The Meaning of Colours

The thinking of the Ancient Egyptian people was not logical and rational, but image-symbolic. The magical principle applied that all powerful and great things are portrayed in small, apparently invisible things. On this basis, for example, the scarab was a symbol of the rising sun, and the sky could be represented as a cow. Because large things are portrayed in small things, one could influence the important processes in the world of the gods and the otherworld through symbolic ceremonies and portrayals. An inherent power, a kind of being or soul, is attributed to the symbols.

But what of colours. They also had symbolic importance:

With the word “colour”, the essence of an object or creature is described at the same time. The colouring always related to characteristics of the persons represented. In classical Egyptian art, male bodies were painted in strong brown colours, while women received a lighter, yellowish shade of colour. Men received an orange colour only when age and failty were to be represented.

Black represented a kind of opposite to white, embodying the underworld. A black pelt was also given to the Anubis, the god of death. The colour was a symbol of the original ground to which all life must return in order to be reborn from it. On this basis, pictures of the fertility goddess Min were mostly painted with black colours, as a sign of rebirth.

In ancient Egypt, red had a dual meaning. On the one hand, this colour was valued for its stimulating, life-affirming radiation; on the other, it was associated with blood and rage, which was reminiscent of the ceremonies of sacrifice and death. Since the god Set had red hair and eyes, the colour red came to express danger as this god was increasingly moved into the camp of the Evil One.

Green stand for “good”, in general. The colour of vegetation and emerging new life promosed protection and happiness. The green-skinned Osiris was also worshipped as the “green green one”, a symbol of rebirth.

Blue indicated the divine aspect of being. The original god Amun was given the skin colour blue as an expression of the endless cosmos. The other gods wore wigs and beards of blue as an indication of their divine origin.

When combined, blue and green were considered a symbol of maturity. This is also the double crown, which was composed of the white crown (it actually consisted of a green reed) of Upper Egypt and the red crown of Lower Egypt, was seen as a sign of union and completeness.

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