Indigo denotes the sixth chakra, the third eye, the doorway to the occult and the east.
Indigo expresses the beginning and end of life and period of creation in between. It is the color of death in funerary dress and textiles in the Middle East. Women of ancient Egypt would smear their cheeks with the dye as a mourning ritual. The mourning period in that part of the world is still measured by the length of time it takes for the last indigo stain to fade from the skin. In the Arab World, it may signify new life when smeared on the face to announce a birth in the family. The Bedouins mark it on their bodies to display virility.
The indigo dying process shares traditions with obstetrics in parts of the world like Indonesia, where indigo dyers are medicine women who borrow from systems of menstrual regulation and fertility control. The same ingredients are used to control the “bleeding” of the cloth and the bleeding of women. The extract is used as a contraceptive and abortifacient in Nigeria. In Southeast Asia, the dye vat is seen as the uterus and the indigo “blood,” the fetus. Pregnant or menstruating women are banned from the shack as their life-giving blood threatens the black blood of the dead plant and both birthing processes can be corrupted.
Indigo dyestuffs are believed to have magical properties. Among the Omani bedouin, it wards off evil spirits and is nicknamed haras, or “the guard.” The indigo-dyed turban in parts of Asia prevents headaches and protects from the desert-dwelling, shape-shifting jinn.
In some societies, indigo is considered an agent for transmitting evil. Dyers using other dyestuffs seclude themselves from the indigo dyer. In India, he gets his own subcaste within a caste of weavers.
When he cuts down his plant, it turns black with death. In the dye hut, it steeps in the vat until it turns yellow and then green again before finally becoming a deep, soulful blue. Therefore the plant returns to life. He is in effect a kind of alchemist.
A dyer in A Thousand and One Nights informs us that the secret to indigo is carefully guarded as it is passed down through generations. What other mysteries and paradoxes it contains is a many-fold riddle in this magical part of history.