We love a rainbow. And it’s no wonder really, that a rainbow is the symbol for so many things.
Rainbows are pretty rare and undeniably beautiful. As far as heavenly natural phenomenon go, they have inspired songs, books, legends, and artwork since humans…well…became humans. And it's image has evoked awe, delight, faith, and even controversy...
A brief look at Rainbow Symbolism
The rainbow was adopted during the Coronavirus pandemic as a sign of solidarity for NHS workers, who were (and still are) on the front line of the fight against the virus. A nurse started the trend because she wanted to create a positive sign of hope for staff in hospitals across the country during the darkest days of the pandemic…and it really took hold in the public’s imagination. Windows across the nation were adorned with hand-coloured rainbows in all sorts of shapes and sizes. And along with the clap for carers throughout 2020, it has become the most recognised emblem of the crisis.
And at Bombus we support the NHS and our nurses whole heartedly. We have family, friends, and colleagues who either work for or have strong ties with to NHS, and we are 100% behind the campaign to ensure that our nurses are paid a fair and reasonable wage. And they are nothing short of heroic. If you agree and want to help, visit the change.org petition and add your name.
Is the use of the rainbow in this way at all controversial?
But the use as a symbol of the NHS during coronavirus wasn't necessarily welcomed by all. A number of members of the LGBTQ+ community that were uneasy about a symbol that had been theirs for over 40 years being diverted to another cause. Kirsty Conway puts forth an excellent and fair point in this article, explaining why many felt taken aback by its use.
The rainbow has been a symbol of hope for many cultures throughout human history, not just during coronavirus. And while it is beautiful to look at, to photograph, or to capture in artwork…its meaning is much deeper within older religions and spiritualties. Follow the links below for a more in depth read on the significance of rainbows for each specific group.
The rainbow was seen as a covenant with God in Norse culture, and was considered a way of stopping the world being destroyed by floodwater.
Many Native American tribes believe that the rainbow is sacred. The rainbow is seen as a path taken by holy spirits, in Navajo spirituality.
In Ireland, the rainbow is seen as a blessing from heaven and signifies hope for the future. The rainbow is very important in Celtic culture, and is therefore much more than the cartoon version many people associate with it.
In Chinese mythology, the rainbow is said to be a slit in the sky sealed by goddess Nüwa using stones of five different colours.
In Greek mythology, Iris is the personification of the rainbow and a messenger linking the gods to humanity.
Did you know that Gilbert Baker designed the Rainbow Flag as a symbol for the LGBTQ community in 1978? It, along with a number of updated variations, has become the defining image of Pride and LGBTQ movements across the globe. It has sparked great change and continues to be the main focal point for demonstrations and activism against the repression of LGBTQ rights.
A rainbow baby "is a baby born after a miscarriage, stillborn, or neonatal death," as described by Jennifer Kulp-Makarov, M.D., FACOG,. "It is called a rainbow baby because it is like a rainbow after a storm: something beautiful after something scary and dark." She adds, "It is an extremely emotional and devastating experience to lose a pregnancy [or baby]. To create a life or bring a baby into the world after such a loss is amazing like a miracle for these parents."
Recently, a number of high profile celebrities and influencers have highlighted the importance of talking about miscarriage and loss.
You can read this article on parents.com for a compassionate and honest discussion about what having a rainbow baby has meant to three women who have experienced loss, and to understand why we all need to talk about it.
Art and Popular Culture
John Constable loved a rainbow.
Have you seen any of his paintings? They are are displayed in some of the most revered art galleries, and John Constable is considered one of the most respected artists in the world.
From the colour palettes of Warhol, to the albums covers of Bowie and Pink Floyd…the rainbow crosses so many divides that it is bound to stay as a profound and important image within popular culture for a long time to come.