Blue

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


BLUE


Then the Sea and Heaven rolled as one and from the two came fresh transfigurings of freshest blue.

Wallace Stevens

 Grandfather, tell me how did blue enter into the world and how did the sky come to be filled with it and the sea, Grandfather, why does it brim with blue?" "I will tell you, child", and the old man settled his lean frame into the gentler curves of a decaying captain's chair. "I will tell you because your eyes are blue and I see them ever slipping away from the earth to fasten upon that horizon out there." His hand gestured towards the window and circled upward from the ocean's curve, dimly etched through the salt-sprayed panes. "Your eyes are filled with the answer, child, but I will try to put it into words." He composed his thoughts for a moment and the lines in his weathered, intelligent face delicately stretched to frame the expanding force of the theme. As he spoke, his voice swelled and receded in the tone of one who had spent a lifetime on the sea. The shafts of afternoon sunlight gave way and shadows of deepening blue gathered round their shapes, huddled at the threshold of the infinite.

 "The light of the sun is the source of the colour we see reflected in the world. It begins in gamma rays whose wavelengths are a million times too short to see. By a process of absorption and re-emission throughout the sun's body, these spread out into longer wavelengths which travel through space and are further altered by interaction with the atmosphere. If there are no dusts or gases in the heavens, the sky appears black, as it does ten miles out from the earth's surface where the atmosphere thins out almost to the vanishing point." The old man adjusted himself in the chair and continued: "The colour of the sky, child, is closely associated with the way light, falling on matter, is scattered in all directions. The amount of scattered light is greater for shorter blue wavelengths than for longer red ones." Here the learned mariner became more technical and spoke slowly, using his hands to explain. "The intensity of scattered light is inversely proportional to the fourth power of the wavelength. Because of this, blue light loses more energy than red and its scattering is dependent upon low atmospheric content. In the atmosphere of the earth, molecules of gases scatter the blue waves in all directions while the red waves are absorbed, causing the sky to appear blue. The more rarefied the air, the greater the scattering of these short waves and the deeper the colour of blue. But when there is considerable dust or moisture in the air, the layers of particles scatter the longer red waves and cause the sky to become whiter. The red and blue light mixes to produce the whitened sky so common in higher latitudes where moisture particles hang in the air. So the dust rising in a hot, dry clime bleaches out the heavens until a heavy rain settles the earth and leaves behind it a deep saturated blue. Men long for that blue, child. They always dream of travelling south into the azure intensity that has inspired poets and painters for countless years. So thus they gaze out over the horizon as you do, trying to penetrate its vastness."

Blue colour is everlastingly appointed by the Deity to be a source of delight.

John Ruskin

 Appointed by the Deity, it is the abode of the gods, their intrinsic attribute and celestial surrounding. It is the colour of the Queen of Heaven and the feminine principle of the Great Deep. It veils the impenetrable void of chaos and yet recedes into its folded mystery. It is the colour of the cloak of Hera and Zeus and clings to Diana's fleet, forested shape. It is reflected in the blue robes once worn by priests at the grave and by the Levites who called their garb the livery of heaven. 'The Blue' is a synonym for heaven and all that is divine. In the darkened depths of its expanse lies Nature's solitude, wrapped in a cold noumenal glow whose purity is incomparable. By its grace, the sea takes on its colour and draws the ocean of space into the world, but the purity of 'the Blue' remains aloft to be viewed from mountain tops on perfectly clear and blessed days.

 It is said that "the purity of a colour will always have its counterpart in the purity of its symbolic meaning". Blue symbolizes truth, intellect, revelation and wisdom. It is the colour of loyalty, fidelity, constancy and chastity as well as the combined virtues of magnanimity and prudence. Truth expresses itself in the magnanimous vastness of blue and offers the basis of peace and serenity, piety and contemplation. The human mind in thoughtful concentration tends towards its more rarefied atmosphere wherein coolness clarifies the mental process and the heat of emotional entanglements is quelled. The most striking thing about blue is its coolness, which exudes a sedateness and sense of dignity. It soothes while it cleanses, like water gently pouring, and it engenders an alertness and a singleness of focus which, in the highly introspective individual, can lead to melancholy. Normally, however, blue reminds one of the vertical and spatial. It symbolizes the height and depth of fidelity and constancy and the penetration of mind which embraces the larger picture. Because of this, Hope was "clad in blue" by Spenser, Odysseus described as "azure-eyed", and Athena, who sprang from the brain of Zeus, bedecked in indigo robes. Even the term 'blue-blooded' originally referred to those who were learned and wise and therefore aristocratic. Thackeray referred to this when he wrote of "some ladies [who] were very blue and well informed".

 The profoundly calming power of blue is perfectly expressed in the Greek word γαλανος (galanos) which depicts the colour as well as any individual of calmness and serenity. Γαλανος indicates the peaceful stillness of the sea in good weather and it comes from the same root, which is γαλα (gala) or milk, from which we take our terms 'galaxy' and 'Milky Way'. The quietude felt during the few moments of twilight before night 'falls' is impossible to imagine in the presence of any colour other than a deepening blue. The quality of serenity which this time of day can evoke brings to man the stillness and freedom from anxiety enjoyed by an infant suckling the milk of life at its mother's breast. One is reminded of the sacred herds of heavenly cows, spoken of in the Vedas, their forms scattering in the churning sea of their own milk as they release the pure blue light from the bonds of darkness.

 Pythagoras asserted that humans see by the light of rays emitted from the eye; modern science holds that light is reflected first by an object before striking the eye where colour is distinguished through the stimulation of chemically coded substance. In the evolution of colour vision, the light-sensitive substance is believed to have become more specific and the colour molecule split into the two cleavable portions of yellow and blue. Later, the yellow cleavable portion splits again into two portions, yielding red and green sensations. Thus the colour receptors in the eye are in complementary dyads of red-green, yellow-blue and black-white. To see blue, the yellow must be cancelled out, which means, in fact, that the red-green balanced 'mix' is negated. Blue, then, results from a subtraction of green and red wavelengths from white light.

 Newton introduced the basic concepts necessary to understand how this subtraction or absorption takes place in nature. Light from the sun disperses in the various wavelengths ultimately observable in the spectrum. The molecular structure of an object determines which are absorbed or reflected. Owing to its wavelength, a blue light is more easily bent than red and is then more broadly scattered. The mystery of the wavelengths of colours cannot be separated from a consideration of light in terms of particles or photons which are emitted from a source and which move instantly at the speed of light in a random direction. It is remarkable that photons which emerged from stars millions of years ago reach our eyes unchanged. They are ancient particles of light that are never exhausted and rays of light are made up of billions of them following in the same path. A wavelength of light is associated with the behaviour of the individual photon whose wave properties are intrinsic to it, causing it to vibrate in a plane perpendicular to its path. Thus while the perception of blue can be reliably mediated by a single photon, the structure of objects in an environment would have to be of such a density and nature as to cause the red and green waves to be absorbed and the blue refracted.

 Although, as Goethe said, yellow and blue promote each other, they also cancel one another out. This is related to the fact that when one stares at a bright yellow object and then closes one's eyes, one will see the blue dyadic opposite. If yellow and blue pigments are mixed, they will be replaced with green, whereas yellow and blue lights mixed can cancel each other out and appear white. Following the evolution of colour vision backwards, the red-green follows after the yellow while the blue stands before the latter and remains as an uncleavable aspect of the light-sensitive apparatus in the eye. While the red and green receptor cones have been identified in the human eye, no one has ever located the blue ones which are believed to be scattered close to the foveal opening that leads to the brain. The yellow pigmentation around this opening is thought to provide freedom from visual aberration so that blue may be seen clearly in spite of the assumed lesser number of blue receptors.

 In examining these complexities, one might consider the Pythagorean perspective. Plotinus and Goethe after him thought that the eyes were a microcosmic sun and that all colours occur when light yields to darkness (blue) or darkness yields to light (yellow). On the other hand, blue is also a more ontologically primitive sensation; and if one pursued the reasoning of Plotinus, and recognized the source of pure white light within the brain, the subsequent sequence of colour would be most interesting. To do this would require a consideration of the process whereby the pineal gland converts light into an electrochemical effect which must parallel the light-producing potency of the mystical Third Eye. If there is white light within man which is the reflection of a lofty and pure consciousness, the channel of its emission into the world would be that leading to the yellow circle of the foveal opening. This would be like the dark passage of spiritual light which bursts into manifestation through a golden yellow matrix. If this analogy is pursued patiently, it would appear that the manifesting light would be blue, which in turn would immediately 'compete' with another yellow that is produced through an ontologically subsequent combination of red and green. Many questions arise here. One may ask what is the relationship of a pure white light within man or at the hidden source of celestial light, and the white haze that cancels out the blue of the sky on a foggy or dusty day? When light yields to darkness to produce blue (as Plotinus suggested), is it primordial chaos, or is it the descent of Spirit into matter that is indicated? What are the relevant analogies and correspondences between man and the cosmos when we consider the passage of blue light coming from within the brain through the yellow foveal and also the nature of light hidden behind the mask of the physical sun?

 In primitive languages throughout the world, blue is often designated together with black in the same term. This would seem to be connected with the notion that blue is darkness made visible. The light blue of the daytime sky must appear quite different from midnight blue, given such a perspective. One sees black because all wavelengths of light have been absorbed but there is that darkness which occurs when there is an absence of any source of light. We do not frequently experience it and it may be that it is more of a psychological than physical phenomenon. The slightest amount of light produces very deep blue tones which do have a psychological effect. The general impressions produced by single colours are not easily changed. "They act specifically and must produce definite specific states in the living organism." They produce a corresponding influence on the mind which can be experienced fully if the eye is entirely surrounded by one colour. The enormity of the impact of colour on the human psyche is demonstrated by the example of a fifty-two-year-old man who underwent a successful corneal operation. What he had learnt through touch was contradicted by sight. "He found the world drab and was upset by flaking paint and blemishes on things. He liked bright colours, but became depressed when the light faded. His depression became marked. He gradually gave up active living, and three years later he died." The ideas people have about colours combine with their actual qualities of warmth or coldness or luminosity or chromatic value to produce powerful effects. Perhaps the fact that the sky and sea are blue causes human beings to associate blue with calmness, control and fidelity. But it could be that these things, because of their essential or reflected nature, must be blue and no other colour. It is difficult to unravel such a chain of causation from an inductive point of view. It is a fact, however, that blue decreases tension and anxiety. It causes people to underestimate time and it brings about a decrease in blood pressure, respiratory movements and eye blinking. These therapeutic effects correspond well with the symbolic attributes assigned to blue; one can only imagine that they would contribute positively to the refinement of intelligence in the pursuit of Truth.

 But blue is also associated with schizophrenia and a majority of inwardly integrated people will favour the colour because of its connection with a conscious control of emotions. Individuals fearful of losing control of their persona may do well to avoid intense reds or pulsating strobe lights and may intuitively seek out the solace of blue. Because individuals who like blue tend to be more withdrawn than others, they may, under stress, make a tragic flight from their environment. They do not seem to trust their surroundings as much as the outgoing lover of warm colours, and a sudden shift in circumstances can induce a state of panic or melancholy. Being more introverted, such people tend to be cerebral; they worry about changes, seeing the dark side of the future looming up like a blue shadow. Shakespeare wrote, "Oh coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me! The lights burn blue!" And, indeed, melancholy is 'the blues', seeing nothing but dismal and unpromising prospects all around as if a blanket of cold and numbing darkness had been dropped from above. So pronounced is this state and so often has it been acutely suffered by performers in the world of jazz that a whole class of music became known as the 'blues'. The more poignant and authentic "What did I do, to be so black and blue?" was translated easily into the middle class "The sea, the sky, my heart and I, are all an indigo hue. Without you, it's a blue, blue world."

I've got those weary Twentieth-Century Blues.

Noel Coward

 Indigo blue takes its name from the Indigofera plant, which was cultivated in the ancient world for centuries. In the plant, indigo occurs as a colourless glucoside, and by a distillation process this was split into glucose and indoxyl, which is also colourless. By exposure to air, two molecules of indoxyl were converted into indigo, which is a dark blue powder which produces a pure, deep, unadulterated blue which has the peculiar property of turning copper coloured when rubbed and exposed to the sun. It is very interesting to parallel this with the words of the Vishnu Purana which describe sound as the characteristic of Akasa. It goes on to say that "it generates air, the property of which is touch; which (by friction) becomes productive of colour and light". One thinks of Akasa as the 'innerside' of the deep blue firmament and of sound connected with Vach, the Melodious Cow, which in plural form flooded the universe with the galactic milk of the Great Blue Beyond. One recalls that in Akasa all archetypes are registered and that Louis Daguerre advanced the science of photography by treating copper plates with mercury vapour to bring out a much sharper image, the negatives of which could last for a long time.

 The idea of blue being true is an arcane, ubiquitous and universal notion. One writer eloquently addressed himself to this theme when he stated that "The Sphere of that Sapphire Blue is in touch with the Infinite. The very throne of God is a Sapphire Throne, and as such, is the seat of Judgement, because there is the Rule of Truth in its spiritual purity and brightness." He goes on to identify this blue with the "Truth Atmosphere" breathed by the Soul. Under its influence, the psychic faculties develop and it makes manifest the spiritual gifts while deepest arcana may be revealed to the gaze. Here the qualities of calmness, fidelity and purity are made handmaidens to revelation and wisdom. The cold side of blue demands the truth and sees through the fuzzy haze of sunny delusions. If one can avoid the pitfall of melancholy, one might press on along this fine, pure ray of colour towards a more unbiased, clearer perspective. It is said that when blue rules, it is the best time for readjustments in life and not a time for trifling or frivolity. One ought to get as near as possible to 'That Which Thou Art' and seek clear vision, hearing and spiritual power. One should arise from the foot of the Sapphire Throne and become a blessing to the world. Above all, this is not a time for resentment. It is a time to forgive "even unto seventy-times-seven".

  The trueness of blue is the winning blue. It is the blue ribbon allotted to those who face the full task at hand and refuse to fall back on wishful thinking or miracles. Leaving no stone unturned, the winner of the blue is fearlessly willing to confront all the unpleasant elements in himself and in his karmic circumstances. He does not despair when viewing them, but utilizes the calming influence of the blue clarity which prevails in his mind to sort out those elements that can be altered or removed from those which may have to be endured before they are transcended. This willingness to confront the truth is connected with two very tricky planetary influences, those of Scorpio and Saturn. In the Chinese tradition, Scorpio was called the Azure Dragon or the Blue Emperor, relating to the higher Akashic field which must be pierced by the seeker of wisdom. In astrological reckoning Scorpio is very closely associated with Uranos, the Breaker of Bonds, which represents the volcanic force needed to burst the fetters of self. Scorpio is double-edged because it is associated with desire; yet, desire in abundance is required if one would break through illusion and face the truth behind it.

 Saturn is a planet around which much fear and subsequent propitiation revolves. It is dark blue or black and rules the 'critical' state through which the soul must pass in order to move into the realm of true Self-knowledge. This is a point of great testing where only true knowledge can pass the examination and pretences will go for naught. It is not, therefore, surprising that people cower in fear before the unyielding test of Saturn, and in cultures where it is personified they supplicate its image and pray that Fate will turn a blind eye to their foibles. When blue, the deep indigo blue of depthless Truth, rules, it is examination time and all the magnanimity of fair, omnipresent blue skies must be focussed upon a deeper, yet invisible, parent ray.

 There must be a point about ten miles out from the earth where the blue waves of light first begin to contact the atmosphere of the globe upon which we experience our physical lives. It must be at this point that pure, deep indigo blue is reflected, to be followed by midnight blue and sapphire, azure and ever lighter blues as the atmosphere thickens with particles of more and more condensed matter. Thus in pursuing the indigo hue we must move simultaneously out from and within 'the skin of the earth'. Just so must one sort out the multilevelled reflections of changing colours, from above below and from within without. If one considers the sun and the human eye as symbolic analogies, they can both be seen as sharing a spiritual archetype. This Spiritual Sun resides in darkness but is said to be deep indigo blue, a blue which manifests through the aperture of the visible sun as white light containing within it the rays of all the spectrum colours. But the first waves to spread out into the solar system are those short waves which produce the colour blue. Whether it can be seen or not (relative to the presence of particles to reflect it), these most widely scattering waves are blue. Subsequent to that, the contact with the earth's atmosphere produces the red end of the spectrum. Within man, the spiritual light is in darkness. Following the analogy, then, this darkness of deep luminous blue should manifest through the aperture of the fovea as white light and the first waves to spread out into the retina and beyond should be blue. As they radiate out, they would interact with the reflected colours of the external environment only to be bounced back into the retina and the physical brain.

 It is thus that man stands at a pivotal point of vision and understanding in the universe. He stands between the manifestation of light and colour from above and from below, from within and from without. Because of this, he is in a position to experience an order of colours quite different from the spectrum order that appears in nature. He can experience seeing (understanding) by beginning with blue both from within and from without. The development of intelligence connected with this blue is the predominating purpose of this entire phase of spiritual evolution. In this effort towards Manasic birth, the photographic process of self-conscious awareness is reaching a critical state. The need for loftier archetypes or 'negatives' has become apparent to large numbers of thoughtful people in the world, but the courageous love of truth required to break through to their repository is difficult to find. One must come to grips with the cold facts in order to face Saturn, pass that higher examination, win the blue ribbon of Truth. If one can pass this test, then the faster short waves of higher Manas will have free access to the Akashic heights and the mind can radiate its light like the azure sky in a magnanimous flow of calming and purifying mental energy. The bending blue waves will scatter out in a great beneficent curve, guiding and instilling hope in the hearts of all who raise their eyes to the heavens.

Veil upon Veil you hide
The well-spring of the Infinite,
The blue that delights,
Pierces the heart,
And produces a sapphire jewel.