FAQ Purple


Are groups and families sure markers of Purple?

Because B-O (Purple) is unfamiliar, there are several common misconceptions around this system. Recall that Dr. Graves drew most of what he wrote about the second level from library studies – anthropology, sociology – not field research. The depiction of Purple in Spiral Dynamics applications varies widely, and has changed over the years from chieftain-driven, fearful, and tribal to animistic, collaborative, and communal. “Superstition” has given way to non-traditional explanations and pre-scientific approaches. That doesn’t make them wrong or weak, only different from other levels’. 

Look out for the conflation of Purple with small groups: tight bonding = Purple. Not necessarily. There are many kinds of small groups that exist for many reasons and occur at every level. Humans pair bond and raise families in many ways. So teams and community spirit are not reliable B-O markers. They’re really not even sure markers of the cool-colored deny-self systems, for that matter, since people centralized in express-the-self ways often form organizations and teams,too. Instead of thinking group = Purple, ask why the group exists, how it is structured and led, what its purpose is, and how connections/relationships are determined. Look for reciprocity and communal/collective thinking throughout the cool, mutuality-oriented even numbers; individuals cooperating without fusion in the warms. It’s how people think about the group and belonging to it that’s the differentiator. Who and what does groupness serve?

Along that line, humans begin as a pair-bonding species, and the family is as much an instinct as a cognitive decision. It’s a survival strategy that is adapted at more elaborated levels. We shape the kind of family it is based on Gravesian levels – expressions of family and relating to significant others – but a family unit is not necessarily a Purple sign. At Purple, blood relationships and kinship are critical. The individual’s sense of self is subsumed within the group. “I” only exist through “we.” Tokens and taboos, rituals, an (ancestral) spirit realm of some kind and shamanism to bridge are common.

Second, while the Purple (B-O) world is often described as a magical place, magic is not necessarily Purple. Magic means different things, and there’s a big difference between a world populated with invisible mysterious spirit beings and the need to placate them to influence outcomes. Magical and mystical existence in the hands of unseen forces that determine outcomes are more a Purple (B-O) tone, whereas the exercise of magic from the human side to shape outcomes shifts toward Red (C-P) as wizards, witches, and magicians go to work. 

With the Purple to Red transition, it becomes possible to master the mystery and direct the spirits – the gods and godlings – to do one’s will if one is but powerful enough. Practical magic. The shaman who interprets the signs and brings the ways of the ancestors into the present begins to take the form of a proactive agent who exercises will by exploiting the metaphysical and channeling the unseen energies to effect change. It is directive, not submissive.

Early versions of SD training and writings misspoke about Purple Chieftains. That’s not a good portrayal. If there is a chieftain in a Purple-oriented community, it is more the role of facilitator and interpreted of the sacred ways, often in coordination with the elders. Sometimes it is an inherited position, sometimes chosen from the group. In any case, at Purple if there’s a chief, it’s with a little c. The Big Boss kind of Chieftain – the upper case C version – arises with the Purple to Red transition. Now the Chieftain is a power figure, one who can dominate and command. Reciprocity and group process are overwhelmed by egos as rugged individualists seek to rise above the others. These are two very different forms of chieftaincy. It’s important to see the difference.