I was wondering about the physics of color, and now am interested in finding out if there are any standard resources on the meanings or appearances of colors.

For example, color associations in mythology or folklore of the rainbow.

I know in the zodiac there are colors mapped to the specific stones, that would be an example like I am looking for. What google brings about however is a bunch of stuff on the psychology of color saying 'red is for danger or vibrance' etc., but there is no reference on where they are getting these features/observations from. I would like to find religious/mythological/folkloric references mentioning specific colors, like how earth/wind/fire/water are a thing of 4, or the 5 colors in China, that type of thing.

1 Answer 1


Ellen Conroy The Symbolism of Color (1921) is a popular book on the topic and has been reissued. A more serious approach would be Marshall Sahlins (1976) Colors and Cultures, Semiotica, Vol.16, p.1–22. This leads into the contemporary debate about naming/distinguishing colors which has a long history. In a nutshell: it is culturally relativistic, so only 'field studies' or concrete sources can present the variants of color symbolism.

Michel_Pastoureau, a medievist, has a number of books on colors in the (medieval) Western world, some of them available only in French. I just saw (in google books) another book with the title The Symbolism of Color by Faber Birren (1988).

I think the topic fascinating when you step beyond a naive universalism.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.