The Lodge Education Series: A History of Blue

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
R.H. Johnson

Prepared for Waukegan Masonic Lodge July 17th, 2023

*Note* This is the second time I've posted about this unique phenomenon. You can read the first one HERE. For this version, I prepared it for my Mother Lodge and I also quoted, almost in full, an article that ran on the Business Insider website. This piece received good feedback. It was practical, interesting, not all the way Masonic, but was unique enough to cause interest in historical, masonic, and scientific thinking Brothers.

The color blue holds great symbolic and practical significance in Freemasonry. Symbolically, blue represents fidelity, wisdom, loyalty, and truth, which are all key virtues cherished by Freemasons. The use of blue in Freemasonry can be traced back to ancient times, where it was associated with divine truths and spiritual enlightenment.

In the Western world Blue is associated psychologically with safety. Interesting when we consider how our candidates come into the lodge for their degrees.

Practically, blue serves as the primary color of the Masonic Lodge. The walls of the lodge are usually painted in various shades of blue, and the Master of the Lodge, as well as other officers, typically wear blue Masonic aprons. This use of blue creates a distinct atmosphere within the lodge, fostering a sense of unity and harmony among the brethren. It also serves as a visual reminder of the values and principles that Freemasons strive to uphold.

Furthermore, the color blue is integral to several Masonic rituals and ceremonies. For instance, when a candidate is initiated into Freemasonry, he is blindfolded and led around the lodge, ultimately approaching the "Blazing Star" in the East, which is often depicted as a blue star. This symbolizes the candidate's journey from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge. The blue star also represents Divine guidance and signifies the pursuit of truth and wisdom.

In addition to its symbolic and practical significance within Freemasonry, the color blue also holds historical and cultural significance. In ancient times, blue pigments were precious and rare, as they were obtained from naturally occurring minerals. This made blue a color associated with nobility and spirituality. The use of blue in European heraldry further emphasized its association with honor and virtue.

In the history of Mankind, Blue is almost brand new. And I mean this scientifically—Humans did not recognize the color blue until what we might consider semi-modern times. But the sky? The Ocean?

The following article is a wonderful journey into the human discovery of blue. It is lifted in bulk and placed within this piece to give full understanding. The article was originally published by Business Insider and was written by Kevin Loria.

No one could describe the color 'blue' until modern times

“In "The Odyssey," Homer famously describes the "wine-dark sea." But why "wine-dark" and not deep blue or green?

In 1858 a scholar named William Gladstone, who later became the prime minister of Great Britain, noticed that this wasn't the only strange color description. Though the poet spends page after page describing the intricate details of clothing, armor, weaponry, facial features, animals, and more, his references to color are strange. Iron and sheep are violet; honey is green.

So Gladstone decided to count the color references in the book. And while black is mentioned almost 200 times and white about 100, other colors are rare. Red is mentioned fewer than 15 times, and yellow and green fewer than 10. Gladstone started looking at other ancient Greek texts and noticed the same thing — there was never anything described as "blue." The word didn't even exist.

It seemed the Greeks lived in a murky and muddy world, devoid of color, mostly black and white and metallic, with occasional flashes of red or yellow.

Gladstone thought this was perhaps something unique to the Greeks, but a philologist named Lazarus Geiger followed up on his work and noticed this was true across cultures.

He studied Icelandic sagas, the Koran, ancient Chinese stories, and an ancient Hebrew version of the Bible. Of Hindu Vedic hymns, he wrote: "These hymns, of more than ten thousand lines, are brimming with descriptions of the heavens. Scarcely any subject is evoked more frequently. The sun and reddening dawn's play of color, day and night, cloud and lightning, the air and ether, all these are unfolded before us, again and again ... but there is one thing no one would ever learn from these ancient songs ... and that is that the sky is blue."

There was no blue, not in the way that we know the color — it wasn't distinguished from green or darker shades.

Geiger looked to see when "blue" started to appear in languages and found an odd pattern all over the world.

Every language first had a word for black and for white, or dark and light. The next word for a color to come into existence — in every language studied around the world — was red, the color of blood and wine.

After red, historically, yellow appears, and later, green (though in a couple of languages, yellow and green switch places). The last of these colors to appear in every language is blue.

The only ancient culture to develop a word for blue was the Egyptians — and as it happens, they were also the only culture that had a way to produce a blue dye.

If you think about it, blue doesn't appear much in nature — there are almost no blue animals, blue eyes are rare, and blue flowers are mostly human creations. There is, of course, the sky, but is that really blue? As we've seen from Geiger's work, even scriptures that contemplate the heavens continuously still do not necessarily see it as "blue."

In fact, one researcher that Radiolab spoke with — Guy Deutscher, author of "Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages," tried a casual experiment with that. In theory, one of children's first questions is, "Why is the sky blue?" So he raised his daughter while being careful to never describe the color of the sky to her, and then one day asked her what color she saw when she looked up.

Alma, Deutscher's daughter, had no idea. The sky was colorless. Eventually, she decided it was white, and later on, eventually blue. So blue was not the first thing she saw or gravitated toward, though it is where she settled in the end.

So before we had a word for it, did people not naturally see blue?

This part gets a little complicated because we do not know exactly what was going through Homer's brain when he described the wine-dark sea and the violet sheep — but we do know that ancient Greeks and others in the ancient world had the same biology and therefore same capability to see color that we do.

But do you really see something if you don't have a word for it?

A researcher named Jules Davidoff traveled to Namibia to investigate this, where he conducted an experiment with the Himba tribe, which speaks a language that has no word for blue or distinction between blue and green.

When shown a circle with 11 green squares and one blue, they could not pick out which one was different from the others — or those who could see a difference took much longer and made more mistakes than would make sense to us, who can clearly spot the blue square.

But the Himba have more words for types of green than we do in English.

When looking at a circle of green squares with only one slightly different shade, they could immediately spot the different one.

Davidoff says that without a word for a color, without a way of identifying it as different, it is much harder for us to notice what is unique about it — even though our eyes are physically seeing the blocks it in the same way.

So before blue became a common concept, maybe humans saw it. But it seems they did not know they were seeing it. If you see something yet can't see it, does it exist? Did colors come into existence over time? Not technically, but our ability to notice them may have ...”

Our earliest art using the color is 1,500 BCE. Throughout the medieval period, blue was worn by poor commoners. But in the 13th Century, the nobility took a real interest in blue, and “red V. blue” was a real thing.

The earliest known blue dyes were made from plants – woad in Europe, indigo in Asia and Africa, while blue pigments were made from minerals, usually either lapis lazuli or azurite.

Overall, the color blue is deeply ingrained in Freemasonry's symbolism and culture. It represents the virtues and principles that Freemasons strive to embody and serves as a visual reminder of their commitment to truth, wisdom, loyalty, and fidelity.


RWB Johnson is an Emeritus Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He is the current V:. Sovereign Grand Inspector for AMD in IL. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four and works full-time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry", “The Master’s Word: A Short Treatise on the Word, the Light, and the Self – Annotated Edition” and author of "How to Charter a Lodge: A No-Nonsense, Unsanctioned Guide. More books are on the way.

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