The Rite of Rain

For many, rain is viewed as a negative thing. We hide from rain under umbrellas. Getting wet in the rain has associations with sickness, colds and flu. It “gets into our bones” and makes us suffer. Look at the faces of people who wait for the bus as rain pours down. There are no smiles, only misery and the desire to be out of the horrid stuff as soon as possible. It is clear that a culture’s attitude toward rain is largely based on how much of it is seen.

In the West it has become an inconvenience, something that gets in the way of our day. Head to Africa and other hotspots around the world and you’ll see a difference. Rain is welcomed, sometimes literally with open arms. People who haven't seen rain for years will rush out into the open and soak themselves with that precious liquid. Smiles and laughter can be seen everywhere. In fact, in drought-ridden Botswana, the word for rain, pula, is also the name of the currency, which helps to solidify the position of importance rain holds.

While our blushing brides wouldn’t want rain to pour down by the bucketsful on their special day, it is a sign of good fortune in many cultures. People around the world believe that rain falling on your wedding day is a sure sign that your marriage will be blessed with fertility and good fortune. On the opposite side of life, if it rains during a funeral, and rain falls on the casket, it is generally taken to mean that the soul has arrived safely in the Afterlife. In Bali, light rain during a religious ceremony is seen as a blessing from the happy gods. In Maori legend, rain and mist are the sorrow of the Earth and Sky.

In the ancient ritual, the Simchat Beit Ha’sho-ay-vah, Jews celebrate the pouring of water onto the Temple during Sukkot. Using water on the altar was another way to put in a request on high for a good, wet year. The Talmud pictures God saying, “Pour water before me so that your yearly rain be blessed.”

Judeo-Christians look to the story of Noah to base their beliefs of the negativity of rain. In the story of Noah, God was angry and brought his anger down in the form of forty days and nights of unceasing rain, choosing only to spare the favored family of Noah. The tradition was picked up in Shakespearean literature. For example, the rainstorm in King Lear marked the high point of Lear's madness. Throughout the whole of The Tempest, rain is seen as a negative thing, a sign of trouble.

Even in modern weather reports, the negative connotations of rain holds firm. When a storm is on the way, weather reporters sound almost apologetic when bringing this news to us. To be “in the eye of the storm” is to put oneself in great danger. To experience "the calm before the storm" is to know that danger is coming.

Interestingly enough, Native American views of rain vary. To the Anasazi tribe, rain is a sacred gift from the Rain God. Artwork from the tribe shows the Rain God as a benevolent figure who lovingly bestows rain on his loyal followers. The Cherokee tribe, performed rain dances to both induce precipitation and to cleanse evil spirits from the earth. The legend of the tribe holds that the rain summoned by the tribe contains the spirits of past tribal chiefs, who, when falling, battle evil spirits in the transitional plane between our reality and the spirit world. It was also believed that particularly elaborate rain dances could inspire the participants, as well as audience, to take part in unusual and extreme acts of worship. The Native American myth, Why it Rains, tells the tale of Morning Dove and how the hatred, jealousy and greed of warring tribes broke the hearts of the gods manifested in tears of rain.

In Great Britain, many people find the scent during and immediately after rain especially pleasant or distinctive. The source of this scent is petrichor, an oil produced by plants, then absorbed by rocks and soil, and later released into the air during rainfall. In addition, Great Britain gained its reputation for being a rainy country due to the fact that the Western coast of Britain can receive anywhere from 40-100 inches of rainfall a year. This is a stark contrast to the Southern and Eastern parts of the country which are much drier. In fact, the southeast of England receives less annual rainfall than Beirut.

Seattle, Washington, known as the birthplace of grunge music and Starbucks, is also known as one of the rainiest cities in the USA. The fact is, they only receive an average 37 inches of rainfall a year. This is less than the Big Apple itself, as New York City receives 46 inches a year. Melbourne, Australia suffers a similar fate to Seattle. It is widely regarded as the rainiest city in Australia; however, its annual rainfall of 21 inches pales in comparison to Sydney's 43 inches.

The wettest spot on Earth is Mount Waiʻaleʻale, the second highest point on the island of Kauaʻi in the Hawaiian Islands, averaging more than 426 inches of rain a year since 1912, with a record 683 inches in 1982. Although the 38-year average at Mawsynram, Meghalaya, India is 467.4 in., its rainfall is concentrated in the monsoon season, while the rain at Waiʻaleʻale is more evenly distributed through the year, thus making it THE wettest spot.

So whether you consider rain a depressing bringer of danger and doom, or a comforting promise of happiness, beliefs are as diverse as the people who made them fascinating. Rain underpins our lives and its dearth or abundance shapes the way a culture views the bounty from the skies.

As a child, I often danced in the rain. As an adult, given the opportunity, I often still do. Nature, in all its wonder, can and does touch the hearts, minds and bodies of anyone and everyone willing to take a moment and connect.


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Bonnie Morét is an award-winning photographer recognized by The Georgia Council of the Arts as "an exceptional representation of contemporary Georgia art work." Her photography is featured on Georgia Public Broadcast's Georgia Traveler. Her exhibitions include Fifth Annual Exposure Awards at Musee du Louvre in Paris, France, Art Takes Miami at Scope Art during Art Basel Miami, Metro Montage XIII at the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, World of Water at the Georgia Aquarium, Open Walls at Black Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon, Wholly Georgia: A Look at the Effects of Southern Religious Culture, sponsored by the Art History League and Georgia State University, at Mint Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia, 6x6 at the Rochester Contemporary Arts Center in Rochester, New York, @Phonography: Dialogue in the Wireless Age, at 3 Ring Circus in New Orleans, Louisiana, and About Lands and Lives of the Civil War at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. Her photography appears in Modern Luxury/The Atlantan, Jezebel Magazine, and hangs in the executive offices at the Georgia State Capitol as part of the Art of Georgia exhibit. Corporate clients include Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta History Center, Chanel Cosmetics, Christian Dior Cosmetics, Sharp Mountain Vineyards, PM Realty Group, Granite Properties, Road Atlanta, Patrón Tequila, Georgia's Own Credit Union, StubHub, CBM Records and The Washington Auto Show.