The Rose Cross originated as a Christian symbol in the first century, as a symbol of the blood of Christ, and a mystery of sacrifice. The earliest rose crosses were a variation of the Christian ankh or crux ansata, and are associated with the Coptic (Egyptian) church, and related Gnostic sects. The rose and cross was later adopted and popularized as the primary emblem of the Rosicrucians, an apocryphal secret society that originated during the Renaissance.
The rose symbolized the redemptive power of the blood of Christ; the symbol as a whole illustrated the triumph of spirit over matter. A deeper, hidden significance of the symbol is the union of the rose of Mary with the Cross of Christ, the union of the divine feminine with the divine masculine. The shape of the rose cross suggests the rosary or the mirror-cross of Venus. According to Rosicrucian philosophers, the whole Rosicrucian philosophy could be found within the symbol. The rose cross was adopted as a Hermetic occult symbol during the Middle ages, and was later popularized by the Nineteenth century magical order the Golden Dawn. The esoteric meaning of the cross is quite similar to the original; the cross symbolizes the material plane, and the cycle of death and rebirth. The rose represents the unfolding nature of spiritual growth. When the equal armed cross is employed, it has a secret significance: the word lux, or light, can be found hidden in its arms.
The Victorian-era magical order the Golden Dawn used the rose cross as a special symbol of study, the emblem of the philosophy of the order. The central rose also functioned as a device for creating sigils, with twenty two petals representing the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.