Why Is Black Color Symbol of Death?

Cave-man psychology is the reason why black color is a symbol of death. In the mere beginning of humanity, our ancestors weren’t even capable of producing and handling fire. It means that nature completely dictated the way they lived. With having nothing but eyes to lead the way and distinguish life from death, cavemen were pretty much limited to daylight. Moon could provide them help, but not every night is the night of clear sky and shiny moon. Without light, there is only darkness and human mechanisms perceive dark in the black color. Besides being weaker and slower than most of the other animals, when confronted with the dark, people would even lose their vision. It made them much easier prey and resulted in a rapid increase in deaths and injuries. Due to conditions that would create after every sunset, the night enhanced fear which connected death to the black color. Such an outcome of events produced the symbolism.

Is Death Always Colored In Black?

While the introduction made no mistake, black is the color of death only in western cultures. When it comes to the east, most people bind white for the concept of demise. Chinese culture is of high interest when it comes to color usage and interpretation.

Black Means Water – Chinese Culture and Five Elements

Chinese cardinal and intermediary colors

Chinese cardinal and intermediary colors

In Chinese culture black, red, qing (a conflation of blue and green), white and yellow are five basic colors. Each of them corresponds to one of five basic elements:

  • Black – Water (some consider black for the color of heavens)
  • Red – Fire (fortune and joy)
  • White – Mourning
  • Yellow – Earth (the most beautiful of all)
  • Qing – Birth

Black Color Symbolism

In Chinese culture, black is considered for a neutral color. It is why black is a perfect match to represent water rather than death. But in some of the Chinese divination text black is even presented as the color of heaven. Yet there is even more about the prominence of this color. Black is the symbol of yin meaning dark. In an ancient Chinese philosophy that is focused on the concept of dualism, yin and yang (dark and bright) are basic oppositions that actually complement each other. As for death, its robes are always colored in white.

Back To Western Symbolism

When it comes to western symbolism black is not only associated with death but also with the evil itself. This is due to the fact that western cultures are much more prone to the glorification of the material world. Therefore, it is natural that they have seen an enemy in death and attached to it an attribute of evil. In addition to this, we can see that most of the time evil brings death. Due to this fact, death and evil both founded themselves under the black veil.

This way of perceiving reality eventually affected religion as well. Most of Europe fell before the spreading of Christianity that later sailed to the New World. While most people will say that Christianity gives an advantage to the value of spiritual life, the fact is that with its ideas of heaven and hell, it offers a chance for eternal welfare. Everything can be perceived from many different angles. Yet when it comes to the perception of most of the people, heaven is a permanent prolongation of existence. And so is hell. Heaven with all its joys is reserved for the righteous ones while hell awaits those who sin.

Colors of Final Destination

When colors get into the game, heaven

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno

Gustave Doré’s illustration to Dante’s Inferno

becomes all white and light with shiny angels featured by large bright wings and golden aureoles above their heads. But light and white are also the colors present in the world of the living that allow men to have control over what is happening. While this might seem like a coincidence, it is more likely that the cavemen psychology present in the subconscious did the work. The same applies to black.

Isn’t Red the Color of Hell?

Hell is associated with red most of the time. Most depictions of hell are either red or full of aggressive colors that produce feelings of moroseness, desperation, and violence. Scenes that take place are violently unnatural and most important of all, they are all perfectly visible. This doesn’t mean that black color is out of the game. All depictions show what happens below the dark. That implies enormous torture, agony, and blood spilling. Men never feared dark for being black. They feared it for its ability to take their sight away and make them a pray. Push them off the cliff, or between the sharp jaws of a beast that would crush their bones and tore their meat apart. That would produce pain, suffering, and eventually death that is directly opposed to the mere biological core of human beings – existential instinct. It was what happened below the dark that made them feel terror and connect it to what they saw – the absence of light we perceive as black color.

This explains why hell is associated with red so often. It is because of the feeling of spilled blood and wounds that are going to be inflicted in there. Everything is, in one way or another, associated with survival and things that enhance it and harm it. However, black is very present as well. Especially in modern art related to depictions of demons. We all know some move or photograph were the eyes of a possessed person go completely black. It is because at the and of the day, the cave-man psychology is still turned on. And it even managed to create the religion in order to eliminate the greatest fear of all – disappearance.

Black Death: The Mother of Grim Reaper

In the 14th century, black became the official color of death. Black death is the name history uses to reference the greatest pandemic in human history. It is also known by the name of the black plague which lasted from 1346–1353 and by some estimates took 200 million lives. The plague came to Europe carried by rets and created chaos. But since we speak of black color, we will stick to art. The pandemic inspired the creation of Grim Reaper. The famous skeleton with a scythe and hourglass, as it is today, wore the black robe and appeared to collect soul when someone’s time had come to an end.

Interesting Facts About Black Color

  • In nature, black color is how the complete absence of light manifests itself.
  • Black is one of the first colors used in art as neolithic paintings are full of it.
  • When it comes to fashion, black color is a kind of universal joker. Most of the modern creators believe that black goes good with everything.
  • In the cases of cats, having black fur means that the cat brings bad luck. In Japan, single ladies that have black cats for cats are considered to be more attractive.
  • Black rouses actually do not exist. Their color is actually a very dark hue of red.
  • While the main symbolism of black is death and evil, this color is also used to represent: power, elegance, sophistication, status, formality, grief, mourning, the occult, mystery, bleakness, heaviness, depression, rebellion, fear.
  • In martial arts black belt is a symbol of the master level.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *