Y is for Yellow….and Other Colors
Symbols in Stories from Around the World
Yellow is a dazzling and cheerful color…depending on the culture. It can be quite the opposite. The other colors also have the positive and the negative views even within the same culture.
Sometimes one color dominates a story or becomes famous as a trademark or tradition for a certain character such as Little Red Riding Hood. Other times, all the colors are celebrated or explained of their origins. Let us explore the primary colors: yellow, red, and blue.
The Aborigines thought yellow to connect with death while the Chinese saw yellow connected to life and part of the creation story of Nii Gua creating the first people out of yellow clay.
In China, yellow also linked to the earth and to dragons. These dragons, in turn, linked to the emperor. During the Ch’ing dynasty, only the emperor could wear yellow.
The western hermetic tradition saw yellow as representing the air and the direction East.
Many cultures see yellow as being for gold and wealth as well as for the sun and fire. Yellow turmeric powder was scattered on the god Khandobain during the Somavati Amavasya Festival in India. This showed the power of the sun, especially as this festival celebrated the conjunction of the sun and moon.
During the Middle Ages, yellow became a color of betrayal. Artists painted Judas, who betrayed Jesus, often in yellow or gold hues.
Like yellow, red is connected to fire. In China, Japan, and Korea, red is associated with the sun. The sun provides life and red carries that meaning.
Brides in India and in China wore red to increase fertility and grant luck for the life ahead. Red has been a color of passion, sexual desire, and virility. This has stayed with us today as a red car is a way to spout these exact attributes.
Red is also a life and death symbol through being the color of blood. Many religions have honored martyrs including Jesus Christ with Christianity. Christian calendars often had holy days marked in red to honor Christ’s blood or of martyrs and saints. These later became known as “red-letter days.”
Red can also be the color of anger and often was used to depict deities of war in art. Many revolutions used flags of red to show the anger and the fight within and beyond to make a difference. The French Revolution had many peasants raise the red flag while the Russian Communists spread their message through using a flag of mainly red. Warnings from the large to the everyday kind are also marked in red.
Looking around in the world, and blue quickly connected to the sky and to the seas. Sky and water deities abounded with this color with what they wore as well as skin color. The Ancient Egyptian god Amun, king of the gods as well as the wind, was depicted by artists often in blue while Hindu gods Shiva and Krishna were blue-skinned. The blue of these Hindu gods represented the vastness of the heavens. For the Christians, the Virgin Mary is shown in blue as to meaning purity. The temples in Mesopotamia had ceilings painted in blue for divine favor.
Blue represented the East for the Chinese and the South for the Navajo.
Blue is a calming color and this calmness brings about intellect and meditation.
Stories that feature one or more colors:
- “Nii Gua and the Yellow Clay,” Chinese tale, Nii Gua makes the first humans out of yellow clay
- “Little Red Riding Hood,” a girl always sporting a red hood talks to a stranger—a wolf—finds out why that is the case
- “Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox,” Minnesota tall tale, a giant lumberjack walked during the Winter of the Blue Snow and found a baby blue ox stained by that snow and cared for that ox
- “How the Rainbow was Made,” Objiwe tale, Nanabozho came upon a meadow of white flowers and decided to paint them and two birds fly about and dip into his paints and chase about so much that a rainbow was formed when Brother Sun shone through the misting of the waterfall nearby
What stories do you know that feature one or more colors? Does one or more characters become famous for certain color or colors? Is there an object or items that is significant due to the color? Please comment below and share with others.
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