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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Throughout the twentieth century, scientists (and especially psychologists) explored how color in the individual’s environment affected behavior. Common knowledge now assumes that different colors can stimulate or depress the senses, arouse sexual feelings, attract attention, or even promote or retard healing. However, paralleling the scientific research on the effects of color has been scientific-like speculation on color as a healing power that has served as a foundation for different practices popularized within several New Age and Esoteric spiritual communities.

Such speculation has been traced to several men working in the mid- and late nineteenth century. Augustus James Pleasanton, in the 1870s, advocated what he termed “blue sunlight.” He had, he claimed, been able to stimulate the growth of grape vine by using a blue filter over the sunlight shining on the plants. His claim led to the sale of panes of blue glass under which people could take sun baths. His work was seconded by a Dr. Seth Pancoast, who used blue and red lights to affect the nervous system, and E. D. Babbit, who made several claims about color’s ability to effect various physical changes. Babbit is most remembered for his effort to “charge” water by putting colored glass containers in sunlight.

The work of these men and others was taken up by Dinshah Pestanji Ghadiali (1873–1966), an Asian Indian physician. As a young doctor, he began to treat patients with color and found measurable success. He moved to the United States prior to World War I and discovered the emerging naturopathic medical community. Asthe name implied, naturopaths sought natural forms of healing that avoided both the physical invasion of the body and the use of chemical drugs. Practitioners would prescribe different natural substances and vitamins—all of which could be seen as food supplements—and advocated a number of alternatives to surgery, from hatha yoga to massage. Color healing or chromotherapy fit the guidelines of naturopathy completely.

After attaining his citizenship in 1917, Ghadiali established his office in New Jersey. In the 1920s he developed a simple machine for projecting color on the body and proposed what he termed “spectro-chrome therapy.” His new therapy made claims about the healing effects of light and of the different colors, and he found himself in conflict with the government for the rest of his life. However, his theories survived and underlie chromotherapy to the present.

Contemporaneous with Ghadiali, chromotherapy was taken into Theosophy by Ivah Bergh Whitten. Following a healing event in her life at the beginning of the century, she began to lecture on the occult properties of color that drew on a long history of teachings in Esoteric circles that integrated the colors of the light spectrum into a whole system of magical correspondences. These correspondences had been expanded in Theosophy, where colors were identified with the various theosophical ascended masters and the virtues associated with them. As her work spread, Whitten integrated insights from Ghadiali’s teachings and introduced techniques using colored light for therapeutic ends.

Whitten passed her work—including her organization, the Amica Master Institute of Color Awareness (AMICA)—to Roland Hunt, who became a major exponent of chromotherapy through the middle of the century. In the decades after World War II, chromotherapy became one of a spectrum of alternative therapies that gained popularity in what emerged as the New Age and holistic healing movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Exponents included prominent personalities in the New Age community such as Corinne

Heline and Edgar Cayce, along with a variety of health writers such as Linda Clark. At the same time that chromotherapy was evolving in the English-speaking world, it was also finding support in continental Europe, where exponents includes the likes of German theosophist Rudolf Steiner and Swiss psychologist Max Luscher.

Ultimately, chromotherapy rests on the same ideological basis of much modern Esoteric teachings concerning a basic cosmic healing power. Light is identified with that primal healing energy and the different colors with useful forms of that light, which are relatively easily appropriated by the average person. Light may be applied to the body through sun baths under various color filters or through an artificial light source that directs a colored beam on the exposed skin. It may also be applied through different meditative techniques that begin with imagining a particular color and picturing it permeating the breath as one engages in regulated breathing.

As the new century began, chromotherapy continued to grow and expand. Practitioners have created (and trademarked) variations on the basic theory and practices, many integrating the most recent research in the physiological reactions to color uncovered by psychological research. In contemporary color therapy, the actual measured effect of color on the body and emotions are mixed in a complex manner with beliefs about the direct therapeutic effects of color on the body that have little or no empirical data to back them.


Amber, Reuben B., and A. M. Babey-Brooke. Color Therapy: Healing with Color. New York: ASI Publishers, 1980.
Chiazzari, Suzy. Nutritional Healing with Colour. Shaftesbury, UK: Element, 1999.
Clark, Linda. The Ancient Art of Colour Therapy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974.
Gimbel, Theo. The Colour Therapy Workbook. Shaftesbury, UK: Element, 1993.
Whitten, Ivah B. What Colour Means to You, and the Meaning of Your Aura. Ashington, England: C. W. Daniel, 1933.
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