The Meaning of Colors in Dreams
The simplest way to understand the symbolic use of color in dreams is to think of it as “coloring” the dream. Color explains subtlety of mood, thought, perception and feeling. It paints the picture. Colors used in dreams explain themselves by their hues. To discern what a hue means to you, ask yourself what it reminds you of and how it makes you feel.
Anytime a color sticks out, describe it in three words. For example, the color blue to me is calm, thoughtful and “deep.” With those associations in mind, I next think about how the color is used in the dream and combine it with other symbolism or actions. A blue room, for example, might be the place in my mind where I ponder or analyze.
Color is also used to show connection between elements of a dream. In a dream interpreted in my book Dreams 1-2-3, a blue guitar connects with the blue shirt a character wears, showing that the symbolism of the guitar and the character are related.
Since colors are used in many figures of speech like “seeing red” and “green with envy,” also look for word play when a color is prominent in a dream.
Note: Some people don’t dream in color. However, their dreams can make references to colors, and knowing the symbolism can help with understanding the references.
“See red” is a common expression using color to symbolize an angry state of mind, but red isn’t always an angry color. At its most essential, red represents the essence of life, the color of blood, basic human energy.
Red is the color of the first chakra, the energy center at the base of the spine. Chakras are connected with the endocrine system. They are centers in the body where basic human energy is given shape and definition. I learned about chakras from practicing yoga and reading about Edgar Cayce, and mention them here because I find that color in dreams can relate to certain chakras.
The color red and the first chakra are related to the basics of life: health, protection, self-preservation, aggression. Without these, the other colors of life have no foundation to paint upon. You can’t be a deep blue thinker if no red blood is pumping. The meaning can be literal, as in blood in the veins, or figurative, as in “hot-blooded.” Zest and passion for life can be described as having “rich blood” or “blood coursing through the veins.” Red, then, can symbolize life force or passion as well as anger. To know which, look at how it is used in the dream.
In a dream discussed in this post about body dream symbolism, the dreamer looks for a solution to save a fish dying in a fishbowl, and calls a friend for help. He appears on the scene and eats red Jello, which appears to be completely unrelated to solving her problem, but the Jello symbolizes something that cleanses the body, and red symbolizes essential nourishment. In a dream about an apocalypse, the planet turns red like blood, signifying a situation related to the dreamer’s aggression.
Dreams that use orange are often related to the dreamer’s sex life, reproduction or fertility. It is the color of the second chakra, centered in the hips. Someone I know had many dreams with objects and scenery colored orange during a time when she was trying to get pregnant. More examples are: opening an orange door, which is from a dream about entering a new area of sex life; taking off in an orange plane, which is what finding an enthusiastic lover can feel like; trying on an orange sweater, from a dream about starting a sex life; and juggling oranges, a dream image illustrating the complexity of maintaining or “juggling” several sexual relationships at the same time. The pumpkin is a classic symbol of sexuality or sex-related themes.
To tell what a dream says about your sex life with the color orange, use a dream of actually eating the fruit as an analogy, and ask what is being compared with your sex life. Do you carefully remove the skin of the orange, separate the sections and lick the juices? Or do you bite into it skin and all and chew voraciously? Either way of consuming sex is fine, depending on the tastes of the lovers. To know for yourself requires examining your feelings and looking for clues in the dream. But keep in mind also that an orange is a fruit and can represent healthy eating, not sex. As usual, the action tells the story.
Yellow is associated physically with the solar plexus, the location of the third chakra, related to willpower and drive. The solar shade of yellow shines in dreams with vitality; however, lack of vitality shows up as a weak hue. During lethargic depressions, dreams can be cast in pale yellow, sometimes in institutional settings where the dreamer is controlled by impersonal authorities. The association with yellow and cowardliness — for example, a man is described as “yellow” if he won’t fight — is common. Filmmakers use yellow-colored lenses to convey a sense of lethargy, or the opposite sense with a brighter hue, implying the energy one can gain from a sunny day.
Times when I exert greater than normal effort, I dream almost nightly of playing tennis. The yellow tennis balls glow particularly bright, and now I see the connection between the game and my ability to exert energy and hit the targets I set for my life.
Optimism is described sometimes as “sunny,” recognizing that the yellow of the sun is loaded with cheerful energy. The connection extends to yellow foods like bananas, which are used by athletes to provide maximum energy with the lowest volume. When I was more involved in sports I often dreamed of eating bananas. If yellow features prominently in a dream, pay attention to the hue and ask if it reminds you of anything.
Think of the saying “green with envy.” Why green? Well, it is the color of the heart chakra, also called the fourth chakra, and envy is the heart’s desire to satisfy itself by possessing what someone else has. No wonder then that green is the color of money! But there are many shades of green and many ways it can be used in dreams and language to express meaning.
In general, earthy shades of green communicate connection with nature, growth, life. I remember dreaming of a green, grassy field that represented new possibilities in my personal growth. During my 20s, at an age when sexuality and mating were forefront in mind, carrots frequently appeared in my dreams. Baffling at the time, the symbolic meaning is obvious to me now. Above the ground a carrot grows a green, bushy top, and below the ground it grows a thick, orange root. Which is a lot like mating: On the surface, choosing a mate and maintaining the relationship is a green growth of the heart’s desire. Below the surface, mating is about sex and reproduction. The sex drive springs from the second chakra, represented with the color orange. And you don’t have to watch a lot of nature shows to know that the shape of the penis for many species is shaped like a carrot.
Green also comes in emerald varieties, which I’ve found to be a good sign in dreams, showing the heart moving closer to something it wants. However, I know examples of hues of green that are too intense and have sickly tones, a sign of envy, dark desire, or the heart overpowering the head. There are also moldy shades of green that can imply decay, and neon greens that demand attention. These are some of the many meanings that dreams can give to the color green. Like all symbolism, it must be put into context to interpret.
The color blue brings to mind deep thoughts, reflection, sometimes melancholy or depression described as “feeling blue” or a “blue mood.” It has strong associations with mood and emotion, but also with thought and insight. When associated with chakras it is divided into two shades: light blue (fifth chakra), and indigo (sixth chakra). The fifth chakra is centered in the throat, linked with communication and self-expression. The sixth chakra is centered in the forehead, linked with thought and insight.
In a dream mentioned in chapter one, the dreamer swims with dolphins in clear blue water and describes the symbolic immersion as exhilarating. She might have a completely different impression if the water was brown or red. I have dreamed of rooms painted indigo blue that symbolize places in my mind for my “thinker” side, the part that contemplates for long stretches and makes insights.
Blue, like all colors, can appear anywhere in a dream, and it is there purposefully. For instance, if a colleague appears to me in a dream wearing a dreary blue-colored T-shirt beneath a sunny yellow jacket, I might wonder if she is secretly “blue” beneath her sunny optimism. If the shade of blue looks more like a cloudless summer sky, I might wonder if she has a rich mental life covered by a more genial or driven personality.
The purple hue of violet is called the royal color in part because it is associated with the “crown,” or seventh, chakra located at the top of the head. It is associated with connection to spirit and the higher mind. Kings and queens dress in the royal color and wear crowns to show their divine connection and right to rule. Which isn’t to say that if you dream of wearing a purple robe, you are actually royalty! Each of us, though, has an archetype inside that serves the purpose of ordering and leading our lives, providing leadership, direction and inspiration. Dressed in violet, perhaps wearing a crown or sitting behind a big desk, the King or Queen archetype identifies itself to the dreamer sometimes through obvious symbolism, sometimes obscurely.
For example, an author dreams that his kitchen is in bad disarray. The surfaces are cluttered and nothing is put away where it is supposed to be. A chef character wearing a chef’s hat refuses to work until the kitchen is cleaned, and the dreamer promises to take care of it. The chef then hurries off to order eggplant.
The kitchen setting is a work environment, and in the dreamer’s waking life his work area is a mess. He allowed his writing desk to become cluttered with a hundred little things that needed to be put away or addressed, and the deeply creative part of himself is unable to work through the distractions.
To understand the chef character, think about what chefs do: plan out a menu, prepare ingredients, combine them together, cook it all up and prepare it for service. Which is a fantastic metaphor for crafting a novel: an initial idea which leads to notes and research, thinking through character and plot details, writing, then editing and finally publishing. It’s an enormous labor of love that, when successful, serves up some hot ‘n tasty literature.
The chef’s significance as a character from the dreamer’s unconscious mind is illustrated by the chef’s hat, which is a sort of crown, and another detail: The eggplant with its deep purple hue provides a clue that the author’s “inner chef” is preparing to work on a new book, and the inspiration for it comes from the dreamer’s highest mental source, the seventh chakra. That is where the chef’s order is received in the mind.
Sometimes details as seemingly insignificant as eggplant give away deep meaning, but don’t get sidetracked or bogged down analyzing every detail to death. It is more important to follow how a dream feels and what it says directly. In the last example, the connection is obvious to the author because his writing desk is like a messy kitchen. Whether or not the dreamer understands the meaning right away, the call to action — to clean the kitchen so Chef can work — rings loud and clear. The dreamer agrees to clean the kitchen without having to be convinced, because something inside him knows it is a distraction. Goes to show that the actions of the day are thought through and prepared for at night, during dreams.
White is technically a color without any color, and in dreams I have seen it signify purity, desolation or lack of distinction. Characters dressed in white often announce themselves as beneficial to the dreamer, connected spiritually, even holy. White landscapes and settings, however, I’ve found to often be sterile, a sign of something seriously lacking in the dreamer’s life (unless the landscape is white with holy light). Snowy or frozen desolation is the most frequent theme I’ve encountered in dreams about deep depression. Lack of color is a dream’s way of pointing out the need for more vitality or liveliness.
White can also represent something that is indistinct, like in a dream discussed in my book about a white figure at the dreamer’s door that disappears when he tries to answer it. The figure doesn’t represent an actual person or even a part of the dreamer; it represents a nagging feeling trying to get his attention.
In a dream about a white horse in the snowstorm, the white color of the horse signals that the unconscious has sent a means to escape a period of depression symbolized by the snowstorm. Two meanings symbolized by one color.
Black is a combination of all colors, and as such it has all sorts of possible meanings when it appears in dreams. Most commonly find that it symbolizes mystery or the unknown.
Two characters colored black in my dreams symbolize two very different parts of myself. In the first dream, I batted against a voodoo baseball pitcher, his skin very black and his body covered by animal fur and feathers. He threw a wicked pitch that corkscrewed past my swing. Come to life in that dream was a shadowy part of myself that originated with a late childhood experience dealing with how unfair the adult world can be. The voodoo pitcher throwing corkscrew pitches that defy the laws of physics shows up in my dreams when dealing with feelings of being treated unfairly.
In the second dream, I talked with Barack Obama about politics. I sensed his authority and followed his instructions because he is the President. Bill Clinton has played that role in other dreams of mine.
Black can also mean “unknown” or “mysterious” because of the blackness of outer space and the black of night. Both are places of mystery. “Blackened” is a term ripe with possibility to describe explosive or hot situations in life. ‘In the black’ means profitable, or it can mean secret, as in “black operation.” And finally, black is associated with death.