Despite advances in technology and science, much of the world still remains a mystery. Signs and symbols can serve to illuminate some of these mysteries- if only we could find out what they mean. In this article, and others to come, I will attempt to find the significance in specific aspects of our known world in both ancient and modern contexts. Specifically in this piece, I’ll be discussing colors.
Over time, symbols have the tendency to change in meaning due to cultural context, and no one can truly know what these symbols represent. Therefore, all signs and symbols explored here are open for your interpretation.
The color white symbolizes purity, perfection, peace, sacredness, innocence and completion. White is a color of cleanliness, which is perhaps why, in the West, brides wear white and doctors wear white coats. Despite being a mostly positive color, white can have negative connotations as well. White is the color of mourning in Asia, and white can be associated with coldness and sterility. Above all, white is often contrasted with black, and therefore is associated with light contrasting with darkness.
The color black symbolizes death, mourning, the underworld, darkness, the unknown, and the secretive, making it a mysterious color. Wearing black can be a sign of trying to hide something or a sign of sophistication, while black exudes power and control and is often an intimidating color. In contrast with white, black is seen as the color of darkness, which is why we have the term “black magic.” In China, black is related to the north and winter, and in Hinduism, Kali the goddess of destruction is black.
The color red symbolizes danger, passion, war, fire and blood. The color red in China and India symbolizes good luck and fertility, while red also denotes the holy days on Christian calendars. The color red represents danger, as it is the color of warning signs, while a red flag is a symbol of revolution and the color red represents the Communist party. Red is also the color of the mythical devil or Satan.
The color orange represents luxury and splendor. Because of its relation to the color red, it is also associated with fire. In China and Japan, orange represents love and happiness. As a color of citrus, it is said to stimulate appetite, while it is also associated with amusement and the extroverted. Orange is an important color in Hinduism and Buddhism, while Bacchus, god of wine, can be seen in paintings dressed in orange. It is also one of the most visible colors, accounting for why the Golden Gate Bridge, lifebuoys, and astronaut suits, are all orange.
The color brown symbolizes autumn, the earth, and therefore humility and degradation, as well as structure and stability. Brown was the color of mourning in the Middle Ages,
The color yellow symbolizes the sun, gold, pleasure, intellect, and being positive. However, pale yellow can mean deceit, betrayal, or cowardice. Yellow in Islam equates to wisdom and good advice, yellow in Egypt means envy or disgrace, yellow in Europe means cowardice, and yellow in China means royalty. Being the color of sunlight, yellow is seen as a color of warmth and illumination.
The color green symbolizes life, youth, hope, joy, growth, balance and spring, but also decay and envy. It is associated with Ireland and nature, while it is Islam’s sacred color. In the West, a green light means go and green is the color of the American dollar bill. Related to nature, green is the color of renewal and rebirth, and is thought to have relaxing properties.
Blue is the color of water, the sky and the heavens, and is associated with calm, reflection, harmony, intellect, the spirit, religious devotion, trust and loyalty. Blue is also the color of sadness, while in Germany, to be ‘blue’ is to be drunk. In Hinduism, the god Krishna was seen as blue-skinned, while blue jeans became a part of popular culture in the 1950s.
Purple is the color of royalty, imperial power, pride, justice, magic, mystery and grandeur. Purple is also a color of spiritual fulfillment and is often used in meditation. Purple is the color of plums and eggplants, while purple hearts are given to U.S. soldiers who are killed or wounded in action. In science, purple is not on the visible spectrum and does not have its own light wavelength.
The Illustrated Book of Signs and Symbols by Miranda Bruce-Mitford