The color purple is rich in symbolism and meaning. Across cultures and throughout history, the color purple has carried profound spiritual, political, and emotional undertones. From representing luxury and royalty to counterculture movements, the color purple has had an intriguing place in human civilization.
Quick Overview of Purple Symbolism
Some quick associations and symbolic meanings of the color purple include:
– Royalty, sovereignty, and nobility – Purple has long been associated with royalty, nobility, luxury, and power, dating back thousands of years.
– Spirituality and mysticism – In many cultures and faiths, purple represents spiritual awakening, mysticism, and connection to a higher plane. It is thought to inspire deep contemplation and meditation.
– Creativity and imagination – The whimsical, extravagant nature of purple makes it a color associated with creative expression, unconventional thinking, and the exploration of imagination.
– Independence and individuality – Purple’s blend of red’s power and blue’s stability comes together as a color representing independence, nonconformity, and strong individualism.
– Balance, harmony, and union – Purple contains equal parts red and blue, representing a harmonious balance and integration between the physical and spiritual. It signifies deep union.
– Mourning and lament – In some cultures, purple is a color of ritual mourning, lament, and remembrance. It can signify loss and solemnity.
– Magic, mystery, and the occult – The exotic, esoteric nature of purple has linked it to arcane ritual, magic, and the supernatural world. It also represents the mysterious, the unknown.
– Ambiguity and androgyny – Purple’s blending of red and blue represents a fusion of masculine and feminine energies. It is an androgynous color associated with fluidity and ambiguity.
Purple in Ancient History and Cultures
The earliest known use of purple dye dates back over 5,000 years to the Ancient Minoans of Crete, a civilization noted for its advancement and luxury. But purple as a color of prestige extends far beyond that…
– In Ancient Greece, purple stood for sophistication and was associated with high rank. The famed philosopher Aristotle frequently discussed the “perfection” and importance of purple.
– The Ancient Romans adopted purple as a imperial color due to its expense and splendor. It was favoured by Roman aristocracy and emperors. The phrase “born to the purple” meant someone of noble birth.
– Roman Catholic bishops wear purple vestments to signify their high authority as princes of the Church. Purple robes are also featured in Roman imperial art and portraiture.
– In Chinese culture, purple represents spirituality and immortality. Chinese emperors wore purple robes, and Chinese brides traditionally wear purple wedding dresses.
– Purple and violet flowers like orchids and violets symbolize wisdom and spirituality in Chinese Buddhism. Purple stones are believed to grant healing and luck.
– In Thai culture, purple is associated with mourning and grief. Their widows wear a purple dress following the death of a husband. Purple is worn at funerals.
The Middle Ages and Renaissance
– During the Middle Ages, purple dye remained extremely rare and expensive, strictly limited to rulers, nobles, and wealthy bishops. It became known as “Tyrian purple” or “royal purple” in many parts of Europe.
– King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I decreed that only close relatives of the English monarch could wear solid purple, while lower-ranked nobles were restricted to certain shades.
– Fine purple fabrics and velvets became an essential part of fashion and interior decoration among 16th century nobility. Purple garments appear frequently in royal Renaissance portraits.
– The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl and the Maya god Kukulcan were both associated with the color purple, which signified prestige, sacrifice, and rulership in Pre-Columbian Mexico and Central America.
– Aztec emperors and Maya kings were identified with purple. Murals frequently depict them in purple attire and insignia. The precious purple mollusk dye was imported from the Phoenician coast.
– Purple was among the most revered and desired colors for Aztec royal textiles. Elites wore plush purple capes and cloaks dyed with cochineal insects or saturated purple-blue indigo.
Meanings of Purple in Modern Culture
While purple retains regal associations, modern times have added additional nuances and meanings to the color purple.
– Purple is symbolic of liberalism in many Western countries. It is the color worn and embraced by progressive political parties like in the United States and Canada.
– Purple is also associated with libertarianism and independence – a fusion of red’s passion and blue’s reason. It remains an occasional color of anarchism and radical self-direction.
Feminism and LGBTQ Pride
– Purple is a color strongly associated with modern feminism and women’s empowerment movements. It blends masculine red and feminine pink.
– Lavender is considered the most feminine shade of purple. It is sometimes used as a symbol for lesbians and feminism.
– Purple is common in pride flags for the LGBTQ community. It stands for androgyny, fluidity, and the unification of marginalized groups.
Anti-War and Counterculture
– Purple became a color of dissidence and rebellion in the 1960s, adopted into psychedelic music culture and by anti-war protestors.
– Jimi Hendrix wrote “Purple Haze” as an ambiguous, psychedelic anthem. Janis Joplin and other rock icons popularised purple as an eccentric, mind-expanding color.
– The Military Order of the Purple Heart is awarded to United States soldiers wounded or killed in combat. Purple hearts symbolize sacrifice.
New Age Spirituality
– The New Age movement that blossomed in the 1970s placed a heavy emphasis on purple as a mystic, spiritual color representing psychic energy and divination.
– Purple is thought to inspire unconventional wisdom, psychic manifestations, and unity with the divine essence. It remains the most “spiritual” tone outside of Native American culture.
– Crystals and gemstones in purple and violet provide a sense of sacred spirit, magic, and connection to one’s subconscious and inner self. They are considered the most spiritually advanced crystals.
Creativity and Nonconformity
– Purple continues to represent creativity, imagination, artistry, individuality, and vision in the modern day.
– Eccentric, avant-garde artists like Prince and David Bowie made purple their signature color to express flamboyant originality.
– In children’s entertainment, figures like Barney the Dinosaur and the purple Teletubbie help make purple the most playful, silly, creative color of youth and innocence.
|Type of Meaning||Examples|
|Ancient Cultures||Royalty, spirituality, sophistication|
|Modern Symbolism||Feminism, LGBTQ pride, liberal politics|
|Personal Expression||Creativity, nonconformity, individuality|
The Science and Psychology of Purple
There are also several scientific reasons why the color purple has such a unique impression on the human mind.
Wavelengths of Light
– Purple sits at the end of the visible color spectrum. It has the shortest wavelengths of visible light. This associates purple with energy, vibration, and action.
– The short wavelengths and high frequency of purple activate areas of the brain stimulating imagination, creativity, and intuition.
Purple in Nature
– For most of human history, natural purple dyes were extremely rare. This rarity contributed to purple’s mystique and exclusivity.
– Purple rarely occurs in nature across flora and fauna. When it does, it often signifies biological potency – poison, venom, or pollen guides that draw attention.
– The tiny scale of purple’s pigments (like in violet flowers) gives it a delicate, precious quality unlike the boldness of most colors.
– Purple light has been found to boost imagination and inspire creative performance more than other colors.
– The balance between red and blue makes purple invoke both thoughtful logic and passionate energy. This provokes ingenuity.
– Dark purples are associated with intimacy, introspection, spirituality, and contemplation. Light purples are more eccentric and witty.
In summary, purple encompasses an array of symbolic meanings across human culture, history, art, politics, psychology, and science. It straddles many spaces and interpretations due to its dichotomous nature blending the stimulation of red and stability of blue. Purple evokes both the sacred and profane, conventional and radical, mind and spirit. Its lavish heritage, royal implications, and rarity in nature impart a special essence that has long captivated our imaginations. For all these reasons, purple retains an engaging, attractive mystique and depth in what it communicates to the human psyche.