Inspiring Enchantment & Illumination with Tarot & Intuitive Guidance

Everlasting life, sex, power!

Beauteous flowers why do we spread
Upon the monuments of the dead?
Nothing they but dust can show,
Or bones that hasten to be so.
Crown me with roses whilst I live —
Now your wines and ointments give;
After death I nothing crave,
Let me alive my pleasures have!
All are Stoics in the grave.

— Anacreaon (554 – 469 B.C.E.)

Roses have a complex history as symbols of power and magic. They were used extensively in rituals throughout the ancient world. In The Illiad, the body of Hector is anointed with rose oil by Aphrodite Herself. Evidence from Egyptian tombs affirms that roses were used in funeral wreaths. In fact, actual wreaths survive, excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie, dating from 170 CE.

Roses are mentioned extensively in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In fact, it is no accident that the rose-filled Hanging Gardens of Nebuchadnezzar were located near the Gate of Ishtar, the Goddess also called the Lady of the Garden of Heaven. This great Sumerian – Akkadian Goddess is variously named, including Ishtar, Inanna, the Semitic Ashtoreth of the Bible, the Syrian Astarte and later, Aphrodite of the Greeks. Her symbol was the rose-star disc, connected to the blood She shed in Her search for Her youthful spouse, Dumuzi.

Mesopotamian necklace with rosettes of Ishtar,
late 17th–16th century B.C.E.

The theme of the rose springing from spilled blood is echoed in many myths. In some, it is the blood of battle wounds and struggle, but in others, it is tied to the shedding of menstrual blood, and thus becomes the very symbol of the transition from the chaste, innocent Maiden to the fertile, sexual Mother.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, the juxtaposition of red and white roses has symbolized this very transition, and more generally, the dual nature of love: purity and innocence represented by white roses; desire and sexual gratification by red ones. This symboism is used quite extensively in the Tarot, for example.

Eros, son of Aphrodite and God of sexual desire, is frequently depicted wearing a wreath of roses. And both Dionysus and Bacchus were crowned with roses. Although the names of the Gods and Goddesses differ, in both Greek and Roman mythology, there is a basic similarity in many of the themes that involve roses, revolving around the connection between blood, sexual fulfillment, and, later, wine and revelry.

Rose wreaths were awarded by the Romans for a major military success, and in later times, even for minor victories. Rose petals were scattered in the path of the victors at the Gladtator Games. The Emperor Nero (37 – 68 C.E.) started the fashion for raining rose petals on guests at feasts. Two centuries later, the teenage Emperor Heliogabalus (202 – 224 C.E.) showered his guests with so many roses that a number of guests were suffocated.

After thousands of years of association with the Divine, especially those themes so near and dear to the human heart like sex, eternal life, and triumphant power, it’s no wonder the rose has a central place in occult practices. Stroll with me tomorrow, through the rose garden of sorcery and magic.

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  • July 10, 2008, 1:44 pm ARIE

    Hi Beth,
    I was looking at the court deck of the normal playing cards and noticed that the Queens all hold a flower that seem to be a rose.
    In Gurdjieff’s teachings the 12 psychological types are represented by the 12 court cards.
    (Each type, King, Queen and Jack can be of any gender)
    The Queen of Clubs (represents the Instinct) holds the rose in her right arm behind her back. She is carefull and in control. The Queen of Spades also holds it in her right hand but in front of her body. She is seducing while in control. The Queen of Diamonds holds it in her right hand and behind her back. This is the influence of the intellectual part in which a lot of thinking is invested before any action is taken. She is also in control and may after a lot of thought bring the rose in front. The only one holding the rose in the left hand, the side of the heart is the Queen of Hearts. She is the emotional Queen. She is the one that is the Queen of the Party. The Queen in Alice in Wonderland.
    I hope what I wrote is not too far from the subject. But it came to my mind while reading your article.
    The ideas are my own but are based on Gurdijeffs teachings. My view through the Rose.
    Do you see these types in real life?
    Blessings. Arie

  • July 10, 2008, 4:08 pm Beth Owl's Daughter

    Ooo! Delicious food for thought! I need to go find some playing cards (I think I have some around here amongst all the Tarot cards!)..

    Thank you SO much. Any other thoughts, anyone?

    You know there is so much lore about the rose,I will never be able to address all of it, not even in the most brief treatment of it as a magical or spiritual symbol.

    But I found the coolest site in my research that you might enjoy. It is a very detailed exposition tying the pre-Christian Goddess and Pagan cultures to the medieval troubadour movement and the rebirth of romantic, courtly love – all with the rose as the central symbol.. It is pretty mindblowing!

    Check it out here. (I have no idea how accurate it all is, but it is a lot of fun to explore!).
    – Beth

  • July 11, 2008, 8:06 am ARIE

    Thank you Beth, for the nice link.
    I like it.
    Also music…