The Colors of Change: Purple

Spiral Dynamics is a theory of human and societal development uncovered by  Dr. Clare W. Graves (1914-1986). Graves was a developmental psychologist and professor of psychology at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He was a peer of Abraham Maslow.

Graves’ model is a bio-psycho-social one based on more than two decades of research. According to Ken Wilber, the founder of the Integral movement which incorporates Spiral Dynamics, the Gravesian model has so far “been tested in more than fifty thousand people from around the world, and there have been no major exceptions found in the general scheme.” It has also been called, the Theory of Everything.

With this model, Graves discovered the underlying pattern for human and societal change. He identified eight unique stages (or layers as I refer to them) that we move through in a set sequence. However, the model continues beyond these stages and is “neverending”. As long as humanity survives, we will grow and evolve.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Purple layer of development.

Purple “Magical/Animistic” (Communal, right brain focused)

Emerged: 50,000 years ago

Mantras: Keep the spirits happy and the tribe’s nest warm and safe.

Core values: Safety and tradition, ancestors and elders.

Purple began to emerge about 50,000 years ago. This was the first real “we” or communal layer, identifying beyond “me” with the tribe. The basic mode of survival for those perceiving the world through Purple is to keep the good and bad spirits happy and keeping the nest warm and safe.

People operating from the Purple layer seek survival and safety by following the ways of their ancestors, sacrifice, offerings to the gods or spirits, blessings, curses, and spells on their enemies. They honor kinship and lineage, and obedience to the chief and shaman. This is a layer of magical, animistic beliefs: everything has a spirit, rituals, talismans, voodoo.

Purple also seeks harmony with nature and has sacred spaces, objects, and rituals. Individuals perceiving the world through Purple are willing to sacrifice their own wishes for the tribe, the chief, or the spirits.

The Purple layer shows up from ages 1 to 3. Purple is strong in street gangs, athletic teams, and corporate “tribes.”

Positive Expressions of Purple: Family and group loyalty.

Negative Expressions of Purple: Superstitions, fear-based living, and a sense of powerlessness.

Emotion that drives the transition to the next layer: Anger

Transition from Purple to Red: Individuals and societies begin to transition into Red when the limitations of the tribe became too confining. The rituals and offerings weren’t enough to protect the Tribe. The strongest began to take charge and take what they could—they became warriors and conquerors. This is where we see the emergence of extreme egocentrism. Anger also emerges and the pursuit of power and immediate gratification are the primary focus.


Graves' spiral dynamics from The Change Code

Your Colors

I’ve created a free assessment that you can take to find out your colors. You will receive a report with the results of your assessment, showing you a ranking of your top value systems by color.

Want to learn more about Spiral Dynamics? Check out my Spiral Dynamics Resource page or read more articles on the topic including more info on each color/layer.

Your Turn

I want to hear from you. How did you first learn about Spiral Dynamics? How have you used this theory in your personal or business development? Share your experience in the comments.