In 2007, researchers from Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, tested how color influences pain. They set up participants to feel mild electric shocks. Before shocking them, they showed the participants one of six colors. When participants saw the color red, they felt more pain than when they saw green or blue. It makes sense; many people associate red with burning, bleeding, or inflammation.
During a later study in 2016, French scientists found that color has a physiological effect on people. Participants who stared at red had higher testosterone levels, and they tended to feel more dominance and arousal.
It is no secret that color affects us emotionally, psychologically, and physically. Color is important in every system of magic, no matter where or when it comes from. That is why color magic posts are so popular...and why so many of them are wrong.
The Fault of Color Correspondence Lists
If you look up almost any witchcraft website or book, you will find correspondence lists. These lists are meant to be easy resources for people to glance at when they need it. As a result, most of these associate colors with single nouns. For example, you might see the color “red” with correspondences such as “fire,” “sex,” “passion,” and so on.
But these lists only scratch the surface of what colors mean and how they affect us. I’m willing to bet that the two studies I cited earlier told you more about red than any of the correspondence words in the previous paragraph.
To be clear, I’m not trying to start beef with people who create color correspondence lists. These lists can be great starting points to inspire people and get them thinking about color. But what I am saying is that, in magic, color has so many associations that further research is imperative.
Colors Have Contradictory Meanings
Pop quiz: what is the most common wedding dress color?
If you live in the U.S. or Europe, you probably answered white. If you hail from China or India, you probably said red. And if you’re familiar with wedding culture, you probably said that dresses came in a variety of colors until Queen Victoria popularized white in 1840.
But this question isn’t about the wedding industry. I’m trying to point out that every culture has a different association with colors. And depending on the culture you reference, you might find that a color means more than you think it does.
Let’s return to white. Many people who grew up in a Christian household end up associating white with purity. But if you lived in China, you would find that white is commonly associated with death. White chrysanthemums frequently appear on caskets, and some people even wear white to funerals (not often, but it does happen). Meanwhile, Finnish folklore says that seeing a white animal--especially albino--is an omen of death.
You might say, “But isn’t black the color of death?” In many cultures, yes. If you’ve seen ancient Egyptian art, you’ve probably noticed that chthonic deities (including Anubis and Thoth) are portrayed with black bodies. But in the same culture, black is associated with fertility because the Nile banks turned black when they became moist. In fact, one of Egypt’s nicknames was Kemet, meaning “the black land.” That’s two seemingly contradictory meanings within the same civilization.
When I look at color correspondence lists, few take culture or religion into account. You have no idea which culture the author is from. You can only assume that, wherever they’re from, red means “passion.”
Even Emotionally, Colors Have Different Meanings
When I look up color correspondences, I often see people cite emotional implications of colors. For example, many people will say that the color blue is calming because of its associations with water. Several psychology studies have reported on color’s emotional associations, and even they have come across mixed results.
Remember that 2007 study I mentioned where seeing red resulted in more pain? You might be surprised to learn that a different study recorded the healing powers of red. In 1996, researchers gave participants placebo painkiller pills of different colors. Warm-colored pills ended up working better than cool-colored pills.
On top of that, each color created a different effect. When participants took a blue or green placebo pill, they felt more calm and tired. But red, orange, and yellow pills were more stimulating.
The contradictory meanings of colors do not work against magic; they work for it. Depending on the spell, a red candle can heal someone, seduce a partner, or curse an enemy. The power stems from the practitioner and how they use it.
Create Your Own Correspondence List
.Before I continue, I want to shout out my friend Lumi who gave me the advice that I’m about to tell you (and for just being fantastic). If you want to learn more about color or art magic, visit her Instagram @artbylumi or her Tumblr @artwitchpath.
To kickstart your color magic journey, create your own correspondence list. With paint, pens, or whatever medium you prefer, jot down every color of the rainbow. I recommend doing different shades too, as light green and dark green could mean different things to you.
Do not worry about folklore or magic yet. Just write down what you think of when you see that color. Is it calming? Scary? Do you associate colors with certain deities or seasons? Approach this as an intuitive writing exercise.
If you need help starting, check out this Instagram poll that I put on my story this week (@death.witch.envy). This is what my followers had to say about certain color associations.
Do you agree with these results? Do you disagree? Can you think of another color that is more calming, happy, negative, or healing?
At the end of this post, I’ll show you my working color correspondence list. I used paint swatches and wrote all associations I could come up with. Hopefully, it will inspire you.
As You Research, Add to Your List
As you study your Craft, you’ll likely find colors along the way. Update your correspondences as you learn. The more you work with color in magic, the deeper of an understanding you’ll get.
Also, do not feel pressured to write down the meaning of blue in every single culture or religion. Try to focus on what you are practicing. I mentioned some Chinese associations earlier, but my religion and ethnicity are not Chinese, so I do not use those in my practice. Instead, I focus on ancient Greek, Irish, Sumerian, or Egyptian correspondences, depending on the spell or deity I’m working with.
Whenever you perform a spell or ritual, write it down. Include which colors you used in candles, pen ink, flowers, etc. Did the spell succeed? Did it not? This is why I always recommend writing down rituals; it’s the best way to learn what works and what does not.
For more examples, check out my color correspondence lists below.