The Rose Cross is associated with a number of different schools of thought, including that of the Golden Dawn, Thelema, the OTO, and the Rosicrucians (also known as the Order of the Rose Cross). Each group offers somewhat different interpretations of the symbol. This should not be surprising as magical, occult and esoteric symbols are frequently used to communicate ideas more complex than is possible to express in speech.
Christian ElementsUsers of the Rose Cross today tend to downplay the Christian elements to it, even though the magical systems used by such people are generally Judeo-Christian in origin. The cross, therefore, has other meanings here besides being the instrument of Christ’s execution. Despite this, the presence of the letters INRI, which is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase Iesvs Nazarens Rex Ivdaeorym, meaning "Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews," cannot escape Christian interpretation. According to the Christian Bible, this phrase was inscribed on the cross where Jesus was executed.
In addition, the cross is often viewed by occultists as a symbol of immortality, sacrifice, and death. Through Jesus’s sacrifice and death on the cross, humanity has a chance at eternal life with God.
The CrossCross-shaped objects are commonly used in occultism too represent the four physical elements. Here each arm is colored to represent one element: yellow, blue, black and red to represent air, water, earth and fire. These colors are also repeated on the bottom portion of the cross. The white on the upper portion of bottom arm represents spirit, the fifth element.
The cross can also represent dualism, two forces going in conflicting directions yet uniting at a central point. The union of rose and cross is also a generative symbol, the union of male of female.
Finally, the cross’s proportions are made up of six squares: one for each arm, an extra one for the lower arm, and the center. A cross of six squares can be folded into a cube.
The RoseThe rose has three tiers of petals. The first tier, of three petals, represents the three basic alchemical elements: salt, mercury and sulfur. The tier of seven petals represents the seven Classical planets (The Sun and Moon are considered planets here, with the term “planets” indicating the seven bodies that appear to circle the earth independently of the star field, which moves as a single unit). The tier of twelve represent the astrological zodiac. Each of the twenty-two petals bears one of the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet and also represents the twenty-two paths on the Tree of Life.
The rose itself has a myriad assortment of additional meanings associated with it:
It is at once a symbol of purity and a symbol of passion, heavenly perfection and earthly passion; virginity and fertility; death and life. The rose is the flower of the goddess Venus but also the blood of Adonis and of Christ. It is a symbol of transmutation - that of taking food from the earth and transmuting it into the beautiful fragrant rose. The rose garden is a symbol of Paradise. It is the place of the mystic marriage. In ancient Rome, roses were grown in the funerary gardens to symbolize resurrection. The thorns have represented suffering and sacrifice as well as the sins of the Fall from Paradise. ("A Brief Study of The Rose Cross Symbol," no longer online)
Inside the large rose is a smaller cross bearing a another rose. This second rose is depicted with five petals. Five is the number of the physical senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, and it is also the number of man’s extremities: two arms, two legs, and the head. Thus, the rose represents humanity and physical existence.
The PentagramsA pentagram is displayed at the end of each arm of the cross. Each of these pentagrams bears symbols of the five elements: a wheel for spirit, a bird’s head for air, the zodiac sign for Leo, which is a fire sign, the zodiac symbol for Taurus, which is an earth sign, and the zodiac symbol for Aquarius, which is a water sign. They are arranged so that when tracing the pentagram you can progress from the most physical to the most spiritual: earth, water, air, fire, spirit.
The Three Symbols at The End of Each ArmThe three symbols repeated at the end of all four arms stand for salt, mercury and sulfur, which are the three basic alchemical elements from which all other substances derive.
The three symbols are repeated on each of the four arms of the cross, numbering a total of twelve. Twelve is the number of the zodiac, comprised of twelve symbols that circle the heavens throughout the year.
The HexagramHexagrams commonly represent the union of opposites. It is composed of two identical triangles, one pointing up and one pointing down. The point-up triangle can represent ascending toward the spiritual, while the point-down triangle can stand for the divine spirit descending to the physical realm.
The Symbols Around And in The HexagramThe symbols in and around the hexagram represent the seven Classical planets. The symbol for the Sun is in the center. The sun is generally the most important planet in Western occultism. Without the Sun, our planet would be lifeless. It is also commonly connected with the light of divine wisdom and the purification properties of fire, and was sometimes considered the visual manifestation of God’s will in the universe.
On the outside of the hexagrams are the symbols for Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, the Moon, Mercury, and Mars (clockwise from top). Western occult thought generally considers the planets in the farthest orbits from the Earth in an earth-centric model) to be the most spiritual, because they are the furthest from the physicality of the Earth. Thus, the top three planets are Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, while the bottom three are Mercury, Venus and the Moon.