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Alchemy Guild

Symbolism of the Rose

image001.jpgThe rose is the official flower of the Guild and fresh roses are present at all Guild meetings. The placement, color, and state of bloom of the roses carry subtle messages for Guild members on the nature of the meeting and how to conduct themselves. There are no posted announcements of the subject matter of meetings or printed rules of behavior. Only the silent message of the rose guides members on a heart-to-heart basis.

Historically, roses represent the presence of our founder and patron, Wilhelm von Rosenberg, whose family name means literally “mountain of roses.” The rose carried deep personal meaning for him. The five-petaled red rose figures prominently in his personal coat of arms (shown at left), and the rose symbol is present in many other forms at all of his family estates.

To understand the archetypal signature of the rose, it is necessary to suspend one’s intellectual and cultural connections to it and simply be open to the “presence” of the rose. This popular flower has a complicated symbology with paradoxical meanings. It is at once a symbol of both purity and passion, both heavenly perfection and earthly desire; both virginity and fertility; both death and life. The rose is the flower of the goddesses Isis and Venus but also the blood of Osiris, Adonis, and Christ.

Originally a symbol of joy, the rose later indicated secrecy and silence but is now usually associated in the common mind with romantic love. But the rose is much more meaningful, much older and more deeply embedded in the human unconscious than most people believe. Rose fossils 35 million year old have been found in Europe, and petrified rose wreaths have been unearthed from the oldest Egyptian tombs. At Guild meetings, the symbology of the rose is associated with the color (or combinations of colors) of its petals:

  • Red Roses: passion, love; vitality, feeling of being alive; masculine or active energy; creative projects; workshops
  • White Roses: purity, innocence; acceptance; unconditional love; feminine or passive energy; initiation of new members, construction projects
  • Black (or Withered) Roses: love is gone or over; disaster; depression; death; problem discussions; emergency meetings
  • Pink Roses: gentleness; softness; thankfulness; loving and supportive friendship; awards and honors
  • Yellow Roses: compassion; camaraderie; free-flowing conversations; joy and security; social affairs; dinners; intellectual lectures
  • Orange Roses: enthusiasm; fascination; optimism; planning meetings
  • Blue Roses: spiritual longing; promise of a perfect world; group meditations
  • Golden (or Gilded) Roses: completion of important project; perfection of oneself; invocation of cosmic energy; invocation of past masters

The numerological elements of the rose are also present in Guild documents and meetings. In general, the rose represents the number five. This is because the wild rose has five petals, and the total petals on roses are in multiples of five. Geometrically, the rose corresponds with the pentagram and pentagon. Five represents the Fifth Element, the life force, the heart or essence of something. In an absolute sense, the rose has represented the expanding awareness of life through the development of the senses. Six-petaled varieties indicate balance and love; seven-petaled varieties indicate transformative passion; and rare eight-petaled roses indicate regeneration, a new cycle, or a higher level of space and time.

The rose is one of the fundamental symbols of alchemy and became the philosophical basis of  Rosicrucian alchemy. It was so important to alchemists that there are many texts called “Rosarium” (Rosary), and all these texts deal with the relationship between the archetypal King and Queen. We have noted the Rosarium of Jaros Griemiller, an original member of the Guild. Another important Rosarium was prepared by alchemist Arnold de Villanova, who also interacted with Guild members.

In alchemy, the rose is primarily a symbol of the operation of Conjunction, the Mystical Marriage of opposites. It represents the regeneration of separated essences and their resurrection on a new level. In the Practice of Psychotherapy, Carl Jung discussed the archetypal underpinnings of love between people in terms of the rose: “The wholeness which is a combination of ‘I and you’ is part of a transcendent unity whose nature can only be grasped in symbols like the rose or the coniunctio (Conjunction).”

In alchemy the red rose is regarded as a masculine, active, expansive principle of solar spirit (Sulfur), where the white rose represents the feminine, receptive, contractive principle of lunar soul (Salt). The combination of white and red roses (spirit and soul) symbolizes the birth of the Philosopher’s Child (Mercury). During the operation of Conjunction, the relationship of the masculine red rose to the feminine white rose is the same relationship depicted in alchemical images of the Red King and the White Queen or the Red Sun and White Moon. White roses were linked to the White Phase of the Work (albedo) and the White Stone of Multiplication, while the red rose was associated with the Red Phase and the Red Stone of Projection.

The single golden (or gilded) rose is a symbol completion of the Great Work or of some consummate achievement in personal or laboratory alchemy. The Popes used to bless a Golden Rose on the fourth Sunday in Lent, as a symbol of their spiritual power and the certainty of resurrection and immortality. In alchemical terms, the golden rose means a successful marriage of opposites to produce the Golden Child, the perfected essence of both King and Queen.

Because Mary is the Christian model of union with God, the rose and the rosary became symbols of the union between god and mankind. Scenes of Mary in a rose garden or under a rose arbor or before a tapestry of roses reinforces this idea. Mary holds a rose and not a scepter in the art of the Middle Ages, which means her power comes from divine love. The rose garden in alchemical drawings is a symbol of sacred space. It could mean a meditation chamber or tabernacle, an altar, a sacred place in nature, or paradise itself. In all these instances, the rose garden is the mystical bridal chamber, the place of the mystic marriage.

The rose has obvious connections with sexual energy in alchemy. The “rose colored blood of the alchemical redeemer” or the “warm red tincture” were references to healing effects of purified (alchemically distilled or sublimated) sexual energy. For instance, the Renaissance alchemist Gerhardt Dorn calls rose-colored blood a vegetabile naturae whereas ordinary blood was a vegetabile materiae. In other words, rose-colored blood carries the natural essence or soul, while ordinary blood simply functions on the physical level to supply oxygen to cells, etc. That is the meaning of the alchemical phrase, “The soul of the Stone is in its blood,” or as Carl Jung put it: “The rose red color is related to the aqua permanens and the soul, which are extracted from the prima materia.” The sword and knife, symbols of the Separation operation, carry such power in alchemy partly because of their ability to draw blood.

In spiritual alchemy, the single red rose represents the mystic center of a person, his or her heart of hearts – one’s true nature. It also represents the process of purification to reveal one’s essence or the inner “pearl beyond price.” Sufi spiritual alchemist Rumi described this idea when he wrote: "In the driest whitest stretch of pain's infinite desert, I lost my sanity and found this rose." As a symbol of the Mystical Marriage on a personal level, the red rose represents a special kind of love in which one “melts away” into the beauty of another, and the old identity is surrendered for that of the beloved or a higher identity within oneself. In this sense, the rose is a symbol of complete surrender and permanent transmutation.

Alchemist Daniel Maier discusses the symbolism of the rose in his Septimana Philosophica: “The rose is the first, most beautiful and perfect of flowers. It is guarded because it is a virgin, and the guard is thorns. The Gardens of Philosophy are planted with many roses, both red and white, which colors are in correspondence with gold and silver. The center of the rose is green and is emblematical of the Green Lion [First Matter]. 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. Just 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."

Because of its association with the workings of the heart, the rose in alchemy has come to symbolize secrets of the heart or things that cannot be spoken or an oath of silence in general. In the folded structure of the rose, the flower seems to be concealing a secret inner core. “Mystery glows in the rose bed and the secret is hidden in the rose,” wrote the twelfth-century Persian alchemist Farid ud-din Attar.

During Alchemy Guild meetings, a red rose hung from the ceiling indicates the material to be discussed is confidential for members only and is to be kept secret. On the Guild’s websites and in its printed matter, a red rose icon or the Latin phrase “sub rosa” (“under the rose”) indicates the material is secret. Clicking on this icon on websites will take the visitor to password-protected areas intended for members only. This concept originates in the hermetic tradition of hanging red roses from the ceiling of meetings to indicate that discretion was called for and none of the information discussed should leave the room. The symbol was used in a number of hermetic organizations in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance and was well known to alchemists. For instance, in Sebastian Brant's fifteenth-century alchemical treatise “Narrenschiff” (“Ship of Fools”), the author warns: “What here we do say, shall under roses stay.”

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