When that loveable green Muppet Kermit the Frog sang “The Rainbow Connection,” he asked the musical question “Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?” Well, there are a few well-known songs, at least in western culture. Think “Over the Rainbow” as sung by Judy Garland in the film version of “The Wizard of Oz.” Like the message in these tunes, many folks find the rainbow signifies a beautiful sign of hope, promise, and love. If you were raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, you know the rainbow figures prominently in the story of Noah and that it was given by God as a promise, some say covenant, not to destroy the world by flood again.
In myth, a rainbow also suggests there is some other place, sometimes better, for us to get to and it can serve as a way to cross over to get there. It has been regarded as a path, bridge, gate, ladder, rope, a stream of water, belt, god/goddess, dragon/serpent (with either one or two heads), garment border/hem, architectural girder, chair, hunting bow, and others. The end of the rainbow marks the location of the ever-unattainable pot of gold; or in the African ethnic Ewe people’s belief, of rare and desirable beads; or in Hawaiian culture, a divinity or person of high birth.
Yet that place over the rainbow is not always viewed as one where “troubles melt like lemon drops.” Some view it with fear and dread doing their best to keep their mouths shut and stay away. For the Karens of Burma, the rainbow is a dangerous child-eating demon. Indigenous people of Honduras and Nicaragua hide their children in their huts to keep them from looking or pointing at the rainbow believing it a sign that “the devil is vexed.” A tradition of closing one’s mouth at the sight of a rainbow in order to avoid disease appears to pre-date the Incan empire.
Others perceive rainbows as both good and evil. The Natal Zulu of South Africa, according to Raymond Lee in “The Rainbow Bridge, Rainbows in Art, Myth and Science,” acknowledge the rainbow as important as their mythical Queen’s bow, yet also fear it as a source of disease. So did the ancient Peruvians perceive the rainbow as “a source of illness,” a condition which could be reversed with the “unraveling of a ball of yarn of seven colors.” Yet in spite of this negative ascription, the Incans built a temple to their Rainbow god adopting rainbow as their emblem because rainbows came from the Sun and the Inca Kings believed themselves to be descendants of the Sun. Identified as K’uychi, sometimes Cuychaor Cuychu,this god was a bad-good guy, whose place had to be respected and whose unpredictability (in the form of rain and hail on newly planted crops) acknowledged and managed.
Beside the name of the Inkan god of old, K’uychi has other meanings associated with its placement at the center of some traditional Peruvian shamanic ceremonial altars or mesas. It signifies the “Rainbow Bridge,” K’uychi Chaka, connecting the upper, middle and lower worlds; the axis mundi, or Tree of Life; the bridge for crossing over from Ordinary Reality to Nonordinary Reality as shamans do. In this tradition, the shamanic practitioner invokes K’uychi, the fifthdirection of the center, by intoning its name when activating the mesa before beginning a ritual ceremony
In his book “Peruvian Shamanism, The Pachakuti Mesa Rev. Ed.,” Mathew Magee writes “K’uychi translates into the full spectrum of light and color that we know as the rainbow.” Sir Isaac Newton discovered that colors of the rainbow can be created by refracting white light into its constituent colors, and conversely, white light, seemingly the absence of color, can be produced by combining all colors of the rainbow. Light is energy. Shamans are all about perceiving, moving and directing and applying energy. The energy associated with the center of the mesa represents the dance between contrary and polar opposites; the balance of scales and every equilibrium: a combining, unifying and joining of multiplicities. It “bridges” the gap between things and places.To take it deeper and to paraphrase Peruvian-born don Oscar Miro Quesada, kamasqa curandero and originator of “Pachakuti Mesa Tradition of Cross-Cultural Shamanism” in a recent presentation, if “We are all colors and no colors,” then we are the ROYGBIV colors of the rainbow and the pure shining white light of the sun and everything in between.