Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Color Purple

While blue is the color most associated with Ancient Craft Masonry, the color purple comes up right behind. Purple epitomizes royalty, and particularly King Solomon and Hiram of Tyre who is central in the legend of Ancient Craft Masonry which includes the Blue Lodge, Royal Arch Masonry, Cryptic Masonry, and why it is used by Grand Lodge officers in their collars and aprons.

The color purple is the intermediate between the colors blue and red and is sometimes called violet or mauve. It is the major color that occurs the least frequently in nature and was the first color to be synthesized. Purple is also the most powerful wavelength of the visible wavelengths of electromagnetic energy and is the hardest color for the eye to discriminate.

The word "purple" is etymologically rooted in the Old English word "purpul" which came from the Latin "purpura" which in turn came from the Greek word "πορφύρα" or porphura. The first use of the word "purple" is in 975 AD in England.

The color purple is associated with monarchs because it was so rare and so expensive to produce that only rulers could afford to purchase it; it is also associated with wisdom, dignity, grandeur, rarity, romance, penitence, magic, the feminine, mystery, and piety as well as vanity, decadence, and extravagance.

The original dye used to make purple came from the city of Tyre, which is now in modern-day Lebanon, sometime around 1900 BC. The dye was made from small mollusks, called the spiny dye-murex snail, that was found in the Tyrian region of the Mediterranean. It took 9,000 or more of these mollusks to produce one gram of Tyrian purple. The snail's shell would be cracked open, the snail removed and soaked, a tiny gland removed, and the gland's juices extracted and then left in the sun. The sun would turn the juice to white then to yellow-green then green than violet and then dark red. The process had to be stopped just right to get the desired purple color. In recent years, the process was recreated, and to make an ounce would cost over $2,000.

According to myth, Melqart, the guardian god of Tyre, and a nymph named Tyrus were walking on a beach when Heracles' dog bit into a mollusk's shell and its mouth turned purple. Tyrus asked Heracles to make her a garment of purple and thus Tyrian purple was created/discovered. Melqart is believed to be the equivalent of Heracles who is also known as Hercules.

Early on, the color purple was worn by the rulers of Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Persia. Because these leaders were often deified by their subjects, the color purple came to represent divinity and holiness. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it was used by the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Roman Empire then to other dynasties and kingdoms. It is also used by Bishops in a number of Christian churches and by professors of European universities.

Purple was also used by the Polynesians, the Chinese, the Japanese, Mayans, and Aztecs. In these other regions of the world the color purple was made from sea urchins, other types of snail, or the logwood tree (Haematoxylum campechianum) which grows in Mexico; most of these other dyes though did not have the longevity of Tyrian purple.

The use of purple by royalty waned after the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453, but was still used by some monarchs. During Elizabethan England, the color was regulated so much that only the Royal Family could wear it. In 1856, an English chemist named William Henry Perkin created, by accident, a synthetic purple compound while attempting to create an anti-malaria drug. He patented the dye and made a fortune from it.


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