The fears, thoughts, and feelings surrounding death are represented by the colors black, white, purple, and green.
People’s perceptions about death also vary depending on their age, gender, culture, and life experiences, as well as their scientific and religious beliefs. These different interpretations and understanding about death are also represented by different colors and shades.
For example, conservative people mourning death might all wear black, while people who prefer to celebrating a recently deceased person’s life might ask people to wear bright colors when attending a wake.
Colors that Represent Death
Related: 17 Animals that Symbolize Death
Black is sometimes referred to as the absence of light. This is one of the reasons why black is related to death. It is symbolic of the departure of light that is life. This is why black is considered in many cultures as a sign of mourning, loss, hopelessness, and mystery.
Despite many conversations and debates about the topic, death remains an enigma because no one can really tell what happens after death.
This is another reason why death is associated with black. It is because the process of defining death is similar to a blind man searching for something, or a person trying to muddle through the dark.
Then there is also the analogy of death and sleep. When a person closes his eyes, both in sleep and in death, he cannot see anything and his world is black.
People also usually go to sleep at night, when it is dark and the world turns black.
Nowadays, people tend to wear black at funerals, particularly in Western cultures.
In relation to death, wearing black represents grief and mourning. It is also a solemn color, and signifies the somber nature of the event or gathering.
However, black as a color of death is not always a negative sign.
For the Egyptians, black was the color of the afterlife, but it served as a protection of the dead against evil.
Anubis, the god of mummification and the afterlife, was depicted as having a black body. He was a significant figure in Egyptian mythology as he was in charge of guiding lost souls, as well as preserving the body for its revival in the future. Thus, black in Egyptian mythology also represented hope and resurrection.
There are several symbols and phrases associated with death that use black, such as:
- The Grim Reaper wearing a black robe
- Black Saturday for Catholics represent the day that after the death of Christ
- In some Asian countries, a black butterfly signifies the death of a loved one
- The bubonic plague that killed millions in the 1300s was also called Black Death
Ironically, the opposite of black, which is white, does not signify life. Instead, in some cultures, it represents death as well.
While dark is the combination of all colors, white is the absence of any color. It is clean, pure, and untarnished. But in some Eastern cultures and religions, white stands for mourning and death.
Buddhists believe that death is a continuous cycle that a person will encounter again and again until he achieves enlightenment, which is called Nirvana.
This cycle of rebirth is depicted visually through the popular Wheel of Life, showing all the stages of reincarnation that one must go through before reaching enlightenment.
Each cycle of rebirth is symbolized by a Buddha in different colors, indicating the significance and meaning of each stage. Black is the lowest stage, representing the evil and suffering the one must go through in the beginning of his quest for enlightenment.
The final stage of this rebirth cycle, the realm of the gods, stands for the knowledge and understanding that one must accumulate from each cycle in order to achieve Nirvana. This stage is represented by the color white, which in Buddhism means that all the colors from the previous reincarnation stages gathered together.
Hinduism has a similar concept, as white symbolizes purity, peace, and knowledge. This is why religious leaders use white ashes to cover themselves, signifying their spiritual rebirth.
Purple in general known as the color of royalty, luxury, imagination, magic, and mystery. But darker shades of purple are used to represent death, loss, and mourning in certain cultures.
Made from the combination of blue, which is a cool color, and red, which is a warm color, purple is already a contradicting shade in itself. This contradiction is also seen in its symbolism since on one hand it stands for wealth and abundance, while on the other hand, it represents loss and deprivation.
In Italy, this shade is strongly associated with funerals and should not be used during festive activities like birthdays or weddings. It was also considered rude and reflect poor social etiquette to use purple wrapping paper or boxes for gifts.
Purple is also the color of mourning in Brazil and Thailand, and it is customary to wear these colors for burial services. In Japan, the shade is considered evil, which explains why it is often used to depict villains in cartoons, movies, and video games.
As a color that is commonly associated with life, fertility, growth, and abundance, it can be somewhat surprising to note that green is also sometimes used to denote death and decay.
The concept of death that green represents is one that is connected to the process of renewal and regeneration, like the leaves that reappear in spring after drying up and dying during autumn.
In ancient Egypt, green was the color of Osiris, the god of life and death. Osiris was the king of the underworld and served as the bridge that connected the living world and the dead. This mirrors the dual symbolism of the green color as a representation of both life and death as well.
Green also meant death quite literally during the Victorian era, as the green pigment being used at that time contained toxic amounts of arsenic.
The pigment, which became known as emerald green, was a popular choice for wallpaper, clothes, carpets, and other paint requirements. It caused death not only on the users but also on the factory workers who were responsible for creating it.
This association with poison has been carried over to modern times. Until now, green is often used to warn people of toxic substances such as venom, as well as poisonous gas and substances.
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Death is a complicated concept that cannot be simply explained as a loss of life. For some cultures and religious beliefs, death is not even the end but is instead the start of a new cycle of life and rebirth.
Aside from religion, there is also the philosophical discussion that questions the purpose and meaning in life if in the end, everyone has to die anyway.
This unending discussion about death is represented by different colors such as black, white, purple, and green. The colors themselves are complex, such as black and white being opposites in the spectrum, yet they both signify death. Purple is made out of a mix of cool and warm colors and represents both abundance and loss. And green even represents both life and death at the same time.
I’m Chris and I run this website – a resource about symbolism, metaphors, idioms, and a whole lot more! Thanks for dropping by.