Archetype of love & peace
Reviewed by Shelley Walia

Rose Lore: Essays in Cultural History and Semiotics
Ed Frankie Hutton.
Lanham: Lexington Press.
Pages 168. Price not mentioned.

THE rose is a popular archetype that resides deep in the human consciousness and often finds a pivotal place in works of art and rudimentary folklore. Reference to it comes in the purest expression of human experience assuming global significance and with broad cultural and social connotations ranging from anthropology to astrology, from the history of religions to the horrendous practice of genital mutilation, a practice endemic to the backward tribal world of Africa.

This interplay of myth and archetype forms the basis of the book and falls in the realm of the archetypal school of criticism, of which the foremost practioneers were Carl Jung and Northrope Frye. Taking the rose as its central concern, the various essays that form this compilation take up the semiotics of the rose representing "peace", "beauty" and the "profound nature of humanity", as universal experience that speaks the same language across cultures. It overrides time and space. Archetypal qualities are even present in the colour of the rose and its ultimate and unquestionable form that looks outward to wider levels of human correspondence and sensibility.

As Seymour B. Ginsburg writes in Prologue: "Perhaps it is its perfect shape when round that symbolises a mandala of wholeness, perhaps it is its vibrant colour as it grows in so many colours, perhaps it is its simple beauty that stirs something in our hearts. Whatever the reason, the rose as a symbol has become embedded in our human psyche."

Albert Amao’s Rose Symbolism in Qabalistic Tarot and Beyond is an analysis of the symbol of the rose which appears seven times out of the 22 cards in the Major Arcana, the most symbolic keys of the Tarot system. Amao compares the sacred value of the number seven with the biblical "seven deadly sins" and the "seven days of creation" and goes on to nature where he sees the seven colours of the rainbow. For instance, the Tarot card called the "Fool" is a picture of a youth holding a white rose and looking towards the heavens, symbolising purity and energy, that enable mankind to move towards higher aspiration. The red rose in the Tarot card numbered "I" symbolises liberation and enlightenment through active desire.

The historical and religious significance of the rose in Eastern thought is also well known. Apart from the culinary use of the rose, it is also regarded as an object of beauty and appreciation as seen in Shahjhan’s Gulistan, Garden of Soul, a collection of poetry and paintings of roses. The essay by Monika Joshi underlines the historical significance of the rose and its paramount position in Ayurvedic science as well as at weddings and religious ceremonies where garlands of roses are offered to deities.

In the essay by Tobe Levin, female genital mutilation or "cutting the rose" is analysed in all its excruciatingly painful experience: "A metaphor for female genitalia, the fragile flower signals pain and decay throughout Western and African history." Levin examines FGM in William Blake’s poem The Sick Rose and in the Nigerian artist Godfrey Williams-Okorodus’s paintings that depict a deep-seated anger and pain culminating in protest against a cruel patriarchal practice. Interestingly, Alice Walker was the first women writer in the West to oppose such a custom. Her novel Possessing the Secret of Joy as well as her documentary Warrior Marks helped in raising the challenge to FGM at the Vienna Human Rights Conference in 1993 and at Cairo in 1994. It is no coincidence that Walker’s famous essay that is relevant here is In Search of our Mother’s Garden which is a response to the suppression of creativity of black women. The only alternative left to them is to cultivate their gardens: "The Colour Purple adorns the fields. The divine is embodied in a wild flower, it cannot be overlooked, for anything we love can be saved." The cut rose has to be finally "joined to its roots". In it lies the return not only to nature but to the natural rights we all so dearly posses.

One could go on infinitely as there is no end to human experiences and their symbolic expression in nature, especially through the manifestation of the rose flower. The collection of intriguing essays in this book edited by Frankie Hutton presents a unique view of the various aspects of the rose in different cultures, and yet the reader’s response is universally trancultural. Each essay has its own individual standpoint on the value of the rose; indeed the rose embodies far more than mere fragrance and thorns. Looked at with silence and sincerity, the rose evokes the union of the human race connected like its petals, a fact that usually escapes us. Surprisingly, the rose is one plant that can grow in any kind of soil and in any climate. It knows no boundaries. The fact remains that the simplest of creations can speak volumes to our conscience and to our ways of thinking.