Life, Magic, Mystery. Three words which have evaded full understanding since the dawn of time. In the mists of that dawning we know that humankind had looked up at the vastness of space, and in the twinkling stars saw stories of great monsters and terrible Gods. Snakes, insects, and thunderstorms became omens; the voices of spirits booming through the landscape or slithering through the dirt. Circles and slashes were arranged and each one communicated an ephemeral thought from one human mind to another. Through symbols, we know—even if we cannot say.
It is an esoteric art to craft a perfect symbol from visions, feelings, dreams, or thoughts. The depiction of a simple image can take decades for an artist to complete—yet other times the opposite is true. Sometimes a symbol can bloom into life as if it had been eagerly waiting to appear before physical eyes. Such is the case of the rose blooming from seed, the lily blossoming in sunlight, and the ankh being etched into stone over 3,000 years ago in Egypt. The staying power of these symbols are evidence of their universal truth. Such is also the case with a simple little pendant consisting of an ankh, a rose, and the tiny, hidden leaves of a lily conceived and created for a religious tradition of Witchcraft in the 1970s.
In “The Alexandrian Rose Ankh” the co-founder of the Alexandrian Tradition, Maxine Sanders, writes:
“Mr. George Alexander was an artist who specialised in the different. He wanted to be a maker of magical weapons, swords, athames and anything made of metal. George wanted to create a symbol of our craft that would be recognisable to those Initiated, and to seekers with a curious nature. To begin, we had to find what the Craft meant to us. Life was the first word, Magic the second and Mystery the third, all we had to do was create the symbol for all three.”
It is a difficult task to create an all-encompassing symbol for a religious group; how does one calculate the adoption of the Cross, the Om, the Star and Crescent, or the Pentagram, and replicate their impact on the spirit of the believer? If one tries too hard to invoke emotion the symbol can become contrived, if one succeeds in invoking emotion they also risk the symbol becoming outdated, nostalgic, eventually irrelevant. Maxine continues:
“The Ankh is the symbol of life, the rose and the lily, the magician. Only the tips of the lily’s leaves, slightly visible, the mystery. Of course, there are a myriad of symbolisms within the Alexandrian Rose Ankh. The five petals of the rose, the elements, etc.”
So the Rose Ankh was created. When those first witches hung the newly crafted silver ankhs with cherry-red enamel rose petals around their necks, the connection that remains with us manifested. Thus was born a powerful occult symbol which could be utilized privately by witches of the Alexandrian Tradition, and also worn proudly to be seen by curious outsiders who may inquire about the strange looped cross with a flower in the center.
Roses and Lilies have long been associated with the Magician. The five-petaled rose equates to the pentagram, the six-petaled lily represents the hexagram; occult concepts hidden in natural plants. In the Tarot The Magician is surrounded by lilies and roses as he points his wand toward the heavens. The rose has long been a symbol for secrecy, such is told in an ancient Greek tale when Eros gives a rose to Harpocrates as a sign to keep the indiscretions of the Gods secret. Later Roman banquet rooms had roses painted on the ceilings to remind guests to keep things said under the influence of wine secret (a perfect witchcraft analogy). Christian confessionals have been carved with five-petaled roses to indicate confession’s private nature. In the Rose Ankh the leaves of the lily are hidden behind the rose, indicating the aspect of Mystery. The two symbols of Magic, the rose and the lily, are divided into seen and unseen—as is the magic that Alexandrians practice. The ankh, being the ancient Egyptian symbol of life, is carried in depictions of nearly every deity in the ancient Egyptian pantheon. These symbols are profound and potent.
Due to the passion and finesse of the hands of talented Priesthood, decades ago and currently, the Rose Ankh has become the symbol for us Alexandrians to represent our religion to ourselves and the world. High Priest Brian Cain has worked to produce a new line of Rose Ankhs, of these Maxine Sanders says, “Never before has a Rose Ankh had the intensity or purity of vibration of the originals, until today." They are sold and gifted only to those who are initiated; outsiders cannot purchase them… and why would they want to? It is a symbol of our brotherhood, a statement that we are proud of our first independent roots in the household temples of 60s and 70s England, and of our breaking away into a magical world of our own where our highest ideals could be pursued and encouraged.
To many Alexandrians the Rose Ankh is a talisman which can be used to meditate upon the highest Mysteries of our existence and learned from over the course of one’s spiritual study and dedication. It is a password to realms unknown and beings unspoken of. It is a symbol of devotion, clutched for protection during fear or jangling and swinging in the ecstatic dance of the witches’ rituals. The Rose Ankh is a symbol of the Alexandrian spirit of freedom, liberation, expression, and reveling in the expansive beauty of the cosmos. Who knew all of that could be contained in a little silver or gold pendant depicting an ankh with a little flower in the center.
My rose ankh is a bit battered. I expect it will continue to receive more dents, scuffs, and scratches as the years pass. I have seen others with tarnish encircling the petals of the rose, some on white, glistening chains and others on blackened, aged chains from decades of wear. I have known of a glistening ruby and diamond encrusted ankh carefully stored in its original box of out fear of losing the precious item. I have seen ankhs being blessed and placed over the necks of proud, new initiates who moments before had just stepped foot inside their first Alexandrian circle… I was one of them.