As exquisitely beautiful natural phenomena, rainbows are beloved by people around the world. So, it’s not surprising that many are intrigued with rainbow meanings, mythology, and folklore. In this post, we’ll explore rainbow symbolism, including rainbow spiritual meanings and double rainbow meanings, as well as rainbow mythology and folklore.
Table of Contents
- What do rainbows symbolize?
- Rainbow Spiritual Meanings
- Rainbow Meaning in Hinduism
- Rainbow Meaning in Christianity and Judaism
- Double Rainbow Meaning
- Rainbow Mythology and Folklore
- Native American Rainbow Meanings
- Norse Mythology
- Rainbows in Celtic Mythology
- Greek Mythology
- Rainbow Meaning in Oceania
- Aboriginal Australia
- Rainbow Meaning in Africa
“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”
– E.Y. Young, “Over the Rainbow”
What do rainbows symbolize?
1. Rainbow Meaning: Hope
When a rainbow appears, it marks the transition between a rainstorm and the sun coming out in a dazzling array of beautiful colors. Thus, rainbow symbolism includes hope, optimism, and the promise of good things to come.
Containing what appears as a spectrum of seven colors, rainbows are stunningly beautiful to our human eyes. Thus, a rainbow is the embodiment of the awe inspiring beauty of the natural world.
Unless you live in a place like Hawaii, where locals get to see them quite often, rainbows are a rare event. Thus, a rainbow embodies the idea of uniqueness, something special, or a rare event. And probably because they only come out every now and then, we appreciate them all the more.
Because they are colorful yet unusual, rainbows also represent celebration.
5. Diversity and Inclusiveness
As is depicted in the rainbow flag of the LGBTQIA+ movement, rainbow meaning has also come to symbolize diversity, inclusiveness, and the celebration of different perspectives, cultures, and identities.
Just as rainbow meaning includes hope and optimism, it also means joy. Colorful things make people feel good. Notably, children tend to love bright colors. As we get older, focusing on our adult responsibilities, we often lose sight of the things we loved as a child. Seeing a rainbow tends to bring out our inner child.
Around the world, rainbows are also associated with blessings. Many people view them as a sign of positive outcomes and good fortune coming their way.
Rainbow Spiritual Meanings
Rainbows also hold spiritual meanings for people of many different faiths. One meaning shared across different religious creeds is that rainbow meaning includes the idea of faith.
Even when the storms of life affect us or we feel like we’re enveloped in darkness, when we have faith we believe the sun will come out, or that we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. The rainbow represents this unexplainable yet unshakable belief that things will get better.
9. Spiritual Transformation
Because rainbows appear during the transition from rainstorm to sunshine, on a spiritual level, they represent the concept of learning from our mistakes and walking towards the light of awareness. Thus, they represent spiritual transformation or growth.
Rainbows remind us that we are all works in progress and that we are here to learn. As the saying goes, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
10. Spiritual Enlightenment
Rainbows are created when light is filtered through rain droplets. So, rainbows also symbolize greater wisdom and understanding entering our consciousness. When we allow this light in, we become spiritually enlightened.
11. A Bridge
Rainbows are often associated with spiritual or mystical experiences and they are often described as a bridge between the physical and supernatural worlds, or Earth and Heaven. For example, when we say a person or pet has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, it means their soul has transitioned from their physical body to their spiritual existence.
Rainbow Meaning in Hinduism
12. The Chakras
For Hindus, the seven colors of the rainbow represent the seven chakras, which are energy centers in the body. The root chakra is represented by the color red, and then six other chakras follow the path up the spine. The seventh chakra, or crown chakra, is represented by the seventh color in the rainbow, which is violet (and sometimes white.)
You can read more about the seven chakras in my posts about each chakra.
13. Indra’s Bow
In Hindu mythology, a rainbow is said to be the bow of the god Indra, who uses it to bring harmony and balance back to the world.1
14. The Rainbow Body
In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a state of elevated consciousness in which a Buddhist’s physical body becomes one with the five cosmic elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Buddhists call this the “rainbow body.”
Tibetan Buddhists believe that a person transforms to the rainbow body at the time of their death.2 So, a rainbow represents transitioning and reaching an enlightened state of consciousness.
15. Buddha’s Presence
Just as a rainbow represents a state of enlightened consciousness in Buddhism, it is also seen as a sign of the presence of the Buddha.
A rainbow occurs when sunlight shines through raindrops at a certain angle in perspective to the viewer. In this way, the rainbow represents the student’s readiness and receptivity to the teachings of the Buddha.
Rainbow Meaning in Christianity and Judaism
16. God’s Promise
In the Bible, the rainbow is a symbol of God’s promise to humankind. For example, in Genesis, God says,
“I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,
I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.
Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”3
17. Eternal Life
In Revelation 4:3, a rainbow represents eternal life:
“And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.”
In the passage, the green of the emerald represents life and the circular aspect of the rainbow represents eternity.4
Double Rainbow Meaning
If seeing a rainbow is a special event, seeing a double rainbow is even more wonderful. Double rainbows share symbolic meaning with single rainbows. Yet, they have some additional meanings:
Double rainbows embody the idea of having more than you need. Thus, double rainbow meaning implies abundance and prosperity.
The number 2 symbolizes duality and balance. So, like seeing two crows together, seeing a double rainbow is a reminder of the importance of balance and reciprocity in all aspects of your life, from relationships to work and play or even logic and creativity.
20. Soulmates and a Lover’s Embrace
Seeing a double rainbow is also a positive sign that represents true love and soulmate relationships. The number 2 represents the idea of double happiness and the joy that can come from joining together with another.
Furthermore, in Māori legends, the double rainbow was said to be the result of the god Uenuku and the goddess Kahukura embracing.5
Rainbow Mythology and Folklore
Rainbows are beloved by people around the world. So, they are natural subjects in the mythology and folklore of many cultures. Here are some examples:
Native American Rainbow Meanings
21. Protective Spirits
For the Navajo, the yei are protective, benevolent spirits. Sometimes the Navajo depict their yei rain god like a rainbow that curls his body around the south, west, and north in a posture of protection. (He does not need to cover the east, because the Navajo believe evil energy does not enter from that direction.)6
22. A Path or Gateway
The Navajo also say that the rainbow is the path used by their protective spirits, the yei.
In addition, there is a Navajo legend about a hero who is transported back home on a rainbow.7
For the Cherokee, the rainbow is the clothing worn by one of the god of thunder’s sons. (His other son wears lightning.)8
In other versions of the story, the rainbow is the border of the sun’s coat.9
24. Nanabozho‘s Creation
For the Ojibwe, the rainbow was created by an artist named Nanabozho, with the help of two bluebirds, who wanted to bring more color to the world.10
In some Native American stories, the rainbow symbolizes reparition or renewal. For example, the Cree have a story about rainbow warriors who will return to the Earth and unite people to help repair the damage that mankind has done to the world.11
In addition, the Lenape have a legend about a rainbow crow whom the Creator makes whole after the crow’s great sacrifice, which you can read about in my post about crow symbolism.
26. Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge
In Norse mythology, Bifrost is a rainbow bridge that connects Asgard, the world of the gods, with Midgard, the world of humans.
According to the legend, the god Heimdall guards the bridge. However, during the battles of Ragnarok, giants breached Heimdall’s defenses, crossing the bridge and storming Asgard to slay the gods.12
Rainbows in Celtic Mythology
In Celtic culture, rainbows signify one’s hopes and dreams, or aspirations.
28. Good Fortune
In addition, rainbows always symbolized blessings and good fortune for the Celts. The ancient Celts identified the arc of the rainbow with a woman’s pregnant belly, and babies are considered to be blessings.
In addition, in Irish folklore, leprechauns hide their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. So, if you can find it, you will become wealthy.
29. The Crown of Ninurta
In Sumerian mythology, the god of agriculture, Ninurta, was revered as a defender of Sumer and he was often depicted wielding a bow and arrow. In Sumerian stories, the rainbow was Ninurta’s crown. The rainbow symbolizes his divine power and connection to the heavens.13
Rainbows are also associated with another Mesopotamian deity, the goddess Manzat, who is also known as the Rainbow Goddess. Manzat ruled taverns, partying, and having a good time, including lovemaking.14
In Greek mythology, the rainbow is personified by the goddess Iris. In the epic story The Iliad, Iris carried messages from the gods to humans. So, she was the embodiment of the connection between the heavens and Earth.
Rainbow Meaning in Oceania
32. The Soul’s Pathway
As in many other cultures, in Hawaii a rainbow represents a celestial bridge that connects the Earth with Heaven. According to some Hawaiian stories, the soul’s pathway to Heaven is on a rainbow. Thus, in Hawaii, rainbow meaning also includes spiritual transformation.
33. Connection with the Gods
Rainbows are also associated with Hawaiian deities and they are seen as good omens. According to Hawaiian legend, certain people have the ability to move freely between the world of humans and that of the gods. They do this by taking a rainbow pathway. Those who have this power can manifest abundance and prosperity on Earth.15
Rainbows are so important in Hawaiian culture that there are multiple words in the Hawaiian language to describe rainbows, including: uakoko (rainbow that hugs the Earth), kāhili (rainbow shafts), punakea (barely visible rainbows), and ānuenue kau pō (moonbows).16
For the Aboriginal Australians, the rainbow represents protection and prosperity. In fact, the Aborigines have a creation story about a Rainbow Serpent, which I wrote about in my post about snake symbolism. The Rainbow Serpent is portrayed as a giant rainbow-colored snake who encircles the world.
The Rainbow Serpent is a protector and a provider of life because he brings water to the People. Thus, the rainbow is associated with fertility, the abundance of plants and animals, and the availability of food in Indigenous Australian culture.
Rainbow Meaning in Africa
35. Fertility and Wealth
As do the Native Australians, people in Africa and the Caribbean have legends about a giant rainbow serpent called Ayida-Weddo who encircles the Earth and provides protection, fertility, and abundance.17
36. Initiation and Transcendence
In addition, the Fang People of Gabon are initiated into their spiritual faith when they experience a transcendent experience in which they arrive at the center of a rainbow and can see its entire circle. For this reason, the Fang tell their children not to look at rainbows because they are not spiritually ready.18
37. Duality and Balance
In Chinese culture, rainbows have a variety of meanings. However, one consistent theme is that of duality and balance. For example, the Chinese tell tales of a rainbow dragon named Hong who has two heads.
In addition, as rainbows occur at the intersection of rain and sun, they are also seen as a symbol of the union between male and female energy, or Yin and Yang.19
Furthermore, the Chinese associate the rainbow with their mother goddess Nuwa. According to Chinese myth, when the ancient gods battled, they destroyed the pillars that held up the heavens. It was Nuwa who repaired the holes in the heavens with magical colored stones. And this is why there are rainbows.
38. A Celestial Bridge
As with other cultures, the Japanese also see rainbows as bridges that span the Earth and Heaven. According to Japanese myth, the god created a divine couple named Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto. They called upon this couple to create the land. The couple stood on a rainbow bridge as they stirred the sea in order to create land.20
With their breathtaking beauty and ethereal presence, it’s no wonder why rainbows have captivated people throughout history. The array of symbolic meanings that people from different cultures and faiths have applied to rainbows underscores how much rainbows inspire us and fill us with a sense of wonder.