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Bridge to the Heavens: A Weather Folklore

Bridge to the Heavens: A Weather Folklore

Long before modern science began to understand the processes that create our weather, people made up their own explanations. Many of these accounts were fantastic in nature, with evil or benevolent gods, monsters, and spirits controlling the elements. In this series, we’ll explore some of these ancient myths and share the science behind them. Weather + mythology = weather-ology!

No natural phenomenon captures the imagination quite like rainbows. With their bright colors and ethereal quality, they seem like pure magic, completely removed from the laws of nature. It’s no wonder, then, that rainbows have been the subject of countless myths and legends since the dawn of human civilization.

Chief among rainbow legends is the idea, popular in a wide variety of cultures, that rainbows are actually bridges that link the natural world with the spirit world, or the world of the gods.

One such myth is the Bilröst, a burning rainbow bridge said in Norse legend to span between Midgard, the world of men, and Asgard, the fabled realm of the gods. Its name literally means “shimmering path.”

According to legend, only gods and those killed in battle could cross Bilröst. An ancient prophecy foretold that one day Bilröst would shatter under the weight of Ragnarök, the great war that would bring about the end of the world.

Supernatural as they may seem, though, rainbows are actually created by a perfectly natural process. They form because white light is comprised of all colors of the spectrum. When light passes through water, or glass, it is refracted into its component colors. Rainbows can appear any time there are water droplets in the air and the sunlight shines from behind them at a low angle. That means they are more likely to appear in the early morning or later afternoon. Rainbows always appear directly opposite from the sun.

Even if a rainbow would hold your weight, you would never be able to walk on one anywhere, because rainbows have no set physical location. A person who appears to be standing at the end of a rainbow from another person’s perspective won’t see the rainbow in the same place, but will instead see another rainbow in a different location, opposite the sun.

While you can’t actually cross into Asgard on a rainbow, and you won’t find any pots of gold at the end of one, either, rainbows are still pretty magical, all on their own.

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  • Kay Windham says:

    Gen. 9:11-15 God said He would never destroy the earth with water again so He would make a covenant with man that he would never destroy the earth with water again. As a token of His promise He put a rainbow as a remind. When we see the rainbow God is looking at it too! 2nd. Peter 1:10 says the next time the earth and all it’s elements will be destroyed with fire! Amen

  • Kay Windham Carver says:

    Genesis 9:11-15. God said He would make a covenant between Him
    And man that He would never destroy the earth with water again. He
    Placed the rainbow as a reminder to man. He said that when we see
    The rainbow that He would also see it as a reminder! Thank God for
    His love for us! 2nd Peter 1:10 says the next time the earth and all
    It’s elements will be destroyed with fire.

  • Heather Mavis Rushing says:

    I am so glad to see that the wondrous truth of the rainbow: Our Creator God placed the rainbow in the sky as a sign of His promise that He would never destroy the earth- with water -again!
    All that is proven to be scientific fact has already been recorded in the Bible.

  • Alli-May says:

    How lovely to read an article about rainbow weather-ology.
    Nothing surpasses that breathtaking moment when the glowing, ever changing bridge lights up the sky and reminds you that nature truly is …..awesome.

  • Jaime McLeod says:

    Hi Rich and Janice,
    This article is just one of whole series of articles we’ve done comparing an old myth – Greek, Norse, Native America, or otherwise – with the scientific explanation of a nature phenomenon. To mention a Biblical story as part of this series would have meant we were suggesting that the Biblical story was a myth. I don’t think either of you would agree with that, either. You can see other stories in this series if you search for “weather-ology” in our search box.

  • Janice Clark says:

    Amen to Rich Gideons!! As I was reading the myths..I wondered why the true reason for the rainbow was not one of them. So I thank you so much for posting this comment. The truth will set you free…..We are free indeed!!

  • Rich Gideons says:

    Interesting that there is no mention of the most read publication that gives a full account of the origin of the rainbow as written in Genesis 9:8-17. God tells Noah, “I have placed my rainbow in the clouds.” It is a sign of His covenant with man and all living creatures that a flood would never again destroy the whole earth and all living creatures again.

  • If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

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