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!