If you’re familiar with Norse mythology at all, you’ve probably heard of the Rainbow Bridge. The Norse called it Bifröst. The etymology of the word is not fully known, but it translates roughly as, “the vibrating or trembling rainbow.” Another possibility is “shimmering rainbow.” This supposedly speaks to the fleeting and fragile nature of a rainbow.
I could write from the standpoint of meterology about how a rainbow is formed, about the reflection, refraction, and dispersion of light in water droplets, or I could write about something much more true and meaningful. I will proceed with the latter.
One of the best stories from the Land of Nowhere concerning the rainbow is the Norse saga of Bifröst. Bifröst is the bridge that links Asgard, the home of the gods, with Midgard, the world of humans. The gods traverse Bifröst on horseback, moving between earth and heaven. The Rainbow Bridge stretches from this world to Himinbjörg, “heaven mountain,” home of Heimdallr, the watcher of the bridge. Heimdallr is a god who is equipped with a mighty horn to warn of Ragnarök, the death of the gods and the end of the world. The bridge will be destroyed when the sons of Muspell, a race of giants, ride across and trigger the end of days for gods and men.
These images have great meaning for one trying to fathom the truths of the soul. According to Plato, the soul is a bridge between spirit and matter, called the metaxy. It is analogous to Bifröst, since it is a bridge from Asgard to Midgard. Now, the gods, except for Thor, travel the Rainbow Bridge and descend every morning to Midgard, assembling at the Fountain of Urd to sit in judgment. Thor was told he had to find another route to the fountain. Because of his great strength and power, it was feared the god of thunder would destroy Bifröst if he set his feet or his chariot wheels upon it, the bridge being very fragile. The balance between heaven and earth, spirit and matter, is very delicate. The soul must be built and fortified over many years if it is to stand strong and mighty when the gods travel the bridge. Interaction with Spirit is quite important to mankind, so a strong soul-bridge is necessary to survive in this world. Strength is balance.
Even then, however, the bridge may collapse, just as we sometimes have “breakdowns.” But Bifröst, and bridges in general, symbolize a state of transition, moving from one mode of being to another. Cirlot says, “there are a great many cultures where the bridge symbolizes the link between what can be perceived and what is beyond perception” (Cirlot 33).
Bifröst also points to something I wrote about in my article, The Brunian Revolution, Part 4: Epistemology, where I discussed Bruno’s idea of the copulation between human minds and the anima mundi, the cosmic mind. This is gnosis that flows freely between heaven and earth, macrocosm and microcosm, just as the gods descend and ascend across the Rainbow Bridge. Bifröst is fragile, though, so the metaxical bridge must be guarded closely, lest Ragnarök be unleashed.
It is very significant that Bifröst is a rainbow bridge. The rainbow is a symbol found in mythologies and religions all over the world. It is used in our modern culture in many ways, most of which do not follow the ancient and archetypal usage. In Greek mythology, Iris is the goddess of the rainbow. She brings calmness and serenity to the earth after the ravages of a storm. She is the faithful messenger of Zeus, traversing between gods and humans.
Jung, in his work, Mysterium Coniunctionis, discusses a contemporary of Giordano Bruno, the alchemist, Hermetic philosopher, and physician, Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605). Khunrath made some statements concerning the relation of the lapis philosophorum of alchemy, which Jung relates:
…Khunrath says that at the hour of conjunction the blackness and the raven’s head and all the colours in the world will appear, “even Iris, the messenger of God, and the peacock’s tail.” He adds: “Mark the secrets of the rainbow in the Old and New Testament.” This is a reference to the sign of God’s covenant with Noah after the flood (Gen. 10: 12f.) and to the “one in the midst of the four and twenty elders,” who “was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine-stone, and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald” (Rev.4: 3£.),1i.9 and to the vision of the angel with a rainbow on his head (Rev. 10: 1).120 Iris as the “messenger of God” is of special importance for an understanding of the opus, since the integration of all colours points, as it were, to a coming of God, or even to his presence (Jung 287).
So, the rainbow is an image inherent in Nature that not only symbolizes the bridge between matter and spirit, between humans and the gods, but also the completion of the alchemical process, unless you agree with Gerhard Dorn, who believed there was yet a third additional stage to the opus (see Gerhard Dorn and the Caelum). As with any true symbol, there are many different interpretations, but these are a few of the most important ones regarding the rainbow. It is a beautiful image of integration, and a passage between worlds.
Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. Jack Sage. London: Routledge, 1971.
Jung, C.G. Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry Into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy. trans, R.F.C. Hull. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 14. Princeton: Princeton, 1963
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