Abstract paining
By Laura K. Deal

According to Jeremy Taylor (Dream Work, p. 29), when people report they dream only in black and white, and then they start dreaming in color, the first color they usually dream is red. This is generally because colors are often associated with emotions, and the strongest emotion is often anger. In our society, boys usually get the message that anger is the only socially acceptable emotion for them to display, while for girls, anger is often the least acceptable emotion. So anger stands in, especially in men’s dreams, for all the other emotions. Red and anger go together in our lexicon, when we say someone is “seeing red.” The bullfighter’s cape is designed to excite a bull to anger, and even though the motion of the cloth probably matters more to the bull than the color, we humans have an archetypal association that gets played out there.

Red can also represent blood. One of the first associations that always arises is of bloodlines, family connections, ancestors and descendants. For women this association is perhaps even more embodied than for men, since women get monthly reminders of how closely blood is connected to reproduction.

Besides anger, red can connote passion and love (again associated with blood) or even intoxication (red, red wine). Depending on the dreamer’s experience, red might evoke feelings of guilt and shame. It can also symbolize guilt (The Scarlet Letter) because of the blood spilled in murder. We blush when embarrassed, and so are “red-faced” or we can be caught “red-handed.” Red ink or pencil is frequently used to correct written work, and being “in the red” means being in debt.

Red gets our attention, and so we make stop signs and stop lights red. In many cities, fire trucks are red. So red in a dream could suggest the need to stop, or the emergent need for action. Many nations use red on their flags, evoking the courage and sacrifice of soldiers who shed their blood for their country. Lately I’ve also been trying to cut my way through government red tape. These ways that we use red for the safety of the community, or to symbolize our patriotic spirit, or to talk about our experience of labyrinthine government procedures, all lead back to a sense of being part of a greater tribe.

What do you think of when you think of red?

Like this Article? Please share:

You may also enjoy these:

Introductory Dream Workshop

Artists Standing Strong Together presents Monday Night Workshops – The Teacher Within:  An Introduction to the Meaning of Dreams, an online workshop conducted by Laura Deal; Monday,

Read More »
Image of cat tattoo on a forearm
Dream Symbols

Tattoos in dreams

I recently heard a dream report of having leopard print tattoos on the forearms. The dreamer at first thought they were really cool, but later

Read More »

3 thoughts on “Red as a Metaphor”

  1. I generally see red as blood, and feel it as pain and injury, so it’s an unpleasant color for me, though I do like some rich red flowers and jewels. I have a ruby heart pendant I wear sometimes, and I like it, but once I caught sight of it swinging unexpectedly in my face and had a momentary panicked reaction. It made me think of an engorged tick. So I guess I can enjoy the color red if I know ahead of time it’s in its proper place.

    Last year I watched some of “The Shining” (the movie, not the mini-series, which I enjoy for the Stanley Hotel and other familiar scenery shots.) The walls of the hotel were white and red, and I found that added to the disturbing imagery in the movie. So much so that when we went to a completely different movie in a theater where the bathrooms were painted red and white, I got really creeped out in the bathroom.

    On the other hand, my dear plush Froggie is red and white, and I’ve always found him to be nothing but comforting, so I guess context matters a lot.

    I’ve always dreamed in color, I think, but for what it’s worth, the first color I remember noticing in a dream was a green car in a dream when I was about ten. I’d heard that people dream in black and white, and I remembered the green car and realized that I dreamed in color. I had a very disturbing dream when I was about five with a lot of blood and an injured plush rabbit, and I don’t specifically remember color but I’m sure it was there.

    1. That’s really interesting, how colors and color combinations can trigger emotional responses. I haven’t had that experience with anything like that level of intensity. My earliest remembered dream was in color, so I don’t have a specific memory about color being significant in early dreams other than in third grade when I asked you to whisper the name of the boy I had a crush on while I was sleeping so I would dream about him, and when I woke all I could remember was dreaming about a red wagon. 🙂

  2. My son made me a beautiful ice candle for Christmas, with a red taper candle surrounded by white paraffin. It was lovely, but I had to keep forcing myself to see it as holly berries in the snow and not blood on a bandage, especially when the red wax started to melt and drip through the holes in the paraffin.

    On the other hand, we lived for ten years in that trailer with the deep red carpet and drapes and stained-glass window, and it used to remind me of a brothel, which seemed tacky but not scary, so as I say, context is everything.

    I usually find orange to be unpleasant, except when it’s part of a sunset. Why, I don’t know. Maybe because it was the color of the neighborhood bully’s hair.

    BTW, here’s a still from The Shining of the bathroom that I found so disturbing: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/c0/Gradyjackshining1.png

Leave a Comment

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.