The color red is frequently used as a symbol of guilt, sin, and anger, often as connected with blood or sex.
A biblical example is found in Isaiah: “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”
Also, The Scarlet Letter, an 1850 American novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, features a woman in a Puritan New England community who is punished for adultery with ostracism, her sin represented by a red letter ‘A‘ sewn into her clothes.
This all comes from a general Hebrew view inherited by Christianity which associates color red with the blood of murder, as well as with guilt in general.
Often, things will be in color red to scare. Another popular example of this is in the phrase “caught red-handed“, meaning either caught in an act of crime or caught with the blood of murder still on one’s hands.
At one point, the color red was associated with prostitutes, or now, with brothels (red-light districts). In Roman Catholicism, red represents wrath, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. In Christianity, Satan is usually depicted as colored red and/or wearing a red costume in both iconography and popular culture.
Statistics have shown that red cars are more likely to be involved in accidents. The color red is associated with lust, passion, love, and beauty as well.
The association with love and beauty is possibly related to the use of red roses as a love symbol. Both the Greeks and the Hebrews considered red a symbol of love, as well as sacrifice.
Psychological research has shown that men find women who are wearing red more attractive.
Courage and sacrifice
The color red is also used as a symbol of courage and sacrifice, as in blood spilled in sacrifice or courage in the face of lethal danger.
Examples of this are found in the flags of many nations including the United States, as well as in the novel The Red Badge of Courage, in which a soldier in the American Civil War discovers the meaning of courage.
Besides the association with guilt previously mentioned, in Christianity, red represents the color of Christian martyrs who suffered death for their faith. It is sometimes used for Holy Thursday and during Eastertide, and red green and white is the color scheme of Christmas.
In Roman Catholic tradition it is used for all feast days of Christian martyrs as well as Palm Sunday in anticipation of the death of Jesus.
Along the same lines, red is associated in Roman mythology with the god of war, Mars. A Roman general receiving a triumph had his entire body painted red in honor of his achievement.
The phrase “red-blooded” describes someone who is audacious, robust, or virile. In English heraldry, red (called gules) denoted ardent affection or love, while crimson (blood-color) stood for boldness, enthusiasm, or impetuosity.
Stop sign used in various countries. The shape and the color red is used nearly universally today. Red sky at night, sailor’s/shepherd’s delight.
Red catches people’s attention and is often used either in a negative way to indicate danger and emergency, or in a positive way in advertising to gain more viewers, or in nature, as a ripe fruit announces its readiness with its red color.
Several studies have indicated that color red carries the strongest reaction of all the colors, with the level of reaction decreasing gradually with orange, yellow, and white, respectively. Because of this, scientists have repeatedly recommended red for warning signals, labels, and signs.
Because of these recommendations, the color red has seen widespread use as a danger signal, in stop signs, to warn people of extreme heat or flammability, and even to signal warnings in sports such as football.
In religion and metaphysics
Red may represent fire and so may symbolize the presence of God. In Christianity, red is the liturgical color for Pentecost.
Also, in the Catholic Church red is the color of a martyr. In the metaphysics of the “New Age Prophetess“, Alice Bailey, in her system called the Seven Rays which classifies humans into seven different metaphysical psychological types, the “sixth ray” of “love-devotion” is represented by the color red.
People who have this metaphysical psychological type are said to be “on the Red Ray“. Psychics who claim to be able to observe the aura with their third eye report that a red aura is associated with a love of sports and/or physical exercise. In Islam, red is the color for sacrifice and courage.
Eastern and African traditions
In China, red is the symbol of fire and the south (both south in general and Southern China specifically).
It carries a largely positive connotation, being associated with courage, loyalty, honor, success, fortune, fertility, happiness, passion, and summer.
In Chinese cultural traditions, red is associated with weddings (where brides traditionally wear red dresses) and red paper is also frequently used to wrap gifts of money or other things.
Special red packets called hong bao as in Mandarin or lai sees as in Cantonese – are specifically used during the Chinese New Year to give monetary gifts.
On the more negative end, obituaries are traditionally written in red ink, and to write someone’s name in red signals either cutting them out of your life or that they have died. Red is also associated with both the feminine yin and the masculine yang, depending on the source.
In Japan, red is a traditional color for a heroic figure. In the Indian Sub-continent, red is the traditional color of bridal dresses and is frequently represented in the media as a symbolic color for married women.
The color is associated with sexuality in marriage relationships through its connection to heat and fertility. It is also the color of wealth, beauty, and the goddess Lakshmi.
In Central Africa, Ndembu warriors rub themselves with red during celebrations. Since their culture sees the color as a symbol of life and health, sick people are also painted with it.
Like most Central African cultures, the Ndembu see red as ambivalent, better than black, but not as good as white. In other parts of Africa, however, red is a color of mourning, representing death.
Because of the connection red bears with death in many parts of Africa, the Red Cross has changed its colors to green and white in parts of the continent.
*This article was originally published at www.ucl.ac.uk.