Color Symbolism: An Introduction

A Dragon flying with four wings, various colors

Color and shape are fundamental building blocks of vision, [6] which is why color exists in all forms of symbolism. [8] In every culture, colors attain meanings. People assign a multiplicity of meaning to each color via levels of society (i.e. government, religion, towns, family).

Colors closely associate with mental and emotional states, [6] and recent research in advertising and marketing shows that color has a tremendous impact on emotional state. Modern designers utilize color symbolism in the creation of everything from artwork to brochures to websites. Examples of conscious application of color symbolism include the following: Christian liturgy, heraldry, alchemy, art, and literature. [8]

While the symbolism of colors exists universally, there is no agreement over what particular colors represent. Comparing subjective experiences of color reveal some basic agreement. For example, there is a general agreement that colors have a temperature. Blue is 'cool' and red is 'warm.' [1]


The Complexity of the Color Experience and the Science of Sight

A Dragon of Many Colors

Sight is an important sense. The ability to perceive the spectrum of colors with the eyes and brain suggests that each color possesses cognitive connections. [1] The perception of color is an incredibly subjective experience, [1] because an individual's ability to see involves a complex relationship between the eye and brain, which develops with the individual beginning with the neurons in the retina prenatally. [10]

Humans possess binocular vision, [10] which means human eyes present an overlapping view of the world; both eyes collect visual impressions over a shared space. [11] For any animal with binocular vision, such as humans or cats, the brain must piece together visual information from the two eyes and create a single, unrepeated image. In order to do this, each individual develops ocular columns. [11]

The development of ocular columns isn't guaranteed; in fact, in some cases, it can be completely derailed. Such as animals with the albino mutation, which robs them of their pigmentation. [12] The pigment epithelium is the layer of tissue at the back of the eye responsible for its color. It lies behind the neural retina tissue, which contains the neurons and photoreceptors needed to develop the optic nerve. [12] A lack of color in the pigment epithelium, as in the albino mutation, disrupts the normal interactions between photoreceptors and the optic nerve. [12] This, in turn, disrupts the development of the entire visual system and the brain development associated with it, causing abnormal experience of the visual world. [12]

The biological complexity of human sight is an important consideration for the symbolism of color. Since humans develop the optic nerve and associated brain tissue, it is sensible to suggest colors contribute a to said development, and therefore contribute to correlated emotional and physiological development.

The Symbolism of Color and the Science of Sight

Humans name the color wavelengths of visual light, which correspond to the range of 400 nanometers (nm) to 700 nm, or from violet to red. [17] People learn through direct correlation. Perhaps there was a large, green block labeled 'GREEN,' or a big, red truck labeled 'RED.' Humans agree that one is green and the other is red, but there is no empirical way to know if humans perceive the same colors. Even color blindness can only be discovered through color contrast.

Humans name the wavelength but cannot know how that wavelength translates subjectively into the visual cortex of any other person.

Related Link: For more about color blindness, check out The Color Lab.

A Quick Reminder

A Dragon of Many Colors

The color of any particular dragon may mean absolutely nothing. A komodo dragon isn't green because the color symbolizes something about the species. Art and myth stylizes dragons or used them representatively, so the symbolism of color can be an important key to unlocking the meaning behind the story or image.

This article isn't meant to be an encompassing color chart that predicts the behavior and personality of a dragon, nor it is meant to be an all-inclusive dragon-color-decoder that will unlock the secrets of every single dragon. Instead, it is a comprehensive look at color symbolism in various cultures throughout history and its correlation to the dragon.


Color Shorthand and Colloquial Expressions

Color is sometimes used as a shorthand or an expression for emotional states, sex/gender, or even social and political status.

In the West, people associate sex with colors, pink for female and blue for male. Sports teams select colors to boast their pride. And in the twentieth century, people still associate color with political movements; for example, red for communism and green for the environmental movement.

Colloquial expressions in the West also use color to animate meaning. Consider the following English expressions:

Expression Meaning
green with envy extreme jealousy
in a black mood depression
feeling blue sadness, sullenness
seeing red anger, fury
off-color sickness, illness
yellow-bellied cowardice
grey-area middle ground, an area of uncertainty
A Dragon of Many Colors

It is easy to make assumptions with color symbolism (i.e. assuming that yellow denotes cowardice in all situations, cultures, and geographies) because it has been so tightly interwoven into cultural experience. Color symbolism is immensely complex and varies significantly from culture to culture.

All of the dragon graphics on this page were created by Donna Quinn.


  1. Stevens [Ariadne's Clue] 145
  2. Stevens [Ariadne's Clue] 147
  3. Stevens [Ariadne's Clue] 148
  4. Stevens [Ariadne's Clue] 149
  5. Stevens [Ariadne's Clue] 150
  6. O'Connell and Airey 114
  7. O'Connell and Airey 115
  8. Cirlot 52
  9. Cirlot 53
  10. Blumberg [Instinct] 76
  11. Blumberg [Instinct] 77
  12. Blumberg [Instinct] 79
  13. Lanse 4
  14. Lanse 5
  15. Lanse 6
  16. Lanse 7
  17. What Wavelength Goes With a Color?
  18. Visual Color Symbolism Chart by Culture

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.