“They” say that roses are associated with Hekate. I am not entirely sure who “they” are but they do say a lot and very rarely give a justification or explanation. As with the association between Hekate and Heket (link) the lists and books associated with Hekate never really explain why roses are included but there are many possible reasons; some to do with the properties of the plant itself as well as the myriad of colours available in, others may be because of conflation between Hekate and other Goddesses. I am also going to touch upon the use of synthetic materials in this blog, as not everyone is able to deck their house in real flowers all the time.
Take what I write with a pinch of salt. This is my UPG, which I have based on a concoction of flower language, history, folklore and healing properties. I like to be able to justify my UPG but other devotees should take it at face value.
Flower of Witchcraft
Roses are more closely associated with Witchcraft than one may first appear. When we think of roses we conjure the image of the Rose of Sharon and Carmine Rose and other breeds common to the supermarkets and flower shops, and whilst these are undoubtedly beautiful flowers it may not be immediately apparent as to how these flowers relate to Witchcraft and indeed you would be on the wrong path if you keep those in mind.
Looking past the bred and engineered roses available on the market there are two (well three) which I personally connect with the Craft and which I experience regularly in my day to day life.
First of all is the wild or rambling rose; I am also going to include climbing roses in this discussion although ramblers and climbers are technically different plants. In the language of flowers the wild rose, with its delicate pink petals and fragrance, represents simplicity but it is not necessarily the colours that makes the association but the way that it grows and its connection to liminality. Wild and rambling roses in particular like to climb along the branches of other, more sturdy, plants particularly hedges and it is this that inspires my first connection with Witchcraft.
As you will no doubt be aware dear reader, references to hedges; hedge riding, hedge crossing etc, is a euphemisms in the Craft for the crossing of the veil between this world and the next. The art of hedge riding can be performed through a number of means, including meditation and visualisation and I find that the image of the rambling rose provides a very useful visual tool. The image of passing from one side to another by following the branches and vines of the wild rose very compelling, particularly when considering the occult nature of the Rose (more on that later). Rambling and climbing roses are often incorporated into garden features to frame gate portals such as gates and doorways, often growing to dominate walls and fences. This intrinsic link between the roses and these liminal spaces brings them firmly in to Hekate’s sphere of influence as a Goddess of Thresholds and her role as Psychopompe (guide) to the Underworld.
The next species I want to cover is the Dog Rose. This rose is just as delicate as the wild rose however it if far more protective of not only lying it’s flowers but the bright red fruit that it throws off in early autumn, protection itself with fairly vicious thorns. In the language of flowers the Dog Rose represents both pleasure and pain which is very easily translated into the pleasure of the flowers and the fruit and the pain that one will endure to gather them. I’ve given my fair share of blood to these roses, which are typically used to mark boundaries and can be encouraged into a rather formidable boundary line.
Rather than revisit the matter of liminality I will highlight some of the other connections of the Dog Rose. Firstly it’s name derives from two possible origins; firstly that is was at one time consider a rather unpleasant plant which had little value within the ornamental and formal gardens and secondly from the believe that a preparation of its roots could cure rabies / heal dog bites, an animal closely associated with Hekate in the sources. It is particularly interesting to note that in Ireland (and so called “Celtic” traditions) dogs are not only associated with witches but with healing cults, such as that associated with the chthonic god Nodens. Although I am not suggesting a connection or link between Hekate and Nodens it is an interesting facts to consider in relation to the dog rose and chthonic cults. Another common name for the dog rose is “witches briar” further drawing on the Irish folklore associations of the plant and witches. Again, I am probably teaching you to suck eggs by highlighting the fact that Hekate is the goddess of Witches and Witchcraft.
Although considered useless during the medieval times we now know that the fruit produced by the dog rose, known as rosehip are actually very medicinal, particularly in relation to winter ailments. Hips are a wonderful addition to the wild crafters kitchen, perfect for turning in to syrups, jams and can be added to alcohol such as vodka and gin for flavouring. In addition to offering the occasional flower I also offer hip based products later in the year, in the believe that if Hekate were to include any plant in her Garden, the dog rose and it’s hip’s would be among them.
I should also point out that most of the dog rose bushes I harvest from border waste ground or abandoned properties. Most of these areas are former care and nursing homes. Although I will probably lose access to all these bushes then the land is eventually developed I like to drawn on the use of the land when making my offerings.
The are many more varieties of rose which are available all year round and whilst it is nice to offer particularly symbolic species we don’t need to get too locked into them. In many ways the colour associations of roses are strong enough in their own right to drive a choice.
Red roses are possibly the most popular colour of rose available, and the colour most popular with Heketean devotees. In the language of flowers the red rose can convey deep levels of devotion, love and respect whilst as the same time drawn on the images of the whirring fires and flames of the Chaldean Oracles. The colour red also invokes thoughts of blood, death, the womb and the cycle of creation and rebirth.
On the other hand, white roses speak of innocence and purity as well as a spiritual journey. White roses are used in wedding bouquets to symbolise the promise of fidelity and for the same reason is an appropriate colour for working with a beloved deity.
Black roses representing grief and death amongst other things. Whilst the sending of black roses may indicate the death of a relationship they are still appropriate in devotion to Hekate, Goddess of the the Underworld and of Witchcraft. Black roses, natural ones at least, are not true black and are better described as being a deep red or purple. Whilst it is possible to use ink to turn a white rose black the effect is effect is not a true black, rather a blush /veined effect.
Purple roses, or lavender roses, are a personal favourite of mine. Readily available in shops in the pastel shades, purple roses are associated with all things otherworldly and magical. They also carry messages of inspiration, reactivity and an openness to new experiences and connections. Unfortunately the deeper, more Gothic, royal purples which may be more attractive are less available in the shops. You can obtain them in the form of silk roses, just as you can obtain almost every shade under the sun.
There is absolutely no reason that silk, and other forms of synthetic flowers, can’t be used in ritual settings. Whilst it is nice to have real flowers on your altar circumstances can mean that they are practical or possible. Pets, small children and allergies can mean that fresh cut flowers are out of the question. Silks, pottery and metal symbolic representations are just a few of the possible workarounds. Whilst they are clearly not (temporary) offerings they can become part of your altar set up and even become specially dedicated items for ritual use.
Roses in Greek Mythology
The rose has three clear mythological origins in the Greek world explaining not only the existence of the flowers but it’s thorny nature and blood red hue. The deities most often involved are Aphrodite, with the flower beig most emblematic of Her worship, Eros and Chloris (the Greek version of Flora).
It is also from the Greeks that we get particular occult phrase ‘sub rosa‘, literally ‘under the rose’. The phrases and the image of the five petalled rose has been used over time to indicate times and places where secrecy and confidentiality are paramount (as well as feminine mysteries). The myth itself involves Aphrodite gifting her son Eros a rose, who in turn have it to Harpocrates, the God of Silence, in return for the keeping of divine secrets and indiscretions, but primarily those of his mother.
These myths however do not really give any indication of why the rose may be associated with Hekate. Although she is associated with mysteries and occult secrets this does not fully explain the depth of association she has with roses in the modern mind.
I suspect the link lies hidden within a conflation between Hekate as a Queen of the Underworld and the Roman festival of Rosalia.
A Roman Connection?
Rosalia or Rosalia is primarily a spring celebration which could be celebrated through May and into mid-July. The festival is called a rosatio (rose adornment) although violets (violatio) are also used to celebrate the day. These flowers are used to decorate burial sites as a process of ancestor veneration, a popular private religious process at the time. They are specifically chosen because their colours, red and purple, mimic the colour of blood. This makes them a representational blood sacrifice, significant in a magical sense as blood was one medium used to give the dead a voice.
Roses are also associated with Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. The writer Claudian writes of the “bloody splendour” of the roses found in Proserpina’s (Persephone’s) garden just prior to her abduction. On the other hand the epic poet Vergil uses the metaphor of a purple flowers to describe the premature, bloody deaths of young men in battle; the ominous presence of the roses hinting at the bloodshed and mortality to come.
But the Romans weren’t the only ancient people to associate roses with a funerary context. The Greeks would adorn the graves of young boys and, critically in the context of our discussion of Hekate, young unmarried girls, with roses. The rose, in bud or in bloom, represented the first blooming of youth and in pairing it with the grave was emblematic of a death made more made more poignant by its untimely nature.
Focusing on the grave steles of young women there are couple of Imperial-era Greek epitaphs which compare the deaths of of young women with roses in bud and bloom. A young girl who died at the age of eight is compared to a budding rose, cut down in the season of spring, whilst a young woman buried in her wedding dress, presumably having died just before or immediately after her marriage, is described as a rose in a garden.
Casting a glance over Sarah Iles Johnston book The Restless Dead, in particular chapter 5, you can see that this class of young woman, dead before she can achieve the various socially acceptable roles defined for her in ancient Greek culture, were found within Hekate’s train.
There is usually something behind what ‘they’ say, be it a conflation, miscommunication or an actual traceable connection. In the case of Roses there seems to be a fine and tenouse thread which can be traced from the young, socially unfulfilled women of the restless dead to the festivals of Imperial Rome. This thread becomes all the stronger if we weave against it other associations the thread such as the poetic associations of youth lost in its prime and the appearance of blood both in battle and childbirth. Draw in the further connections to the Underworld that both Hekate and Persephone share alongside roses as a decoration for the grave, you begin to see a far stronger connection than might have been first apparent.
Of course I am more than a little biased; I love roses, they are quite literally my middle name. I haven’t exactly worked hard to disprove a link between Hekate and my favourite flower, and I will be the first to admit that some of the connections I am making here are tenuous and in need of deeper research. What goes above may be nothing more than some interesting justification for the unverified but shared gnosis held by the wider Hekatean community which can back up with a little research but hopefully it goes part of the way to explain why Hekate draws her devotees towards the incomparable bloom that is the rose.