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What is a Rainbow? Myths and legends throughout history

6 min read

Rainbows are magical phenomena that sometimes occurs in nature.
They have been a favorite ingredient of mythology throughout history, and they are part of the myths of many cultures around the world.
The Norse, for example, saw it as Bifrost, a burning rainbow bridge that reaches between Midgard, the Earth, and Asgard, the realm of the gods. Bifrost can be used only by gods and those who are killed in battle.
Abrahamic traditions, on the other hand, see it as a covenant with God not to destroy the world by means of floodwater.
Whether as a bridge to the heavens, messenger, archer’s bow, or serpent, there is a myriad of beliefs concerning the rainbow.

In Mesopotamian and Elamite mythology, the goddess Manzat was a personification of the rainbow while, in Greek mythology, the goddess Iris personifies the rainbow and in many stories, including the Iliad, she carries messages from the gods to the human world, thus forming a link between heaven and earth. Iris’s messages often concerned war and retribution, or in others stories the rainbow merely represents the path made by Iris as she flies.

Many Aboriginal Australian mythologies include a Rainbow Serpent deity, the name and characteristics of which vary according to local and cultural traditions. It is often seen as a creator god, but also as a force of destruction. It is generally considered to control the rain, and conceals itself in waterholes during the dry season.
Anuenue, the rainbow maiden, appears in Hawaiian legends as the messenger for her brothers, the gods Tane and Kanaloa.

Several West African religions incorporate personified rainbow spirits, and some examples include Oxumare in the Yoruban religion Ifá, Ayida-Weddo in Haitian Vodou, and the pythons Dagbe Dre and Dagbe Kpohoun in West African Vodun.
For the Karen people of Burma, the rainbow is considered as a painted and dangerous demon that eats children.
Māori mythology tells a tale of Hina, the moon, who caused a rainbow to span the heavens even down to the earth, for her mortal husband to return to earth to end his days, since death may not enter her celestial home.
Shamans among Siberia’s Buryats speak of ascending to the sky-spirit world by way of the rainbow.

In Ireland, a popular legend states that a pot of gold is to be found at the end of a rainbow, guarded by a leprechaun. You’re almost certainly familiar with the particulars, but what is the origin of this legend? The details are a bit obscure, but it’s said it sprung from a story about a husband and wife who were farmers. A leprechaun cursed them for their greedy ways, storing their coveted treasures (you guessed it) at the end of the rainbow, which was just out of their reach.

In some Bulgarian legends, it is said that a person who walk beneath a rainbow will change genders: a man will begin to think like a woman, and a woman will begin to think like a man.

So, what the heck is a rainbow?
Can you name actually the colors of the rainbow in order?
Can you get to the end of a rainbow?

Well…It take both the sun and rain to make a rainbow!
To be clear, rainbows are produced by sunlight entering water droplets, bouncing around each individual bead of water, and changing direction, refracting, to reflect off the back of the droplet to return back towards us.
Basically, in raindrops, sunlight bounces back, or reflects, most strongly at a certain angle of 42 degrees. Interestingly, If you drew an imaginary line from your eyes to the rainbow, then back to the sun, that angle will always be 42 degrees.
However, the sun has to be behind you, not in front, because the light gets refracted back in the general direction it came from.

Since sunlight is made of different wavelengths of light, we see the white light broken into an array of colors, not by chance, our rainbow.
Its in order are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.
The red light is the strongest color, exiting water the drop at the angle of 42 degrees relative to the incoming sunlight, while the violet light emerges at an angle of 40 degrees. Other colors leave a raindrop at angles somewhere in between.

Probably you don’t know that the more the light bounces around, reflecting and refracting, the more types of rainbows there are.
Recently rainbow scientist Jean Ricard concluded that there are 12 definitive types of rainbows.
Some of the most interesting types include double rainbows, a phenomenon that happens when the light is reflected twice in the raindrop. The higher rainbow is fainter and the colors will be reversed!
Another example is a circular rainbow.
Yes, you can see the rainbow as a complete circle if you’re, for example, in an airplane or even high in a skyscraper, because It’s only on the ground that you can only see the semi-circle.
A rainbow that occurs when the sun is lower in the sky—such as at sunrise or sunset—and reflects more of one or two wavelengths than the others, can appear monochrome, while exist also a sort of Moonbow, a rainbow caused by the light of the Moon, rather than the Sun. These are typically quite dim and may even appear white in color.
…Or even a fogbow, a faint rainbow occurring within fog, usually over a body of water.
And of course the big debate is why rainbows are so different. Most scientists have suggested that the size of the raindrops shape how they reflect light and what the rainbow will look like, while others have said that it depends where the raindrops are—since a low-lying haze of water will reflect at a different angle than a high shower of drops.
Apparently, although both factors are important, what matters most is where the drops are, high or low in the sky.
That’s why you see rainbows change as the raindrops fall. They can fade, brighten, split into double or multiple bows, be full circles or low arches.
If rainbows that form are too low, the thickness of the air makes it impossible to see the shorter waves of light—the purples and blues. The most low-lying droplets that are filtered through haze and smog finally filter out all but the long waves of red, producing a monochrome rainbow.
In any case, rainbows become rare in winter because water turns to ice or snow, and ice scatters light instead of refracting it.

So, let’s get to the real question.
Can you ever get to the end of a rainbow?
No, you can’t!
Legends apart, a rainbow is based on the orientation of the observer (you) and the light source (the sun). So, when you move, the rainbow will move, too.
However, don’t cry, as there is a real magic: every rainbow is unique and only for you.
Yes, that’s right. Even if someone is standing near you, you’re not seeing the same rainbow, as it isn’t something you can touch, but an optical illusion.
Every rainbow looks different and is in the eye of the beholder.
And we’re sure there’s really something magic here somewhere…

Images from web – Google Research