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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Colors: White

White light isn't exactly colored light. It is a mixture of all the other colors of the rainbow, at least in theory. White surfaces and objects reflect most colors of light, thus seeming to reflect white light. So white isn't exactly a color, but I'm including it in this series. White is the second most common color word in English.

For anyone who read my other posts on colors (here's the first) I am not going to include white text, as I did for red, orange, yellow, etc.

Easton's Bible Dictionary, available through the Blueletter Bible, says the following, in its article on "Colour": White occurs as the translation of various Hebrew words. It is applied to milk ( Gen 49:12), manna ( Exd 16:31), snow ( Isa 1:18), horses ( Zec 1:8), raiment ( Ecc 9:8). Another Hebrew word so rendered is applied to marble ( Est 1:6), and a cognate word to the lily ( Sgs 2:16). A different term, meaning "dazzling," is applied to the countenance ( Sgs 5:10).

White occurs 75 times in 66 different Bible verses. It is used to describe animal skin color, the effects of leprosy, fabric, snow, cleansing, fields ready to harvest, a white stone given to believers, and a few other items. Revelation has more use of the word than any other in the New Testament.

In our culture, white is often used as a symbol of purity. Brides are supposed to wear white for this reason. One reason that we associate it with purity--it's not the only one--is that snow, after it has cleaned out the acid and particles in the air, is clean and white. There are Christian songs that speak of cleansing, and becoming "Whiter than Snow."

Besides snow, some other important substances are white, including cotton fibers (usually), salt, sugar, milk (usually) and the white of eggs. Part of the visible human eye is white, as are our teeth, ideally. There are white flowers, and white rocks, and white domestic animals. Wild animals in snowy parts of the earth are often white, at least during snow season. Clouds are white, unless they are too thick for much light to get through, or unless tinted red by sunlight near the time of sunset or sunrise.

White blood cells are a vital part of our body's defenses. White matter is part of our brain.

In sports, it is common to mark boundaries in white, and to use white balls, or the equivalent (although not in all sports). In team sports in the U. S., the home team often wears white. (If anyone can tell me why, I'd appreciate knowing.)

Part of the appeal of the bald eagle as a symbol, in the United States, is because of its white head.

Unfortunately, it is possible that prejudice toward dark-skinned persons may be partly because of the symbolic uses, above. Except for albinos, however, no human is really white, which makes preference for white skin seem especially irrational.

White is symbolic in fantastic literature. In Tolkien's Middle-Earth, you can pretty well tell how a race, or an individual, is going to act, based on how dark they are. Generally, the lighter, the better. Gandalf started out as Gandalf the Grey, and Saruman was Saruman the White, but Saruman fell under the influence of the Dark Lord, and became Saruman of Many Colors, while Gandalf fell to his apparent death in Moria, and came back as Gandalf the White. The White Tree was one of the symbols of the kings of Gondor.

The White Witch in C. S. Lewis' Narnia books was not good, but evil. Through the Looking-Glass has white and black chess-pieces. In Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books, most of the characters were meant to be dark-skinned. A recent TV movie adaptation mostly changed that, which understandably upset Le Guin.

White is a common last name. There was a Supreme Court Justice named Byron (Whizzer) White. Some variations are also common, such as Weiss, which is white in German. There are several fairly common last names that include White, such as Whiteside and Weissman.

Since I began these posts on colors, on Feb 14th, I have read some about how we see color. Mr. I was an artist who had become color-blind after an auto accident, and was a patient of Oliver Sacks. He also could not dream or think in color after the accident. Sacks writes that he discussed the case with Francis Crick, among others, and that:

His retinal cones were still reacting to light of different wavelengths, and his primary visual cortex (an area which has been named V1) was registering this information, but it was clear that this wavelength discrimination was not in itself sufficient for the experience of color. The actual perception of color had to be constructed, and constructed by an additional process in another part of the visual cortex.

The experience of white, then, depends, first, upon the effect of white light on sensory cells in the retina. It also depends on additional activity of the brain.

My job, and yours, is to reflect the light, all the light, from the purest Source. May we do so.

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