When a rainbow forms a full circle around the sun, it can seem like a magical sight with a deeper spiritual meaning behind its vivid colors and rarity.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Rainbows encircling the sun, sometimes called sun dogs or solar halos, are caused by ice crystals in cirrus clouds refracting sunlight at a specific angle.

Many cultures and spiritual traditions see them as carrying divine significance or being an omen, often symbolizing blessing, transformation, a good harvest ahead, fortune, or even profound personal change.

In this in-depth guide, we’ll uncover the phenomenon behind sun rainbows scientifically while exploring the potent symbolism rainbow sun rings have carried throughout history in mythology and diverse spiritual traditions globally.

Examining the Optical Science Behind Circular Rainbows Around the Sun

How Solar Halos and Sun Dogs Form

When sunlight passes through ice crystals suspended high in cirrus clouds or floating in the cold upper atmosphere, the light is refracted and reflected, creating optical phenomena like solar halos and sun dogs (also called mock suns or phantom suns).

These ice-crystal rings and bright spots of light can appear in a huge variety of shapes and sizes around the sun depending on the type and orientation of the crystals.

When and Where Sun Rainbows Tend to Appear

Circular ice-crystal halos are most common in colder climates and during the winter when cirrus clouds are more prevalent. They need the sun to be fairly high in the sky, so they tend to occur most frequently in the late morning through early afternoon.

The same regions that experience sun dogs and halos more often like Alaska, Scandinavia, Russia, and northern Canada are also lucky enough to witness rare and spectacular halo formations like parhelia (sundogs connected by a ring of light)

Common Variations of Full Circle Sun Rainbows

Among the incredible variety of ice halo phenomena, those forming full or partial circles around the sun are the most spectacular. Here are some of the most common types:

  • 22° circular halo – The most common full circle halo formed by hexagonal ice crystals
  • 46° circular halo – Outer ring halo formed by doubly refracting ice crystals
  • Circumscribed halo – Rare outer ring connecting the 46° and 22° halos
  • Supralateral arc – Elongated rainbowlike arc above the 22° halo

The exact size, position, and colors of ice halos are determined by the shape and angle of the ice crystals interacting with the sunlight. Scientists can even identify the crystal types present high in the atmosphere by the details of the resulting sun rings and light phenomena.

The next time you witness these optical wonders, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the complex ice-crystal optics at play!

Rainbows Ringing the Sun in Ancient Myths and Lore

Greek and Roman Beliefs

In ancient Greek and Roman mythology, rainbows circling the sun were seen as omens from the gods. The Greeks believed rainbows were the path traveled by Iris, messenger of the gods. Her presence signaled an important message or prophecy.

Romans saw the rainbow halo as a crown placed on the sun by Jupiter, king of the gods. They took it as a sign of Jupiter’s mood and favor. If the rainbow shone brightly, crops and weather were expected to prosper.

Ancient Egypt, African, and Norse Mythology

The ancient Egyptians believed a rainbow encircling the sun represented the union of Isis and Osiris, bringing life and renewal to the land. In some African folklore, a rainbow halo meant the sun god was taking a drink of water.

According to Norse legend, the rainbow was the path linking earth to Asgard, home of the gods. It appeared at times when gods traveled between realms or intervened in human affairs.

Native American Folklore

Many Native American tribes considered a rainbow halo around the sun to have spiritual meaning. The Cheyenne believed it foretold rain, since the rainbow was associated with water. For Navajo people, a rainbow’s presence signaled a message from the Holy People.

Among the Hopi, it meant the gods were sending their blessings and renewal to the world. Some tribes saw the rainbow as a sign of peace between humanity and the Creator.

Over the ages, rainbows encircling our star have inspired myth and meaning across many cultures. Ancient peoples saw them as bridges between heaven and earth, omens from deities, symbols of favor or displeasure from gods overseeing the natural world.

Their continued wonder reminds us of humanity’s long tradition of seeking meaning and wisdom from nature’s spectacular displays.

The Spiritual and Symbolic Significance of Solar Halos Across Cultures

Representing Divine Blessing and Good Fortune

Since ancient times, rainbow circles around the sun have been viewed by many cultures as a sign of divine blessing and good fortune to come. In ancient China, solar halos were seen as auspicious omens representing the harmony between Heaven and Earth.

Their appearance was believed to indicate approaching stability, peace, and prosperity in the kingdom. According to Norse mythology, rainbows crossing the sun foretold great quests and adventures undertaken by the gods. Seeing a solar halo was thought to mean the gods looked upon you with favor.

In some African traditions, circles around the sun were associated with rain and abundant harvests. Their emergence signaled the gods’ divine protection and care over the land and people. Tribes would often hold joyous celebrations and feasts when solar halos came into view.

In Native American culture as well, these celestial rainbows were seen asssages of fortune, bumper crops, and game animals aplenty during the coming seasons.

Symbolizing Transformation and Rebirth

Across mythologies and spiritual systems, the solar halo has been an archetypal symbol of transformation, death, and rebirth. In Ancient Greece, a rainbow encircling Helios, the sun god, represented the daily death and revival of the sun across the sky.

The solar disk would be “reborn” anew each dawn. In Scandinavia and India, mythical tales depict solar and lunar halos appearing around important characters before their death, resurrection or profound metamorphosis.

Psychologically, the solar halo is seen to represent liminal spaces in our life’s journey – the in-between transitions that occur during major life changes. The appearance of mini-rainbows around the sun can signify a period spiritual reorientation, letting go of the old self to allow for an awakening or rebirth of the soul.

Seen as an Omen Foretelling Life Changes

As natural phenomena full of mystique, solar halos have commonly been interpreted as omens signifying impending life changes or events. For the ancient Romans, a halo around the sun forewarned of turbulent political events to come, such as the assassination of leaders or war between states.

In Chinese culture, they were thought to signify turning points in human affairs – the fall or rise of regimes, deaths of nobles, etc.

Rainbows around the sun have even entered popular sayings and proverbs across cultures. In Serbia there is a saying, “Kad se oko sunca rodi venac, nove ce kralj doći od nebesa” meaning “When a halo forms around the sun, a new king will descend from the heavens.”

In Scotland, the adage goes “Circle brings change.”

While solar halo myths vary, nearly all point to them heralding transitional times filled with uncertainty but also possibly renewal. Their appearance seems to echo nature’s cycles of change and rebirth – a reminder that transformation is inevitable as the wheel of life turns.

Personal and Emotional Resonance of Seeing a Sun Rainbow

Feelings of Awe, Joy, and Connection

The sight of a rainbow circling the sun often evokes a sense of awe and wonder. The rarity and beauty of the phenomenon creates feelings of joy at witnessing such a special sight in nature. There is also a profound sense of connection – both to the mysteries of the universe and to the experience of all the other people who have gazed up at a sun rainbow throughout human history.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified these kind of peak experiences as being vital to our personal growth. When we encounter something that creates awe, joy or deep connection it can lead to self-actualization and lasting positive change.

Sparking Creativity or Artistic Expression

The inspiration felt from seeing a sun rainbow often manifests in creative ways. Poetry, paintings, and other artworks have all been sparked by the rainbow halo phenomenon. Authors such as Wordsworth and Longfellow both penned verses about sun rainbow sightings and their ability to stir the imagination.

In a 2016 study, researchers found that awe-inspiring sights tended to boost creativity by altering cognitive processes and motivation. Feelings of awe allow us to see the world in new ways and with fresh inspiration for creative pursuits.

Potential to Find Renewed Sense of Purpose

Besides boosting creativity, the awe and joy sparked by witnessing a sun rainbow can also lead to revelatory experiences. Psychologists describe these moments as epiphanies – sudden realizations that create profound shifts in how we see ourselves and the world.

After gazing at the rainbow halo around the sun, we may find ourselves contemplating our place in the grand scheme of things. This can lead to epiphanic insights about what really matters most – our relationships, personal growth, serving others.

With renewed sense of purpose we can then realign our lives based on these revelatory understandings.


While rainbows around the sun have a scientific explanation, the vibrant rings can still seem miraculous, sparking symbolic meaning across spiritual traditions globally. Throughout history they have carried significance representing divine blessing, personal transformation, a good omen of fortune, or profound life changes ahead.

Beyond symbolic meaning, seeing a solar halo can ignite childlike awe, ignite our creativity, or reconnect us to meaning and purpose through nature’s majesty. So next time you spot a rainbow halo illuminating the sun, let its magic and light fill you up.

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