A Short Essay on Esoteric Color Symbolism

As I learned them long ago, these are the brief esoteric meanings for the primary colors of the visible spectrum as they appear in the cards of the tarot:

Red – Desire, Elemental Fire (Suit of Wands: Action, Ambition, Inspiration, Opportunism, Arousal, etc.)
Blue – Feeling, Elemental Water (Suit of Cups: Intuition, Sensitivity, Kindness, Inclusiveness, Receptivity, Spirituality, etc.)
Yellow – Thought, Elemental Air (Suit of Swords: Reason, Perception, Contemplation, Awareness, Discernment, Judgment, etc.)

The fourth quality of Sensation is given to Elemental Earth (Suit of Pentacles: Prudence, Practicality, Security, Stability etc.), which is not a pure strain but an amalgam of the other three. Black is often used to represent the physical realm (although it is sometimes given a four-color palette of Black, Russet, Olive and Citrine), just as white signifies the purity of spirit.

As an art student I frequently applied the “color wheel” of primary and secondary colors in my work, mixing them together as appropriate to produce the desired effect. I decided to take the three basic colors and the three secondary colors derived from their combination and create an “annotated” color diagram showing their correlation in psychological or psychosomatic (e.g. “mind-body”) terms. (It takes a certain metaphysical savvy to appreciate color as being significant to interpretation and, unless exposed to it, new readers often don’t have a clue. This sort of thing can provide “training wheels” to aid in moving down that path.) The primary colors and the central dark-gray area that sits at the confluence of the rest I labeled “Pure” or unalloyed expressions of their nature, and the secondary colors I gave more nuanced titles. This is necessarily a limited view of a highly complex subject; for example, there is a strong argument for including dark and light shades of the different hues to create a graduated scheme of spiritual enlightenment, adding “flesh-colored” (as in the Tarot de Marseille) to represent the human element, and giving Black and White a place at the table.

Some writers view Red as the color of sexuality, but this is only true in part; it may originate in a biological urge and an emotional longing for union but, stripped of its psychological baggage, the sex act culminates in raw sensation. I see Desire more in the sense of Aleister Crowley’s description of “pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result,” the kind of inspiration that drove mountaineer George Mallory to climb Mount Everest “because it’s there.” Yellow has long been regarded as a meditative color, and Blue invokes the boundless spiritual inducement of the sky and the ocean (a staple of the Romantic poets). Orange, which is a mix of Red and Yellow, I defined as “Aspiration” (Desire applied with a conscious goal in mind); Violet, a combination of Red and Blue, I named “Compassion” (Desire tempered by emotional restraint and sympathy); Green, a blend of Yellow and Blue, I pronounced “Appreciation” (Thought and feeling creating a sense of value or worth); and the dark-gray nexus I sub-titled “Pragmatism” as the principle of body-centered awareness. Although I don’t pay a lot attention to color symbolism in my readings because there is so much disagreement among deck creators on how it should be applied, this seems like a workable model to use when one color is prominent in a tarot card (unless, of course, one prefers to take on the exhausting task of applying the minutiae of the Golden Dawn’s “color scales”).

Source of original image: http://www.beginnersschool.com/2015/10/27/basic-color-theory/

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