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The Rose Cross

The Rose CrossThe Rose Cross

The Rose Cross is a comprehensive and complex symbol used by many Western Mystery Orders, and the one illustrated above is similar to that used by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (founded in England in 1888). Some of the more important points of symbolism will be introduced here, but there is a great deal of depth to the Rose Cross that will reward further reflection and investigation.

The four arms of the Cross represent the four elements and are colored appropriately (red for Fire, yellow for Air, blue for Water, and black for Earth). Note that the longer, lower arm has two components: the bottom part represents Earth, with the four subelements of Earth shown in the four colors used, while above this is a white area representing the fifth element of Spirit. Thus the Cross shows the natural order of creation, with Spirit over matter (an inverted cross can be a symbol of evil, showing matter dominating Spirit). Each arm also contains an elemental pentagram in its positive orientation, and the Spirit section of the lower arm contains an astro-kabbalistic hexagram.

The end of each arm is inscribed with symbols of the Three Principles of Alchemy: Mercury, Sulfur and Salt. Thus each arm can be mapped to important trinities, just as the arms together can be mapped to fourfold systems. The alchemical symbols are in different positions on each arm, representing the association between varying combinations of the Principles and the four elements.

In the center of the Rose Cross is another Rose Cross, smaller but conceptually identical. This is the microcosm that mirrors the macrocosm. Surrounding the inner cross are 22 petals containing the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each colored according to Kabbalistic attributions. The letters are arranged in three concentric circles of petals, emblazoned with the three Mother Letters, the seven Double Letters and the twelve Simple letters of the Hebrew alphabet, from the innermost to the outermost circle respectively.

Between the arms are rays from the central Rose, and the main symbols contained within are the letters I.N.R.I. This is an abbreviation of the Latin "Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum" ("Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews"), the notice that Pilate had fastened to the cross when Christ was crucified (John 19:19). It may also be understood as "Igni Natura Renovatur Integra" ("all of nature is restored by fire"). The symbols in the smaller rays relate to magical ritual and include the letters LVX (lux, Latin for light), IAO (representing the Egyptian deities Isis, Apophis and Osiris) and the symbols for Virgo (as a representation of Isis), Scorpio (Apophis) and Sol (Osiris).

The Rose Cross is a beautiful symbol, simple and complex at the same time, all-encompassing yet alive to details.