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Color Symbolism in Cherokee Formulas

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Color symbolism plays an important part in the shamanistic system of the Cherokees, no less than in that of other tribes. Each one of the cardinal points has its corresponding color and each color its symbolic meaning, so that each spirit invoked corresponds in color and local habitation with the characteristics imputed to him, and is connected with other spirits of the same name, but of other colors, living in other parts of the upper world and differing widely in their characteristics. Thus the Red Man, living in the east, is the spirit of power, triumph, and success, but the Black Man, in the West, is the spirit of death. The shaman therefore invokes the Red Man to the assistance of his client and consigns his enemy to the fatal influences of the Black Man.

The symbolic color system of the Cherokees, which will be explained more fully in connection with the formulas, is as follows:

East= red = success; triumph.
North= blue= defeat; trouble.
West= black= death.
South= white= peace; happiness.
Above?= brown= unascertained, but propitious.

= yellow= about the same as blue.

There is a great diversity in the color systems of the various tribes, both as to the location and significance of the colors, but for obvious reasons black was generally taken as the symbol of death; while white and red signified, respectively, peace and war. It is somewhat remarkable that red was the emblem of power and triumph among the ancient Oriental nations no less than among the modern Cherokees.1

Footnotes

  1. For more in regard to color symbolism, see Mallery’s Pictographs of the North American Indians in Fourth Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, pp. 53-37, Washington, 1886; Gatschet’s Creek Migration Legend, vol. 3, pp. 31-41, St. Louis, 1888; Brinton’s Kiche Myths in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 19, pp. 646-647, Philadelphia, 1882. 

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