Saturday, March 9, 2013


Rainbow with traces of supernumerary arcs. Yellowstone
Park, Wyoming. Photo: Peter Faris, 2007.

One weather phenomenon that is welcomed by everyone is the rainbow. It is welcomed for its beauty, agricultural people celebrate it for its relationship to the presence of rain, and in the case of severe weather the rainbow announces the end of the storm. Thus, the rainbow as a symbol is common in the American southwest, and is also found in the rock art of that region. The examples illustrated are found in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. It is also often found in conjunction with other weather symbols such as clouds and rain. The rainbow is also illustrated on the masks or headgear of a number of kachinas, reinforcing its importance as a weather symbol to the agricultural peoples of the southwest.

Rainbow, with anthropomorphs and quadrupeds, Antelope House,
Canyon del Muerto, Arizona. Photo: Peter Faris, 1997.

Ferron Box, San Rafael Swell, UT. From Simms and Gohier,
Traces of Fremont, Univ. of Utah Press, 2010,  p. 26

Red Hole Wash, UT.

Notice that in the example of the polychrome rainbow from Red Hole Wash, Utah, the arc of the rainbow encloses a faint concentric circle sun symbol. This is contrary to the reality of the rainbow being seen in the sky opposite to the sun, but it does seem to indicate some knowledge or realization that the sun and the rainbow are related.

Rochester Creek, UT. Photo: Peter Faris, 1993.

The rainbow is very often identified as a bridge to the sky in Native American mythology, and plays a role in many of the tribal myth cycles that involve traveling to the sky or returning from the sky. The example above from Rochester Creek in Utah is generally interpreted as an example of rainbow as bridge to the sky. Of course, with all of the additional figures in that panel, it is not hard to pick out elements that fit into any mythology.

It has also, and this is perhaps my favorite, been referred to as the “happy hunting ground for the flowers.” So happy hunting, for rock art and rainbows.


Simms, Steven R., and Francois Gohier
2010     Traces of Fremont: Society and Rock Art in Ancient Utah, University of Utah Press, p. 26.


No comments:

Post a Comment