Promises of the Rainbow
Why the Rainbow Bridge serves as a symbol of hope, peace, and rest for both pets and humans.
BY: Ptolemy Tompkins
If you’re a pet lover, you know about Rainbow Bridge, a land of fields, flowers and eternal sunshine “just this side of heaven,” where deceased pets run to greet their owners. These days, the anonymous internet poem describing this place has become almost as beloved as if it were a piece of Scripture itself.
Of course, “Rainbow Bridge” isn’t Scripture. But the place it describes—a place where the dogs, cats and other animals we come to love here on earth live on in heavenly guise—has deep spiritual roots. In fact, it is one of the oldest spiritual ideas around.
Why a bridge? Countless myths and legends from around the world tell of a bridge separating this world from the next, a bridge that can be crossed only by a soul who has lived a good and pure life. Earth and heaven were once so close together, these myths suggest, that traveling between them was a simple and easy affair (as it is for the angels in Jacob’s vision of the heavenly ladder in Genesis).
But in the wake of the Fall, heaven and earth broke apart and the links between them grew ever weaker. Like the strands joining a piece of taffy that has been pulled in two, they finally grew so thin that the last of them broke and fell away.
With one exception. Though earth and heaven were now separated, one way—one bridge—still remained open between them. And it is this bridge that the soul of the deceased must cross if he or she is to get to heaven.
In certain mystical traditions, this bridge is said to be guarded by an angel who is, in fact, our heavenly self. If we have lived good lives, this angel is beautiful to look at and quickly and easily lets us pass on to the other world. But if we have lived badly down here on earth, the angel is frightening and terrible to behold, and lets us pass (if it does let us pass) only after a terrible and purifying struggle. The troll who guards the bridge that the three Billy Goats Gruff need to negotiate in the famous fairy tale is another version of this same figure.