Have you ever looked, I mean really looked, at a rainbow? If you have studied one carefully, you know that this beautiful arch of color is no accidental happening. It is, instead, the result of a certain set of circumstances.

To see a rainbow you must have a curtain of large clear raindrops in front of you and, strange as it may seem, sunshine behind you. Furthermore, the sun must be no more than about 40° above the horizon. Since a bow always forms in the sky opposite the sun, it would appear in the west in the morning and in the east late in the afternoon.

As the sunlight strikes the rain, each raindrop acts like a tiny prism, separating the white light into its seven colors—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Because each color is reflected to your eye at a different angle, you see individual bands of color. Sometimes the colors are so blended that only four or five are visible.

Have you noticed that the red arc is on the outside of the rainbow and the violet is on the inside? That is because the raindrop prisms bend the violet light more than the red. If you are lucky, you may have seen a second bow above the first. In this one the colors are usually pale and their order is reversed. This secondary rainbow occurs when there are two reflections within the raindrops.

Men of long ago wondered about these bridges of color in the sky. It is said that the Pit River Indians of California believed that rainbows were “rain-clear signs” sent to them by Old-Man-Above. He shaped them like the coyote’s tail and colored them with the blue of the bluebird, the red of the rising sun, the yellow of the coyote’s fur, and the green of grass.

To the Polynesians of the South Pacific, a rainbow was a ladder up which heroes climbed to reach heaven.

Early Hindus told stories about the great god Indra. They said that during severe storms he threw thunderbolts and used a rainbow to shoot his lightning arrows.

Certain North African tribes thought that when they saw a rainbow they were seeing the lovely bride of their rain god.

Of course, to members of the Church and others who study and believe the scriptures, the rainbow has a special meaning:

“And God made a covenant with Noah, and said, This shall be the token of the covenant I make between me and you, for every living creature with you, for perpetual generations;

“I will set my bow [rainbow] in the cloud; and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.” (JST, Gen. 9:18, 19; see also Gen. 9:20–25 and History of the Church, 6:249–254.)

Today, because we have learned to look carefully, we know that rainbows are a breathtakingly beautiful response to the orderly laws of nature.

Illustrated by Shauna Mooney