A Lifetime of Colour

Filed in Color and Sound by on May 24, 2008 0 Comments

There is some evidence that man’s sensitivity and response to colour has evolved over the ages. Recent linguistic studies have shown that man’s development has a close parallel with the way in which colour was perceived. In the earliest languages, linguistic studies suggest that there was little distinction between different colours, something was either “light” or it was “dark”. The world was, in effect, colourless.

The first colour for which a separate word was devised was “red”. The colour of blood appears to have had sacred meaning: in very early prehistoric burials, the bones were disinterred, smeared with red ocher and then reinterred. It was perhaps, a gesture intended to return life to the deceased. Today, in some Eastern European languages, the word “red” is associated with life and beauty.

The next colours for which separate words appear were “green” and “yellow”.

Yet still, our colour language is far from complete, even today. There are several languages being spoken at this moment that have no word for “brown”.

And, we have also lost certain colour words: the Saxons word wann, for example, once described the gloss on a raven’s wings, or the shimmer of moonlight on water.

Because mankind’s development is so closely intertwined with colour and colour perception, it is possible to plot that development through language colour, following the steps of the spectrum:

Cave man - Reproduction and physical survival – red
Development of agriculture - complex tool making – orange
Domestication of animals – yellow
Birth of civilisation in Egypt – the first cities/the first religious and moral thought – green
Growth of Greek philosophy – blue
Reliance on law and civil order – indigo
Sophistication and imperial grandeur
– the Pax Romana – purple
Renaissance – the green of creativity
The Puritans – grey morality
Industrial Revolution – release from the shades of colour
Space age/Aquarian age- the blue spirit of truth

Human lifetimes can be monitored in phases of development using the seven spectrum colours of the rainbow as a growth chart. The chart below outlines each phase of development and the colour that best represents that particular stage of life.

Birth to 10 years – Red Physical expansion
10 to 15 years – Orange Movement, dancing, athletics
15 to 20 years – Yellow Mental ability, education, study
20 to 40 years – Green Relationships, love, children
40 to 60 years – Blue Transition from activity to contemplation
60 to 70 years – Indigo Perception- gathers together to make whole
70 plus – Purple Visionary – no limitations

The therapeutic use of colour, in its purely modern sense, can be traced as far back as Hippocrates, who lived in the fourth century BCE. Referred to as the Father of Medicine, he used ointments and different coloured plasters on wounds. Aristotle recommended the use of coloured crystals, salves, minerals
and dyes as remedies around 300 BCE, and Aurelius Cornelius Celsus, the legendary physician of the first-century Rome, used colour extensively. But in the West, the coming of Christianity demanded that many of the ancient wisdom’s were exorcised and their practices deemed “pagan”.

Few real advances occurred in colour therapy until Renaissance, when the superstitions of the Middle Ages began to bow before newly discovered “science”, which was finally able to move beyond Aristotle. During this period, there was a great revival in the use of colour – both decoratively and therapeutically – and in the ways in which people saw and described it. The oldest terms were simply indications of whether a colour was light or dark, or of its blackness or greyness. The new references were to colours, shades and tints – the blueness of the sky, the greenness of the forest, the wine darkness of a flesh wound. At the same time, hugh tapestries and murals were devised by sprinkling crushed minerals of different colours onto glue. The greatest physician of the Renaissance, Paracelsus (1493 – 1541) used colour as a means of mental and physical healing and was regarded as the most effective healer of his time.

The meanings commonly associated with various colours have evolved with time and experience. Many cultures have attached sacred meanings to colour. Even at this moment the history of colour theory and therapy continues to unfold.

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