FAQs > Questions About the Colors in Spiral Dynamics

Where did the colors in the Spiral Dynamics book come from?

The colors came when black and white training materials got an upgrade. Dr. Graves didn't use colors to classify the various levels of existence. Instead, he relied on his original letter pairs, as well as on numbers and names (absolutistic, for example) on occasion.

Chris Cowan applied the color scheme to Dr. Graves' levels of existence in the 1970s when he was making title slides for use in teaching the theory. The color code was created as a design element for training materials and became a common language when included as part of the publication of the Spiral Dynamics book by Beck and Cowan in 1996.

While there was a loose metaphor behind the colors, Cowan didn’t intend any metaphysical significance or derive the colors from chakras or any other system. The ordering was deliberately picked to differ from the visible light spectrum, though we've received complaints now and then from literal-minded folks asking if we can recognize a rainbow when we see one. 

The color code has taken on a life of its own (colors becoming memes), sometimes to the detriment of the spiral and Gravesian models since color-speak makes discussion of the transition states almost impossible. The Gravesian letter pairs—admittedly somewhat tedious to learn at the outset—offer far more power with differentiations like CP/dq versus DQ/cp possible. 

Some who fall into the trap of color-speak jargon then use it like a judgmental paintball gun to compliment friends and assault foes because they simply don’t understand the theory and the idea that the systems are inherently neutral containers. It's their contents and manifestations which are for-better or for-worse in contexts. While the Spiral colors have become a lingua franca for some spin-off movements and spread widely by some knock-off artists, we don’t put much store in the colors, per se, and continue to teach a terminology closer to Gravesian roots than the pop-spirituality derivatives because they offer more explanatory power.


Are the colors linked to the chakras or any other spectral pattern?

Only by coincidence (see above). Nor is there a connection with color therapy. By the way, no colors have been assigned for nodal systems beyond Turquoise and Coral. Teal and Aubergine are candidates, but Azure and Plum also have a certain appeal. If the cyclical pattern holds, future color choices will require the alternation between the cool and warm families with cool colors representing a focus outward to others and external forces and warm colors representing a focus inward to self and internal energies.

For a story of how the color scheme came about, click here.


Examples of Dr. Graves' Descriptions and Terminology
with the Spiral Colors, Labels, Transitions

Comparing Dr. Graves Labels and Spiral Dynamics® Designations

Level Numbers
Some of Dr. Graves' terms SD Colors**
for vMemes
SD Names
A-N A-N 1st Subsistence Automatic, Reflexological BEIGE SurvivalSense
B-O B-O 2nd Subsistence Tribalistic, Animistic PURPLE KinSpirits
C-P C-P 3rd Subsistence Egocentric RED PowerGods
D-Q D-Q 4th Subsistence Deferential, Absolutistic BLUE TruthForce
E-R E-R 5th Subsistence Multiplistic, Materialistic ORANGE StriveDrive
F-S F-S 6th Subsistence Sociocentric, Relativistic GREEN HumanBond
G-T A'-N' 1st Being
(7th Level)
Cognitivistic, Existential YELLOW FlexFlow
H-U B'-O' 2nd Being
(8th Level)
Experientialistic TURQUOISE GlobalView
I-V C'-P' 3rd Being
(9th Level)
etc CORAL etc.
etc. ',", etc. etc etc TEAL etc.

OVERVIEW of Graves/Spiral Language

The First Subsistence Level: The AN or Autistic Existential State
Automatic Maintaining physiological stability

"Express self as if just another animal according to the dictates of one's imperative physiological needs and the environmental possibilities"

SurvivalSense: Instinctive
AN BEIGE (World1)..............Survival/meeting biological needs/instinctive drives & urges

BEIGE / PURPLE Awakening of a sense of dependent self in a mysterious and frightening world where being with others means safety

The Second Subsistence Level: The BO or Animistic Existential State
Tribalistic Achievement of relative safety

"Sacrifice one's desires to the ways of one's elders"

KinSpirits: Clannish
BO PURPLE (World2)............Safety/tribal needs/adherence to ritual/obeying chief(s)/harmony

PURPLE / RED Awakening of an egocentric self determined to break the shackles of the family or tribe and become a powerful individual

The Third Subsistence Level: The CP or Egocentric Existential State
Egocentric Living with self-awareness

"Express self to hell with others lest one suffer the torment of unbearable shame"

PowerGods: Egocentric
CP RED (World3)...............….Power/action/excitement/proving individual prowess/shame

RED / BLUE Awakening of a purposeful self with guilt in search of meaning in a purposeful existence and reasons why we live and die

The Fourth Subsistence Level: The DQ or Absolutistic Existential State
Deferentialistic Achieving everlasting peace of mind

"Sacrifice self now to receive reward later"

TruthForce: Purposeful
DQ BLUE (World4)........…......Purpose/obedience to authority/stability/rules/meaning/guilt/duty

BLUE / ORANGE Awakening of a pragmatic, independence-seeking self who challenges higher authority and scientifically tests possibilities

The Fifth Subsistence Level: The ER or Multiplistic Existential State
Materialistic Conquering the physical universe so as to overcome want

"Express self for what self desires, but in a fashion calculated not to bring down the wrath of others."

StriveDrive: Strategic
ER ORANGE (World5)....Competition/success/making things better/autonomy/control/growth

ORANGE / GREEN Awakening of a sociocentric self who strives for belonging and acceptance to discover spirit, inner harmony, peace

The Sixth Subsistence Level: The FS or Relativistic Existential State
Personalistic Living with the human element

"Sacrifice now in order for get acceptance now and so all get now"

HumanBond: Relativistic
FS GREEN (World).....….Affiliation/sustainability/collaboration/teamwork/fulfillment/sharing

GREEN / YELLOW Awakening of an inquiring, interdependent self who no longer needs approval yet can collaborate when appropriate

The First Being Level: The A'N' or Systemic Existential State
Cognitivistic Restoring viability to a disordered world

"Express self for what self desires but never a the expense of others, and in a manner that all life, not just my life, will profit."

FlexFlow: Systemic
A'N' YELLOW (World7).......Being/functionality/discovery/integralism/responsibilities of living

YELLOW / TURQUOISE Awakening of experiential self who seeks ways of being that use knowledge to restore natural harmony and balance

The Second Being Level: The B'O' Existential State
Experientialistic Accepting existential dichotomies

GlobalView: Holistic
B'O' TURQUOISE (World8 )...Experience of holism/global community/integration
of life energies


Metaphor Level Understanding and Use - Paintball

Happy-go-lucky, turgid, and almost whimsical use of the color code without evidence as to what Gravesian elements consist of, or how they were used to reach the conclusion. Superficial name-calling, and labeling based more in the subjective observer than the object of analysis.

This style of the second of five levels of understanding was made popular in early applications of Graves and revived in many ‘integral’ attempts beginning in the early 2000s to absorb and digest the Spiral Dynamics color code. Use of color-coded jargon conveys mystique and an air of erudition to awe the naïve listener and leave the speaker/writer/critic unchallenged. Yet the use was haphazard and tended to be more a reflection of the speaker's own inner machinations than anything the more thoughtful analysis required to reach theoretically sound conclusions. It’s easy to slap on colors; it’s hard to explain why they’re justified.

We call the metaphor level approach of the color code the ‘paintball approach.’ The gun (the observer), the balls (the SD colors), and any random target ­­– person or idea - will do. When playing, knowledge and accuracy become less relevant because players have somehow entered an age of "I think; I type; therefore, my text is truth," and it appears on the internet for all to marvel over. With the vision of a potential viewership of millions comes conviction that the linkage is infallible. Yet those linkages, in most cases, tend to be simplistic complex equivalencies with single-symptom analysis that relies on metaphorical and content-only connections of peripheral effluvia. From small signs grand conclusions easily grow at the metaphor level.

The broad use of the SD color code becomes like a Rorschach test with each user’s ideas, opinions, and views legitimized by citing the "science" of Graves, yet with most metaphor-level claimants having only a rudimentary understanding of what Graves did and did not conclude. So wild claims go unfiltered, unchallenged, and unchecked. The lingo drawn from Spiral Dynamics becomes a whole new way to be taken seriously and uncontested behind a cover of inscrutability.

The situation has become more confounding as a race emerged in discussion groups, blogs, and threads where anonymous individuals holding similar interests sought to outdo one another in the exhilarating new game of Spiral Paintball. Virtually anything that gets a person's attention - whether an idea, behavior, person, or incident - it doesn’t matter. It gets "colored," sometimes more like a child with a new box of crayons scribbling indiscriminately upon walls and furniture rather than cogent analysis. Paint balling becomes name calling – both compliments and curses. In those rare instances when there is something Gravesian in the discussions, the likelihood of accuracy in the labeling tends to be one-in-ten. To up those odds, users must stretch beyond the comfort zone of pigmented personality and look to the double-helix biopsychosocial elements at work.


* For those unfamiliar with Dr. Clare W. Graves' original descriptions, the letter pairs represent the Levels of Psychological Existence along the emergent double-helix as Life Conditions (times, place, problems, circumstances represented by the first letter in most writings) interact with the neurobiological Coping Systems (the second letter) activated in the mind/brain. There are two transitional stages between each pair, Entering and Exiting. Changes of mind can can lead to actions that change the world. Shifts in the world can alter the workings of the mind. The model is open-ended, a work-in-progress which invites further development and research as new Levels of Existence emerge.

* * For those who are curious, the colors were chosen back in the 1970's by Chris Cowan as a design element for 35mm title slides. They were for aesthetic proposes and to make B&W titles more attractive, not theoretical labels. Dr. Graves never used colors; they are not his and those who present them as such demonstrate a lack of background. In addition, there is no intentional correlation with the chakras or any other model, and the colors have only slight metaphorical significance as a memory aid and explained in the book, Spiral Dynamics, and elsewhere on this site.

Sources for this page include Dr. Graves' 1981 and 1982 Summary Statements, as well as other published and unpublished materials. See the clarewgraves.com website for more references, as well as links to other applications of Dr. Graves' work.


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