Marriage of the Red King and White Queen in Alchemy

Red King and White Queen: the Rosarium Philosophorum

The Rosarium Philosophorum, 1550

The Red King and White Queen are alchemical allegories, and their union represents the process of uniting opposites to create a greater, fully unified product of that union.

Image Origin

The Rosarium Philosophorum, or the Rosary of the Philosophers, was published in 1550 and includes 20 illustrations.

Gender Divisions

Western thought has long identified a wide variety of concepts as being masculine or feminine. Fire and air are masculine while earth and water are feminine, for example. The sun is male, and the moon is female. These basic ideas and associations can be found in multiple Western schools of thought. Thus, the first and most obvious interpretation is that the Red King represents masculine elements while the White Queen represents female ones. They stand on a sun and moon, respectively. In some images, they are also flanked with plants bearing suns and moons on their branches.

The Chemical Marriage

The union of Red King and White Queen is often called the chemical marriage. In illustrations, it is depicted as courtship and sex. Sometimes they are garbed, as if they have just been brought together, offering each other flowers. Sometimes they are naked, preparing to consummate their marriage that will eventually lead to an allegorical offspring, the Rebis.

Sulfur and Mercury

Descriptions of alchemical processes often describe the reactions of sulfur and mercury. The Red King is sulfur -- the active, volatile and fiery principle -- while the White Queen is mercury -- the material, passive, fixed principle. Mercury has substance, but it has no definitive form on its own. It needs an active principle to shape it.

In the lettering, the King says in Latin, "O Luna, let me be thy husband," reinforcing the imagery of marriage. The Queen, however, says "O Sol, I must submit to thee." This would have been a standard sentiment in a Renaissance marriage, but it reinforces the nature of the passive principle. Activity needs material to take physical form, but passive material needs definition to be anything more than potential.

The Dove

A person is comprised of three separate components: body, soul, and spirit. The body is material and the soul spiritual. Spirit is a kind of bridge that connects the two. The dove is a common symbol of the Holy Spirit in Christianity, in comparison to God the Father (soul) and God the Son (body). Here the bird offers a third rose, attracting both lovers together and acting as a kind of mediator between their contrasting natures.

Alchemical Processes

The stages of alchemical progression involved in the great work (the ultimate goal of alchemy, involving the perfection of the soul, represented allegorically as the transmutation of common lead into perfect gold) are nigredo, albedo, and rubedo.

The bringing together of the Red King and White Queen is sometimes described as reflecting the processes of both albedo and rubedo.

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Your Citation
Beyer, Catherine. "Marriage of the Red King and White Queen in Alchemy." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, Beyer, Catherine. (2020, August 26). Marriage of the Red King and White Queen in Alchemy. Retrieved from Beyer, Catherine. "Marriage of the Red King and White Queen in Alchemy." Learn Religions. (accessed June 3, 2023).