I love California’s weather for its kindness to roses – here you can grow plants that will bloom almost all year round, and I’ve often bragged about them to my father on the telephone as he looks out over his rain-swept English garden. Egyptian followers of Horus used the rose as the symbol of the deity, then the Greeks adopted it to denote silence, associating it with their Harpocrates, who kept silent the indiscretions of Aphrodite; Romans painted roses on their walls and ceilings in token of the god, considering that anything spoken beneath these images would be kept private: it’s where the saying “sub rosa” comes from.

Renaissance philosophers reviving Hermetic ideas adopted the symbol for the same reasons, keeping secret their devotion to neo-platonic philosophy in a period that saw violent swings of religious tolerance that endangered their lives, consequently the image worked its way throughout the Western Mystery tradition, denoting the Rosicrucians’ mystical secrecy and devotion to anonymously benefiting mankind through healing practices learned in the study of alchemy.

The classical five petalled rose has been used as an allegorical symbol of the five wounds of the crucified Christ, whose hands, feet and side were pierced during his torture and death. Pythagoreans saw the pentagram as the geometric representation of divine perfection, in part because the intersection of each of the lines in the pentagram is found at 1 : 1.62, the divine ratio.

img_9647In alchemy the rose garden is used as an allegory of the perfection of the work, or as a symbol of secrecy, with a rose garden showing up in alchemical texts as the ultimate goal of completion. In my Sun card within the walls of the alembic the blackening of the nigredo surrounds the twins, while a rose garden appears outside as an allegory of the hope to come as the work of re-combining the salt and sulphur continues. I’ve painted the first layer of greens and the white base for the rose flowers – don’t be surprised to see these turn red very soon; the white has to go down first when painting a bright red, because red pigment is so transparent that any colour beneath it will show through, altering and darkening it.

About pearce

Michael Pearce is an artist, writer, and professor of art. He is the author of "Art in the Age of Emergence."
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