What is the Meaning Behind Urns?

Color, Material, and Symbols


by J. Malec

OneWorld Memorials Ceramic Cremation Urns

Many people have heard of the language of flowers, but is there a similar language encoded in the colors, materials and symbols of a cremation urn? How do we attribute meaning to a specific color or material when deciding on a cremation urn? 

To express my love, I might buy my partner red roses; or to honor a friend’s loyalty and trust I might buy her yellow flowers. Color carries an implied meaning, as does material selection or choice of symbol. The combined visual stimulus creates a language unique to a chosen or created urn.

Commonly understood associations with color, material and symbolism can be applied to memorial urn selection. As a result, we may find that we closely identify the urn with the story of our loved one. This allows the vessel to serve as a fond reminder of the life it represents. The urn then poignantly provides a place of honor for special memories to rest in our home.

This article will cover the language and symbolism of urns. First, we’ll define an urn and discuss which forms an urn can take. Once we cover the urn’s definition, we’ll discuss the various ways to use urns, their colors and materials to convey a message.

What is an Urn?

A cremation urn is defined as a container designed to hold cremated ashes. Cremation urns can be used for pets or humans and come in a wide variety of styles meant to reflect the tastes and preferences of the deceased. Urns can be made from metal, wood, glass or stone and embellished with personalized plaques or stands. Urns can also take the form of a keepsake like a cremation pendant or piece of unique glass art. Choosing an urn with meaning and significance can help ease your grief and celebrate the life of your lost loved one.

The Language of Urn Colors

Various design elements and factors can alter an urn’s meaning. First, let’s look at the significance of color. Each culture has specific attributes commonly assigned to color. The website Color Wheel Pro provides color analysis that is familiar to people in western cultures.

Each color’s attributes may resemble your interpretation of the color and how you personally associate with these hues. Although a general understanding of color significance is shared culturally, each individual has his or her own unique way of experiencing color.

The color yellow may allude to the first house you bought with your partner or the color of a loved one's hair. Black might reflect the pressed tuxedo worn at a wedding or the formal dress of someone who was a professional musician. You may wish to preserve these associations by choosing a memorial urn in the exact shade that would encode and stimulate these memories. Suddenly this yellow urn could become more than just a beautiful ceramic memorial, and this black urn might help you capture the memory of joy from a momentous occasion.

Selecting a color for your cremation urn

An Urns Material Language

Another language to explore when choosing an urn is that of material selection. Cremation urns can be made out of almost anything imaginable. Each material has qualities that may speak to an element in one’s life story and influence an urn’s meaning. Perhaps your sweetie loved the ocean, and a mother of pearl urn seems like the best way to honor her memory. Or, for an environmentally conscious friend, a biodegradable Himalayan salt urn could feel spot on.

When trying to choose an appropriate color or material for a memorial urn, close your eyes and allow vivid memories to surface. Think of your loved one’s hobbies, home or recreational interests – did he always wear a certain color? Did she furnish a home in a traditional or contemporary style? Take some notes for later use. This may help to solidify associations and help you choose the perfect memorial vessel to embrace your loved one’s story.

An enduring urn made from marble or stone is a fantastic way to ensure that your loved one’s memory lives into eternity. Or choose a memorial tree urn and watch as a living tree grows in remembrance of your lost love.

Selecting a material for your cremation urn

The Symbolism and Function for Urns

Another layer of meaning that may be comforting is to employ symbols that reflect the interests, occupation or proudest moments of a loved one. If he or she served in the military, a memorial urn that can double as a display case for the American flag might be appropriate. Special cremation urns even incorporate functions such as a timepiece, votive light or even a digital photo frame. 

Everyone has a story. Help preserve and share that story by thoughtfully choosing an urn or keepsake that speaks to your loved one’s memory. If you are making advance preparations for yourself, you might wish to specify some of the associations that are most meaningful to you as a part of making your own story known. Use the experience of finding the right cremation urn as an exercise in fond remembrance.

Language and function of cremation urns

OneWorld Memorials’ selection of heartfelt and meaningful urns is designed to guide you through your grief and help you celebrate the life of your lost loved ones. For help choosing the perfect urn, check out our help center or contact us today.

J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.

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