This is a tale of the earliest days, when there was only one village named Terra, and only one tribe named Human. There were some hundred people then, besides the children, and they were named for the tasks they performed so that the village could thrive—Farmer, Hunter, Miller, Weaver, Taleteller, Dreamseeker. Everyone knew everyone else, joyous in their differences and their commonality.
Strange to say, it was a world without color. Gray plants would sprout and grow, gray birds would fly up to a sky that was shrouded in cloud, lighter or darker as the day would decide. People did not mind this though. There was so much new to experience and appreciate that color was not missed. Of course, no one had any conception of what color was, anyway.
No one, that is, except Terra’s Angel, the Regent of the Great Mystery. From time to time he would appear, with guidance, admonishment, revelation. His manifestation was announced by a tension in the air, the fragrance of frankincense and rosemary, and the sounding of trumpets from everywhere and nowhere at once. The people would gather in the village common, and from a curtain of shimmering light he would emerge, his face with a radiance that was dazzling.
The morning of the birth of color, everything seemed to quiver with anticipation, as if waiting for its color to come forth. The trumpets sounded, the people assembled, and the Angel materialized in a shower of incandescence. Then a sudden stillness descended, and the Angel imparted his message in a tone that somehow combined silence, power, and grace.
“My people, the Great Mystery has provided you with things to fill your lives—the earth with its ceaseless rhythms, plants to tend and animals to care for, things to build and ideas to ponder. And most of all He has given you each other. But for you there will always be more than what you see, more than what you know, more than what you understand. To show you that this is so, the time has come for color to appear in the world.”
The crowd began to murmur. Some were simply excited. Others wondered what exactly color might be. Then the air of stillness returned, and the Angel resumed his oration.
“As is the case with all the Great Mystery’s gifts to you, you will be the ones to discover color for yourselves. Therefore, I charge you to choose five of your preeminent citizens, whose task it shall be to find the colors and bring them to the world.”
The people spoke among themselves, and quickly chose four of their leaders for the task: Alchemist, Mineralist, Farmer, and Hunter. “Come now, a fifth!” the Angel commanded. “If you know within yourself that this was meant for you to do, come forward!” Then, timidly, the woman named Wiseheart who lived at the edge of the forest advanced to the front of the crowd.
“Sire, I do not know what skill I possess to accomplish this thing, but if you say it should be so, I shall do what I can to bring color to the world.”
“So be it!” decreed the Angel. “And to help you with your tasks, I shall show you now what color is.” He pointed to the sky and said “Let there be blue!”
Then a seam in the center of the clouds suddenly split, and out of it poured a richer blue that has ever since been seen. Quickly it spread across the sky until the whole dome of heaven was one delightful azure. Then all the things that knew inside themselves that they were blue began to vibrate and transform, revealing the blue that they had always been inside. So it was with the bluebird sitting on the fence of the common, and with the eyes of the little girl who played at the edge of the crowd.
“Seven days I give you to complete your mission. Do this for the good of all.” With this the Angel reached up and seemed to grab a bit of the sky with each hand. He wrapped it around him like a cloak and was gone!
And so the five commenced their work, returning to their places in the black and white and gray (and blue) world. Alchemist, a tall, gaunt old man with long white beard and sparkling eyes, retired to his tower of stone, where he practiced his secret art of manipulating nature to yield wonders never before seen. Mineralist descended to his subterranean lair, where he worked with pick and shovel. He was the one who provided the stone for the buildings of the village. He also uncovered ores of copper and tin that would be smelted to yield the bronze to forge the people’s tools. And occasionally he would happen upon sparkling crystals and lumps of shiny, malleable metal that some favored women would form into ornaments to adorn themselves. (Thus, he was always popular with the ladies, despite his squat stature and gruff manner.) Farmer, a gentle giant of a man who spoke few words but said much with his smile, headed for the fields to search for color in the things he grew. To the forest went Hunter, who was actually huntress, a tall, lean woman with sinews of steel. She stealthily stalked color like a beast of prey.
Wiseheart returned to her little cottage at the edge of the forest. She was unsure of how to proceed. “What can there be that I know that will help me in this task?” she wondered. And she asked herself this again and again in the seven days that followed—as she looked in the faces of the children she cared for while their parents worked all the day, while she tended the herbs that would heal the sick, and spun the wool that would keep so many warm that winter, and nursed the deer with the broken leg that had come to her for help. When the seven days were done, she still had not found the answer.
On the seventh day, the sounding of the trumpets again called the people to gather to meet the Angel. He sat on a throne carved from a single sparkling stone, and the crowd stood silent, awestruck by the sight of him. Finally he began to speak. “Alchemist, tell me how you have used your skills to meet the challenge that I gave you.”
“Sire,” Alchemist began most humbly, such skills as I possess are all the gift of the Great Mystery. For six days I have labored at my art, dealing with the essence of things, the ways of change, the magic of numbers…and behold, the fruit of my experiments!” With this the wizard extended his arm, which had been concealed in the sleeve of his flowing robe. There emerged a sphere of glowing golden gas, which hovered in the air and gradually drifted to the Angel’s grasp. With a loud shout, the Angel tossed it in the air, and when the people looked up, there was the blazing yellow globe of the sun.
A new kind of light enveloped the clearing, illuminating sights not before seen—a goldfinch taking seeds from a black-eyed susan, honeybees drinking nectar from the dandelions, bright golden bangles in the hair of beautiful women. “Well done!” the Angel exclaimed. “Now, Mineralist, what have you to compare to this?” The Angel played at taunting the dwarfish man, who always sought to make up for his stature by playing at being better than everyone else (especially his friend Alchemist.)
“Sire,” he said, “to best see the power and beauty of what I have found, I think it would be best to put out, for a time, the glaring bauble of Alchemist.”
“So be it,” said the Angel, and at once the glowing sun began to be eclipsed by a disc of darkness.
“I have been laboring in my mine these past six days—behold what I have found. This stone, when I strike it with my axe, sets loose a shower of sparkling sprites. Catch them in a bed of straw; they feed on it and grow into a troupe of dancing flames.” He did as he had described, and soon a fire of bright orange lit the darkened clearing.
“Delightful!” exclaimed the Angel. “You find a color to brighten the night and your friend one to illume the day.”
As the sun resumed its former brightness, Farmer came forward. He had found pale suggestions of color in the plants that he tended near Alchemist’s tower, doubtless produced by the beams of the mysterious sphere of light. But when the plants were touched by the light of the newborn sun, they all burst forth a brilliant green. Farmer carried stalks of corn, and when the husks were pulled, the ears displayed rows of intense yellow kernels. “Yep, I reckon that’s color, all right,” he declared. The sound of “Mmmmm” spread through the crowd, that universal wordless expression that says “This stuff looks delicious.” They could tell that it was bound to be much better than the gray food they had been eating.
Farmer beckoned his daughter to approach the Angel. (She was the girl whose eyes had turned blue when the first color had appeared.) She held in her hands a potted plant, its top adorned with flowers of purple and indigo. “Doubly blessed are joys not sought for nor requested,” said the Angel. “These tiny things delight my eyes, and you delight my being.”
Hunter, too, had succeeded in her quest. For six days she had stalked the fearsome beast that had long been a terror to the village, killing livestock at will, and sometimes not for food but only for its vile pleasure. She pointed with her long, lean arm, and there at the edge of the distant wood lay the beast, pierced by her arrows and dripping pools of bright red blood. “Hurrah for Hunter, she is our hero!” the crowd shouted in unison. But when they turned to look back at Hunter, she was already gone, back to the forest to resume her solitary vigil.
Now as each color was presented to the Angel, all the things of nature began to assume the colors that they always knew they were inside. There was a strangeness about this though. Things were either one hard solid color, or flecks and spots and stripes of different ones. The colors would not merge or mix. There were rainbow horses and speckled trees, and sights even more curious than these.
Then the Angel called for Wiseheart to step forward, and timidly she came. “Tell us what you have found.”
“Sire, I have sought color with my eyes and my mind and my heart. I must confess the lacking of my skill, the failure of my quest. No color have I brought to thee.”
Then the Angel, instead of being grave, smiled a kindly smile. “Woman, there are many kinds of wisdom: the wisdom of science, the wisdom of labor, the wisdom of nature, the wisdom of beauty, the wisdom of action. But there is also a wisdom that is not so readily seen. This is the wisdom of love. My people are wondrous in their separate selves, but it is the wisdom of love, dissolving the barriers that separate us, that is required to lift us closer to the perfection of the Great Mystery. So too it is with the colors—your contribution, your love, is the key to bringing true color to the world.” Then the people of the village watched with wonder as all the colors began to merge and assume the appearance that we know today. “Behold, it is complete!” exclaimed the Angel, as he faded away and his last words continued to echo.
Beneath the glowing sun, a celebration spontaneously burst forth. Fiddler and Fifer began playing a merry tune, the women put flowers in their hair, and everyone started to dance. Cook commenced preparation of the feast, richly colored vegetables and steaks of beast, cooked above flickering orange flames. And as the reddening sun slowly set, it painted the billowy clouds in shifting colors of pink and violet and orange all around the heavenly blue of sky.
And that is how the colors came to be.