Colour has been investigated and used for more than 2000 years throughout history.
Many different civilizations have experimented, and have learned and used colour. We are still learning today about how colour affects us all and its importance in our lives.
Earliest Times of Colour
The ancient Egyptians have been recorded to have been using colour for cures and ailments. They worshipped the sun, knowing that without light there can be no life. They looked at nature and copied it in many aspects of their lives. The floors of their temples were often green - as the grass which then grew alongside their river, the Nile. Blue was a very important colour to the Egyptians too; the colour of the sky. They built temples for healing and used gems (crystals) through which the sunlight shone. They would have different rooms for different colours. We could perhaps relate our present methods of colour/light therapy to this ancient practice.
There are lists on papyrus dating back to 1550 BC of colour "cures". Their deep knowledge and understanding of the healing powers of the colour rays was so nearly lost when, later on in history, the Greeks considered colour only as a science. Hippocrates, amongst others, abandoned the metaphysical side of colour, concentrating only on the scientific aspect. Fortunately, despite this, the knowledge and philosophy of colour was handed down through the ages by a few.
The Chinese also apparently practiced Colour Healing. The Nei/ching, 2000 years old, records colour diagnoses.
Early Colour Studies
Some of the early studies and theories about light were done by Aristotle.
He discovered that by mixing two colours, a third is produced. He did this with a yellow and blue piece of glass, which when brought together produced green. He also discovered that light travels in waves. Plato and Pythagoras also studied light.
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, Paracelsus reintroduced the knowledge and philosophy of colour using the power of the colour rays for healing along with music and herbs. Unfortunately, the poor man was hounded throughout Europe and ridiculed for his work. Most of his manuscripts were burnt, but now he is thought of, by many, to be one of the greatest doctors and healers of his time. A man, it would seem, very much ahead of his time. Not only do we now use Colour Therapy once again, but, his other ideas, using herbs and music in healing, can also be seen reflected in many of the complementary therapies now quite commonplace.
Issac Newton (1642 - 1727)
A pioneer in the field of colour, Isaac Newton in 1672, published his first, controversial paper on colour, and forty years later, his work 'Opticks'.
Newton passed a beam of sunlight through a prism. When the light came out of the prism is was not white but was of seven different colours: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. The spreading into rays was called dispersion by Newton and he called the different coloured rays the spectrum.
He learnt that when the light rays were passed again through a prism the rays turned back into white light. If only one ray was passed through the prism it would come out the same colour as it went in. Newton concluded that white light was made up of seven different coloured rays.
Modern Day Thinking
Indeed, the 'Ancient Egyptians' worship of the sun may also have a place in the modern world since it may be the sun which will fuel all our central heating systems and lighting systems etc. in the years to come as the coal and oil supplies become depleted. We are now also aware of the effect of light deprivation on a large number of people who suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months.
We are lucky that now we are all able to choose any colour we like and can buy products of any colour freely. This was not always the case. In times gone by, the pigments used to dye fabrics violet/purple were very expensive and, therefore, only available to the wealthy. For example, the Romans in high office would wear purple robes since this, to them, indicated power, nobility and thus authority.
Black is not a bad colour
It is also interesting to look at the different phases in history and how those phases have been reflected in the colours generally worn at those times. During times of severity and propriety the code of dress was very much dominated by black and grey. The Victorians mainly wore black - influenced by the Queen's long period of mourning no doubt - and were, in many ways, quite austere and, it has to be said, in many ways not very colourful. The Puritans too, of course, dressed in black. This is not to say that black is a bad colour. Every colour has its positive and negative aspects. Wearing black with another colour can enhance that other colour's energy. Black can also give the space sometimes needed for reflection and inner searching. It can indicate inner strength and the possibility for change.
Before the last war it was noted that a lot of red was being worn. Red in its most positive is the colour for courage, strength and pioneering spirit, all of which were much needed by the men and women who were fighting that war. However, in the most negative aspect, it is the colour of anger, violence and brutality. As the war was coming to an end, pale blue became a popular colour - an omen of the peace to come perhaps, also giving everyone the healing they must have so badly needed.
The future of Colour
We are now using colour in very positive ways again. Businesses are accepting that their employees may work better given a certain environment and hospitals and prisons are also becoming aware of the effect that the colour around them can have on patients and prisoners respectively. Paint companies have introduced new colour cards with the therapeutic aspects of colour in mind. Cosmetic companies too have 'colour therapy' ranges included in their products. Colour has a great deal to offer us and can be found all around us in nature.
We need to expand our awareness of colour so that we can truly benefit from nature's gifts so that 'colour' becomes a way of life, not just a therapy.