Dat Rosa Mel Apibus: "The rose gives the bees honey"
after engraving by Johann Thedore deBry (d. 1598)

The Rose in Alchemy

The cross stands wound densely round with roses.
Who has put roses on the cross?...
And from the middle springs a holy life
Of threefold rays from a single point.

— Goethe, Die Geheimnisse (1784-1786)

In alchemy, the white and the red rose are well-known symbols for the lunar and the solar tincture, from which the "precious rose-coloured blood" of Christ-Lapis flows. And the Shehina, the brilliance of celestial wisdom on earth, is understood in the image of the rose, and "the collection of honey" stands for the common inheritance of theosophical knowledge. “Thus the whole parable of the Song of Solomon finally refers to the object of our rose-cross: 'I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the field'”. As regards "the correct procedure for attaining the rose-red blood of the cross that is poured (as quintessence) in the centre of the cross", Fludd used the image of wisdom: the work of the architect as a labourer of God on the building of the temple.

— R. Fludd, Summum Bonum, Frankfurt, 1629

Alexander Roob, Alchemy & Mysticism
Taschen, Köln, Germany, 1996, p. 690

Symbolism of the Rose
    A highly complex symbol; it is ambivalent as both heavenly perfection and earthly passion; the flower is both Time and Eternity, life and death, fertility and virginity. In the Occident, the rose and lily occupy the position of the lotus in the Orient. In the symbolism of the heart, the rose occupies the central point of the cross, the point of unity. The red and white rose together represent the union of fire and water, the union of opposite. In Alchemy, the rose is wisdom and the rosarium the Work; it is also the rebirth of the spiritual after the death of the temporal. In Hebrew Qabalism, the center of the rose is the sun and the petals the infinite, but harmonious, diversities of Nature. The rose emanates from the Tree of Life. In Hinduism, the lotus parallels the symbolism of the Mystic Rose as a spiritual center, especially in the chakras. For Rosicrucians, the Rose-cross is the Mystic Rose as wheel and cross; the rose is the divine light of the universe and the cross the temporal world of pain and sacrifice. The rose grows on the Tree of Life which implies regeneration and resurrection. The rose in the center of the cross is the quaternary of the elements and the point of unity.
J.C. Cooper's Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols (1978), pp. 141-142
    In the Grail legend, the invocations addressed to the divine heart of Jesus contain the feminine element. It is extolled as "the temple in which dwells the life of the world," as a rose, a cup, a treasure, a spring, as the furnace of divine love "ever glowing in the fire of the Holy Ghost", as a censer and as a bridal chamber. Jesus receives the souls of the dying into his heart which "burns glowingly", "as red gold burns and melts in the fire", and the soul dissolves therein, "as water mixes with wine". All of these symbols are feminine and are therefore very closely connected with the motifs of the Grail legend and of alchemical symbolism.
Emma Jung & Marie-Louise von Franz, The Grail Legend (1986), p. 100

Emily Dickinson and Alchemy
After seeing Fludd's engraving on "The rose gives the bees honey", I discovered this image of "rose and bee" in Emily Dickinson's Poem #1154 (circa 1870) in Thomas H. Johnson's Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (p. 516):

A full fed Rose on meals of Tint
A Dinner for a Bee
In process of the Noon became—
Each bright Mortality
The Forfeit is of Creature fair
Itself, adored before
Submitting for our unknown sake
To be esteemed no more—

It is interesting Emily uses the words "Tint" and "process" that are often found in alchemical texts. After reading about tincture in Edward F. Edinger's "The Mysterium Lectures" (1995), page 99, I was inspired to write two haikus on Emily Dickinson and alchemy:

She knows the process
of the Noon, Rose Tint for Bee—
Is Emily an alchemist?

Red and white tincture—
Alchemy's elixir for
the Philosopher's Stone.

What a surprise to find Emily Dickinson's Letter 618 (c. 1879):

To Forrest F. Emerson
Mother congratulates Mr. Emerson on the discovery of the "philosopher's stone". She will never divulge it. It lay just where she thought it did—
in making others happy.
                                          E. Dickinson

Another letter with alchemical reference was to her sister-in-law in
Letter 799 (early 1883). The note evidently accompanied a hyacinth still in bud, which ED was sending from her conservatory.

To Susan Gilbert Dickinson
Will Susan lend Emily a little more Alchimy in exchange for a
Hyacinth in prospective, and excuse Sister's predilection to a Cold?
The little Vial I still have, labeled "Mere— Sol, Hahn"—
Thanking, always,

The Letters of Emily Dickinson, Edited by Thomas H. Johnson
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1965, pp. 647, 758

Commentary: Letter 618 was sent to Forrest F. Emerson, who was installed as a pastor of the First Church in June 1879. In Letter 617, Emily wrote to him: "Though tendered by a stranger, the fruit will be forgiven. Valor in the dark is my Maker's code." Emily thanks him for a gift of fruit and hints that a call will be appreciated. The gift may have been for Emily's mother, now bedridden, who may have expressed the wish to have her pastor call. The tone of Letter 618 suggests that it was written shortly after the pastor paid a visit which Mrs. Dickinson appreciates and Emily acknowledges. Emily's Mom was silent about the philosopher's stone, but Emily was more insightful about this alchemical elixir— it is not about turning lead into gold, but in making others happy— that's true alchemy! On Letter 799, Emily sends Susan a hyacinth in exchange for "a little more Alchimy" that wards off a Cold. Hyacinth symbolizes prudence, peace of mind, and heavenly aspiration. In mythology, Hyacinthus was a Greek boy loved by the Sun god Apollo and Zephyr, god of the West Wind. When Apollo was teaching Hyacinthus the art of discus throwing, Zephyr, in a jealous rage, blew the discus back, killing Hyacinthus with a blow to the head. Apollo named the flower that grew from Hyacinthus's blood hyacinth. The bell-shaped flower also represents resurrection in Spring. Emily's vial labeled "Mere— Sol, Hahn" means "Mother, Sun, Rooster" in French, Spanish, German. It is fascinating that Emily desires an alchemical elixir whose label conjures up a "rooster calling up Mother Sun" to ward off her head cold. In return Emily sends Susan a hyacinth symbolizing "peace of mind" (J.C. Cooper, Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols (1978), p. 86).

Beside the above two Emily Dickinson letters relating to alchemy, we may find "Philosopher's Stone" in Poem 555 "the old Philosopher— / His Talismanic Stone"

Emily Dickinson
Poem 555 (circa 1862)

Trust in the Unexpected—
By this— was William Kidd
Persuaded of the Buried Gold—
As One had testified—

Through this— the old Philosopher—
His Talismanic Stone
Discerned— still withholden
To effort undivine—

'Twas this— allured Columbus—
When Genoa— withdrew
Before an Apparition
Baptized America—

The Same— afflicted Thomas—
When Deity assured
'Twas better— the perceiving not—
Provided it believed—
Commentary: Poem 555 was one of the 366 poems Emily wrote in 1862, her most prolific year. Her first line "Trust in the Unexpected" echoes Shakespeare's Hamlet: I.5.918— "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." The Philosopher's "Talismanic Stone" is the magic elixir that converts lead to gold. This may be the "Buried Gold" of Captain Kidd, the Pirate which lured Columbus to sail for the New World. In Poem 48, Emily was aware that Columba is Latin for dove. Emily's image of Columbus baptized America refers to the dove's descent when Christ was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist (Matthew, 3.16). For the reference to Thomas, see John, XX.29: "Jesus said unto him, Thomas, because thou has seen me, thou has believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." Etymology of talisman is from 1638 French telein "to perform religious rites". True alchemy is a ritual of the soul's transformation to spiritual awakening. Emily understood this well.

Web Links to Rose and Alchemy:

Commentary: Dat Rosa Mel Apibus
In the Hands of Alchemy: Black Madonna
Queen Christina of Sweden & Alchemy

— Peter Y. Chou

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