Symbolism of the Color Yellow

Yellow shares some of its symbolic nature with gold.

Yellow symbolizes the sun, so it symbolizes the sun's life-giving, generative powers. [1] The sun rises and sets from and to the darkness of the unknown; therefore, it symbolizes intuition in Jungian psychology. [2] Yellow symbolizes illumination and dissemination, [2] and it is the color of fear. [3] Much like the color white, yellow has two symbolic forms: golden-yellow and pale-yellow. Golden-yellow is associated with the sun and wealth, while pale-yellow is linked to illness, disease, or cowardice. [3]

In many Eastern traditions, people use yellow to protect against evil and for the dead. [6] Yellow symbolizes courage to the Japanese. [6] In India, yellow is commonly associated with merchants. [6]

In China, yellow is considered the national color. Historically, there was a time when only the emperor and his sons were allowed to wear the color yellow, [4] because yellow was a sacred color to the emperor. [1] Yellow symbolizes the center of the universe, and one popular creation myth tells that the goddess Nu Wa created humans from yellow clay. [1]

In the Wu Xing, the Five Elements of China, yellow represents the element Earth, the time of transition between seasons, and the center direction. [5,6]

In Feng Shui, yellow is of the element Earth and possesses the Yang principle. Yellow represents warmth and motion; it is generally considered and auspicious color. [6]

For the West, yellow represents cowardice, [1] weakness, and hazards. [6] It is also a symbol of hope, found in the coming of light. [6] In Egypt yellow was a symbol of mourning. [6] Medieval Europe and Egypt both saw yellow as the color of envy and used it to signify disgrace. [1] This is why in many places in the West, yellow is still associated with cowardice. [1]

In Mexican cosmology of the indigenous peoples of middle America, the earth's new skin was golden yellow until rain fell and made it green. [1] Thus, yellow is a symbol of beginning and renewal, even anticipation. In Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochtli (also spelled Uitzilopochtli), the god of war and the god of the sun, is depicted in yellow and blue. [1]

For the Apache of North America, yellow represents the East, where the sun rises. [6] For the Cherokee, yellow is a symbol of trouble or danger. [6] For the Aboriginal people of Australia, yellow created from ochre symbolized death. [1]

Islam ascribes symbolism to the shade of yellow. Golden-yellow is a symbol of wisdom, while pale-yellow represents treachery and malice. [1]

In modern psychology, yellow has been found to energize and relieve depression as well as to improve memory. Yellow is also believed to stimulate the appetite. [6]

Summary of Symbolism of the Color Yellow

Yellow has two opposing symbolic forms: pale-yellow and golden-yellow. The symbolism of golden-yellow includes happiness, the sun, the energizing power of creation, and the newness of a beginning earth. Pale-yellow is associated with illness, weakness, cowardice, and envy.

Yellow has an importation relationship in Jungian psychology as the color of intuition and curiosity. Because the sun rises and sets over the horizon into unknown territory, the color yellow associates with the liminal state of being between consciousness and unconsciousness.

Yellow Dragons

Yellow Dragon

Pale-yellow dragons symbolize envy and cowardice. They are an omen of coming illness or the turn of the seasons.

Golden-yellow dragons symbolize the sun, wealth, prosperity, and good fortune. They have strong associations with the earth or a solar deity.

In China, the Yellow Dragon is associated with the Fifth Direction, the direction of the center, or the center of the world. [5] The Yellow Dragon is the symbol of this Fifth and heavenly direction. [5] This is why yellow dragons are revered in China. Yellow dragons are connected with the earth's regenerative powers, and they represent the power of the emperor.


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


  1. O'Connell and Airey 114
  2. Cirlot 53
  3. Lanse 6
  4. Roberts [Chinese] 16
  5. Roberts [Chinese] 135
  6. Visual Color Symbolism Chart by Culture

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