Human impacts on water cycles (HIWC) can include modification of rainfall. Spatial and temporal variation in rainfall, with implications for ‘water security’, has been attributed to multiple causal pathways, with different options for human agency. Ten historical paradigms of the cause of rainfall imply shifts from ‘nature controlling humans’ to ‘human control over nature’ and ‘human control over other humans’. Paradigm shifts have consequences for human efforts, interacting with social–ecological systems, to appease spirits, please rainmakers, expose ‘rainfakers’, protect forest, plant trees, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, apply cloud seeding, or declare rainfall modification an illegitimate tool in warfare. The ‘instrumental’ and ‘relational’ values of atmospheric water cycling depend on cognitive paradigms of rainfall causation as represented in local, public/policy, or science-based ecological knowledge. The paradigms suggest a wide range of human decision points that require reinterpretation of rationality for any paradigm shift, as happened with the forest–rainfall linkages.