Friday, July 5, 2013

An Alchemical Wedding

They are portrayed standing opposite each other with their hands touching: a crowned king and a queen. He is the gold of the sun, she is the silver of the moon. Blessed by a descending dove from starry heaven, they solemnly cross flowering emblems: sceptres of their royal status. As with the two dots or seeds contained within the familiar yin-yang symbol, each emblem is the colour of its opposite: the king holds a silver emblem, the queen a red. Red king, white queen: they are a familiar couple in ancient books of alchemy, symbolising the intermingling of red sulphur with white mercury.

But there is more to these regal two than a mixing of metals, and their symbolism is more ancient and more layered than the 17th-century books in which they can be found. They speak of an ancient truth: the truth of the essential partnership between the soul and the spirit, and the interdependence of the two. Just how powerfully this union speaks to us can be glimpsed in tales of the love between Tristan and Isolde, or between Tamino’s pure love for Pamina in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. We even can read about this couple in the Book of Genesis, albeit in a safely disguised form. Eve (the spirit) in her wisdom prompts Adam (the soul) to fall into Time, and so experience all the joys and pain of an earthly existence, and ultimately to face his own mortality, and a return to the realm of pure spirit.

The soul must know these things in order for its existence to become enriched, both by its earthly experiences and by the ultimate realisation that these experiences are only a transient state between the realms where its true nature is revealed. The soul needs the wisdom and guidance of the spirit to help it navigate its way through these realms, but the spirit also needs the soul. It is the soul’s questing, its daring and thirst for experience and new adventure, that makes it the perfect partner for the guiding light of the spirit.

If we are very fortunate, our own relationships in our life can reflect this Alchemical Wedding. We feel it when we feel that we have found our ‘other selves’ in our partners – and we have the experience, not of our partners being exactly like us, but of being different from us, but with those differences complementing our own. And perhaps the more perfectly this happens, the more it approaches the archetype of the Red King and the White Queen. The dove descends to bless us, and smiles upon that rare marvel: a match which, literally, is made in heaven!


  1. Thank for your revelatory article on the emblem of the Red King and White Queen! I feel this Emblem is very rich in meaning. Symbols can often express things more easily than words, and this emblem expresses not only the polarity of the phenomenal world but also the deeper meaning that one polarity contains the element of the other. The comparison with the Yin-Yang symbol is apt. Spirit ultimately wishes to know Itself through the expression of the soul. Emma describes this beautifully,"The soul must know these things in order for its existence to become enriched, both by its earthly experiences and by the ultimate realisation that these experiences are only a transient state between the realms where its true nature is revealed." Spirit experiences the adventure of life in its multiplicity, and finally returns "to the realm of pure spirit." There is that which transcends all polarities, but in which the polarities themselves arise. This transcendent reality is represented by the Star that is above the dove, the King and the Queen.

  2. Emma, I appreciate the clarity with which you have explained a subject that, as you know, is close to my heart! An understanding of the red king and white queen can be a door into much more, as if this royal couple are the guardians of a gateway that will lead us to even greater treasures. I hope that you might write about some of those treasures in a future post!

    Joseph, you express it well when you mention that 'symbols can often express things more easily than words'. Indeed: symbols, being beyond language, can often express things in a more meaningful way than words, and the most powerful symbols endure across time because they speak to us from a deeper level, where words cease to have meaning. Your comment about the transcendent quality being represented by the Star is a wonderful insight, and one which I myself had not thought of, so thank you for that!

  3. Thank you, Joseph and David, for your comments which, as always, enhance what I have written in my post, and so add to my blog and what I wish to express here. As you say, Joseph, the spirit seeks after experience, and it needs the soul for this, as much as the soul needs the spirit's guidance. David, in a sense I already have written about the red king and white queen on this blog in my poem 'The Lovers' - but I promise you that your wish for more on this subject will (with a little patience!) be granted.