Rainbow Power

Noah’s Sacrifice by Daniel Maclise. 1847. Oil on Canvas. Leeds City Art Gallery

From the time I could talk I was taught by my elders that after God destroyed nearly all life on earth with the Deluge (Great Flood) he sent his boy Noah a rainbow as a sign that he would never do anything like that again.

And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.

Genesis 9:12-13 (AKJV)

But the tale told by my box of magically delicious frosted Lucky Charms cereal proved far more interesting. As a budding folklorist and eventual heathen, the idea that treasure can be found at the end of the rainbow, or that you can fly somewhere over it to another land where witches rule, or that it’s a bridge that leads to the halls of the gods, captured my young imagination more. Yet now I see no contradiction, really. Divinity foresaw how badly we would mess up this world and said: Let us put this arc of light displaying all the colours of the spectrum in the sky as a symbol of hope and promise, that the children of the earth will know that no matter how bad things get, they can always get the fuck up out of their pit of despair and ascend to better circumstances in life because positivity works and magic is real.

The rainbow is one of the most powerful positive symbols we’ve been given in this life and I’m glad it has become a worldwide banner of the LGBTQIA+ movement. Happy Pride everyone. Below are some other instances in which the rainbow has been used as a force for good in this world, at least during my lifetime.

SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

While The Wizard of Oz was filmed well before my time, through the magic of television I was able to enjoy it over and over again as a child, and then later, through the magic of books, to rediscover L. Frank Baum’s distinctly American fairy tale fantasy world as a young adult with a growing fascination with folkore. There’s a profoundly positive and some would say even a spiritual message reverberating throughout both if anyone cares to discover it, and perhaps that’s why it has endured for so long.

Of course, Judy Garland, who sang the signature song “Over the Rainbow“, had already become a gay icon by the time I saw this movie, and it has been surmised that this very song at least partly influenced the adoption of the rainbow flag by the early Pride movement. But I think that the song, if not the entire film, is something people all over the world can identify with, regardless of their sexual orientation.

As a side note, I also find it interesting and perhaps somewhat apropos that the movie itself became associated in the early nineties with the groundbreaking 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, which it just so happens features a rainbow on its cover, emanating from a single beam of white light shining through a prism.

The Wizard of Oz 1939 film synced up with Pink Floyd’s 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon

THE RAINBOW BRIDGE

Long before I discovered comic books, and through them Marvel’s Thor, I had a teacher who taught us about Norse mythology. I had already learned a lot about Greek and Roman mythology by then, but this was an entirely new kind of world that deeply resonated with me, perhaps because of my early love of fairy tales, and in particular those collected by the Brothers Grimm.

The Rainbow Bridge, known as Bifröst, is just that: “a burning rainbow bridge that reaches between Midgard (Earth) and Asgard, the realm of the gods” [Wikipedia]. It is guarded by the god Heimdallr against the jötnar (frost giants) who would destroy Asgard if given half the chance. Some scholars are of the opinion that the bridge represented the Milky Way, an interesting notion given Marvel’s take on Norse mythology.

The Bi Frost Bridge from Thor (film clip)

As a heathen, I feel it important to add that the vast majority of those who practice the Norse religion of Asatru and its variants are both welcoming of diversity and vehemently against racism, Nazis, and others who have misappropriated the symbols of the faith. For more info on this, please direct your browser to HeathensAgainstHate.org.

The Rainbow Bridge has also been charmingly referenced in a poem to comfort those who have lost a beloved pet.

READING RAINBOW

Kermit the Frog and LeVar Burton in TV’s Reading Rainbow

This 80s/90s PBS show was one of my faves growing up. I’d already fallen in love with reading (and writing) long before it aired, but something about LeVar Burton with his cheerful manner, comforting smile, and soothing voice made my hellish preteen life somewhat bearable, reminding me that no matter how shitty things got I could always escape to another world through a book. I can’t even imagine how much more this show must have inspired kids even younger!

In school I was forced to read a lot of depressing shit and that in itself could have potentially put me off reading forever, so I credit Reading Rainbow for keeping me excited about books despite all that. And of course, I’m not alone in loving this show by any means. It was adored by many. But you don’t have to take my word for it. In 2014 Mr. Burton launched a Kickstarter to revive the show for libraries and the Internet. With over a hundred thousand backers, it raised $6,478,916 all told. I think that speaks for itself.

RAINBOW/DIO

Album cover: Rainbow – Rising (1976)

First off let me just say to all the other Black Sabbath fans that I’ve always been a fan of both Ozzy Sabbath and Dio Sabbath. In fact, my first introduction to the music of this legendary band was through a double album featuring Paranoid on one side and Heaven and Hell on the other. But metal bard Ronnie James Dio’s use of the rainbow in his lyrics and imagery is what’s relevant here so I’ll be talking about him this time around.

It all started in 1975 with a band called Rainbow which included not only singer/songwriter Dio but also famed Deep Purple songwriter/guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, who formed this fantasy-themed rock group (apparently naming it after a bar & grill of all things). Back in those days “the word ‘rainbow’ signified peace and freedom” [ibid], and while rainbow flags existed, they wouldn’t come to symbolize the LGBT movement until 1978. Eventually however, “Blackmore decided that he wanted to take the band in a new commercial direction away from the ‘sword and sorcery’ theme. Dio did not agree with this change and left Rainbow” [Wikipedia] .

But the iconic metal vocalist would continue to use the rainbow as a symbol in his overwhelmingly positive lyrics throughout his career as lead singer of Black Sabbath and then his own band, Dio, eventually releasing what is probably one of the most recognized hard rock classics of the 80’s. I don’t really understand everything he’s trying to say to us through the enigmatic poetry of his songs (does anyone?) but who doesn’t sometimes feel they’ve been left on their own, like a rainbow in the dark?

Dio – Rainbow in the Dark (song only)

Well, I’m sure there are many other examples, but the important thing is that the rainbow can be, has been, and is universally seen as a powerful positive symbol. It has not only been viewed variously throughout the ages as a bridge to heaven and a sign of God’s love, but also of our love for each other, which must include the concept of diversity. The very notion of a single white light being refracted into a beam of many colours speaks to that: the many are one.

May it continue to guide us and inspire hope and unity through dark times.

Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now (fan vid)

Remembering the Bard

Portrait of Robert Burns, 1787

When most people encounter the epithet “the Bard” in text or speech, they automatically assume it refers to William Shakespeare, who is known as the Bard of Avon. But there is another who has acquired that particular sobriquet, and deservedly so. I’m of course talking about Robert Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire, and the national poet of Scotland.

Perhaps most well known for having written the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne”, that nostalgic ditty only half understood by so many and yet sung the world over on New Year’s Eve, Rabbie, as he is often affectionately called, was born in 1759 near Ayr on the 25th of January, the son of a tenant farmer. Later hailed as a folk hero and collector of Scottish folk songs as well as Scotland’s national poet, the Bard “is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism” [Wikipedia].

You may know him by a few other of his poems which have been set to music, such as A Red, Red Rose, Ae Fond Kiss, and my personal favourite, The Banks O’ Doon, which gave us the song “Ye Banks and Braes”. But if you don’t, don’t worry. I put together a YouTube playlist for Burns Night you can grab a wee listen of. Just note that I also added a number of songs that he didn’t write the lyrics to, as part of an overall celebration of Scottish culture, music, and history.

And what is Burns Night ye might well ask? Well, ’tis first and foremost a celebration of Rabbie’s life and legacy amidst a feast known as a Burns supper, replete with Scottish food and music, a toast with fine Scotch whisky, and of course, readings of the Bard’s poetry and singing of his songs. Central to the supper is almost always the haggis, Scotland’s national dish, a savoury meat pudding which Burns eulogized most eloquently in his famed poem Address to a Haggis:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my airm.
Haggis on a platter – By Kim Traynor – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18155691

Yet the Burns supper is not merely a celebration of the Bard’s birthday, confined to that one night only. It can be enjoyed anytime, and regardless of whether or not one is Scottish. One need only have an appreciation for the works of the Bard and/or Scottish music, poetry, food, and culture in general, just as the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” that ends the feast isn’t only for the year’s end, as reminiscing about days gone by is a perennial thing not necessarily tied to any season or date on a calendar.

If you’d like to learn more about Robert Burns, his works, and the traditions of Burns Night and its celebratory supper, below you will find a few good links, as well as a fascinating documentary video of a modern facial reconstruction of the Bard as he might have actually looked in life.