The ROSE is the national flower of England and is thoroughly intertwined with our history. The old name for these islands, Albion, is said to have been taken from the white rose and all our past seems to be haunted by roses, both red and white. The rose has been cultivated in our gardens since time out of memory. In 1629, John Parkinson, the Apothecary Royal to James I and Charles I, wrote the first comprehensive gardening encyclopaedia, called ‘Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris’ (A Garden of Pleasant Flowers). He comments on the rose:
‘The great varietie of Roses is much to be admired, being more than is to bee seene in any other shrubby plant that I know of, both for colour, forine and smell. I have to furnish this garden thirty sorts at the least, every one notably different from the other, and all fit to be here entertained: for there are some others, that being wilde and of no beautie or smell, we forbeare, and leave to their wilde habitations.’
It is true that the many cultivated roses are of great and various beauty, yet it is the simple form of the five-petalled wild rose that is part of our history. The Wars of the Roses were fought under banners emblazoned with red or white wild roses and it is this symbol that has been used in heraldry from a very early period.
For Odinists, however, the mythological aspects of the rose are of even greater interest. We see, in myth dwindled into fairy-tale, an enchanted princess sleeping in an ancient castle surrounded by a dense thicket of briars. She has been cast into slumber by the prick of a spindle and sleeps until awakened by a kiss from a ‘charming’ prince. Anyone versed in our mythology will recognise the story of Sigurd and Brynhild.
Even this ancient story involves the rose, for the original of the enchanted spindle was a thorn:
‘Soft in the fell
A shield-maid sleepeth
The lime-tree’s red plague
Playing about her:
The sleep-thorn set Gain
Into that maiden
For her choosing in war
The one he willed not.’
(‘Volsunga Saga’, tr. W. Morris.)
Even today the rose is seen to be connected with sleep. The perfume of roses can act as a tranquilliser and rid the sufferer of insomnia. To walk in a garden of scented roses is said to ease those troubled in mind.
The rose has long been seen as an emblem of love by many peoples and various cultures. It was held by the ancient Greeks and by the Romans to be sacred to Aphrodite and Venus and our ancestors will surely have seen it as one of the flowers that are sacred to Freya. There is, indeed, an old Norse legend of a dead maiden from whose grave grew three white roses which could only be picked by her own true love.
The rose has been used in herbal medicine for very many centuries and was recommended by doctors in ancient Egypt and Greece. Our own herbal traditions of this flower can also be traced back into the past, yet in most cases it was the cultivated rose – highly scented red roses such as the damask rose – that was used by these old apothecaries. They gave little regard to the wild roses. It was the scent of the petals that was seen to contain the medicinal virtue.
For most of us the old-fashioned scented roses are not available – the modern garden rose has sacrificed scent for appearance. When we seek to find medicinal self-help through the rose it is to the wild roses that we must turn. The red hips, the fruit of the rose that gives bright decoration to autumn banks and hedgerows, are among the richest sources of vitamin C known to us. They can be made into jam or jelly (remove the seeds) and are as tasty as any cultivated fruit in this guise.
During the second world war, when citrus was unobtainable, these wild fruits were made into a syrup which preserved the health of people who would otherwise have suffered from serious vitamin deficiency.