Friday, July 1, 2011

Pride Meets Prejudice III: Over the Rainbow

The Promise of Hope

The ultimate temerity of Morse's claim is crippling in her view that the symbol of the rainbow as a Judaic and Christian sign of deliverence when, according to many Biblical scholars and Sumerologist, this Biblical narrative has been traced not to Noah, but ultimately to much earlier Mesopotamian mythology.  In the Epic of Gilgamesh the gods contrive to flood the Earth in order to punish humanity save for a proto-Noah figure who survived.  Instead of a rainbow, however, Ishtar - the goddess of warfare, fertility and passion - fingers her necklace and declares that she "will not forget these days".  The rainbow further signifies the tutelary-deity of a number of cultures:

According to the Bakongo people (Kongo, Zaire) the rainbow is the divine epiphany of their native protector god, Lubangalo.  He protects Bakango villages and their ancestral graves, but when a rainbow is spied in the sky a beautiful hymn is sung in his praise: "I am Lubangala the Protector/ I guard the earth, I guard the sea/ I guard the village in daytime/ I guard the ancestors' graves".  The rainbow was believed to have more protective force than the tutelary-deity of an individual clan.  The Maori (Polynesian) also worshiped several deities who were personified by the rainbow; they were credited with the powers of speech and locomotion to humankind: Kahukura (which still means "rainbow" in their language today), Haere-waewae, Haere-atautu, Haere-kohiko, and Uenuku.  The rainbow, in particular, is regarded as the physical remains of Uenuku who died in a far-off land as he went in search of his wife (Hine-pukohu-rangi), who fled from his mistreatment of her.  And, among the shamanic Yukaghir people of Siberia is the sun-god who represents justice and morality; the rainbow is said to be his tongue.  The ancient Maya also worshiped a rainbow-goddess by the name of Ix Chel, who appeared to them after the First World was ended in a great fire; when the smoke finally cleared the rainbow appeared to them as a sign of hope that a New World had now begun.

The Ladder of Heaven

Typically, the most common rainbow in popular culture is that which leads one to an Otherworld crock of Faerie gold, that is if one can find its end-point.  Indeed, the rainbow has been thought of a a bridge to or a road/ pathway from an ancient Otherworld paradise peopled by the Old Gods.  Perhaps the most famous of which is Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow and especial messenger of Hera, the Queen of Heaven.  Later depictions show that she was winged and brandishing a herald's staff perhaps giving rise to the popular notion that she may have influenced Christian portrayals of angels.  The other divine messenger, Hermes, was also associated with rainbows to a lesser extent.  In one legend it was told how he gave to his Theban lover, King Amphion, as a love-token an especial garment that could change colors and "take on all the hues of the rainbow".

According to the ancient Norse the bridge to Asgard (the realm of the gods) was a rainbow bridge called Bifrost.  It was guarded by the divine-sentry, Heimdall, in order to prevent a race of giants from gaining access to the Divine Paradise.  While, Rongomai is a further rainbow-god who, according to the Maori, would stretch up as the rainbow-serpent forming a bridge to the heavens in order to drink water from the rain clouds.  And, even in Chinese mythology the "sky-ladder" is often epitomized as a rainbow.

The Thunder-Weapon

Many cultures throughout Europe attest to a powerful thunder-god who was the chieftain of the immortal pantheon.  Amid the Kati people who inhabit the Hindukush region we find Gish, a native god of war.  He carries his infamous weapon - a quiver of arrows - in a rainbow that serves as his sling; he lives in a mythical fortress of steel atop a giant walnut tree.  In Finland, the Saami describe the Finno-Urgic thunder-god, Ukko, as possessing a sword of lightning and fiery arrows that he launched with his rainbow.  The Hindu thunder-god, Indra, was also associated with the rainbow in the Mahabharata which, elsewhere, served as the bow for his own thunder-weapon.

Perhaps, like the occasionally-threatening storm-deities, the rainbow at times developed a sinister reputation: Among the Basque of the Pyrenean region (northern Spain and southwestern France) it came to symbolize the goddess Mari ("Queen") who is the chthonic goddess of the Underworld.  This plane of existence was populated by the souls of the dead where it was renown for its great yield of abundance, and it's rivers of honey and milk.  Mari was, at times, a capricious goddess of Nature who would conjure raging storms from the depths of her sacred caves that would devastate the harvest or a local community.  Sometimes this was in recompense for violating one of her sacred laws which prohibit lying, robbery, pride or bragging, the breaking of a promise, and lack of respect for people, houses, and property.  The Yoruba diaspora peoples maintain a native belief in the storm-goddess, Oya, who is clothed in the rainbow and rules over the land of the dead.  The Inca also believed that the rainbow was a two-headed serpent - their god, Chuichu - whose heads feasted on underground springs deep below the Earth.  However, should a rainbow serpent decide to enter a human, it was considered the cause of disease which could only be remedied by unraveling a multi-colored ball of yarn!

Folklore is also littered with local beliefs attributing the rainbow with various negative implications.  In nineteenth-century England children would often try to "cross-out" a rainbow out of fear by laying down two twigs in the shape of a cross, or even by chanting a rhyme hoping to banish this dread omen.  It was considered reckless to point at a rainbow for fear of misfortune, and if one should spy a rainbow over one's home it indicated that a resident was doomed to die.  Medieval folk-lore also attested to the belief that if one either crossed beneath a rainbow or drank water from a well that had been touched by a rainbow, than one would miraculously change genders.

As a consequence of these historic revelations it is evident that the rainbow represents different ideals and different sacred narratives depending upon the society and culture which observed this transient phenomena.  It is, thereby, highly fatuous of Dr. Morse in particular - and the Fundamentalist fringe community in general - to insist that the Christian faith seemingly has a monopoly on this Universally accepted spiritual symbol whether as a metaphor or as ideology.  Indeed, as we have seen, many post-Christian cultures do not view the rainbow as a symbol of hope or deliverance, but with a large degree trepidation.  My Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters have as much right to employ the rainbow as an expression of hope as anyone - as a metaphor for that blissful Otherworld where we may at last escape our doggerel oppressors and finally....finally be free!  As Harvey Milk famously said in his "Hope Speech", "The only thing they have to look forward to is hope.  And you have to give them hope.  Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come if the pressures at home are too great.  Hope that it all will be alright.  Without hope, not only the Gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give means hope to a nation that has given up."

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, however, has continued her private-public protest in order to reclaim the image of the rainbow from the Gay Liberation Movement for Christendom and their children as late as 25 March, 2011 when she delivered anti-Gay testimony to the RI. House Judiciary Committee on Marriage Discrimination as she warns any Marriage Discrimination opponents that "history will not be kind to you!":


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