The Symbolism of the Rose in Alchemy

Back to Alchemy Forum page.


From: buffalo@ais.net

A lady recently called me with an interest in learning more about the symbolism of the rose in alchemy, particularly in the polarity of the red and white roses. She referred me to the pictures in the text 'Alchemy' by E. J. Holmyard, numbered 13, 14 and 21a & b. The lady has had a life-long attraction to Alchemy.
I explained something of the male/female polarity and how it figures in alchemical work and the sulphur/mercury pair which predated the later trinity of sulphur/salt/mercury. She was somewhat surprised to see the white rose as feminine, the red as masculine. She is an expert in the essential oil of the rose, and has spent much time in Bulgaria, the primary source of rose oils in Europe. There, the oil of the white rose is considered masculine, the red is considered feminine.
I would be interested in passing on to her the combined wisdom of the alchemy forum.

Regards,

Russ House

From: Daniel Hieb

Another tidbit:
The rose is the official flower of Portland, Oregon. Recently I read here that researchers now have engineered a BLUE rose, previously missing from the genetic colors.

From: zeitblom@smartlink.net (zeitblom)

To share another one: I found this Rumi quote in last month's Yoga Journal

"In the driest whitest stretch of pain's infinite desert, I lost my sanity and found this rose"

From: B Garner

I had a blue rose growing in my garden in my previous house.
I guess it could have been blue, but it sort of looked 'mauve' there have been purple roses available, at least locally for many years.
If white roses - are feminine, or was it the red roses? (According to Russ House's post) What sex does this make blue/purple roses? Hermaphrodites (sp?) What about yellow/pink/orange roses and why do roses need to be sexed at all?

Bernadette

From: "Charla J. Williams"

> If white roses - are feminine, or was it the red roses? (According to
> Russ House's post) What sex does this make blue/purple roses?
> Hermaphrodites (sp?) What about yellow/pink/orange roses and why
> do roses need to be sexed at all?

Don't white roses have an association with Death as well?

Regards, Charla

From: B Garner

> > If white roses - are feminine, or was it the red roses? (According to
> > Russ House's post) What sex does this make blue/purple roses?
> > Hermaphrodites (sp?) What about yellow/pink/orange roses and why
> > do roses need to be sexed at all?

> Don't white roses have an association with Death as well?

I believe they are.

I think there is also so special protocol associated with giving roses also.
For instance, if you are sorry, you give yellow roses, I believe, and if you are 'friends' then you give pink roses, and if you are 'in love' with someone you give them red roses...
I think also that roses have been compared with parts of the female body...?
There seems to be many symbolisms attached to roses. It seems that roses are in effect a powerful symbol from the subconscious that needs exploring.
I think that these symbols are in a sense harmonics for manifestations of our experience of the universe. For example, the sinusoidal wave like nature of the snakes in the caduceus symbol.
Although they have been compared with the double helix, I believe the symbolism is far more extensive than that. ie the often wave like nature of energy. This symbol is manifest throughout nature (sure wave forms come in different arrangements - planes and another form but my memory of high school physics is a bit far shaky...:)
This wave like nature can also be associated with communication, the transmission of information - an essential aspect to Hermes. Another aspect, is that there are 2 snakes, 2 sexes of interest - male/female, in general, there is an inherent dichotomy/duality in nature that strives against the other, yet seeks union with the other.
I have described Liber Al to a friend once as being the manifestations of the duality, Nuit, the encapsulation of the divine/universe/? and Hadit the human, and Ra-Hoor-Khu-It as the 'embodiment' of the struggle between them.
Of course I could be completely wrong, but I would be interested in other peoples opinions on this.

Bernadette


From: "Jon Marshall"

B Garner wrote:
>
> If white roses - are feminine, or was it the red roses? (According to
> Russ House's post) What sex does this make blue/purple roses?
> Hermaphrodites (sp?) What about yellow/pink/orange roses and why
> do roses need to be sexed at all?

The best reason for the sexing I think, comes from Regardie where he argues that the difference between symbols has to be exaggerated to set up an energy between them, so that they can be worked....
Having a brief look at Rose lore, I am a bit amazed at its importance, of only the obvious such as the RoseCross, the Rosarium, the Romance of the Rose, The rose as a symbol of Paradise in Dante, Rose windows, the Rosery, its role in the regalia of the garter; to the mundane the Wars of the Roses, the language of Flowers etc.
Cirlot in his handy grab bag of pre digested symbols writes : "The single Rose is, in essence a symbol of completion, of consumate achievement and perfection... the mystic centre, the heart, the garden of Eros, the paradise of Dante, the beloved, the emblem of Venus and so on. More precise symbolic meanings are derived from the colour and number of its petals. The relationship of the white rose to the red is in accordance with the relationship between the two colours in alchemy. The blue rose is symbolic of the impossible, The golden rose is symbolic of absolute achievement [I have a vague recollection of a papal order of the golden rose- anyone any details?]. When the rose is round in shape it corresponds in significance to the mandala. The seven petalled rose alludes to the septenary pattern... The eight petalled rose symbolizes regeneration" (p275)

And like Bernadette I have heard of the symbolism relating rose's to the female genitals,

Oh Rose thou art sick,
the invisible worm that flies through the night etc...

I vaguely remember two Arabic legends about the colour of the Rose:

Originally Roses where white. On night the Nightingale met a white Rose and fell in Love. His love was so intense that he was inspired to song (for before that nightingales only croaked and chirped). Eventually his love was such that he pressed himself to the flower and the thorns pierced his heart and coloured the Rose forever red.

The Prophet Mohammed was away fighting in the wars, when he began to long for his wife Aisha, but he was tormented by the idea that she was unfaithful. SO he spoke to Gabriel, who suggested that there was a simple test, when the prophet returned home he should ask Aisha to drop what ever she was carrying into the water and if she was faithful it would stay the same colour.
The prophet returned from his endeavours and Aisha rushed to great him carrying a huge bouquet of red roses, she was surprised when he commanded her to drop them in the river, but she obeyed and the roses turned yellow. Nevertheless Aisha remained his favourite wife....

Another vague point is that in Apuleius novel the Golden Ass, the hero Lucius who has been transformed into an Ass, after experiencing a vision of the goddess Isis is turned back into a man when he eats some roses...

It certainly seems like the rose is a good thing to think with, something that encapsulates something about our experience.

The `peace rose' sounds plausible, the `peace daffodil' not so much.

I suspect that the white rose is primal in some way and that the colours are intensified by their presence on the rose itself - that they in some way become perfect.

jon

From: "Charla J. Williams"

Jon Marshall wrote:

> Cirlot in his handy grab bag of pre digested symbols writes :
> The seven petalled rose alludes to the septenary pattern...
> The eight petalled rose symbolises regeneration" (p275)

I'd be very interested in the relationship between the number 8and regeneration. The only correlation I'm aware of is the 8th house of the astrological chart being ruled by Scorpio and thus ruling regeneration.

Regards, Charla

From: Illuminato@aol.com

The number eight is traditionally considered the number of cycles, whichwould suggest not only a regenerative phase, but a degenerative phase as well. We obtain the number 8 by multiplying the number of solidity (4) times the number of duality (2).

Best regards.

From: taliesin@mail.utexas.edu (George Randall Leake III)

Jon Marshall writes-->>
>Cirlot in his handy grab bag of pre digested symbols writes : "The single Rose
>is, in essence a symbol of completion, of consummate achievement and
>perfection... the mystic centre, the heart, the garden of Eros, the
>paradise of
>Dante, the beloved, the emblem of Venus and so on.

This stuff is starting to resemble in tone Buddhism's Lotus...the flower of compassion (balanced with the Diamond of discrimination/reason)

From: Bernx@aol.com

In a message Jon Marshall writes:

>The blue rose is symbolic of the impossible, The golden
>rose is symbolic of absolute achievement [I have a vague recollection
>of a papal
>order of the golden rose

Thanks Jon, for that nice rundown on the rose, but not to forget the Yellow Rose of Texas and the matricentric resoluteness of Texans.
Bernard X. Bovasso

From: "Jon Marshall"

Though as I said earlier the rose appears to be an important symbol in western esotericism, it strangely doesn't seem all that important in alchemy.
Though alchemy might be conducted in a rose garden, the rose seems more emblematic of the beauties of alchemy, which are surrounded by thorns, than of a particular substance, or of a particular process.
(Also it seems that many of the older rose pictures don't really look like roses as we know them today, they have only a small number of petals. Is this because of assiduous breeding?)
Anyway to continue with my habit of throwing other people's opinions at you to convince you of my profundity....

Jung Alchemical Studies p294-5 summarized

The lapis-Christ parallel was presumably the bridge by which the rose entered alchemy. There were several alchemical Rosarium's. Arnald de Villanova is credited with the Rosarium cum figuris, where the rose is the symbol of the relationship between king and queen. [I'd have to add that if Jung is referring to the Rosarium illustrations which I presume he is, I, for one, am not certain that the flowers represent roses, or that the rose is that important here]
In a vision of mechthild Christ appears with a 5 petaled rose, the petals represent the senses which are the vehicles of Christ's love.
In the spiritual sense the rose is an allegory of Mary- though perhaps sexualized.
It seems the rose coloured blood of the alchemical redeemer, in the form of the red tincture expressed the healing effect of a certain type of Eros. Dorn says rose coloured blood is `vegetabile naturae' as opposed to ordinary blood which was `vegetabile materiae'. The soul of the stone is in its blood.
In the Mysterium Coniunctionis Jung writes; p305-6 summarized
Evidently because of its association with Venus the green lion has rose coloured blood (Dorn & Khunrath). The white and the red rose are synonyms for the albedo and rubedo.
The rose is also an attribute of Dionysus. Red and rose red are related to the aqua permanens and the soul which are extracted from the prima materia.
Finally he writes Practice of Psychotherapy. p245 summarized
Wholeness which is a combination of I and you as parts of a transcendent unity whose nature can only be grasped in symbols like the wheel or the rose or the coniunctio.
Now whatever you think of Jung's interpretation of alchemy, his volume of reading and indexing is good, and i think that it is significant that despite the Rose's obvious importance as a `western mandala' that it proved impossible for him to find a good example of this in alchemy.
As I suggested in an earlier post, that the rose acts as a kind of intensifier, and that when the red rose and the white rose are used, it is the colours which are important not the rose itself. And indeed given Jung's data it is the rose coloured... [something] that is mentioned the most strongly.
Now it may be that the reason for this is that the rose as a symbol of perfection, is, in the west, a female symbol, and does not, as such have an obvious `opposition', or `charger'.
As, for example in normal usage of words `woman' takes its value, not in the `perfection of itself', but in relation to other words which represent `not-women', like `man', `girl', or which include `woman' like `female' etc.

The Rose stands alone.

Perhaps it could be argued that the Rose is a unifier, the flower female and the thorns male. But this kind of male symbolism seems rare in alchemy, and the thorns are more likely to be seen by male alchemists as representing the obstacles to attainment.
Waite in his Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross (by far the better of his Rosicrucian books), has a short chapter on Rose symbolism, which includes an interesting 2 pages on the Rose in the Kabbalah which I shall neglect unless people find it hard to obtain. However he does summarize a passage from Maier's `Septimana philosophica' which seems the most complete example of alchemical Rose symbolism I have seen, and which to some extent backs up the points made above.
At the risk of belabouring the obvious and being crassly wrong I have made short comments in [ ] s

P.97 "He says:
(1) That the Rose is the First, most beautiful and perfect of flowers.[mandala, perfection]
(2) That it is guarded because it is a virgin, and the guard is thorns.[rose as female, thorns obstacles]
(3) That the Gardens of Philosophy are planted with many roses, both red and white.[garden image, - am reminded of Sufi poem's here -colours of rose important, rose adds preciousness but not much else]
(4) That these colours are in correspondence with gold and silver.[again the colours emphasized]
(5) That the centre of the Rose is green and is emblematical of the Green Lion,...[Jung's connection but in reverse- note also it is not directly connected to the lion, but is `emblematical']
(6)That even as a natural Rose is a pleasure to the senses and life of man, on
account of its sweetness and salubrity, so is the Philosophical Rose exhilarating to the heart and a giver of strength to the brain. [Rose as allegory of The Philosophy]
(7) That as the natural rose turns to the sun and is refreshed by rain, so is the Philosophical Matter prepared in blood, grown in light, and in and by these made perfect" [allegory again- this time of the philosophical matter which I believe some identify with the philosophy itself. I'm sure the *seven* points are not accidental]
In a footnote Waite adds that the glossaries identify rosa with tartar.

Jon

From: B Garner

Jon writes:
> The best reason for the sexing i think, comes from regardie where he argues that
> the difference between symbols has to be exagerated to set up an energy between
> them, so that they can be worked....

I don't understand why we need to exaggerate or 'intensify' (as you describe later) the symbolism of the rose so the energy can be worked.
Why work with roses as opposed to other objects? Why use sex as the symbol to exaggerate this difference as opposed to some other duality?
I briefly thought of other dualities that could be used for these purposes. For instance, binary to make the distinction. But then I thought that 0 was very feminine and 1 was very masculine...
But another duality that could be used is black and white, or off and on? I suppose male/female is much more descriptive, but not as definitive as yin and yang.
Is there any meaning to black roses?
Also roses have been genetically manipulated a great deal. I believe roses bare little resemblance to the original, as a lot of breeds need to be grafted.
Thanks Jon for your excellent discussion on roses, I know I have enjoyed your writing on this and other subjects enormously.

Bernadette

From: "Jon Marshall"

B Garner wrote:
> I don't understand why we need to exaggerate or 'intensify' (as you
> describe later) the symbolism of the rose so the energy can be worked.
> Why work with roses as opposed to other objects? Why use sex as the
> symbol to exaggerate this difference as opposed to some other duality?

Well if I remember correctly the idea runs by analogy, that if you want to increase potential energy you increase the slope of the plain that a marble might be on....
Probably if you increase the difference between the poles of a battery, you get greater current flow (forgive me if I use the wrong term here, but its the idea that counts, not the accuracy of it ;-) )
The theory is (again assuming I'm not totally off planet here) that if you separate things conceptually then the libido (orgone, life force, whatever) is in increased potential between them, and thus gives you more `force' to work with.

> I briefly thought of other dualities that could be used for these
> purposes. For instance, binary to make the distinction. But then I
> thought that 0 was very feminine and 1 was very masculine...
>
> But another duality that could be used is black and white, or off
> and on? I suppose male/female is much more discriptive, but not as
> definitive as yin and yang.

Strangely in the West we always fall back into the sexual division as the major division, whenever the division is binary.
Some people have argued that this is a universal feature of the mind. I am not so sure about that, just as I am not so sure that binary divisions are the basis of thought etc. but it certainly is a major feature of social life throughout the world- so it might be true `accidentally' rather than necessarily.

> Is there any meaning to black roses?

Did someone suggest death? In alchemy I suspect a black rose might rise during the nigredo, but I can't
remember having come across one.

Jon

From: RJB@u.washington.edu

A book well worth looking at for rose symbolism is

Author: Wilkins, Eithne.
Title: The rose-garden game; a tradition of beads and flowers.
Pub. Info.: [New York] Herder and Herder [1969].
Phy Descript: 239 p. illus. (part col.) 24 cm.
Notes: An Azimuth book.
Includes bibliographical references.

LeGrand Cinq-Mars