The Symbolism of Colors
Color is all around us, present everywhere we turn, as constant as the
air we breathe. Perhaps it is inevitable that human society will
associate certain colors with different significant aspects of our
lives. Different cultures all around the world each have their own
meanings for the different colors, and within these cultures their
meanings have also changed over time.
The ancient Egyptians used colors to represent the powers of their
gods. In China, red was not always the most favored color, it was
actually yellow. The ancient Mayans on the other hand regarded colors
as a representation of the ordinal directions north, south, east and
west as well as many different gods in their belief system. Let us now
look at the more contemporary meanings of each of the colors and
understand their significance in our current cultures.
Red represents love, passion, fire, fury. It is considered the most
intense color emotionally; stimulating the senses, causing faster
heartbeat and breathing. Often red is used as the dominant color when
warning signs are put up, seemingly signifying
“beware”. On national flags, red is commonly used
to symbolize the country’s pride and strength, displayed more
predominantly during times of conflict or war.
The ancient Egyptians associated the color blue with the gods like
Amon, the god of the wind. It is the color of the oceans and of the
skies. Quite opposite the color red, blue evokes feelings of calm,
peace and tranquility. It symbolizes loyalty, wisdom and trust. It
inspires creativity and deep thinking. This effect that the color blue
has on the human psyche makes it a perfect color for spaces where rest
and calm needs to be achieved, like bedrooms, libraries or hospitals.
For the ancient Chinese, yellow symbolizes good luck and is often
associated with gold. Throughout the ages in most parts of the world,
the color yellow is regarded as the color of wisdom and intellect. It
enhances optimism, logic and concentration. It stimulates speedy
metabolism. Bright and cheerful, it represents the playfulness and
carefree attitude of the young.
Green is universally regarded as the color of nature and health. It
stands for new life, growth, money and safety. The god Osiris is well
represented by the color green for Osiris is the god of resurrection
and fertility. During the Middle Ages, green was the color of choice
for brides because it symbolized fertility. Green is the easiest color
for the human eyes and can soothe and improve vision. It promotes calm
and a feeling of crisp freshness all around. Next to blue, green is
also a popular color scheme for hospitals and convalescent facilities.
Purple is the color of royalty or nobility. Kings and queens are often
depicted in their finest using the color purple mixed with yellow or
gold. It implies wealth, luxury, extravagance and sophistication. It
symbolizes magic, mystery and power. Today, purple with yellow is most
effective in promoting children’s toys because it gives the
appearance of fun and ease of play.
Orange is a healing color associated with luck and the warmth of the
sun. It is believed to increase one’s appetite for food. It
stimulates creativity and enthusiasm, resulting to some relief from
monotony and boredom. Even with traces of the hotness of red, orange is
more gentle and controlled yet not lacking in power and adaptability to
Black has always symbolized death and the underworld, yet it equally
symbolizes authority and power. Quite ironically, with all the implied
power behind it, black implies submission, which is why priests often
wear this color to signify their submission to God. A more widely known
use of the color black is to depict negativity and evil, hence the
color of Dracula’s cape. Fashion-wise, black is a
popular color that stands for formality and elegance.
In ancient Egypt, white stood for omnipotence and purity. They used
this absence of color for ceremonial objects used in holy rituals.
Everywhere else up to the present time, white also stands for purity
and innocence. It depicts the highest sacred power of God. It stands
for everything good, positive, clean, fresh and heavenly. It is a
popular color scheme for hospitals, charities and non-profit
organizations to emphasize something good and positive.
Brown is the color of the earth. It stands for life in general; real,
solid and reliable. It encourages feelings of warmth and security, a
sense of strong connection with the earth. In medieval times, brown was
associated with the humble lives of the monks, often close to poverty.
Today, brown is used in modern interior design to depict something
natural, of the earth, warm and living.
Whether we realize the fact or not, color is a major part of our lives.
They can quietly influence our emotions and consequently our
decision-making processes. This knowledge should open up our minds to
the possible ways by which we can make them an active and positive
influence to our day to day existence.