I can still remember my first real tarot obsession. Pregnant with my first child, living remotely and off grid. I had a deck of Rider-Waite cards and a rather good book (78 degrees of wisdom).
I spent a lot (seriously a lot) of time just looking at the cards- whilst oddly reading Tudor history novels. Tudor History is dominated by two families fighting for the throne- one had a white rose as their symbol, one a red- “the war of the roses” which is probably why the roses caught my eye.
In Death and the Fool we clearly have white roses.
In 2 wands, ace of pentacles, Magician, hierophant, Queen pentacles, 9 swords we have red roses.
My other big obsession (aside from Tarot & Tudor history) is Norse Mythology. One kenning that always stuck with me was “death makes a man pale” referring to the link between blood and life. The pumping of red, oxygenated blood is what keeps us alive or "brings colour" to our life (also a reference to passion and libido)
Now I often (not always- there is no always in tarot) associate the Fool as a spirit before it enters the body (so pre-life, or after life, perhaps between lives!). And though we are often keen to say “death doesn’t mean death” the rose on the death card is white- without blood. The Death card is often a transition- even if not physical death. So to me the two white roses are clear links to that magical time when "we" are without body.
The rose and blood analogy is fascinating- there are several myths that talk about the first rose being white. Then a Goddess pricks her finger on a rose thorn, the blood drops on the rose, and now all roses are red (Aphrodite, Mary, Venus- pick your Goddess!) and so the red roses are connected with life, blood, our physical body.
For me the red roses on the Queen of pentacles link with her role as mother- the blood of her womb creating the child.
The red roses on the 9 of swords remind you to live, move, do something to reconnect with your body.
So what about white lilies…
The most famous Lily symbol is the Fleur de Lis. Seriously a lifetime of research in just one symbol- a rabbit hole of information if you choose to look.
There are many, many myths and symbolism around the lily- but it is considered to be pure, a connection to the divine. It is linked to Mary and the virgin birth, and virginity in general.
Charlemagne and the French kings used the Fleur de Lis to represent their divine “right” to be kings.
It is a short hand for “pure, directly linked with the divine”
So I now we have red roses for the physical, and white lilies for spiritual/divine connection. Or the outer and inner journey if you prefer.
Looking at the cards that have both symbols;
Ace of pentacles- the white lilies suggest the garden represents Eden, a place of comfort, and you step through the rose archway to take physical action towards your goal or plan. (or fully incarnating as we left the garden of Eden -representing stepping out of your comfort zone)
Magician & Hierophant- the imagery of the white lily & red rose shows you need to blend “inner work” with physical action to release/develop your potential. The Hierophant suggests you need to "walk the walk" as well as "talking the talk"
The two of wands- I see this card as very much potential, but no concrete reality yet- and notice this is the only card where the lilies & roses are painted on. (you can read more about the two of wands here) backing up the feeling of plans and potential.
As an extra note- I visited Rennes Les chateau many years ago, a strange place that changed my life and inspired me to change my name to Madelaine in honour of Mary Magdalene.
The story suggests that she was married to Jesus and escaped, pregnant, after the crucifixion. Her lineage then created the kings of France- including Charlemagne who uses the Fleur de Lis as his symbol. I’ve included a photograph from the guide book- of Mary Magdalene, and the stained glass window (though you may not see the detail) is the Fleur de Lis.
I could probably write on for another 5 pages- that is why I love the Rider-Waite so much.
Pick a symbol, explore it, dive deep down- it’s a never ending journey of mythology, wisdom and knowledge.