In ancient Rome, the rose, the flower of Venus, was the
badge of the sacred prostitutes. The rose additionally symbolized
silence. Eros, in Greek mythology, presents a rose to the
god of silence. Things spoken under the rose or sub rosa were
the secrets of Venus’ sexual mysteries, later generalized to refer
to keeping any secret. The use of red and white roses symbolized
the sexually active and virginal goddess respectively and
set the stage for the later Christian sexual symbolism possessed
by the rose. That symbolism survives today in the predominate
use of roses at weddings and as gifts for Valentine’s Day.
In Christian Rome it was the custom to bless the rose on a
certain Sunday, called Rose Sunday. The custom of blessing the
golden rose came into vogue about the eleventh century. The
golden rose thus consecrated was given to princes as a mark of
the Roman pontiffs’ favor. The Christian use of the older rose
symbolism achieved its most artistic expression in the rose windows
of the medieval cathedrals.
In the East, it was believed that the first rose was generated
by a tear of the prophet Mohammed, and it was further believed
that on a certain day in the year the rose had a heart of
In the west of Scotland, if a white rose bloomed in autumn
it was a token of an early marriage. The red rose, it was said,
would not bloom over a grave. If a young girl had several lovers
and wished to know which of them would be her husband, she
would take a rose leaf for each of her sweethearts, and, naming
each leaf after one of her lovers, she would watch them until
one after another they sank, and the last to sink would be her
future husband.
Rose leaves thrown upon a fire gave good luck. If a rose bush
was pruned on St. John’s Eve, it would bloom again in the autumn.
Superstitions respecting the rose are more numerous in
England than in Scotland.
The rose became a prominent symbol in occultism at the beginning
of the modern age. It appeared on the family crest of
Martin Luther, seemingly the ultimate source of the Rosicrucians’
juxtaposition of the rose and cross. Earlier it had been
used in the symbolism of alchemy. Both pagan and Christian
folklore cites the rose as a symbol of regeneration and love.
Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.
San Francisco Harper & Row, 1983.
Wilkins, Eithne. The Rose-Garden Game. London Victor Gallancz,