Rose of all Roses, Rose of all the World!
You, too, have come where the dim tides are hurled.
Upon the wharves of sorrow, and heard ring
The bell that calls us on; the sweet far thing.
— William Butler Yeats
The rose, Queen of the Garden, has had a long history of beauty and mystery, joy and difficulty, much like her own nature of both fragrant petals and sharp thorns.
In ancient Greece and Rome, when secret societies came into vogue, their meetings were “sub rosa” (Latin for, “under the rose“). This refers to the practice of placing a rose outside the door to warn that a secret meeting was in progress. These warnings were taken seriously, as unwelcome intrusions might prove to be fatal.
This contributed to some negative associations with roses, which had (as I wrote last week) already had lost some luster thanks to the early Christians’ repudiation of them as a symbol of Pagan worldly pleasures.
Later, in the Middle Ages, a rose suspended from the ceiling of a council chamber pledged all present (those under the rose) to secrecy. Today the phrases “sub rosa” and “under the rose” are commonly used to indicate secrecy and vows of strict confidentiality.
Of course, when we think of the rose as a symbol of secrecy, it brings to mind the famous secret society of the Order of the Rose Cross. Also known as the Order of the Rosey Cross, and the Rosicrucians, their origins are controversial and uncertain.
In fact, the existence, intention, and workings of the “real” Rosicrucians through the centuries has been hotly debated and analyzed right up until the present day. Who they are (or were), their connection to the Freemasons, governmental conspiracies, the Holy Grail, the Order of the Garter, and such lore is fascinating, nearly endless and far beyond the scope of what I intend to cover here.
But integral to all of it stands the rose. Why?
According to one Freemason scholar who has studied the various theories regarding the origins of the Rosicrucian orders, “The rose symbolizes the heart, and the heart has always been accepted by Christians as emblematic of the virtues of love and compassion, as well as of the nature of Christ—the personification of these virtues…The original symbol of the Rosicrucian Fraternity was a hieroglyphic rose crucified upon a cross. The cross was often raised upon a three-stepped Calvary. Occasionally the symbol of a cross rising from a rose was used in connection with their activities.”
In addition, he writes, the rose can be thought of as “a yonic symbol associated with generation, fecundity, and purity. The fact that flowers blossom by unfolding has caused them to be chosen as symbolic of spiritual unfoldment. The red color of the rose refers to the blood of Christ, and the golden heart concealed within the midst of the flower corresponds to the spiritual gold concealed within the human nature. The number of its petals being ten is also a subtle reminder of the perfect Pythagorean number.”
More about the importance of the rose in esoteric and magical symbolism tomorrow!