How the rainbow came to be (004)

Have you ever wondered why there are so many colours in the rainbow? Arguments between people and animals are only too familiar, but did you know that therewas once discord between the colours on our planet earth? Listen to this old fairy tale in which the sun put an end to the arguments:

A long long time ago there lived a queen who loved colours deeply. She was so passionate about them, that she set about gathering as many colours as possible in her garden by selecting all different kinds of flowers. Her greatest pleasure was to watch the sunshine play with the different colours. She loved it when the morning sun shone on the transparent yellow of the evening primrose. Her heart rejoiced in the spring light on the tender green of the trees’ unfolding leaves. But then perhaps the most beautiful of all was the speckled sunlight lighting up the white umbrellas of man-high cow parsley to be found in the forest under the fresh roof of leaves. One beautiful spring day while out walking beneath the new leaves of the beech, it seemed to her as if they were about to burst into flames in the sunlight. She cried out in delight: ”Oh, perhaps orange is the most beautiful colour when illuminated by the sun.” To her surprise she heard the soft and sad little voice of the purple wild marjoram respond: “Oh Queen, don’t you think my purple is more beautiful? I am such a soft, clear colour, I almost look lilac when the sun shines on me. Isn’t my purple more beautiful than the orange of the beech in the spring?”  Taken by surprise, the queen bent down to the wild marjoram and spoke with a smile on her face:” Ah, marjoram, but I love all the colours. Fortunately, there are so many colours, otherwise the world would be such a dull place.”

But the damage was done. From that day on the colours in the royal garden argued over who was the most beautiful. “I am the most important colour” said green arrogantly, “Simply take a look around you and you can see that the colour green is the most dominant colour of all.” At this yellow laughed very loud and exclaimed: “Fools, I am more important: the sun is yellow and without the sun there is no life on earth. And just count the flowers; most flowers in the world are yellow.” “Hey, hey,” said the Water in the pond, “ you’ve not been looking very carefully,  I  am the most commonly occurring colour. Take a look around you – the water is blue just like the sea, the rivers and the air and do not forget to count all the blue flowers.” To which purple whispered in reply: ”you are a very commonly occurring colour, it is true, but this is about which colour is the most beautiful. Because I am so delicate and rare, I think I am the purest and most beautiful colour.” All the colours started shouting at one another, at which point red cried out: “people love red the best, because they go into ecstasies when they see my red light in the morning skies at sunrise and in the evening skies at sunset.”

Then the colours fell silent to recover a little from their arguments. But, to their fright,  they discovered that deep black storm clouds were threatening to come in their direction. They knew it would not be long before they would be obscured by the violence of hale storms, lashing rain, thunder and lightening. In fear they crept close together to shelter from the approaching doom.  At that very moment the sun shone just above the dark clouds down onto the colours and spoke in a loud clear voice: “ Fools!” You are all special. Furthermore, joined together your beauty is awe-inspiring!” The colours looked at one another and saw that the sun was right: lying close to each other, they were unique. Together they asked the sun to protect them from more arguments and to remind them of this special moment.

The sun agreed, but decided that this should remain a special moment. Hence why the sun only shines in this very special way on the colours if rain or thunder threaten. At such moments the colours are reflected in the sky in the shape of a colourful bow which we now refer to as a ‘rainbow’. To underline how special this moment is, the rainbow’s beauty is only visible for a few moments.

We most often catch sight of a rainbow when the sun shines on a dark rain cloud. This happens because the sun shines through the raindrops, breaking white light down into its individual colours and thereby creating a rainbow. The seven colours have a fixed order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Rainbows have always appealed to our  imagination, hence the countless fairy tales and legends about them. One example is the Greek myth in which the goddess Iris brings the messages of Hera to the people by crossing the rainbow. For Christians the rainbow is the symbol “of the eternally existing bond between God and all that lives on earth.” (The Bible, Genesis 27).


© Els Baars,

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Els Baars