Paradox Ethereal Magazine 03-38The ancestral cult of flowers

Article by Elisabeth Mantovani

The Symbolism of the Rose falls more broadly in the ancestral cult of flowers through all eras of history known to man, all continents and civilizations.  As symbols of Life, beauty and youth,  flowers  were often associated with the emblem of the Sun, due to their star-shaped petals formation. Even science has now certified the ability of flowers to positively influence the psyche through their beauty and their garish coloring. For this reason, in the symbolism of different traditions,  flowers become synonymous to pleasure and sensuality,  or rise as symbols of eroticism.

“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery


by: William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

WHO dreamed that beauty passes like a dream?
For these red lips, with all their mournful pride,
Mournful that no new wonder may betide,
Troy passed away in one high funeral gleam,
And Usna’s children died.

We and the labouring world are passing by:
Amid men’s souls, that waver and give place
Like the pale waters in their wintry race,
Under the passing stars, foam of the sky,
Lives on this lonely face.

Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode:
Before you were, or any hearts to beat,
Weary and kind one lingered by His seat;
He made the world to be a grassy road
Before her wandering feet.

“The Rose of the World”  is reprinted from
The Rose. W.B. Yeats. 1893.

The Mayan Nicte, a white flower with intoxicating scent, is associated with the legend of the homonymous princess, an allegory of grace and beauty that wins the cruelty of the world. Among the pre-Columbian cultures, that  of the Aztecs also attributed a particular meaning to flowers: Xochiquetzal, or Ichpuchtli was the goddess of flowers and presided over all the tasks associated with fertility and fecundity, being  as well a symbol of sensuality and fruitful sexuality .

Xochiquetzal represented both pregnant women and prostitutes, also pure games of childhood as well as soil fertility. Her symbols were the flowers. The flowers thus cover all the imagery associated with feelings and love that goes from innocence, grace, purity of spiritual beauty to carnal pleasure, physical and sensual beauty. According to this latter meaning  flowers are always the transience of life and the short passing of  joy and earthly pleasures.

“Man is born like the flower of the field, but then the wind touches on him and he disappears, no more is known of  the place where he was”  (Psalm 103: 15-16)

Hence the custom of placing flowers on the graves of the dead that spreads from the first Christian communities and perpetuated even today. In the Bible the flower is a symbol of God’s goodness and of the grace granted by God to man. The same meaning passes in Christian symbolism where the calyx of the flower opens at the top, becoming a symbol of reception of the divine gifts that come from above, therefore  a symbol of grace. A particular significance among the flowers has always assumed Rose to be the queen of flowers.

The first historical evidence about  Rose  was 5000 years ago among the Sumerians, whose king Sargon I (who lived between 2684 and 2630 BC), returning from an expedition to Ur war over Tauro  reported having seen grapevines, fig trees and Roses. The story of Rose continues in classical Greece as early as the fourth century BC. Theophrastus describes roses as flowers having from five to one hundred petals.  During the same period, in Rhodes there were minted coins depicting roses. Almost certainly, therefore, the Rose arrived in Greece from the East.

This flower was known in China as early as the sixth century BC. Confucius (551-479) informs us that the Emperor had hundreds of books on the cultivation of the Rose. From the fifth century b.C the Rose also appears in Egypt where it is depicted on textiles and frescoes, according to some witnesses, Cleopatra would  replaced the traditional lotus with the most beloved Rose.

In the Far East the symbolism of the Rose is similar to that of the Lotus flower : both accompany funeral rites and both are symbols of the secret center that can be reached through the perfecting of the soul . The Hindu tradition tells us that from the corolla of a Rose goddess Peyota Siri, one of the wives of the god Vishnu, was born, while in China the rose is mentioned and praised in the poems of Confucius.

From the Middle Ages and on, though especially in this period, the Rose spreads in Europe as a symbol of love, faith or ideal. “The Roman de la Rose” one of the most famous literary works inspired by courtly love , is designed by Guillaume de Lorris around 1229. The author identifies the Rose with the ideal of feminine beauty that drives man to spiritual inner improvement. A few decades later the poem is completed by Jean de Chopinel Meug, who associated with the search of the Rose, Allegory of Love, a less spiritual and more erotic and characterized human passion, thus the Rose becomes a symbol of  transmutation and alchemical fusion that is realized through the act of physical love and passion.

Also in the Middle Ages all flowers are indicated, in some cases, as “ Rose” , in analogy to the reception of  grace ,  spiritual beauty or  faith . For the most loyal vassals the Golden Rose, symbol of Loyalty and Honour, was granted . Even more than the flowers themselves, the Roses are associated, since ancient times, with all the meanings related to Love : from  spiritual and transcendent feeling  to passion and sexual love .

The cults associated with Rose spread in the Mediterranean from Hellenism. The Rose is part of the celebrations dedicated to the goddess Isis. The myth of the birth of the Rose in the Mediterranean see this flower associated with the love between Venus and Adonis.Adonis, lover of Venus, was wounded by a wild boar, the goddess in an effort to rescue her beloved, injures herself with some brambles and from her blood the first roses were born.Jupiter was moved from this fact and allowed Adonis to live for a certain period of the year in the world of the living and for the rest in the afterlife.

The Rose is therefore already qualified from this ancient mythological tale, as a symbol of love that conquers death,  a symbol of grace granted by the Gods and  a symbol of rebirth.
Another myth , quoted by Bockler and certainly less widespread , mentions  the birth of Mars from a Rose . The Rose has definitely been, since ancient Latin, also an award of war. As a symbol of loyalty and honor the Rose passes, as described in the Middle Ages, to denote the value of the Knights or the loyalty of vassals .

To Latin antiquity a symbol of the roses is also the legend of the golden donkey of the latin writer Lucius Apuleius , according to which  the protagonist, having been transformed into a donkey ,  regains human form, after a night of pray to the Moon, by eating a garland of roses dedicated to Isis : after this fact the protagonist will convert himself to the cult of the goddess of fertility. The Rose , flowers in general , is also linked since ancient times to funerary rites.

The Romans know the Feast of Rosalia associated with the cult of the dead and already known in the first century AD, mainly on the Italian territory; the feast was celebrated on the 11th of May and around the 15th of July. To date, the Pentecost which is celebrated on the Sunday before the Full Moon of May is called the Passover of the Roses. In some regions it is still of use to exchange  flowers, so as to symbolize the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.

In the cult of Dionysos garlands of roses were used, because it was thought that they had the power to alleviate the effects of intoxication and that could help the drunk not to tell their secrets. Whatever is  the origin of the association between Rosa and Secrecy, this link is perpetuated through the centuries and is definitely associated with the shape of the flower made up of concentric circles of petals that conceal the center .

In the Christian Middle Ages a five-petal rose placed on the altar was a symbol of confidentiality and secrecy, the inscription  sub rosae meant under the seal of silence and discretion. During the Middle Ages only virgins were allowed to the use of the Rose as a symbol and in the same period spreads the image of the Virgin Mary as Queen of the Roses; the month dedicated to her , May, clearly reveals these symbolic associations .

The end of the fourteenth century in the art also spreads images of Mary in the Rose Garden , an allusion to the perfection of the soul in the body and of virginal purity (Madonna in the Rose Garden of Sandro Botticelli, Mary in the Rose Garden of Stefano da Verona , fifteenth century, Maria with the espalier of Roses made by the German school of the fifteenth century . etc.). In the medieval Christian symbolism the Rose is mainly a symbol of love that goes from the sacred mystical feeling of the “ white rose “, described by Dante, to the Passion of Christ represented by the red rose,  analogous to the blood shed from the cross into the cup of Joseph of Arimathea .

Dante arrives at Paradise through the Mystic Rose. The quote of the flower, which appears in the XXXI canto of the Paradiso is purely symbolic , as this Rose is composed of the souls of the blessed who are celebrating their triumph in the beatific vision of God :
“ In form of a White Rose
appeared to me the holy militia
who Christ made His bride in His own blood .”

The concept of the Mystical Rose, symbol of the perfectibility of the Soul, is also known in the Middle East through the teachings of the Sufis that spread from the twelfth century AD. The path of perfectibility proposed by the mystical Sufi is in fact called “ Sebil -el- UARD “ that means “the path of the Rose”. However, the esoteric meaning of the Rose brought by Arabs had to be transited to Europe from the Middle East through the order of the Templars , who had settled themselves in Jerusalem and were in touch with the spirituality of the Ishmaelites .

It is assumed that Dante himself was a follower of the “Fedeli d’Amore “ a sect of Templar derivation which attributed to the Rose the  symbol of unifying and sanctifying power of love, the origin of which appears to have roots in the Arabic mystical tradition . During the Renaissance the rose continues to play a central role as a symbol of courtly love in the lyrics and poems of the most important writers of the time: from Boiardo to Lorenzo de ‘Medici to Angelo Poliziano . Starting in 1600, the alchemical treatises circulating in Europe integrate the Rose among their beloved symbols : a White Rose along with a Red Rose becomes a symbol of the duality of the two principles Sulphur et Mercurius .

A Rose with seven petals, on the other hand, is placed in relation to the seven metals and the seven planets with the Sun at the center . As a solar symbol the Rose also appears in the Gothic Rose Window from the thirteenth century: depending on the number of rays the Rose may refer to the zodiacal wheel , to the annual path of the Sun or to the solar path in the daytime . The gothic rose window is probably derived from oldest oriental patterns, Mesopotamian, like M’schatta , Syriac or Coptic .

Frequent, since 1600, is the association between Rose and the Cross, which is the connection emblem of the Rosicrucians , a cult initiation of evangelical origin , born in the late Renaissance .The Rosicrucian symbol is a five-petal rose at the center of a cross , similar to the personal seal of Martin Luther, that is a cross that stands on a heart inside of a rose with five petals. The writings of Johann Valentin Andreae (1586-1654) later revealed the spiritual conception of the Rosicrucians . The coat of arms of the noble German theologian was a St. Andrew’s cross with four roses at the ends.

The teachings and news about the Rosicrucians are basically contained in two papers published in the following years under the titles “Fama” and “Confessio” .

The intent of the Brotherhood is especially made clear in the “Confessio”; However  the Rosacrucian society, as all secret societies, lived in the shadows and, also for this reason, his teaching was a protagonist of misunderstanding, plagiarism and misrepresentation of axioms belonging to the order. We read in the “Confessio” ( 1615 ) that the Brotherhood has the precise function of operating a general reform of the world through an awakening of consciousness . This awakening can be implemented by means of an initiation system that operates a synthesis between Western and Eastern teachings of Arab origin .

In the posters of Rosacrucian fellowship a lot of people recognized along the time accents distinctly Protestant that were born in a moment of heated controversy between Reformation and Counter Reformation . Strict and frequent are also the similarities between the Rosicrucian and Masonic symbolism : the 18th degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite for example, has the title of the Rosicrucians . The fame of “ followers” of the Rosicrucian was later attributed , often after death and without solicitation by them, to great men of history, art, literature and science. Athanasius Kircher , Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton , Bejamin Franklin were considered Rosicrucian, often by a questionable and not entirely certain piece of information.

Nevertheless,  there are effectively some references to the Rosicrucians and to freemasonry in the writings of some of the famous people mentioned above, If we read, for example the beautiful poem “ The Secret “ by JW Goethe :
“Who has joined the roses to the Cross ? / the crown widens from the right on each
side, / and softly accompanies the rough wood , and minor silvery – blue clouds hovering / rise with Rose and Cross /  And from the middle springs a holy life / Of threefold rays from a single point… “ .

The whole Masonic symbolism has strong ties with both t Alchemy and  the symbols of the Rosicrucians . Freemasonry dedicated to the Rose a particular attention. Many sects make explicit reference to the Rose in their nomenclature and on the occasion of the funeral of a brother  the Rose returns as protagonist and guarantor of Faith, Secret and Love. In fact on the grave of the dead brother three squads of three different colors are laid with the meaning of “Love, Light and Strength”.

The Rose also plays an important meaning in heraldry especially in the Anglo-Saxon : the coat of arms of the House of York is a White Rose , the one of the House of Lancaster a Red Rose. The coat of arm of Tudor contains two Roses while that of Southhampton uses two white roses and a red one and this coat of arm is similar to the combinations made in the Treaties or Masonic alchemy of the ‘600 / ‘700 .

Key Symbol of hermetic and esoteric schools of western and eastern the Rose is also found in native traditions , and especially in the legend of the Holy Grail . In terms of psychology of the deeper unconscious the Grail, the chalice of salvation and sanctification, is a feminine element, a symbol of hospitality and generosity , a kind of spiritual womb for all those who rely on the secret doctrine, yet the renewal through an alchemical process of union of the feminine and the masculine, in this case the hero who drinks from the sacred cup .

Also linked to the symbolism of the Rose is the order of knighthood hired by King Arthur with the aim of the discovery of the Holy Grail : the order de La Rose Noire . The flowers and especially the Rose, then became the protagonists of a curious symbolic language that spreads in Biedermeir period during the nineteenth century and then among the Victorian bourgeoisie.

It is a complex and sometimes frivolous language of flowers used for courtship or to express complicated sophistry . In 1899 G.W. Gessmann says he wants to restore “ this fascinating habit  of the beautiful women’s world.” Here are some examples of this mawkish floral mimicry that today might seem , to some extent , even comic:

White Rose : “His pale petals indicate the luck of the eternal and pure, free from earthly passion .”
Red Rose : The pledge of the faithful “
Rosellina of stain: “The ones who were born for a quiet life are happy only if they live hidden .”
White roses , “No! “
Red roses : “Yes!”

In addition to the meanings of abstinence and purity, traditional symbolism attaches to the White Rose the symbol of death. To the black Rose, in reality a dark red , are instead associated with the meanings of rebirth through pain and sacrifice and, consequently, of Eternal Life . The meanings of the Black Rose then make explicit reference to the power of transmutation of Love, to the death and resurrection, through his favorite symbol, the Rose .

It is the energy that can be either at the level of animal passion as that of pure spiritual strength. Symbol of the ideal and of the passion, the Rose has therefore always been an emblem of Love that is, at the same time,  the eternal tendency of the human toward the divine and the ecstatic union of the two principles.

                    Elisabeth Mantovani

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