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Symbols - What does heaven look like

Cardinal directions and colours

The colour coding for cardinal directions applies whether the cardinal directions are physical ‘material world’ directions, spiritual directions or allegorical of life’s journey.

The major problem, however, is that the colour coding is not consistent across cultures or even within a culture across groups or tribes.  This makes the unravelling of any visions or dreams especially fraught with problems.  It is made doubly difficult by the fact that exactly the same set of colours may be used but have a completely different symbol meaning across cultures.  Thus you cannot say, here we have red, black, yellow, white and green, therefore because this colour combination only occurs in this country it must mean ….  The same colour combination might appear in many cultures each with a different meaning.  It may not apply to the cardinal directions at all.

Thus, you have to know the culture in which the dream, vision or hallucination took place.  If you don’t then the ‘composer’ needs to give you a clue – a scene maybe that has the cultural context in place.  An example is included of an observation with colours used to denote directions – both ribbons and hair colour are used.  But the symbolism was not apparent until a further dream showed the symbolism to belong to the Mayan culture.

Many cultures not descended from European traditions use more than four cardinal directions, the normal north, south, east and west are used, but a ‘centre’ may be added.

To demonstrate the extraordinary differences that exist between groups one would think would share common schemes of colour because of their close proximity, I have reproduced below two charts from Wikipedia which show the colour symbolism applied to cardinal directions classified by group/culture

 Dynastic Chinese culture and some other Central Asian cultures view the center as a fifth principal direction hence the English translated term "Five Cardinal Points". The Cardinal directions and colour codIng schemes are used as a foundation for the I Ching, the Wu Xing and the five Naked-eye planets.  The additional symbolic associations are:

East: Green; Spring; Wood

South: Red; Summer; Fire

West: White; Autumn; Metal

North: Black; Winter; Water

Center: Yellow; Earth

In Mesoamerica and North America, many traditional indigenous beliefs, like their Asian counterparts,  include four cardinal directions and a centre. As you can see from the chart, the colours vary between groups but generally correspond to the hues of corn (green, black, red, white, and yellow).

In the next few pages I have included another chart obtained via Wikipedia, which shows the colour coding again for yet more groups.

On this chart, east is shown to the right, south on the bottom, west on the left and north at the top. [It is worth noting that Mandalas are typically shown with east on the bottom, the direction in which the central god is gazing].  



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