky enough to see one….
The sun has to be low in the sky – less than 42 degrees above the horizon; the lower the sun the bigger the arc – a full bow can only be seen when the sun is exactly on the horizon (either at sunrise or sunset)….
Any other time only a partial arc is seen…. To be correct a rainbow actually forms a full circle; usually we are too low down to see this but you may be fortunate enough to observe it if you are high up a mountain or in an aircraft….
Water is denser than air; as a sunbeam descends to Earth the light passes to a water droplet in the air – as is does it decreases in speed and changes direction – this is called ‘refraction’…. The light then splits into the separate colours; each colour has its own different wavelength that slows down at a different rate to the others – the term for this being ‘dispersion’…. If the angles are right, some of the light entering the water drop will be ‘reflected’ from the inside edge of the drop and will exit – once again being refracted – passing back from water to air….to the eye of the observer and a rainbow can be witnessed….
To our eyes there are seven colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet….red having the longest wavelength and violet the shortest…. But what we don’t see with the naked eye is the whole host of colours in between – there are actually over a million of them…!
Back as far as 350 BC Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, was applying his enquiring mind to the rainbow – but it was Isaac Newton, during the 17th Century, who proved – by using a prism – that white light is made up of a spectrum of colours. Originally he only identified five colours; he added orange and indigo later….
As children we are often taught rhymes or other ways to remember the colour sequence of a rainbow; such as – ‘Richard of York gave battle in vain’ – or the name of a fictional character ‘Roy G. Biv’….
As with any phenomenon or unexplained occurrence, before the time of understanding, many myths and legends surrounded the rainbow….some of which are still with us today….
In Norse mythology the rainbow was a bridge (Bifrost) and it connected Earth with the home of the gods…. Eventually it was destroyed by war….
In Japan it was also seen as a bridge; one for departed ancestors to return to Earth…. Whereas, in Hindu mythology, Indra – god of thunder and war – used the rainbow as an archer’s bow to shoot arrows of lightning….
For the Aboriginal people, the ‘Rainbow Serpent’ created the World and all life upon it…. In Christianity God created the rainbow as a sign to Noah, that He would never flood the Earth again (Genesis 9:13)….
In Medieval Germany there was a belief that no rainbows would appear in the skies for forty years before the end of the World….so to spot one was always a good omen…. ‘So the rainbows appear, the World has no fear, until thereafter forty years’…. – anon….
To a Celtic Druid a curve symbolises the crescent moon – the divine feminine presence – representing fertility, provision, prosperity and magic…. ‘Kambonemos’ – the Celtic rainbow – means ‘curve of the sky’…. Arches, crescents, anything of a curved shape, is reminiscent of an expectant mother’s belly and the life within…. Celtic lore says to make love under a rainbow will ensure pregnancy will happen…. A rainbow is the promise of a new life to come….
There are those who believe to see a double rainbow means a chance to follow dreams is about to be delivered – an opportunity is going to come your way….
Then there is the myth that we are all familiar with; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow….
Legend has it that when the Vikings invaded Ireland, they plundered gold from all across the land and buried it to keep it safe….and when they eventually left they forgot to take some of it with them…. Now, the Leprechauns, who knew that all gold rightly belonged to the fairy folk, had been watching as to where the Vikings had hidden the treasure and quickly dug up the forgotten gold and reburied it, away from prying human eyes – for as far as they were concerned, the Vikings were human, therefore, all humans were to be mistrusted…. So goes the tale – where the end of the rainbow falls so lies buried a Leprechaun’s pot of gold….
There is another little story about a Leprechaun and his gold…. This little fella had been tricked by a human into revealing where his treasure was hidden – buried under a bush, surrounded by other identical bushes…. The man needed a shovel to dig up the gold – and so he tied a red ribbon around the bush and gave the Leprechaun strict instructions not to remove it – whilst he went off to find something to dig with…. On his return he discovered the wily Leprechaun had tied red ribbons to every bush in the vicinity….clever little chap….
My personal favourite story is the Native Indian tale of how the rainbow came to be….
All the colours of the World had an argument; each believed it was the most important and served the greatest purpose on Earth…. Green declared it was the sign of hope and life, being the colour of leaves and grass….food for all the animals…. Without Green there would be no life…. Blue scoffed; being the colour of the sky and the sea, surely it was the most needed…. In the sky clouds could be found, from which rain – drawn from the sea – falls, bringing life to the land…. Yellow laughed; the sun, moon and stars are all yellow – they make you happy and bring warmth to the World…. Orange interrupted that it was the colour of the fruits and vegetables that obtain the vital vitamins to sustain life…. Red’s blood finally boiled….as it – being the colour of blood. – was sure it had the most important role; the colour of love, passion and the warning of danger…. Purple was enraged – and claimed it was the colour of Royalty – it stood for authority and wisdom – it stood for power…. Then a little voice piped up….it came from Indigo…. “What about me? I represent thought – I am for prayer and spirituality….I am the colour of silence….” Unbeknown to the squabbling colours, Rain had been listening in…. Finally, unable to stand the bickering any longer, it sent a flash of lightning accompanied by a crash of thunder…. Above the din Rain shouted “You fools – do you not realise you are all as important as each other? Without each other you are nothing…. Now, all join hands and come with me”…. Which they did – and from then on, every time it rained, they were reminded of how much they meant to each other and joined hands across the sky to form a great bow of colour….giving a sign of peace, love and hope for the future…. A sign for us mortals; for when we look up and see a rainbow we should reflect and show appreciation to each other....
Somewhere over the rainbow way up high There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.... Someday I'll wish upon a star And wake up where the clouds are far behind me Where troubles melt like lemon drops Way above the chimney tops that's where you'll find me.... Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly Birds fly over the rainbow why then on why can't I...?
~ Over The Rainbow ~