I’ve wanted to write this post for two years, three months, five weeks, twenty-one hours and roughly fifteen minutes–namely since the moment I said, “I do.”
The idea of using literary alchemy for my wedding emerged after Doug Welch, Kyle Welch, Kiddo and I watched Avatar in REAL-D! Actually, it had nothing to do with Avatar and everything to do with four lit-nerds chatting about my upcoming wedding ceremony over Pizza by Stout (may it rest in peace).
Anyway, we’re eating our barbecue chicken pizza and I mention how, at our upcoming wedding ceremony, I’d love to wear chain mail or carry a wand or ride in on a hippogriff or something. Before Kiddo can give me the look, Doug laughs at me, laughs in my face. Kyle, of course, joins in. Kiddo, secured by majority opinion, laughs as well.
I feel like a moron and sulk, Holden Caulfield style.
Then Doug says, “Well you could always do literary alchemy…”
And the cheesy, devious, oh-no-Lance-don’t-do-it-don’t-do-it grin spreads across my face. “Hmmmm….” I say.
A collective, “Hmmm…” circles the table–something I think of as the “Welchian Hmmm” in my inner monologue.
“How would that work?” I ask.
Plans were drawn up. Symbols were injected into the traditional wedding ceremony and before long we had a schematic for an audience-participation wedding ceremony. The best part? The audience didn’t even know they were participating.
For those unfamiliar with literary alchemy, allow me to be painfully brief: literary alchemy uses a system of symbols to emphasize the transformation of the protagonist of a given story. Need it simpler? Alchemy uses images to stress change. Man, that pains me to boil it down that much, but I know this post will get a broader readership than us lit nerds.
Anyway, the basics are that the protagonist tends to be symbolized by lead–common, unrefined, even depraved. By the end of the work (the opus alchemicum) the protagonist is perfected and symbolized by gold–pure, holy, etc. You can see this in everything from Dickens to Shakespeare, Dante to Chaucer, J.K. Rowling to Terry Pratchett. It’s important because if the protagonist makes changes for the good, the reader is persuaded to change along with them through the symbols. As Harry becomes humble, so we become humble. As Romeo sacrifices himself for love, so do we, etc.
For a wedding, we hoped the alchemical image system to evoke faithfulness in the marriages and relationships of everyone present. We hoped that they would recommit along with our commitment. After all, isn’t that what a wedding does? Make us believe that there’s still a chance that someone out there will get it right? Don’t people reassess the state of their unions when they attend a wedding?
Man, I hope so…
Anyway, we start the Alchemcial wedding with lead: the base, unrefined, raw stuff of life.
And we pull out our vial of quicksilver–the Edenic ideal of wisdom to be added to base lead:
Like good storytellers (and alchemists) we’ll work that contrast for awhile:
Kiddo, in her favorite color orange, wears the promise of dawn and the goal of the work: refined gold (a pure soul).
Meanwhile violence in the streets…
A future of wisdom…
…but present Folly.
Having the prima materia – the leaden, raw stuff of life — and the goal of the opus — the Edenic wisdom of connecting to God — we ignite our crucible:
Pour in the feminine quicksilver:
Add the masculine brimstone:
We begin the nigreddo. The nigreddo of the work involves killing off the physical, the unrefined, the “body” of the lead so that the soul can escape. It involves many physical deaths–a dying to oneself–and a purging of all that is tainted.
Nigreddo is Latin for ”black:”
Of all my ushers Robb John Kimball Jones, a fellow fan of Westeros, was delighted when I asked him to “take the black.” In retrospect, I guess they really were my “crows.” Jon Lyon looked pretty tough too:
Talk about getting physical. Then there’s the family:
The feel of sunset and the burning trees:
Quicksilver bringing in not flowers, but illumination, light, wisdom, the Edenic ideal of the work. Also the secret fire to burn the chaff away so that at the end of the nigreddo only white ash will remain and thus release the soul:
(That’s my sister by the way). Also…
The promise of youth, of eternal life and joy restored by the peeling away of the flesh. Thus LOTS of kids (Kiddo loves kids) and white rose pedals:
We release the spirit and begin the albedo, wherein truth and wisdom are added to the soul that we have caught. We have, in the process, created white sulfur and brought in the light of truth. Albedo is Latin for white. (Did I mention that it snowed on our wedding? Divine cameo?)
Kiddo brings in baby’s breath, for there are many ablutions, baptisms, washings in the albedo until the prima materia is cleansed and washed with the promise of new life. That new life and innocence, that baptism we symbolized in the bouquet: baby’s breath.
For those wondering, that’s not a light in the background. That’s either an angel of light or Chris DeWelt’s halo.
(Sorry, Chris, had to).
I was trying not to cry, vomit, or pass out in that picture. Or all three at once.
Wisdom and truth added to the great work, we transition from the albedo to the rubedo through bread and wine, body and blood:
Changing the crowd from passive spectators into active participants in the drama unfolding onstage.
An invocation of holiness, truth, and grace that triumphs over death and violence:
Rubedo is Latin for “red” and shows the dying of self on both sides, a giving of self for both the masculine Red King (brimstone) and the feminine White Queen (quicksilver) in a death that brings about new life. In the rubedo, we take the lessons we learned in albedo and act on them. The Red King and (snow) White Queen leave their respective households, cleave to one another and make a new life as one flesh:
Having completed the work and having bound the king and queen together (in a Scottish binding ceremony where everyone brought gold ribbon to the wedding, ribbon with a story behind it):
We celebrate the completion of the work, the transmutation of lead into gold and the purification of the soul from a common thing into a holy thing:
This “pot of gold” moment is actually a family tradition started by my ornery Uncle Steve. The groom is expected to save up “his every penny” in order to pay the preacher. Yeah, the bottom almost broke out of that wicker basket.
I’ll end with this story. That shot was February of 2010. The USA was in the winter olympics. Corey Fuhrhop, mentioned in the Ninja Warrior post and fist-pumping
to the left in the background, is known for bringing down the house with his iPod. We had a set playlist but Corey seems to know the one song that will make the roof fall in. He played Miley Cyrus’ Party in the U.S.A. and after the titular line, everyone started cheering, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” They all danced completely through the tear-down on that tiny dance floor until they got kicked out.
The compliments we got weren’t, “That was pretty,” or “Good food.”
Instead we heard, “Wow, that was something special,” and “that moved me,” and “thank you for inviting me so I could have a part in that,” and “I’m glad I got to be here.”
A special thanks to everyone who made this possible, but specifically to:
- Chris DeWelt, for talking through literary alchemy for an hour with me so that you could incorporate it into your sermon
- Josh Schwartz, for the gorgeous painting of the black, white, red and gold lotus — performance art’s hard and you did amazing
- the fantabulous Mary Green, for making the chapel feel small even though it’s huge, for the light design, the set design, the everything awesomeness design
- Gretchyn Lauer, for a similar performance art of piano that acoustically matched what was going on visually AND for writing a song for us that was amazing
- Mark Neuenschwander, before we were good friends, you gave me the most enjoyable photoshoot of my life–and that is saying something my friend. Also, you’rethebestphotographerintheworld.
- The Bridesmaids, for carrying fire down the aisle and taking care of my girl
- The Groomsmen, for wearing lame baseball socks and playing poker with me the day of my wedding
- Robb JK Jones, for buying the socks
- Jordan Schultz, for a perfect bachelor party and for bleeding all over the chapel, going to the ER, getting stitches and coming back for the wedding… all for me. I like to think of it as foreshadowing to the rubedo…
- my brother Heath, for a simple speech that summed up our brotherhood
- Andrew Nash, for a speech that moved me and summed up our friendship
- Dean, Kiddo’s dad, for baking approximately one billion pies INCLUDING white pie so we didn’t have to eat cake
- Dad, for bringing pie to and praying at the rehearsal dinner
- Mom, for the gorgeous rehearsal dinner
- Tammy, for setting up and cleaning up like you do at so many weddings–especially at this one where people kept on a’dancing
- Shane Wood, for opening your home so that I could have a place of rest the day of the wedding AND to Sara & the kids for… y’know… putting your whole family up there with us
- The Huckabays, for contributing just as much
- The Bentons, for all four of you being in the wedding
- The Moyers, for letting your girls run down the aisle
- All seven of you who prayed over us for reasons we’ve already discussed.
- Our families and friends for supporting us and asking, like everyone else, “So what were the red socks all about?”
Now you know.