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Colors, Symbolism Of

Wemyss, in his Clavis Symbolica, the Latin meaning Symbolic Key, says: "Color, which is outwardly seen on the habit of the body, is symbolically issued to denote the true state of the person or subject to which it is applied, according to its nature." This definition may appropriately be borrowed on the present occasion, and applied to the system of Masonic colors. The color of a vestment or of a decoration is never arbitrarily adopted in Freemasonry. Every color is selected with a view to its power in the symbolic alphabet, and it teaches the initiate some instructive moral lesson, or refers to some important historical fact in the system. Frederic Portal, a French archeologist, has written a valuable treatise on the symbolism of colors, under the title of Des Couleurs Symboliques dans l'antiquit, le moyen ge et les temps modernes, meaning Symbolic Colors in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern Times, which is well worth the attention of Masonic students.

The Masonic colors are seven in number, namely: 1. blue 2. purple 3. red 4. white 5. black 6. green 7. yellow 8. violet (see those respective titles in this Encyclopedia).

About the Church of God as well as the Bodies of Freemasonry has clustered a rich store of symbolism.

Their foundation is the same. Writers through the centuries have found peculiar significance galore in the various features of church construction and adornment. Among these the symbolism of colors has been prominently mentioned. Bishop William Durandus, was born at Puy-moisson in Province about the year 1220 A.D., and died at Rome in 1296.

A book of his dealing freely with symbolism was finished in 1286 and from it we take the following item to illustrate the early ceremonial symbolism of colors:

On festivals, curtains are hung up in churches, for the sake of the ointment they give; and that by visible, we may be led to invisible beauty. These curtains are sometimes tinctured with various hues, as is said afore; so that by the diversity of the colors themselves we may be taught that man, who is the temple of God, should be ordained by the variety and diversity of virtues. A white curtain signifieth pureness of living, a red, charity; a green, contemplation; a black, mortification of the flesh: a livid-colored, tribulation. Besides this, over white curtains are sometimes suspended hangings of various colors: to signify that our hearts ought to be purged from vices: and that in them should be the curtains of virtues, and the hangings of good works. We must not overlook the authorities whose comments on the symbolism of colors are not in complete accord with the findings of Bishop Durandus and with those who have accepted and continued his conclusions. While an exact meaning may not universally have been applied to the individual colors there is found a striking correspondence with several of them.

Anyway, a difference in the symbolic meanings does not destroy or even impair the circumstance that colors have long been and are now freely employed as Symbols. The preface to English Liturgical Colors, by Sir Wm. St. John Hope and E. G. Cuthbert F. Atchley, published in 1918 by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, refers to the discussion of the subject in 1860 in the Ecclesiologist (volume xxi, pages 133--i), by a writer over the initials J. C. J, who, after showing the considerable variety of the colors recorded, and that no strict rule for their use was possible, pointed out that

In early times richness of material seems to have been the chief point aimed at: a good deal being left to the fancy and taste of the donors, most of all to the bishops, sacristans, and clergy. This commentator arrives at the following conclusion:

First of all then, it is quite clear that the English did not bind themselves down to the so-Called ecclesiastical colors. By this I do not mean to say that they never had particular colors for particular days, but that they allowed themselves much more liberty than modem Rome allows to her members.

Of the growth of such symbolism and the outcome, Messrs. Hope and Atchley have this to say on page viii:

As soon as churches began to acquire more vestments than a set for everyday use, a second set for Sundays, and a best set for festivals, it was natural that different colors should be appropriated to the various festivals and several classes of saints, and the choice of the color was determined in each country in western Europe by the prevailing ideas of fitness. In point of fact, however, there was a fairly general unanimity in the schemes which developed everywhere outside the Roman diocese, while within that a scheme of another type gradually took shape. No color has any essential and necessary meaning, consequently a "teaching sequence" rests on purely arbitrary conventions. Durandus and other Writers have explained at length from Holy Writ and elsewhere how ''each hue mysteriously is meant,'' but it is perfectly easy to put together quite as plausible a set of reasons for precisely the opposite or any other signification. At the same time it is not to be denied that there are a few quasi-natural symbolical meanings which have obtained for so many centuries that they have now become common ideas of Western Europe. Such are the use of black or dark colors for mourning and sadness, of white as a symbol of purity and innocence, and of bright red for royalty; as well as the ideas connoted by such phrases as "in the blues," and the like. Medieval writers, as is shown in Essays on Ceremonial, differ widely among themselves in the significance that they attribute to different colors, and no certainty is anywhere to be found.

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