The Colour White

What is white?

So, if our eyes receive the same amount of coloured light (red, green, blue) as an equal mix, we see white light. Contrary to black, white is the total presence of light.
If the intensity of the mixed light waves is too low however, we experience grey.

There is a saying “at night, all cats are grey”, referring to this effect.
White, together with all the shades of grey, as well as black, belongs to the group of achromatic colours.

At night all cats are grey
At night all cats are grey | photo: (cc-by-nc) ryanne lai

Symbolism of white (western countries)

In western countries, white mostly appears under happy circumstances. Wedding dresses for example.

It is the colour of innocence, clean and proper.
It also may express extravagance, as well as maidenhood (since the cloth is “unstained”). Therefore it is often related to holiness in monotheistic religions like Christianity etc.

White Dunes Mui Ne
White Dunes Mui Ne | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox

Symbolism of white in Asia

Contrary to our beliefs, in China for example, it is the colour of wisdom and age.
Dirty or refracted shades however represent death and sorrow. Especially in combination with black is considered bad luck, because it symbolises death.

That symbolism is the reason why in China traditional wedding dresses are mostly red. Young, modern women however, tend to choose a western style wedding dress. But their mothers and grandmothers insist on the traditional red dress. So they end up in changing during their wedding ceremony (which in itself is quite long and laden with many customs already).
The Asian “Lore of the Five Elements” is connecting the colour with autumn and the eastern direction.

White Tiger
White Tiger | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox

More symbolism

The white lamb.
Looks so cute and innocent with it´s big eyes and curly fur. That´s probably the reason why some religions traditionally sacrifice them. Things too cute must be vanquished.

The white dove.
Is an old symbol for hope and peace. Perhaps dating back to Noah and his arch. He sent birds to watch out for land, and the dove was the one that brought an olive twig as proof of land. I don’t remember now, if the original version (Atra-Hasis, predating the bible by quite some time) also included pigeons.

White Pigeon
White pigeon out for mischief | photo: (cc-by-sa) Jean van der Sluijs

Overview: White

  • The colour of innocence, virginity and properness
  • White light is an equal mix of light, composed of all wavelengths
  • It is an achromatic colour
  • It is the brightest colour, the total presence of light
  • Symbol for good luck in the West
  • The white egg, the white lotus and the white cowl of Jeebus are symbols of birth, rebirth, comeback and new hope
  • Zeus abducted Europa in form of a white bull
  • The dove symbolises peace and hope, even if it dumps a load on you
  • The lamb represents sacrifice
  • White animals were preferred as sacrificial gift to the ancient Greek gods
  • The colour is a symbol for the “good“, contrary to black
  • As colour for a wedding dress, it was quite popular for the last 150 years
  • It is extravagant, distant and cool
  • It is the colour of origin (cloth can be dyed, paper can be coloured, light can be refracted)
  • Snow and ice: avalanches are called the white death
  • It is the colour of wisdom and age

Whiter than white

For dozens of years now, they are always developing new recipes for various laundry detergents, and one presumably washes whiter than the last one.
That is of course absolute nonsense, since the colour itself is total and there can be nothing more than the maximum.

Whiter than White
Laundry | photo: (cc-by-nc-nd) Laurie Hulsey

Usually the Foxglove flower is pink, but this one is nice, innocent.
However, it’s not less deadly than its pink relative.

White Foxglove Flower
Foxglove | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox