The archetypal symbol of the red Rose refers to passionate desire and/or a deep and mature level of love and intimacy. Furthermore, the unconscious illustration of a bouquet of roses may indicate a grand gesture of hope, joy or formidable applause. Additionally, dried-up roses may refer to a flame which still bums in a love affair which has come to an unceremonious end. Appropriately, we need to analyze the condition of the roses and the initiation and motivation of the person who gives or receives the flowers.
A rose, as in a stained-glass window, may be a mandala, representing your self, the fullness which it is your destiny to reach.
Sometimes the symbolism depends on the colour. A red rose is often a symbol of love; it may also represent the passion.
Roses, like flowers generally, may symbolize the beauty of Nature; the beauty and loveliness of life as it could or should be.
Broadly speaking the rose corresponds status-wise to the lotus in Asia, both being very close to the wheel in symbolic terms. The commonest aspect of this floral symbolism is that of manifestation, rising from the primeval waters to blossom above them. This aspect is, in any case, familiar in India. It denotes the attainment of perfection, unsullied fulfilment. As we shall see, roses symbolize the chalice of life, the soul, the heart and love. They may be contemplated in the same way as a mandala and regarded as mystic centres.
In Christian iconography, the rose may be the chalice into which Christ’s blood flowed, or the symbol of Christ’s wounds. This symbol is the same as the Rosa Candida in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and that in turn conjures Our Lady’s title, ‘Mystic Rose’, in litanies of the Blessed Virgin; and that of the medieval poem the Roman de la Rose.
Finally, a special case should be observed, that of Sa’di of Shiraz, for whom, as a Muslim mystic, the rose-garden is a garden of contemplation. Christian mystics would certainly not reject such language as a commentary upon the Rose of Sharon in the Song of Solomon.
Because of their relationship with blood, roses seem often to have been regarded as symbols of mystical rebirth: ‘On battlefields where a number of heroes have been slain, roses or eglantines will grow;... roses and anemones [grew up] from [the blood] of Adonis when [the young god was] dying’. ‘Human life’, Mircea Eliade writes, ‘must be completely lived out if it is to exhaust all its potentialities of creation and expression; if it is interrupted suddenly, by violent death, it will tend to extend itself in some other form: plant, fruit, flower’.
Abd al-Qadir Jilani compares scars with roses and attributes a mystic meaning to them.
According to Portal, roses and the colour pink became the symbol of rebirth because of the semantic kinship between the Latin words rosa (rose) and ros, meaning ‘dew’ or ‘rain’. ‘The flower and its colour were primary symbols of rebirth and of initiation into the Mysteries.... In the Golden Ass, Apuleius regained his human shape by eating a garland of roses given to him by the high priest of Isis.’ The rose-bush, he adds, ‘is an image of the born-again, just as dew is a symbol of rebirth’. This interpretation receives confirmation from the frequent juxtaposition in Scripture of green with roses. Thus Ecclesiasticus 24: 14 has: T was exalted ... as a rose-plant in Jericho, as a fair olive tree in a pleasant field.’ The olive was sacred to Athene, who was born on Rhodes, the Island of Roses - and this would suggest the secrets of initiation - and rose-bushes were sacred to Aphrodite as well as to the grey-eyed goddess. The Ancient Greeks knew the rose as a white flower, but when Aphrodite’s lover Adonis was mortally wounded, the goddess, running to his help, pricked herself on a rose-thorn and her blood tinged the flowers sacred to her.
It was because they were a regeneration symbol that, in Classical antiquity, the custom was established of placing roses upon graves. ‘The Ancients called this ceremony the Rosalia. Every year during the month of May they offered dishes of roses to the spirits of the dead’.
According to Bede, in the seventh century the Holy Sepulchre was painted in a mixture of white and red. These two elements of the colour rose-pink, with all their traditional symbolic properties, recur at all levels, in the sacred and the profane, in the distinctions drawn between offering white or red roses, as well as in the distinctions drawn between ideas of passion and of purity and those of transcendent love and divine wisdom. The Palais de I’Honneur states that ‘over the coats-of-arms of nuns is set a garland comprising white rose branches with leaves, flowers and thorns, denoting the chastity which the bearers have preserved amid all life’s thorns and mortifications.’
Roses became a symbol of love and, more strongly still, of the offerings made by a love which was pure:
Roses took the place of Egyptian lotus or Greek narcissus as the flowers of love. These were not the frivolous flowers of which Catullus wrote... but Celtic roses, proud with life and, though equipped with thorns, fraught with a gentle symbolism. This is the symbolism of the Roman de la Rose, in which Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung created the mysterious garden of love and chivalry, of the Mystic Rose of the litanies of Our Lady, of the Golden Roses which the Popes sent to princesses worthy of them and, lastly, of that vast symbolic rose which Beatrice showed her faithful lover when he reached the last circle of Paradise, a flower simultaneously rose and rose-window.
Whether white or red, roses were the favourite flowers of alchemists, who often entitled their treatises The Rosary of the Philosophers. Most of these roses have seven petals, each petal relating either to a metal or to an operation in the Work’.