Purple is a color that has held religious significance across different faiths for centuries. The regal hue invokes a sense of mysticism and spirituality in many cultures. But is purple intrinsically tied to religion? Let’s explore the origins and symbolism of the color purple in sacred contexts.
The History of Purple Dye
For most of human history, purple fabric dye was rare and expensive to produce. The dye originated from secretions of a species of predatory sea snails known as Murex. Thousands of snails had to be harvested to produce just a small amount of purple dye. As a result, purple clothing was exclusively worn by royalty and the social elite. Ancient kingdoms like Tyre controlled the lucrative purple dye trade in the Mediterranean. The rarity and high value of Tyrian purple dye linked the color to status and wealth.
Purple in Judaism
In Judaism, purple dye was used for certain holy objects in the Tabernacle and Temple. The Israelites used blue, purple, and scarlet yarn to make the ephod worn by the high priest (Exodus 28:5-6). Purple wool was used for the curtains separating the Holy of Holies from the inner sanctuary. These applications show purple was considered a sacred color set apart for religious use.
The color also appears in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. Purple symbolizes gevurah or judgement/severity, one of the 10 sephirot aspects of the Divine. It represents divine judgement, strictness, and awe.
Purple in Christianity
Early Christianity adopted purple as a holy color from its Jewish roots. It is still used liturgically in some Christian denominations including Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism. Bishops and cardinals wear purple vestments and zucchettos indicating their high ranks. In Advent and Lent, purple vestments and altar cloths symbolize penitence and solemnity. Purple candles are also lit during Advent.
|Christian Meanings of Purple|
|Royalty/Sovereignty of Christ|
Purple invokes Christ’s passion, suffering, and resurrection. It also echoes Roman imperial purple connecting Christ’s sovereignty.
Purple in Buddhism and Hinduism
In Buddhism, purple is the color associated with the crown chakra, also known as Sahasrara. Located at the crown of the head, this chakra represents consciousness, mysticism, and spiritual connection. Purple crystals like amethyst are believed to energize this chakra.
In Hinduism, purple or saffron robes and flags indicate renunciation of the material world. The goddess Saraswati wears white robes bordered in purple representing purity and spirituality. Purple also represents the Crown chakra in Hinduism.
Purple Symbolism in New Age Beliefs
Modern New Age and metaphysical beliefs continue to link purple with heightened spirituality and mysticism. Purple crystals like amethyst and fluorite are believed to enhance psychic intuition and connect users with a higher spiritual plane of existence. People who claim to have a “purple aura” are said to have strong psychic sensibilities and intuition.
Secular and Cultural Meanings
Beyond religion, purple also developed secular symbolic meanings in different cultures. In Chinese culture, purple represents royalty, prosperity and honor. European Renaissance painters used purple to portray rich fabric on royal subjects. The historic rarity and expensiveness of purple dye led it to be associated with extravagance.
The women’s suffrage movement adopted purple, white, and gold as its official colors. Purple represented dignity and loyalty here. In modern times, purple continues to symbolize extravagant creativity and individuality in pop culture. Prince was famously associated with purple as his signature color. The meaning can vary widely based on cultural context.
So is purple intrinsically a religious color? While purple has held sacred symbolism in many faiths, the color has also developed secular meanings over time. The history and rarity of purple dye led to its exclusive use by royalty and religious institutions. This established its connotations of prestige and spirituality. But purple can signify different concepts like justice, solemnity, mysticism, or creativity based on the culture and context. The diverse symbolism of purple across human civilization shows its meaning is not limited solely to the religious realm. But for many faiths, purple retains a special place as a color set apart to represent higher spiritual truths.