The rainbow, a natural phenomenon noted for its beauty and mystical appearance has been a favorite component of mythology throughout history.

Rainbows are part of the myths of many cultures around the world.

The Norse saw it as Bifrost; Judeo-Christian traditions 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, rainbows have been pressed into symbolic service for millennia. There is a myriad of beliefs concerning rainbows.

The complex diversity of rainbow myths are far-reaching, as are their inherent similarities.


In Norse religion, a burning rainbow bridge called the Bifrost connects Midgard (earth) with Asgard, home of the gods.

Bifrost can be used only by gods and those who are killed in battle. It is eventually shattered under the weight of war – the Ragnarok (German Götterdammerung). The notion that the rainbow bridge to heaven is attainable by only the good or virtuous, such as warriors and royalty, is a theme repeated often in world myths.

In the ancient beliefs of Japan, rainbows were the bridges that human ancestors took to descend to the planet. In Navajo tradition, the rainbow is the path of the holy spirits and is frequently depicted in sacred sandpaintings.

The Maori tell 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.


In Greek mythology, Iris is the personification of the rainbow and a messenger linking the gods to humanity. Iris is frequently mentioned as a divine messenger in the Iliad.

She carries a caduceus or winged staff. Iris’s messages often concerned war and retribution. However, like many Greek gods, Iris is continually being redefined.

It eventually became solely a mode of transportation for Iris, who proves to be as elusive and unpredictable as the rainbow itself.

Anuenue, the rainbow maiden, appears in Hawaiian legends as the messenger for her brothers, the gods Tane and Kanaloa.

Sumerian mythology

A rather ambiguous perception of the rainbow strikes a vein in all world culture, through its entire storied past.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, who was an ancient Sumerian king (ca.3000 BC), is our first detailed written evidence of human civilization.

In a Victorian translation of a Gilgamesh variant, Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton’s Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar, King Izdubar sees “a mass of colors like the rainbow’s hues” that are “linked to divine sanction for war.

Later in the epic, Izdubar sees the “glistening colors of the rainbow rise” in the fountain of life next to Elam’s Tree of Immortality.

The Sumerian farmer god Ninurta defends Sumer with a bow and arrow and wearing a crown described as a rainbow.

Australian Aboriginal mythology

In Australian Aboriginal mythology, the rainbow snake is the Creator (Kurreah, Andrenjinyi, Yingarna, Ngalyod, and others) in the Dreaming, which is the infinite period of time that began with the world’s creation and that has no end.

People, animals, and Eternal Beings like the Rainbow Serpent are all part of the Dreaming, and everyday life is affected by the Dreaming’s immortals, in almost every Australian Aborigine tribe.

In these tribes, of which there are over 50, actual rainbows are gigantic, often malevolent, serpents who inhabit the sky or ground. This snake has different names in different tribes and has both different and similar traits from tribe to tribe.

The theme consistent with most Australian tribes is that the Rainbow Serpent is the creator of the world and all beings. During the dry season, retreats to deep waterholes.

Another common theme among all aboriginal tribes is that the Rainbow Serpent has no gender. And while the Rainbow Serpent can give fertility by creating rain, it can also let loose blindness and disease.

“The Aboriginal Rainbow is humanity because it causes the ‘energy’ and the ‘breath’ that gives people life.”

Ngalyod, first-born son of Yingarna, who is the Rainbow Serpent creator of the Kunwinjku in western Arnhem Land in Australia—sucks up water during the dry season and spits it out as rain during the wet season.

Like Iris, Ngalyod helps to ensure fertility with rains, but he can destroy as well as nurture. Yingarna, the creator of the Kunwinjku people, is “nominally female” and androgynous like her son Ngalyod. She possesses cunningly ambivalent form; as she combines elements of snake, fish, crocodile, catfish, emu, and kangaroo.

The Estonian Rainbow Serpent, like the Aborigines’ Ngalyod, sucks up water and spits rain, and also has a confused identity – it possesses an ox’s head on its serpent body.

Judeo–Christian faith

According to Genesis, after Noah saved the animals from the Great Flood, a rainbow appeared.

As the flood had killed all other living beings, the rainbow came to symbolize God’s promise that he would never send another flood to destroy all of the earth and that never again would all living things be killed in the waters of a flood.

Other mythologies

For some native people rainbows around the sun is considered to be a sign from God, marking a time of great change.

“The Whirling Rainbow – Prophecy There will come a day when people of all races, colors, and creeds will put aside their differences. They will come together in love, joining hands in unification, to heal the Earth and all Her children. They will move over the Earth like a great Whirling Rainbow, bringing peace, understanding, and healing everywhere they go. Many creatures thought to be extinct or mythical will resurface at this time; the great trees that perished will return almost overnight. All living things will flourish, drawing sustenance from the breast of our Mother, the Earth.

The great spiritual Teachers who walked the Earth and taught the basics of the truths of the Whirling Rainbow Prophecy will return and walk amongst us once more, sharing their power and understanding with all. We will learn how to see and hear in a sacred manner. Men and women will be equals in the way Creator intended them to be; all children will be safe anywhere they want to go. Elders will be respected and valued for their contributions to life. Their wisdom will be sought out. The whole Human race will be called The People and there will be no more war, sickness or hunger forever” ~Ancient American Indian Prophecy

In Armenian mythology – is a belt of Tir, which was originally a god Sun, and then – god of knowledge.

In a Chinese folktale, Hsienpo and Yingt’ai are star-crossed lovers who must wait until the rainbow appears to be alone together. Hsienpo is red, and Yingt’ai is the blue. Hong is another name for the rainbow with various associated legends and interpretation.

In Ireland, a common legend asserts that a “pot of gold” is to be found at the end of a rainbow, for the person lucky enough to find it. This treasure is, however, guarded by a Leprechaun.

In Mesoamerican cultures, Ix Chel is a maternal jaguar goddess associated with rain. Chel means rainbow in the Yucatán Poqomchi’ language. Ix Chel wears a serpent headdress and presides principally over birth and healing.

In Amazonian cultures, rainbows have long been associated with malign spirits that cause harm, such as miscarriages and (especially) skin problems. In the Amuesha language of central Peru, certain diseases are called ayona’achartan, meaning “the rainbow hurt my skin“. A tradition of closing one’s mouth at the sight of a rainbow in order to avoid disease appears to pre-date the Incan empire.

Rainbows are widely seen in Native American stories and prophecies. The Cherokee believe the rainbow forms the hem of the sun’s coat.


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