Isis, Rose of the World
Isis, Rosa Mundi
by Linda Iles, ArchDrs., Prs. H., GDC, SA
Part II. Isis and the Rose in Esoteric Symbolism
“Then will I raise aloft the milk-white rose,
For whose sweet smell the air shall be perfumed.”
- William Shakespeare
|Trump I, The Magician, Ryder-Waite deck, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith
The Veil of Isis guards the secret mysteries of Her temple. Initiates who are shown Her mysteries as She draws
aside Her Veil, are to remain ever silent about what they have seen to the uninitiated - they are ‘sub rosa’.
After the fall of Rome and the rise of Christianity, the pagan mysteries were either lost, destroyed, “Christianized”
or in surviving fragments, went underground. Some of their conceptual themes were preserved in Hermeticism, which would
in turn, later influence the creators of Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism. It is in these three that hidden theologies
centered around the Goddess Isis were maintained in Europe.
History records the Corpus Hermeticum were brought to Italy by an agent of Cosimo de’Medici in 1460 AD. Sometime
in 1614 AD a Swiss philologist named Isaac Casaubon examined the texts and proclaimed that they dated to the early Christian
Era. Since then, the dates attributed to them range from the date attributed by Casaubon to as early as the first to the fourth
century BC. The works of Hermes Trismegistus are mentioned by such classical writers as Plutarch, Tertullian, Iamblichus and
Porphyry. Two of the works discovered at Nag Hammadi deal specifically with Hermetic philosophy. One records a series
of conversations between Hermes and Asclepius, another is a text which some scholars believe may have been used in Hermetic
mystery schools titled “On the Ogdoad and the Ennead.” Within all Hermetic teachings, Hermes is called
Trismegistus or “Thrice Great” because he knows the three wisdoms of the universe - astrology, theurgy and alchemy.
In Hermetic philosophy, astrology deals with what is termed collectively as “The Operation of the Moon.”
The movements of the stars and planets have an unseen metaphysical meaning that goes beyond mere physical science. Theurgy,
titled “The Operation of the Stars” involves the operant aligning with angels and archangels through
the use of magic. Alchemy in Hermetic thought is “The Operation of the Sun” which attempts to purify
the baser parts of one’s nature. In Hermeticism, the search for gold is a spiritual transformation within
oneself rather than the quest to physically turn a base metal into gold.
There is a strong “Isian” influence in the art of alchemy, which came to prominence in Europe
during the Medieval period. The name 'alchemy' may have come to us from Latin 'alchymia,' from
'khemia' or 'khumeia,' the Greek name for Egypt; or it may come from 'al-khemi'
an Arabic derivation from ancient Egyptian, meaning 'the black.' An early Hermetic alchemic treatise dating
from the second or third century is titled 'Isis the Prophetess to her Son Horus' in which early Hermetic alchemical
principles are shared with Isis by an angel named Amnael.
Anastasius Kircher produced an alchemical work that was based on hieroglyphs and art from ancient Egypt. His work was published
in 1666 in Rome, titled "Obeliscus Aegyptiacus." Within it he presents an ancient Egyptian 'time wheel' which was
an attempt to harmonize the 360 degrees of the zodiac with the 365 days of the year. The central ring is defined by the body
of the 'snake of eternity' which loops its body into four circles in which he has placed Deities he identifies as
Sothis, Isis, Osiris and Horus. Each of these Deities is said to rule a 'great year' which consists of 365 years instead of
365 days. He writes of the work of Horapollo, an Egyptian of the fifth century AD who may have written the
earliest surviving interpretations of hieroglyphs, which have come to us through a Greek translation: "If
they wish to represent the universe, they draw a snake scattered with bright scales, swallowing its own tail, the flakes indicate
the stars of the universe ... Each year it divests itself of its skin, the old time ... And the consumption of its own body
indicates that all things in the world which may be produced by divine providence in the world, also succumb to decay."
Horapollo is credited with authorship of a treatise on Egyptian hieroglyphs, which survived in a Greek translation
by Philippus. The work is titled “Hieroglyphica,” and believed to date to the fifth century AD. According to the
Suda, a tenth century Byzantine Greek encyclopedic lexicon, Horapollo was one of the last leaders of the ancient Egyptian
priesthood, at a school in Menouthis, near Alexandria, during the reign of the early Byzantine emperor, Flavius Zeno, 474-491
Another work, by Johannes Macarius, “Abraxas en Apistopistus,” Antwerp (1657) likened the
divisions on the back of a scarab beetle to the ‘t’ shape of the Tau, which he said represented the generative
properties of the solar “Sun-Osiris” with the lunar “Moon-Isis” He wrote that to the ancient Egyptians,
the scarab, which bore the tau upon it’s back, was the symbol of the rising sun, the ‘aurora’ of Eternal
Transformation of the Ever Unchanging.
Isidis Rosa Alchemica
from the mouths of whose jars when they are opened come a scent of violets, a scent of roses, a sacred aroma throughout the
high-roofed hall, ambrosia and nectar in one …” - the God Dionysius
in a comedic work written by Hermippus of Athens
When attempting to describe ancient Egyptian religious views,
many of the passages written by ancient historians and philosophers have a distinctly alchemical flavor to the text. As an
example, Diodorus Siculus, in his work “Bibliotheca Historica” writes of Isis and Osiris:
these gods in their nature do contribute much to the generation of all things, the one being of a hot and active nature, the
other moist and cold, but both having something of the air; and that by these all things are brought forth and nourished;
and therefore every particular thing in the universe is perfected and completed by the sun and moon, whose qualities, as before
declared are five: a spirit (breath) or quickening efficacy, heat or fire, dryness or earth, moisture or water, and air, of
which the world does consist as a man is made up of head, hands, feet, and other parts…”
The art of alchemy was likened to being conducted in a garden of roses when the alchemist is true of heart and pure of
purpose in the pursuit of alchemical gold. Rose symbolism is employed to demonstrate polarity of forces, designated as
male and female, using white and red roses. The white rose is feminine, the red rose is seen as masculine. Existence as we
know it is comprised of such polaric opposites. But instead of dual forces in opposition, the roses of alchemy represent dual
forces in balance one with the other. A rose that dates back to at least the fifteenth century, "Rosa Mundi" or 'Rose
of the World,' has striped petals that can be various shades of pink, red and white mixed together. This rose, with its blending
of red and white is a living symbol of this alchemical concept.
Roses were a favourite symbol of the alchemists, there are several treatises entitled "The Rosary of the Philosophers"
or the "Rosarium." In the text of these works white roses were linked to the white stone of the first stage of the
Great Work. The red rose, in turn, corresponded to the red stone of the second stage. The forces of the white rose are personified
in the White Queen and those of the red rose personify the Red King in these alchemical texts. Their successful
union is acknowledged by use of a rose whose petals combine both red and white, for which the "Rosa
Mundi," the white and red striped rose, is named.
An alchemical work by H. Reussner, titled "Pandora, Basle" (1582) contains this passage: "From this one root
will sprout roses, the supreme good." The white rose signifies the lunar "Philosophical Tincture," the red rose the solar
"Metallic Tincture." Sometimes a blue rose is pictured in alchemical texts, referred to as the "flower of wisdom."
The text of Part II of "De Alchemia Opuscula complura veterum philosophorum" published in Frankfurt in 1550
AD, contains this passage about the White Queen or Luna the Queen of the white rose:
“…She multiplies and brings forth infinite Children
Free from all hurt impurity and spot
She expels death
and hates poverty
She gives wealth, health, honour
And all good things
She excels Gold, Silver and precious stones
all medicines both precious and simple
There is nothing on the whole face of the Earth
That may be compared unto her…”
The same work says of the white and red roses of the alchemical rose garden or ‘rosary’:
"Saith Rosarius: Whosoever will enter into our Rosary and there see and have roses as well as white as red, without
that base thing with which our locks are locked, is likened unto a man that is desirous to go without feet, because in that
base thing there is a key by which the seven metallic gates are opened ..."
Of these forces in balance depicted in the form of a rose that is both white and red, Lady Olivia Robertson writes: “Through
the understanding gained of how to live pleasantly with those around us, cosmic awareness begins to dawn. This is a natural
awakening of the soul, as a plant grows, flowers and bears fruit. This community of souls interconnected through love and
wisdom has been symbolized by medieval philosophers as 'Rosa Mundi’, a rambling rose bush that grows throughout all
spheres, and flowers in the hearts of all beings and existences.”
The rose in hermetic and alchemical texts could symbolize either the solar, male (red) or lunar, feminine (white)
currents or properties, but it also could be used as a symbol for the heart. Scholars of the past believed the heart was inclined
at an angle of 23 degrees, “like the axis of the earth against the path of the sun. And the heart is like the bud
of the lotus flower … while the Egyptians worshipped the flower of the sun (Isis).” - August Strindberg,
“A Blue Book,” Munich (1918).
St. Albertus Magnus (St. Albert the Great, 1206-1280 AD) noticed the different form of the 5 sepals of the rose, which
are the green petals enclosing the bud before it blooms. He wrote a riddle, which describes them as follows: "They
are five brothers
Two of them have a beard
Two of them have no beard at all
One of the five
Has a beard just
on one side."
The riddle illustrates an alchemic blending of opposites as seen in natural observation of the rose, two bearded (male),
two with no beard (female), the last with a beard on one side - the balanced powers of opposites in union. Like many learned
men of his day, St. Albertus Magnus did not distinguish a difference between sciences and philosophy in his works or his world
view. He focused on a general embracing of all that could be known by the natural powers of the mind, blending physics with
Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ describes the true home of the soul as the mystic white rose of paradise,
which is illuminated by divine light, described in the last cantos. The white petals of this celestial rose seat the saints,
around them are the angels whose beating wings keep the stars and planets in motion, in the center is the sun. The rose is
a symbol of love, and this celestial rose of paradise reinforces through symbolism the transcendental power
of the love between Dante and Beatrice, connecting them to the divine source - in this case typified as the life-giving
|Trump VIII, Strength, Ryder-Waite deck, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith
The Rose of Eight Petals
“Each rose that comes brings me greetings from the Rose of an eternal spring.” - Rabindranath Tagore
Juan Eduardo Cirlot writes in his book “A Dictionary of Symbols” : “The single
rose is, in essence, a symbol of completion, of consummate achievement and perfection. Hence, accruing to it are those ideas
associated with these qualities: the mystic Centre, the heart, the garden of Eros, the paradise of Dante, the beloved, the
emblem of Venus, and so on. More precise symbolic meanings are derived from the colour and number of its petals. The relationship
of the white rose to the red is in accordance with the relationship between the two colours as defined in alchemy (c.v.).
The blue rose is symbolic of the impossible. The golden rose is a symbol of absolute achievement. When the rose is round in
shape, it corresponds to the mandala. The seven-petalled rose alludes to the septenary pattern (that is, the seven Directions
of Space, the seven planets, the seven degrees of perfection). It is in this sense that it appears in emblem DCCXXIII of the
Ars Symbolica of Bosch and in the Summum Bonum of Robert Fludd. The eight-petalled rose symbolizes regeneration.”
The number eight is traditionally considered the number of cycles, the eight festivals of the wheel of the year, which
illustrate the annual cycle of regeneration and degeneration in nature. The 8th astrological house, ruled by Scorpio, has
a connection to regeneration and initiation. Sometimes it is referred to as the House of Death, which means a taking away,
a restructuring of former ideas and modes of existence. In Alchemy the number eight is the result of multiplying the number
of solidity which is the number four, times the number of duality, which is the number two.
The Daoist or Taoist tradition places great emphasis on the Trigram of Eight Tone Harmony which is the basis of the Universe.
These eight notes correspond to our western concept of a diatonic octave. A ritual manual of the Dao contains this passage:“Pure
sound was as yet unheard, the stars were not in their place, when suddenly the energies from the Three Regions gushed forth,
producing the eight Notes of Harmony…expressing the essence of the Three Energies, and the subtle manifestation of the
Five Elements.” - (Schipper, p. 193) The end result of the sounding of the Eight Primal Notes of Creation is the
Olivia Robertson was guided to create the Star of Ishtar diagram of the Fellowship of Isis, which has eight notes
or a diatonic octave of colored rays of the Star of Ishtar, with the 8th note containing the frequencies or color of
the preceding seven notes. Of the eight rayed Star of Ishtar Olivia writes: "...eight is the special number of the Fellowship.
The Star of Ishtar has eight rays, the year has eight main festivals, it is the sign of eternity, of magic - the two loops
signifying higher and lower awareness, the world above and the world below experienced as one.” Olivia has compared
the number eight with the double helix of our DNA and the Vesica Piscis.
The number eight is a symbol of transformation of the soul, a joining of the two spheres of consciousness, celestial and
terrestrial, psychic and physical. “The Strength and the Magician cards of the tarot show the figure eight sideways,
as the sign of eternity or infinity. Here the two loops are on an equal level, each fully functioning in complete harmony
one with the other,” Olivia Robertson writes, “…eight is…the sign of eternity,
of magic - the two loops signifying higher and lower awareness, the world above and the world below experienced as one”.
This is the essence of magic, the purpose of the FOI liturgy, this is the magical alchemical gold of the eight petalled
rose of Isis, Rosa Mundi and Rosa Alchemica. Creatrix and Regeneratrix, giver of life and of life renewed, through knowledge
of Her Mysteries.
The correspondence of the number eight to Isis, and the concepts of rebirth and regeneration are of particular interest,
considering both Her part in the resurrection of Osiris, and Her role as one of the Nine Deities who assisted Atum
in the creation of the world. These Nine Deities, Who represent three successive generations, of whom the first pair, Shu
and Tefnut were the direct offspring of Atum, and themselves gave birth to Geb and Nut, who in turn had their own
children, were collectively known as the Ennead of Heliopolis ('ennead' meaning 'nine). According to the order
of the birth of the Children of Geb and Nut, as listed in the celebrations of the Epagomenal Days of ancient Egypt, Isis
is the eighth deity of the Ennead to be born.
The Rose and Mysticism in Three Faiths
"When love first came to Earth, the Spring spread rose-beds to receive him."
Rosa Mystica of the Gnostics
The longing for spiritual knowledge is often personified as a beautiful veiled maiden, the Rosa Mystica. Those
who desire wisdom seek to enter into Her enclosed garden, which is attained through purity of heart. The
hidden rose is revealed through love. The Gnostic Gospels contain an origin story of the rose and of flowers:
“But the first Psyche (Soul) loved Eros who was with her, and poured her blood upon him and upon the earth. Then
from that blood the rose first sprouted upon the earth out of the thorn bush, for a joy in the light which was to appear in
the bramble.” (Robinson, “The Nag Hammadi Library” pp. 169 - 170)
The tradition of the Gnostics revered the Holy Ghost as feminine and they named Her 'Sophia'. There
were three levels of the Divine Mysteries of the Gnosis: (1) the Hylic State, Identification of Self in physical, material
or bodily terms; (2) the Psychic State, Identification of Self with the “psyche” or soul, and (3) the Pneumatic
State, Awareness of Self as beyond the self, seeing one as part of the whole, a Divine Realization or Divine Consciousness. The
culmination of a passage through each one of these stages leads to the Gnosis, the Fourth Stage or “Divine Marriage.” On
each of these levels, the marriage is a reflection of the Cosmic Divine Marriage of the Son and the Sophia. She
was the Bride, the Soul of the World and Wisdom personified.
An illustrated hermetic alchemical text written by Heinrich Khunrath, "Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae" (1602),
is referred to by the scholar Alexander Roob, who writes: "Like bees attracted by the scent of the rose, the lovers of
Theo-Sophia stream by from all directions to climb the seven steps of the "mystic ladder," through "the gate of eternal wisdom."
This gate, narrow but sublime is the 'sephira chochma', the Cabalistic source. It is "the force of light" and "the eternal
centre of life," which, according to Bohme, is open everywhere in the darkness of this world as "a little seed."
Rosa Mystica of the Zohar
The Zohar, a book of Jewish mysticism contains texts that deal with the mysteries of the Rosa Mystica
and her Son. In the texts the Rosa Mystica is called Matronita, a Heavenly Warrioress Queen who "leads her warriors to become
like Elohim", she is also named 'Kneset Yisrael', 'Woman of Israel' and 'Queen of the Sabbath'. She is
the Spouse of the Ruach ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit), and as a woman She is sometimes named 'Isha'. She is said to
be clothed with the Sun standing on the Moon.
The opening passages of the Zohar quote a verse from the
Song of Songs: “Like a rose among thorns, so is my darling among the maidens” (Song of Songs 2:2). The
Aramaic word for 'mystery' is 'raza' - a word very similar to Latin 'rosa.' It might
be possible that the use of the word 'raza' by the early Jewish followers of Jesus, while employing a word
from their native tongue, could have played a part in the promotion of the use of the rose as a symbol of mystic
thought and spiritual mysteries.
The Secret Rose of the Sufi
The poet Sa'adi of Shiraz (full name, Muslih-ud-Din Mushrif-ibn-Abdullah) depicted the rose garden as a place of mystic
contemplation in his work “The Gulistan” or “The Rose Garden.” He wrote of the effect of spiritual
ecstasy: "I shall pluck roses from the garden, but I am drunk with the scent of the rose bush." A slightly
later poet, Mahmud Shabistari, wrote of mystic experiences in a book he titled "The Secret Rose Garden" or
"The Rose Garden of Mystery." Here is one of his poems from that work, "Marriage of the Soul,"
“Descending to the earth, that strange intoxicating beauty of the unseen
lurks in the elements of nature.
And the soul of man,
who has attained the rightful balance,
aware of this hidden joy,
straightaway is enamored and bewitched.
And from this mystic marriage are born
poets' songs, inner knowledge,
the language of the heart, virtuous living,
and the fair child Beauty.
Great Soul gives to man as dowry
the hidden glory of the world.”
Both of these men used the rose symbolically in their work because they were Sufis. Their beliefs at that time
were considered unorthodox and frowned upon by authorities. In their writing, the rose symbolised an achievement of a
perfect understanding and union with God. The rose was reputed to have sprung from tears of the Prophet, so it was an
acceptable symbol to use in work that was shown publicly.
|Isidis, Magnae Deorum Matris by Athanasius Kircher, "Oedipus Aegyptiacus"
Isis, Mary and the Rose of the World
and the narcissus of Melanippides budding into clear hymns…” - Meleager of Gadara
The mysteries of the cycles of nature were represented as the Great Mother, and that Mother was Isis. "Man
creates theologies; Woman is religion." wrote the late occultist Colonel C. R. F. Seymour, a prominent member of
Dion Fortune's organization, Society of the Inner Light (originally named Fraternity of the Inner Light). He continues:
"A study of the history of religion shows that the way of heresy
usually is the way of the by-road, and, history tells us that cults and religions often changed their status. For example
at one time the cults of Isis and Osiris were religions of the high-road. Times changed and the cult of Isis became the cult
of the simpler folk living in the villages and the country. To use a modern term the religion of Isis became pagan, that is
the religion of the pagans or the country folk. Still later Isis-worship once again became fashionable and she developed into
the divine ruler of most of the modern cult of the Virgin Mother of God, rightly beloved by certain sections of Christianity."
Christianity was born at a time when the Goddess was prominent
in many religions and cultures of the day. Isis and Her worship had spread throughout the Roman Empire, which encompassed
at that time much of the known world. Her cult proved so popular Christianity found it hard to overcome. Obtaining a
position as the recognized state religion proved easier for them than replacing veneration of the Goddess, who was
so loved by the common populace.
Even after Christianity
was declared as the official religion of the empire, the worship of Isis continued for centuries. People loved Isis and not
only Her, but the Goddess in all Her forms. The early Church could not get rid of the Divine Mother of All,
so they decided instead to make Her subordinate, and to veil Her former position. This was done by providing a symbol
representing the different aspects of femininity - innocence, purity, sexuality, fecundity and motherhood, as represented
by Isis and other great Goddesses but in a position inferior to the one She had previously held. The Divine Mother
became a human woman, though one marked by special grace in the Cult of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
The advocates of Marianism adopted many of the titles of Isis to their veneration of Mary, and used the
rose as a symbol of Mary. She was addressed as the Mystic Rose in her litanies. The rose was incorporated in the many
works of art and literature that featured Mary. During this time the rose, which had enjoyed a special place in the mysteries
of Isis in the Roman era, became a symbol of the chalice of redemption or cup of blessings. The Cult of Mary revered
her as the Virgin, a symbol of purity and motherhood. The virgin birth, the chalice and the symbolism of the rose were
among the most sacred mysteries in the Christian church.
Matthews writes: "In the full spectrum of medieval symbolism, Mary is Queen of Heaven as well as mirror, vessel,
house of gold, and star of the sea. Her supreme symbol is the Rose - Rose of the World, Rosa Alchemica. She is Queen of the
Most Holy Rose Garden in which the Grail lies hidden. As Wolfram von Eschenbach puts it, the Grail is: 'The wonderous
thing hidden in the flower-garden of the king where the elect of all nations are called."
|Bembine Table or Tablet of Isis
An Historic Isian Curiousity
"If the rose puzzled its mind over the question how it grew, it would not have been the miracle that
it is." - J. B. Yeats
An item that has long intrigued scholars came to light in 1527. It is bronze tablet inlaid with silver
and enamel, which came into the possession of a locksmith or ironworker who later sold it to Cardinal Bembo of Italy. This
artifact became known as The Bembine Table (or Tablet) of Isis, the Mensa Isiaca. It may have once been used
as part of an altar in a temple. The Bembine Table of Isis is not believed to be Egyptian in origin, but rather a Roman work
excecuted in an imitation of the Egyptian style.
In each corner of the tablet is a six petalled rose. The two roses that are diagonal to each other in the upper
right corner and lower left corner display the five green sepals between their six petals. Six petalled roses
are symbols of creation, balance and healing.
Today the table resides in the Museum of Antiquities in Turin. Scholars at the museum theorize that the Bembine Table
of Isis may have come from the main temple of Isis in Rome in the Campus Martius, which was named Isis Campensis.
Prominent individuals who would influence the mystery traditions of the west, Eliphas Levi, William Wynn Westcott and Manly
P. Hall believed the table was a key to the Book of Thoth of the Corpus Hermeticum and the Tarot.
Isis, the Rose and the Western Mystery Tradition
“O, the red rose is a falcon
And the white rose is a dove.”
- John Boyle O’Reilly
The texts of the Corpus Hermeticum, which included religious philosophy, the Alchemical arts, Astrology and
Theurgy, formed a body of work in which Isis and Sophia (with whom Isis is identified in classical times
as Isis-Sophia) are the only female divine figures of any power. It was in these works that the traditions of the Goddess
were kept alive, not in the same form as in the temples of the classical pagan world, but in a form that could be considered
acceptable, although not directly applied in public view. Isis is both the Bright and Dark Mother of Binah of the Hermetic
Qabalah, and Great Mother of the World, She is the White Rose of Alchemy. Isis became the Patroness of the
art of transforming oneself into a more spiritual being, through the application of mathematics, alchemy and philosophy in
The meanings of the chains of flowers and garlands depicted in magical texts, and used in illustrations of the Tarot,
with particular emphasis on roses, were described in the following manner by A. E. Waite, "These higher meanings
are, however, matters of inference, and I do not suggest that they are transparent on the surface of the card. They are intimated
in a concealed manner by the chain of flowers, which signifies, among many other things, the sweet yoke and the light burden
of Divine Law, when it has been taken into the heart of hearts." (Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Trump VIII, referring to the
chain of roses) ... "Éliphas Lévi calls the garland a crown, and reports that the figure represents Truth. Dr. Papus connects
it with the Absolute and the realization of the Great Work; for yet others it is a symbol of humanity and the eternal reward
of a life that has been spent well ... According to P. Christian, the garland should be formed of roses, and this is the kind
of chain which Éliphas Lévi says is less easily broken than a chain of iron." (Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Trump XXI)
Besides Alchemy there were two organizations that arose during the Renaissance and post-Renaissance periods, the
Rosicrucian movement and Freemasonry which contained literature, teachings and rituals that included Isis. They
were highly influenced by the Corpus Hermeticum. In the higher degrees of Freemasony, the Mason is introduced to the
mysteries of Isis, Osiris and Horus. In 1884, Robert Freke Gould, Past Senior Grand Deacon of England, Master of quatuor Coronati
Lodge No. 2076 wrote, “Masonry is regarded as the direct descendant, or as a survival of the mysteries... of Isis
and Osiris in Egypt...”
Rosicrucianism has been described as the fusing of early Christianity with the Egyptian mysteries. The Rose was a primary
symbol of the Rosicrucian movement. The mysticism of the Rose, which was connected with Isis, was then carried through
these movements, slightly different in form, but echoing the connection of Isis and roses from classical times.
A. E. Waite includes in his book “Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross” quotes from the alchemist
Michael Maier. He did so to illustrate the influence of spiritual alchemy on the development of Rosicrucianism. “He
says: (1) That the Rose is the First, most beautiful and perfect of flowers (2) That it is guarded because it is a virgin,
and the guard is thorns (3) That the Gardens of Philosophy are planted with many roses, both red and white (4) That these
two colours are in correspondence with gold and silver(solar and lunar symbolism) (5) That the center of the Rose
is green and is emblematical of the Green Lion, a familiar emblem to the Wise (6) That even as the natural
Rose is a pleasure to the senses and life of man, on account of its sweetness and salubrity, so is the Philosophical Rose
exhilarating to the heart and a giver of strength to the brain (7) That as the natural rose turns to the sun and is refreshed
by rain, so is the Philosophical Matter prepared in blood, grown in light, and in and by these made perfect. Hereof is the
Rose in Alchemy.”
Another passage written by Michael Maier on the white and red roses of alchemy is presented by scholar Alexander Roob:
“In vain you try to walk upon this high mountain, when you can barely stand on one leg on a level path.” To
get the elixirs of the white and red roses, what is required above all is the right source material. “This rose wears
a green dress,” says Maier. The wise man plucks it without being pricked, while thieves “have nothing
but pain from it.”
These three branches, Freemasonry (ca.1600‘s), Alchemy (popularized in Europe in the Middle Ages) and Rosicrucianism
(ca. 1614), were joined by Theosophy in 1875. Helena Blavatsky's most famous literary work "Isis Unveiled"
was created she said, through receiving channeled materials from the Goddess Isis. All of these contributed to the training
of those who would found key groups that would later appear in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, forming
a magical tradition that would become collectively known as the Western Mystery Tradition.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was probably the single greatest influence on the Western Mystery tradition in the
twentieth century. The three co-founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (ca.1888), Dr. William Robert Woodman, William
Wynn Westcott and S. L. MacGregor Mathers were all Freemasons and Rosicrucians. S. L. MacGregor Mathers was introduced into
Rosicrucianism by a friend of his, who was an Alchemist and Rosicrucian, a man named Frederick Holland. W. W. Westcott was
also a member of the Theosophical Society, as was Dion Fortune who founded the Fraternity of the Inner Light (later re-named
the Society of the Inner Light) in 1922. The magical novels of Dion Fortune, “The Sea Priestess” and “Moon
Magic,” featured a central character named Vivian Le Fay Morgan, who was a priestess of Isis. Dion Fortune
had previously studied in the Theosophical Society and in the Golden Dawn. Aleister Crowley was another member of the
Golden Dawn. He went on to found Thelema in 1904, when he began to publish the writings that became the cornerstone
of Thelemic spiritual philosophy.
The structure and rituals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were based on a series of documents known as The Cipher
Manuscripts. S. L. MacGregor Mathers and Dr. Wynn Westcott are credited with the development of the ritual outlines into
workable format. Mathers is usually cited as the Golden Dawn co-founder who created the curriculum and rites for the Second
Order of the Golden Dawn, which he titled Rosae Rubae et Aureae Crucis, or Ruby Rose and Golden Cross. A Rose Cross
Lamen was worn by Zelator Adeptus Minor of the Second Order.
In the spring of 1892 Mathers and his wife Moina moved to Paris and set up Ahatoor Temple no. Seven. Mathers continued
to write new material for the Golden Dawn curriculum for the second order, the Ruby Rose and Golden Cross while in Paris.
He and Moina worked on a series of ritual dramas based on ancient Egyptian mysteries collectively titled “The Rite
of Isis” which were performed on the stage of the Theatre Bodiniere on Rue Saint-Lazare several times for the public.
The audience of these public enactments were often from the more fashionable circles of Parisian society. They would place
offerings on the altar - ladies brought flowers, often roses, and gentlemen brought wheat.
Isis and the City of Paris
“The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose” - Hada Bejar
An interview with S. L. MacGregor Mathers and Moina Mathers was published in 1900, explaining their reasons
for wanting to move to Paris and revive the worship of Isis there. Moina is also referred to as High Priestess Anari
in the interview, which includes this passage:
“It happened in this way“, said the High Priestess Anari. “We made the acquaintance
of M. Jules Bois, who, being interested, as you know, in religions and religious revivals, asked us if we could give an Isiac
ceremony at the Bodiniere Theatre. He had already lectured there on Buddhism, and arranged for a Buddhist mass, so he thought
it would interest the public to know something about Isis. But we were very much disinclined to appear in public. We refused,
therefore, and the matter would have dropped but for the intervention of the goddess Isis herself. One night she appeared
to me in a dream, and sanctioned any efforts we might make in Paris, her ancient city. Our scruples were swept aside. That
is how we came to appear at the Bodiniere, first, when M. Bois delivered a lecture on Egyptian magic, and introduced us to
the public, again when we celebrated masses there.”
There are manuscripts dating to the 15th century AD at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris which contain images of the
Goddess Isis garbed as a medieval noblewoman seen arriving by boat to Paris and where she is greeted by nobles and clergymen
under the caption ‘The very ancient Isis, goddess and queen of the Egyptians.’ Some scholars have suggested
that the name ‘Paris’ could be derived from “par-Isi” or ‘through Isis.’
Robert G. Bauval in the book “Talisman: Sacred Cities, Secret Faith” writes: “The idea of a
‘boat’ symbol come partly from the shape of the 'Ile de la Cite' (where stands Notre Dame Cathedral) which is
boat-shaped, and also because ancient 'mariners' known as 'Nauts' populated the region.” And he includes the following
excerpts of texts written by historians about the city of Paris and the Goddess Isis:
“In the days of Charlemagne (8th century AD)… there was a city named Iseos, so named because
of the goddess Isis who was venerated there. Now it is called Melun. Paris owes its name to the same circumstances, Parisius
is said to be similar to Iseos (quasi par Iseos), because it is located on the River Seine in the same manner as Melun.”
(Jacques le Grant, a 14th century Augustine monk, 1420)
“…coming to the imposition of the name (of Paris), it is said that there, where stands St. Germain-des-Pres
was a temple of Isis of whom it is said was the wife of the great Osiris or Jupiter the Just. The statue (of Isis) having
come in our times, of which we recall… This place is called the Temple of Isis and, for the nearby city, this was called
Parisis… meaning near the temple of Isis.” (Gilles Corrozet, the first historian to produce a comprehensive
guide for the city of Paris, 1550)
“at the place where king Childebert (5th century AD) had constructed the church of St. Vincent now
called St. Germain, and to which he donated his fief of Issy, the consensus was that there was there a temple of Isis, wife
of Osiris, also known as Jupiter the Just, and from whom the village of Issy got its name, and where can still be seen an
ancient edifice and murals which are believed to be from the castle of Cildebert.” (Jacques du Breul, Jesuit monk
from St. Germain-des-Pres, 1608)
“I believe this was due to another idol, for the proximity that there is with (Notre Dame) and the
Abbey of St. Germain-des-Pres where was venerated Isis, called by the Romans Ceres…” (Andre Favyn, historian,
After Napoleon I returned to France from his Expedition to Egypt, he developed a keen interest in
the Goddess Isis and Her connection to the city of Paris. He even commissioned a new Coat of Arms for the city, depicting
the Goddess on Her royal and sacred barge in 1811. A letter he wrote about the creation of this insignia for the city of Paris
is preserved at the Biblioteque Nationale de Paris. He wrote in part: “We have previously authorized and do also
authorize now by these present signed document by our hand, that our good city of Paris will bear the coat-of-arms as shown
and coloured on the attached drawing, at the front of the ancient ship, the prow loaded with a statue of Isis, seated, in
silver on a sea of the same, and led by a star also of silver.”
A detail of the Coat of Arms of the city of Paris commissioned by Napoleon in 1811, showing the Goddess Isis riding
in the sacred boat, accompanied by the five pointed star, which is believed to be Sirius.
That the city of Paris had an Isian presence in the Roman era is not in doubt. The Notre Dame de Paris
contains within it a stone which bears a partial inscription containing the name of Isis. This stone is said to have been
from the previous temple of Isis which is believed to have stood in the same spot.
Part I of this article mentions
the famous Isian festival in the classical period, the Isidis Navigium (known as the Ploiaphesia in
ancient Greece). It was celebrated in the ports of ancient Greece near Corinth, Cenchreae and Piraeus, the harbors
of Rome, the shores of Greco-Roman Egypt and to far reaches of the Roman Empire, where it was held on the Seine. Imagery
of the Navigium was incorporated into the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. Robert Eisler writes in “The Royal Art
of Astrology” of the main porch of the cathedral which contains a depiction of the Zodiac: “Still further
left (i.e. of January) Aquarius and Isis launching a ship. The ship is Navis seen just opposite Aquarius. Over this figure
we see Pisces.”
The Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris (Cathedral
of Our Lady of Paris) is situated on the Île de la Cité (island of the city), an island
in the Seine River, a river where the Isidis Navigium was known to be celebrated during the Roman era. The Île
de la Cité is the original birthplace of Paris, and from an aerial view, one can see that the island is boat shaped. Now
we all know that in the most commonly employed sense, a boat is a vehicle used to travel upon water. There is a
symbolic use for ‘boat’ put forth by the philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884 - 1962), who was a member of the esteemed
French Academy. He notes “that there are a great many references in literature testifying that the boat is the cradle
rediscovered (and the mother’s womb).” The Île de la Cité has been called ‘the
boat of Isis’ which takes on a whole new meaning when considering the esoteric symbolism encoded in the cathedral.
At the Cathédrale de Notre Dame, the rose of Isis is present, although the term ‘rose window’
is relatively recent in comparison with the overall age of the cathedral. The term ‘rose window’ did not come
into common usage until the seventeenth century. The name ‘rose’ window probably stems from the Old French word
‘roué,’ meaning ‘wheel.’ Juan E. Cirlot, in his book “A Dictionary of Symbols,”
writes of the wheel: “This is a symbol, wide in scope, much used in the ornamental arts and in architecture …One
of the elementary forms of wheel-symbolism consists of the sun as a wheel, and of ornamental wheels as solar emblems.”
One of the most famous and most beautiful of the ‘rose windows’ of the Gothic Cathedrals of Northern France
is that of the North Window of the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris which dates to1250 - 1260 AD. The window contains
at it’s heart, a rose of eight petals, surrounded by sixteen petals, and the outer layer of the rose contains thirty-two
petals. This window presents the eight petalled rose of regeneration, the Rose of Isis, the sixteen petals represent regeneration
of both body and spirit, and the thirty-two, regeneration of every part of being contained in the four classic elements, earth,
air, fire and water. Situated in the north, it faces the direction of the winter solstice, when the longest night of the year
heralds the 'death' of the sun before the period of daylight begins to increase, heralding the birth of spring.
The rose window to the south, a four petalled rose in the center, surrounded by twelve petals. The twelve become doubled
petals at the edges. This window represents classic four elements earth, air, fire and water are illustrated by the four petalled
rose in the center, the twelve petals surrounding, match the twelve manifestations of the elements, as described in astrological houses (1)
the cardinal, angular or active, which deals with physical activity (2) the fixed or succedent or stable
which represents inner stability and the soul and (3) the mutable or cadent, universal rhythm, uniting thought,
reason and the spirit. The twelve petal tips are divided into twenty four, representing the duality in nature and in alchemy,
as balanced polarities. South is the direction of the Summer Solstice, and the twelve manifestations of elemental energies
are at their fullest expression at this time.
Gothic Cathedrals are considered masterpieces of architecture. The intricacies of the artistic decoration and perfection
of their proportions have intrigued scholars, artists and philosophers for centuries. It is commonly known that the principles
of sacred geometry, including the ratio of the golden mean, and the intentional inclusion of symbolism through number as well
as image is embedded within them. Like the Great Pyramid of Egypt and the Parthenon of ancient Greece, the west façade in
particular of the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris has been shown to employ the Golden Mean ratio. It does so in
multiples, almost like a fractal. The symbolism in some of the cathedrals has been identified to various arts and philosophies.
The Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris has been identified with alchemy.
The alchemist Esprit Gobineau de Montluisant of the 17th century wrote “Explications tres Curieuses des Enigmes
de Notre-Dame de Paris” (Explanations of the Enigmas of Notre Dame of Paris). His work was substantiated by a later
treatise on alchemy written by Louis-Paul-Francois Cambrici (1764-ca. 1850) which was published in 1843, “Cours de
Philosophie Hermetique ou d'Alchimie en dix-Neuf Lecons” (Course of Hermetic or Alchemical Philosophy in 19 lessons).
Cambrici recorded a written account of his examination and conclusion about the sculptures and bas-reliefs of Cathédrale
de Notre Dame de Paris in which he writes: “as clearly as possible all the work and the whole product or result
of the Philosopher's stone.”
In 1926, another work, entitled “The Mystery of the Cathedrals” was published in Paris. The author, who went
by the name Fulcanelli, has never been adequately identified, though there are many theories as to his true identity. Like
his predecessors, he too claims that the art of alchemy is plainly displayed at the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris.
These works have been studied by modern day scholars and occultists, many of whom agree with the ideas presented in these
The hidden message of the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris may be one of alchemic regeneration, the sun (symbol
of the perfected soul) reborn from the womb of Isis.
|Trump XIII, from the Rider-Waite tarot, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith
The White Rose of Isis
"In the driest whitest stretch of pain's infinite desert, I lost my sanity and found this rose"
When the flaming lute-thronged angelic door is wide;
When an immortal passion breathes in mortal clay;
hearts endure the scourge, the plaited thorns, the way
Crowded with bitter faces, the wounds in palm and side,
vinegar-heavy sponge, the flowers by Kedron stream;
We will bend down and loosen our hair over you,
That it may drop
faint perfume, and be heavy with dew,
Lilies of death-pale hope, roses of passionate dream.
("The Travail of Passion," W. B. Yeats, 'Selected Poems')
A key to understanding this card is through the use of color within the image of the card. A generally accepted
use of color symbolism in the Western Mystery Tradition offers clues into the meanings of the tarot. Yellow
is the element of air and the Breath of Life which is a fiery solar force, are represented by a clear shade of yellow.
Red is the element of fire, the essence of spirit and of passion. Blue is the element of water, the essence
of creativity and emotions. Green is creative force manifesting in the physical world. White is purity or
oneness, wholeness, spirituality.
There is a great deal of both lunar and solar symbolism in this card. The white rose on the back banner is reminiscent
of the full moon. There are approximately thirteen lunations during the course of our year, which is a solar based year. A
lunar year, based on the thirteen lunations had thirteen months. This thirteenth month was according to Robert Graves, the
Sun's “death-month.” The Moon and the White Rose were closely linked to the Goddess Isis, and it is an Isian symbol
that is placed on Death‘s banner. The card is one of endings, but it is also a card of new beginnings.
Take a look at the use of yellow on this card. It is significant that the face of the skull of Death is yellow.
Death represents transition, and in this card he is colored with the solar yellow of the Breath of Life. The king, representing
earthly sovereignty, the materials or mundane lies prostrate on the ground, draped with the blue of earthly creativity and
emotion. His mode of existence was tied to the earthly world. It is the Prelate or Hierophant, who stands erect, clothed
in a robe of yellow, his hands clasped in prayer, his faith strong, his knowledge of the mysteries sure. He is the only one
who is left standing, and he stands straight and tall even during the approach of Death.
A. E. Waite writes of this card in his book "Pictorial Key to the Tarot" the following: "The veil or mask
of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher, and this is more fitly represented in the
rectified Tarot by one of the apocalyptic visions than by the crude notion of the reaping skeleton. Behind it lies the whole
world of ascent in the spirit. The mysterious horseman moves slowly, bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose,
which signifies life. Between two pillars on the verge of the horizon there shines the sun of immortality. The horseman carries
no visible weapon, but king and child and maiden fall before him, while a prelate with clasped hands awaits his end.
There should be no need to point out that the suggestion of death which I have made in connection with the previous
card is (Trump XII, the Hanged Man), of course, to be understood mystically, but this is not the case in the present instance.
The natural transit of man to the next stage of his being either is or may be one form of his progress, but the exotic and
almost unknown entrance, while still in this life, into the state of mystical death is a change in the form of consciousness
and the passage into a state to which ordinary death is neither the path nor gate. The existing occult explanations of the
13th card are, on the whole, better than usual, rebirth, creation, destination, renewal, and the rest."
And that is the Great Mystery, central to the Magic of Isis. Death into Life Transformed. This is the magic of the Isian
Rose. At the moment between life and death, when all hangs in the balance, She is there, to guide us safely from one
portal into another. That is the heart of the Isian Mysteries.
"The White Rose. I am the elixir of Whiteness, turning all imperfect metals into the purest silver." -
Arnald of Villanova, "Donum Dei"
More Roses for the Isian Garden
Blue Nile (1976) Breeder: Delbard. Country of Origin: Paris, France. Type: Hybrid Tea. A vigorous
and disease resistant rose. The blooms range from lilac to mauve to deep lavendar in color, blushed with a deep purple. Does
not possess a strong fragrance but is a prolific bloomer. Grows to 5 ft.
Goddess of Love (2000) Breeder: Colin P. Horner. Country of Origin: UK Type: Shrub. Flowers are
of medium size, a mix of red, pink and cream, produced singularly and in clusters of five to seven. Glossy leaves, disease
resistant, strong scent.
Isis (also known as Silver Anniversary) (1995) Breeder: Poulsen. Country of Origin: UK Type: Hybrid
Tea. Perfectly formed, fragrant white blooms, glossy light green foliage, a sturdy upright habit. The British Association
of Rose Breeders and the British Rose Growers Association list this rose as “Isis” followed by the name “Silver
Anniversary” in parentheses, like this - Isis (Silver Anniversary). In local nurseries in the USA this rose is generally
called Silver Anniversary.
Osiria (1978) Breeder: W. Kordes & Sons. Country of Origin: Germany. Type: Hybrid Tea. Introduced
in the Netherlands by Willemse. The flowers are dark red on the inner side of the petals with silvery white on the reverse
or outer side of the petals. Strong fragrance. Blooms in flushes throughout the season.
The Compass Rose (1997) Breeder: W. Kordes & Sons. Country of Origin: Germany. Type: Shrub.
Clusters of white flowers that open to a cup shape, displaying golden amber stamens at the heart of the flower. Vigorous and
disease resistant. Very fragrant.
Part I of this article, published in the Lughnasadh issue of MOI, listed the following roses, Belle Isis, Rosa Mundi,
Cleopatra and Bridge of Sighs (named for a bridge that crosses The Isis, a branch of the River Thames).
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