Sunday 8 June 2014

'Pluck this white rose' by Karen Maitland

Photographer: focusmycamera
The birthday flower for the 8th June is the white rose. Although seasonal flowers were used in Roman times to celebrate the festival days of the gods, the linking of specific flowers to each date in the year was probably only formalized in Victorian times. But the white rose has more ancient symbolic significance in our history.

The modern lapel button of the US National
Intelligence Joint Duty Service,
incorporating the white rose, ancient symbol of secrecy,
and the compass showing they operate anywhere in the world.
In legend, Cupid gave a white rose to the god Harpocrates, the god of silence, to bribe him not to divulge the amorous adventures of his mother Venus and in early medieval times the white rose became the symbol of silence and secrecy.

White roses were worn in the hair, hung from beams or carved onto the ceilings in meeting rooms and over dining tables as a sign that anything discussed beneath them was to remain strictly confidential and not to be whispered beyond that room. Even today we still describe a meeting as being sub rosa or 'under the rose', when it’s held in secret behind closed doors. And from 1526, the symbol was placed in churches over confessional boxes.

According to the 14th century travel-writer Sir John de Mandeville, roses first appeared in Bethlehem when a virgin falsely accused of a crime was sentenced to be burned to death. When she prayed for divine help, the blazing wood on her pyre was transformed into red roses and the unburned wood into white and so she was saved.
Elizabeth of York holding the House of York White Rose.

The House of York adopted the white rose, symbol of the Virgin Mary and a host of saints, a century before the Lancastrians' took the red rose as their emblem. As Shakespeare says in Henry VI part 2 -
I love no colours: and without all colour
Of base insinuating flattery
I pluck this white rose with Plantagenet.
The rose chosen by the House of York was said to be the 'Dog Rose'. Some claim 'dog' meant worthless while others that it came from ancient belief that its pounded root could heal someone bitten by a mad dog. The white Provence or cabbage rose was adopted by the House of Stuart when the Duke of York became James II in 1685. It was said to flower on 10th June, the day the Jacobites celebrated ‘James the Rover’.
Photographer: Stanley Howe

To dream of a red rose meant you would be lucky in love, but to dream of white rose or any white flower was thought most unlucky even before its adoption by the ill-fated House of Stuart. Perhaps this was because it was associated with girls dying before their wedding day, for it was frequently planted on the grave of virgin.

If a girl wanted to make a faithless lover return to her. She had to pluck three white roses on Midsummer’s Eve. The first she buried under a yew tree, the second in a new grave and the third she placed under her pillow. On the third night she burned the rose and from that moment her errant lover would be tortured with desire for her until he was finally forced to go crawling back to her.

Of course, the Elizabethans would have claimed her lover wouldn’t have strayed in the first place had the girl regularly risen at dawn to wash her face in the dew on rose petals or anoint her face with an ointment made from rose water, which was said to be the miracle serum for a youthful complexion. It was very expensive – so it seems nothing changes. Beauty always comes at a price!


Carol Drinkwater said...

What a fascinating post. I hadn't known about the US National Intelligence Joint Duty Service lapel button containing a white rose. Thank you.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Who would have thought a simple thing like a white rose would have so many meanings? Fascinating!