I cannot do justice to the long history of rose symbolism in world cultures. I will pick and choose and mention few that held my attention.
For me rose is the symbol of the soul. The seat of the soul is the heart which is not the organ but the subtle center of our being. Rose symbolizes the life-giving core of our being – the soul.
The source of love is the Divine Center. There are many other names for the Divine Center: Cosmic Soul, Cosmic Consciousness, Parama Purusha, Self, One, Source, Atman. Our soul has this amazing capacity to reflect the infinite love emanating from the Divine Center. This reflection causes an irresistible attraction. This is Divine Love. Rose symbolizes the Divine Love indirectly because rose is the symbol of the heart which is the soul.
Secret of Secrets
Cosmic Consciousness is at the core of each entity in its entirety. Entities owe their existence to this core – the soul. We can say it and perhaps partially understand it intellectually but the full realization of this secret is the subject of spiritual practice. We can talk about it but the secret remains secret. Rose symbolizes the correct path to attain the secret. The correct path is the path of Divine Love.
Rose and Nightingale Symbolism in Persian Literature
Rose symbolism in Rumi’s poetry is breathtaking. Rumi wrote in Persian and used the “rose and nightingale” symbolism of Persian literature to explain the central theme of Sufism: Divine Love. In Persian literature rose symbolizes beauty and the nightingale is the lover of beauty. Sufi loves God as a nightingale loves a rose. The lover wants to be one with the Beloved. The soul yearns for the ultimate union with God.
The Encyclopaedia Iranica explains that “In mystical poetry, the nightingale’s yearning for the rose served as a metaphor for the soul’s yearning for union with God (Schimmel, 1994, pp. 163-89). The use of this theme as a metaphor for spiritual and earthly love by Persian poets in epic and romance, lyrical and mystical works for nearly one thousand years attests to its deep significance in Persian culture. The theme of the rose in Persian mystical poetry has been the subject of detailed investigation since the beginnings of Orientalist studies in Europe in the late 18th century, and poets such as Goethe (q.v.) and Rilke have been inspired by their Persian counterparts.”
Rose Symbol in Rosicrucianism
There is a lot of information about Rosicrucianism on the web. The wikipedia article is reasonably good. My knowledge of Rosicrucianism comes from the books of Rudolf Steiner. My intuitive understanding is that the rose of Rosicrucianism combines the Divine Love and the Secret of Secrets aspects of the rose symbolism.
Jean C. Cooper
I sometimes quote from J.C. Cooper. Her book “An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols” is one of my favorite books. You can learn more about her here and here.
“In the symbolism of the heart the rose occupies the central point of the cross, the point of unity. As the flower of the feminine deities it is love, life, creation, fertility, beauty and also virginity.”
“The rose also typifies silence and secrecy, sub rosa, a rose being hung, or depicted, in council chambers to symbolize secrecy and discretion.”
“The golden rose denotes perfection; the red rose, desire, passion, joy, beauty, consummation; it is the flower of Venus and the blood of Adonis and of Christ; the white rose is the ‘flower of light’, innocence, virginity, spiritual unfolding, charm; the red and white rose together represent the union of fire and water, the union of opposites; the blue rose is the unattainable, the impossible.”
“The Rose Garden is a Paradise symbol and is the place of the mystic marriage, the union of opposites.”