Red (color)

 Jesse Brauner
Red (color)

The symbolism of the color red.

Red is first and foremost the color of blood. In that context, the color is associated with life, vitality, passion, and fire. The vividness of red- and the way it often stands out from its surroundings- also makes it a choice color to symbolize warnings and danger.

A number of linguistic phenomena are associated with the color: “Seeing red” is a common colloquialism for feeling angry; "red-light district" refers to an area frequented by prostitutes- which ties into the color's associations with sexuality; and to call someone "red-blooded" means that they are strong, passionate, and proud.

With these and other associations in mind, individual cultures have assigned a myriad of symbolic meanings to the color:


ANCIENT EGYPT: due to the harsh desert environment that surrounded the fertile lands of the river Nile, the Egyptians developed a philosophical concept known as the Black and the Red. The former referred to the rich, dark soil of the riverbanks, whereas the latter was the arid, stony wastelands beyond where nothing good could grow. In this context, red was the color associated with Seth, the god of death and destruction.

Politically, Ancient Egypt was comprised of two primary regions, and these regions were symbolized by specific types of crowns worn by the Pharaohs. The crown of Upper Egypt was white and shaped roughly like a modern-day bowling pin, while the crown of Lower Egypt was red and had a tall thin back with a protruding coil.

BHUTAN: Traditional Bhutanese men's clothing - known as the gho - is sometimes accessorized with a long silk scarf called a kabney. The kabney comes in a variety of colors, and national law stipulates which colors can be worn by individuals, depending on his profession and position in society. Red-colored kabney are worn by male members of the royal family (aside from the king) and high-ranking officials.

CHINA: in China, red is the color of life, luck, and fertility. As such, it is the favored color for weddings, where the bride often appears in red attire. In the Chinese system of the four cardinal directions, red is associated with the south, the season of summer, the element of fire, and the mythical creature known as the Feng Huang, or Chinese phoenix.

CHRISTIANITY: for Christians, red symbolizes shed blood. It is a reminder of Christ’s Passion and martyrdom. In that spirit, high-ranking officials of the Catholic Church- known as cardinals- typically dress in bright red robes. Conversely, however, red is also associated with the Devil, and has been since the Middle Ages. Other meanings assigned to red include the blood shed on Calvary, the fire of Pentecost, and general zeal for the faith (which extends to martyrdom).

INDIA: in Hinduism and Buddhism, red is the color of the Root or Muladhara Chakra, one of seven energetic points along the body. Located at the bottom of the spine, this chakra governs instinct, survival, and sexuality, all of which can be symbolically linked to the color red. As in China, red is symbolic of fertility, and is a favored color for Indian brides.