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Why is emerald green associated with death?

Why is emerald green associated with death?

Emerald green has long been associated with death and the afterlife in many cultures throughout history. But why has this vivid shade of green taken on such morbid connotations? The reasons are complex and multilayered. By examining the history and symbolism around emeralds, as well as key examples from myth, literature, and culture, we can gain insight into how emerald green became so indelibly connected with death.

The Rarity and Value of Emeralds

Part of the explanation lies in the nature of emeralds themselves. Emeralds have been prized for millennia as one of the most precious gemstones. High quality emeralds are extremely rare, often valued higher than diamonds. Ancient peoples regarded them as enchanted stones that could offer protection and healing. Their brilliant green color was a vivid, concentrated burst of life and vitality.

As something extremely rare and valuable, emeralds took on associations with the afterlife in various cultures. Green was viewed as the color of resurrection and eternal life. Emeralds were believed to signify that new life and abundance awaited on the other side of death. Their green fire promised that death was not the end.

Emerald Burial Sites in South America

The Muisca people of Colombia placed deep significance on emeralds, even burying people alive with offerings of emeralds to appease their gods. The fabled El Dorado site later tantalized Spanish conquistadors with legends of men ritually covering themselves in gold and emeralds and sailing off into a sacred lake.

When the Spanish discovered Colombia’s emerald mines in the 16th century, they dubbed them the “mines of death” due to perilous conditions and rampant fatalities among miners. But the name also evoked associations between emeralds and the many indigenous peoples who considered emeralds sacred burial objects.

The Emerald Tablets of Thoth

According to Egyptian and Greek mythology, the Egyptian god Thoth inscribed mystical texts filled with secrets of the universe onto emerald tablets. Emerald signified permanence and incorruptibility, able to preserve sacred knowledge for eternity. The legendary Emerald Tablets thus came to represent hidden esoteric wisdom and access to divine realms accessible only after death.

Thoth himself was associated with the afterlife as the recorder of judgments of the dead and master of arcane knowledge. The vibrant hue of these sacred emeralds implicit linked them both symbolically and literally with the green-skinned Thoth, keeper of divine mysteries.

Emeralds in Mourning Jewelry

During the Victorian era, it was common for mourning jewelry to incorporate black and green gems as symbols of eternal love and life after death. The emerald’s verdant green was viewed as representing vitality, while black signified the sorrow of loss. The combination created jewelry that evoked enduring affection and hope to overcome grief.

Queen Victoria herself famously wore an emerald and black enamel ring after the death of Prince Albert to commemorate him. This demonstrated that emeralds were suitable gems for royal mourning jewelry. It further cemented the emerald’s cultural associations with bereavement and the immortality of love.

Year Prominent Death Sample Emerald Jewelry
1861 Prince Albert Queen Victoria’s mourning ring
1910 King Edward VII Queen Alexandra’s emerald choker
1936 George V The Duchess of York’s emerald clasp
1952 George VI Queen Elizabeth’s emerald and diamond brooch

The Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz

The iconic Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz seems cheerful at first glance. But there are some subtle allusions linking it to ideas of death. To enter the city, Dorothy and her friends must don green-tinted glasses that obscure their vision – symbolically blinding them to the truth. The city’s dazzling emerald green façade masks a darker reality beneath the surface.

The Wizard also conspicuously appears as a giant disembodied head surrounded by smoke and flame amid all the green – evoking a spiritual manifestation crossing over from another realm. Dorothy is seeking to return from Oz to her home in Kansas,suggesting Oz itself exists in an otherworldly afterlife plane. The vivid green shades of the Emerald City ultimately represent a broader theme of illusion versus reality in the face of mortality.

Green Funeral Products

In modern times, many eco-conscious and spiritual individuals are opting for green burial products and services. Green funerals avoid chemical embalming and metal caskets in favor of biodegradable materials. Bodies are laid to rest in simple shrouds or biodegradable coffins. The symbolism connects the regenerative cycle of life and death.

This environmental awareness around death draws on associations between the color green, nature, and personal growth. Green funeral products and natural burial grounds align with the idea that death leads back to the earth for renewed life. The emerald green shade found in nature comes full circle.


The vibrant emerald green evokes life energy and growth, yet also carries cultural connotations of mortality and the afterlife. From ancient myths to modern mourning jewelry, emeralds have long been symbols of death’s mysterious transitory nature. Their luminous green fire seems to promise the departed will live again in some unknown realm. Over the centuries, emerald green has become a color representing both the grief of loss and enduring hope for reunification. For many, it is the color of death itself, rendered beautiful and sublime.