Justin Taylor | Genesology


Colour My World - The Full Spectrum of What Colours Mean

The order in which colours have been named worldwide appears to be due to how our eyes work. These findings suggest that wavelengths of color that are easier to see also get names earlier in the evolution of a culture.

The seven colours of the rainbow include: orange, red, yellow, green, indigo, and blue. It is no secret that the sun drives our world and dictates much of our behavior; along with the moon. The rising sun stimulates our activity and a state of alertness, while the blue light of evening brings on relaxation, and finally ... full darkness ... indicating a time for natural sleep for most people. One of the many benefits we get from the sun's rays is the energy produced when light waves become colour. The seven colour rays are spiritual forces emanating from the white light. They are perpetually vibrating - not only on the surface of the earth - but also above, and through it, encircling the globe in streams of endless energy.

Colours are imbued with great symbolic power. Even in the modern English-speaking world, where superstitious beliefs have largely faded in the light of scientific knowledge, many colours have retained their ancient associations. Most people know that brides should wear white, that "seeing red" means being angry, and that one can feel "green with envy." But learning why these connotations exist requires a look back to the beliefs and practices of the ancients.

Red has a range of symbolic meanings, including life, health, vigor, war, courage, anger, love and religious fervour. The common thread is that all these require passion, and the "life force" that drives passion blood is red. When people become angry their faces become flushed with colour. When they're happy and healthy, they have rosy cheeks (whereas when they're sick or dying, they have a deathly shade, lacking in red). Red blood manifests itself in connection to passion.

Many ancient cultures believed that black was the colour of mystery and of the mysterious ways and wisdom of God. It was night as well as darkness - the absence of light - transcended human perception in the same way that the wisdom of God was thought to be beyond comprehension.

Purple symbolizes royalty, nobility and imperialism. The dye costs for purple were very expensive and hence, only royalty and wealthy rulers could afford it. Another consequence of this is that purple also came to represent spirituality and holiness, because the ancient emperors, kings and queens that wore the colour were often considered to be gods or descendants of the gods.

The primary association of the colour blue for most of recorded history was with Truth - a meaning that leaves a remnant in our language in the phrase "true blue." This was because blue is the colour of a calm and clear sky, and it is calm reflection that leads to Truth. Colours were so powerful in traditional cultures that red objects were believed to convey health through their color alone.

In a wide range of cultures, the colour white symbolizes purity and innocence, and white robes and garments are worn to convey spiritual and/or sexual purity. It isn't surprising that white became associated with purity, as even the smallest drop of dye, or a smudge of dirt, destroys the colour.

For obvious reasons, the colour green represents nature and the environment; more abstractly, it symbolizes wisdom. The Egyptians believed that a god named Thoth led the souls of the dead to "a green hill of everlasting life and eternal wisdom." Later, the Romans based their god Mercury on Thoth, and the planet Mercury was in turn based on the god. Aside from its association with wisdom, there's a flip-side to green. Green in its degraded sense gives us 'the green-eyed monster jealousy,' which is the direct opposite of celestial wisdom, for jealousy is always due to the intrusion of the desires of the self, while celestial wisdom wishes to give rather than to receive.

It isn't surprising that yellow symbolizes happiness, warmth and sunshine in most cultures; these are characteristics of the yellow sun and its effects. In ancient cultures where a god or gods were associated with the sun, such as Egypt and China, yellow was the highest and noblest of colors and thus, the color of religious figures and royals - who were thought to be descendants of the gods. As we said before, all colours have a flip-side - a degraded meaning that traditionally opposed the positive one. Along with warmth and happiness, then, yellow also represents cowardliness and deceit.

Orange was not regarded by ancient Western civilizations as a primary colour. Depending on the hue, the colour fell in either the red or the yellow category. For this reason, orange is not imbued with a strong symbolic meaning of its own. In recent history though, orange has come to denote a warning, and is used for high visibility clothing and safety equipment such as traffic cones. This association is a practical one. Orange contrasts most strongly with the colour blue and therefore is highly visible against a clear sky.

One mystery scientists have uncovered is that colour names always seem to appear in a specific order of importance across cultures — black, white, red, green, yellow and blue. Sir Isaac Newton divided the colour spectrum into seven named colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. He chose seven colours out of a belief, derived from the ancient Greek sophists, that there was a connection between the colors, the musical notes, the known objects in the solar system, and the days of the week.

It is interesting to note that the sun is actually white ... not yellow. The reason being, the Earth’s atmosphere scatters light in the blue and violet wavelength range, so the remaining wavelengths of light appear yellow. By the way ... the colour pink shouldn't even exist. It's kind of a negative green. However, Scientific American’s Michael Moyer delved into optical science and noted that, given the complicated process of photons and neurons interacting with our cones and brains, all colours could be considered a trick of the mind. He finished with: “Pink is real – or it is not – but it is just as real or not-real as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.”

But for this, it's a whole 'nother story ...

Just a thought ...

~Justin Taylor, ORDM., OCP., DM.