There is a well-known saying that the rainbow comes only after the storm. In the Bible, after the Deluge, God places a rainbow in the sky and pledges solemnly not to send another flood upon the earth: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth,” as we read in the Book of Genesis. Symbolically, deluge denotes spiritual cleansing and redemption, which ushers in a new era. Probably everyone reading this would agree that the Earth is in deep need of renewal at this point in time. With the Sun currently in Aquarius, my thoughts have been centering on a need for cleansing and renewal; a new suit of ideas that would wake, transform our collective attitudes and fertilize our sterile collective mind. More and more individuals seem to be waiting for an outer manifestation of all the stirrings and movements that have been occurring in the collective psyche. For a reason I cannot explain, because my mind often functions in very whimsical ways, I have been thinking of the symbolism of the rainbow recently.
Joseph Anton Koch, “Landscape with Noah”
The Greek goddess personifying the rainbow is one of the most fascinating deities to me. Her name was Iris and she was a swift-footed, golden-winged messenger to the gods, bringing important news and disappearing as miraculously and quickly as she has appeared; not unlike the rainbow itself. There is also an asteroid Iris (number 7, which is fitting if you think of the colours of the rainbow), which has just crossed the cardinal axis and entered the sign Aries. The emergence from the unconscious waters of Pisces into Aries, the first sign of the Zodiac, is associated with manifestation. Hopefully, the transiting Iris will be a harbinger of change and renewal for all of us. Let’s hope that what has been stirring inside will be brought outside now. The goddess Iris, as a rainbow bridge, linked the sea and the sky, and she was also allowed to enter the underworld and dive in the depths of the sea. The Greeks imagined that she was the goddess who supplied the clouds with the water that she obtained from the seas by means of a golden pitcher, and thus stimulated the rains that brought growth and fertility onto the earth. This must have been born from observing actual rainbows, whose one end as hiding deep beyond the horizon, often in the sea or a body of water and whose other end seemed to reach the heavens.
Guy Head, “Iris Carrying the Water of the River Styx to Olympus for the Gods to Swear by”
John Atkinson Grimshaw, “Iris”
I find it quite fascinating that Iris’s mother was Electra, a cloud nymph and one of the seven Pleiades. The Pleiades themselves were associated with water in all forms, such as rain, frost, ice snow, lakes, rivers, oceans, etc.
“In Greek and Aboriginal mythology the Pleiades are often referred to as ocean or sea nymphs or as water girls and ice maidens. Their relationship with water is multi-layered and multi-faceted and we see numerous connections of the Pleiades with the weather, agriculture, navigation and sailing.”
Returning to Iris, but still staying with the symbolism of number seven and the rainbow, for Cirlot, the rainbow is a kind of an elusive bridge which links that which can be perceived with what is beyond perception. The seven colours of the rainbow also refer to the marriage of heaven and earth, because symbolically three is a number connected with heaven and god/goddess while four is associated with the earth and matter. In a classic text by Wynn Westcott (see Sources below), we read:
“The Heptad, say the followers of Pythagoras, was so called from the Greek verb ‘sebo,’ to venerate (and from the Hebrew ShBO, seven, or satisfied, abundance), being Septos, ‘Holy,’ ‘divine’…”
Elaborating on the meaning of number seven and trying to find its synthesis, Cirlot writes:
“It corresponds to the seven Directions of Space (that is, the six existential dimensions plus the centre), to the seven-pointed star, to the reconciliation of the square with the triangle by superimposing the latter upon the former (as the sky over the earth) or by inscribing it within. It is the number forming the basic series of musical notes, of colours and of the planetary spheres as well as of the gods corresponding to them; and also of the capital sins and their opposing virtues. …the six directions of space symbolize—or are equivalent to—the simultaneous and eternal presence of the six days of the Creation, and that the seventh day (of rest) signifies the return to the centre and the beginning. It was indeed the awareness of the seven Directions of Space (that is, two for each of the three dimensions plus the centre) that gave rise to the projection of the septenary order into time. Sunday—the Day of Rest—corresponds to the centre and, since all centres are linked with the ‘Centre’ or the Divine Source, it is therefore sacred in character. The idea of rest is expressive of the notion of the immobility of the ‘Centre’, whereas the other six Directions are dynamic in character.”
To summarize and synthesize, number seven seems to be a perfect and complete number encompassing both the spiritual and the temporal spheres. Madame Blavatsky says that seven is a parthenogenic number “neither born of a mother or a father but that it proceeded ‘from the Monad directly’ and was therefore considered ‘to be a religious and perfect number.’ ” (here quoted after Munya Andrews, author of a splendid book on the mythology of the Pleiades, please refer to the Sources below). The harmony of the spheres is said to rest on the seven tones of creation. In her book on Pleiades, Andrews frequently cites scientific findings and offers her own symbolic interpretations of them, which I find quite illuminating:
“Ancient beliefs in the creative powers of number seven have been recently affirmed by science. In ‘Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe,’ astronomer Martin Rees has identified one number as the source of our creation, and that is 0.007. What is so remarkable about this number, says Rees, ‘is that no carbon-based biosphere could exist if this number had been 0.006 or 0.008 rather than 0.007.’ ”
And even more amazingly, more so when we think of the Hindu mythology, which refers to the Pleiades as the Seven Mothers of the World:
“What is enormously interesting about our widespread preoccupation with the number seven in many creation stories is the revelation that genetic analysis of people of European descent traces DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) carried only in female mitochondrial genes (mtDNA) to seven primordial ‘clan mothers.’ These are The Seven Daughters of Eve who feature in Bryan Sykes’ book, which overturned previously held archaeological and anthropological conjecture about early hominids and spontaneous agricultural development.”
Our Great Mother seems to have been seven in number. In fact, both Madame Blavatsky and Barbara Hand Clow, author of The Pleiadian Agenda, have associated the stars of the Pleiades with the Harmony of the Spheres and the creation of the universe by means of sound and vibration. According to Madame Blavatsky, quoted here after Munya Andrews, “it is the stars of Ursa Major acting in concert with the Pleiades that govern the various cycles of time, including the cyclical destruction and reconstruction of the cosmos.”
What kind of divine message is the goddess Iris bringing to humanity? I feel that she comes down from the heavens to share with us some sacred mysteries that have remained hidden up to now. The word revelation is actually connected etymologically with the act of tearing away a veil. Porphyry, a Neoplatonic philosopher and disciple of Plotinus, wrote that the ancients called heavens “a veil,” which was hiding the true and profound mysteries of creation. Just looking at the Pleiades or at a rainbow, provokes a sense of mystery and awe. The Pleiades seem to be wrapped in blue veils, a rainbow is never crystal clear but always misty and elusive. Barbara G. Walker likens the goddess Iris to the Hindu Maia, who personified “the many-colored veils of the world’s appearances behind which the spirit of the Goddess worked unseen.” She adds:
“Like the part of the eye named after her, she was the Kore, Virgin, or Female Soul, a form of the Great Shakti who was both the organ of sight and the visible world that it saw. Her spectrum spanned all possible colors.”
Mythic Tarot, Temperance
To me, both Iris and the Pleiades and their myth seem to hold the keys to the quality of the approaching New Era. It is worth pointing out that rainbows seem to be bows and arches but are in fact always full circles. We only ever see the upper half of the arc. The Great Round, Full Circle of wisdom is always hidden behind the veil. According to myth, Iris had one son with Zephyrus, god of the West Wind. His name was Pothos. James Hillman was fascinated by that mythical figure and had a lot of amazing things to say about him. For the Greeks, pothos meant “erotic feeling of nostalgic desire,” “a yearning desire for a distant object.” Somewhere over the rainbow, beyond the horizon, is what we desire. We long for “the unattainable, the ungraspable, the incomprehensible.” The eros and the spirit are forever intertwined. Winning an object of our longing will inevitably bring a feeling of pothos because a desire for love can never be fully satisfied. Says Hillman: “Pothos, as the wider factor in eros, drives the sailor-wanderer to quest for what cannot be fulfilled and what must be impossible.”
We can attain what we long for ultimately only through imagination. Nothing wakes pothos so acutely as a sighting of a rainbow.
Munya Andrews, The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades – Stories from around the World
Juan Eduardo Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols
James Hillman, Senex and Puer (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman 3)
Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
Wynn Westcott, Numbers, Their Occult Powers and Mystic Virtues, http://sacred-texts.com/eso/nop/nop14.htm