The Raven’s Trail: Rose Bushes

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 There are over a hundred genera of the Rosaceae  family. All members have have the Latin title Rosa denoting their genus. Rose plants  can be either shrubs, climbing or trailing varieties. They will often have sharp thorns or prickles on the stem. The rose varieties that can be found in garden centers are often hybrids that have been bred for their large, colorful or fragrant blooms. Most species of rose are native to Asia with small numbers native to Europe, North America and some parts of northern Africa.  Roses produce a berry-like fruit, known as a rose hip. These are typically red in color and are eaten by birds who then spread the seeds in their droppings.

Roses in Folklore and Mythology


In Greek and Roman mythology, Roses are associated with their goddesses of Love (Aphrodite and Venus). In christianity, roses are associated with the Virgin Mary. The scent of roses is said to be holy in both Christianity and Islam.

Roses play an important role in many well known fairy tales. In  many versions of Beauty and the Beast, Bell’s father is punished for stealing a rose from the gardens of the beasts castle. In the Disney version the curse placed upon the Beast is represented by a rose which is slowly dying.  Other tales use rose bushes as part of the plot, in some versions of sleeping beauty the castle is surrounded by a thicket of wild roses. Roses are also associated with the appearance and names  of many of these tales heroines, Briar-Rose, Rose-red are both named after their rosy cheeks and lips.

Rose Bushes in George MacDonald’s Fantasy

In The Light Princess a rosebush becomes an unexpected place of safety for the baby princess who is unaffected by gravity and is blown out of the castle during a moment of inattention.

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“They soon found out, however, that the princess was missing, and in a moment the palace was like a beehive in a garden; and in one minute more the queen was brought to herself by a great shout and a clapping of hands. They had found the princess fast asleep under a rose-bush, to which the elvish little wind-puff had carried her, finishing its mischief by shaking a shower of red rose-leaves all over the little white sleeper. Startled by the noise the servants made, she woke, and, furious with glee, scattered the rose-leaves in all directions, like a shower of spray in the sunset.”

In Lilith  the demonic figure of Lilith is associated with a rose’s beauty in this extract from a poem of her life there is an indication of some form of folk-beauty treatment using rain that has collected on roses.

For I had bathed in milk and honey-dew,
In rain from roses shook, that ne’er touched earth,
And ointed me with nard of amber hue;
Never had spot me spotted from my birth,
Or mole, or scar of hurt, or fret of dearth;
Never one hair superfluous on me grew.

This trail has been developed by Rebecca Langworthy with editorial assistance from Derek Stewart, Mark Patterson and Oliver Langworthy.

Additional resources

For more about Roses see the RHS Guide

The meaning of roses is explored further here

An 1885 illustrated edition of Beauty and the Beast is available here beautythebeast00cinciala

The Brother’s Grimm version of Snow white and rose red is available here Snow White and Rose Red Brothers Grimm 1812

A selection of the Brother’s Grimm tales are available as audio books through Librivox

An 1893 edition of The Light Princess alongside some of MacDonald’s other fairy tales, illustrated by Maud Humphery is available here lightprincessoth00macd

An audio book version of The Light Princess is available here

The full text of Lilith is available here lilithromance00macduoft

An Audio book version of Lilith is available here

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George MacDonald’s Scotland is Supported by The Research Institute of Scottish and Irish Studies   The University of Aberdeen the British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS):