Around the world, rainbows are a sign of hope

A rainbow appears along the Pacific Coast in Big Sur, Calif. (Washington Post photo by Melina Mara)
A rainbow appears along the Pacific Coast in Big Sur, Calif. (Washington Post photo by Melina Mara)

Irish folklore says if you follow the rainbow — and avoid sneaky leprechauns — you will find a pot of gold hidden by a fairy.

That idea of traveling on a rainbow comes up in the stories of many cultures around the world. Imagine — people with different languages, skin colors and traditions all creating stories to explain what we now know is a natural phenomenon that happens when light reflects off water droplets in the sky.

In Norse mythology, which started in Scandinavian countries, Bifröst is a burning rainbow bridge leading from Midgard (Earth) to Asgard, where the gods live. According to the myths, only gods and people who die in battle can cross Bifröst until the time of Ragnarök, a great battle, when the rainbow bridge’s heat will cool enough for the bridge to stand open for everyone.

In Greek mythology, Iris is a goddess with golden wings who travels the rainbow to take messages to and from the gods.

The Bible’s book of Genesis says God put a rainbow in the sky to promise Noah and his family there never again would be an earth-destroying flood.

Many Aborigine tribes in Australia see the rainbow as a large serpent, or snake, that was the creator of the world. The Rainbow Serpent is said by some tribes to inhabit the sky and ground, where it sucks up water during Australia’s dry season and spits it back out during the rainy season.

Estonian folklore, from the country Estonia in northern Europe, also has a Rainbow Serpent, but it has an ox’s head on a snake body.


Rainbows have remained popular in modern-day culture, from kids’ clothing and Lucky Charms cereal, to a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, children around the world have displayed rainbow artwork on doors and windows to thank essential workers and show that we’re all in this together. So the next time you see a rainbow in the sky, think about all the other people who see the same sign of hope. And go see if you can find the gold!


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