Prayer shawls are pieces of cloth used by Christians to give comfort and spiritual strength to the sick, dying, poor or those suffering from bad fortune. They are blessed in honour of a saint, angel or a deceased person or can be blessed through prayer through the laity. They are also given to people at times of celebrations, such as baptism or at the birth of a child. Prayer shawls are usually hand-knitted by the giver and as such is a symbol of loving care and devotion.
The Power of Three
The number three is very symbolic in Christianity and is significant in the creation of prayer shawls. The most resonant meaning symbolism of three in Christianity is the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are also trees reflected in the natural life cycle and in nature itself such as “earth, sea, sky” or “birth, life, rebirth.” The prayer shawls are knitted in a three stitch cross pattern and the symbolism of colours in shawls begins with the existence of the three primary colours from which all other colours are created.
Throughout human history, there has been much significance and symbolism attached to colours. They provoke strong emotions and have the ability to alter moods and affect a person’s psychology.
- There are colours that calm,
- colours that provoke and
- colours that can depress.
The colour red has long been denoted for danger while black has often been used as a sombre, moody colour used in mourning ceremonies or to intimidate. Heraldry, royalty, and warfare have long used colour to denote symbolical meaning and spirituality. Religion also uses symbols and colours to convey expression and meaning.
The prayer shawls are separated into different colours to denote different qualities or meanings. These meanings are to be matched or considered when choosing which colour to use for the prayer shawl for a certain recipient. For example,
- Pink symbolizes friendship, compassion, and generosity.
- Black symbolizes strength, self-confidence, and protection and absorbs negativity.
- Silver symbolizes feminine energy and intuition; gold symbolizes masculinity and enlightenment.
- And white symbolizes purity and innocence.
Every colour in the palette has a meaning.
In addition to certain emotions and qualities, colours in prayer shawls are also believed to give strength and healing to individuals suffering from specific ailments and diseases.
- Red and yellow shawls are given to sufferers of HIV;
- Blue and yellow are given for Down syndrome.
- Pink is for breast cancer.
There is no real official religious symbolism to these colours. Instead, they are a response to a desire in some to describe a colour to a condition and are based on commonly used colours in other areas, such as fundraising, that is used for each condition.