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Posts Tagged ‘Bifrost’

Rainbow

St. Patrick’s Day is nearly upon us.  While there is much to be said about the great saint being commemorated — my Patron Saint, incidentally — I think most people’s attention would be more easily captivated by popular images of leprechauns and their pots-o’-gold under the rainbow.

Given this traditional affiliation, I want to preface my comments on leprechauns with a focus on the rainbow.

Rainbows have captivated mankind’s attention for ages, and so many cultures have attributed various forms of significance to it.

Heimdall

To the Vikings it was the Bifrost Bridge, believed to connect earth to Asgard, the realm of the gods.

Iris

According to Greco-Roman mythology, what we call the rainbow was in fact the path made in the sky by Iris, a minor deity whose job it was to relay messages between Heaven and Earth.

Nuwa

The ancient Chinese would have said that the rainbow came into existence as a result of a slit torn into the veil between heaven and earth, which the goddess Nüwa sealed using multi-colored stones.

Across the world’s many cultures throughout the millennia, interpretations of the rainbow included the clothing or paraphernalia of gods, omens, and the very form of a particular god itself.

Descartes_RainbowAnd then of course we have the modern scientific explanation of the rainbow, which is well beyond my expertise or powers of explanation and has something to do with the refractions of light.

This, however, gives us the how of the rainbow.  Before we dismiss the ancients as stupid primitives who understood nothing about the world, we should keep in mind that they were more concerned with whys than with hows.

If we take a look at the various cultures in question, we notice that most of them conceived of the rainbow in terms of some sort of connection between heaven and earth — whether in the form of a connecting apparatus or a revelation (intentional or not) on heaven’s part of itself.

NoahWith all this in mind, let’s take a look at the Biblical conception of the rainbow.

In the Book of Genesis, we read about God’s Covenant with Noah and all of creation after the Great Flood:

God added: “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.  As the bow appears in the clouds, I will see it and recall the everlasting covenant that I have established between God and all living beings – all mortal creatures that are on earth” (Genesis 9:12-16).

It is with this understanding of the rainbow in terms of a Covenant in mind that I intend to explore the leprechaun/rainbow symbolism in relation to Christianity.

Images obtained from Wikipedia.

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