This sculpture of Victoria and Albert has long intrigued me. Why? Because Victoria seems so self-effacing – the gentle maiden looking adoringly up to her love. In reality she is the Queen of England and the head of the British Empire – a most powerful woman. In the statue her garb seems to be that of a medieval princess and Albert looks heroic and handsome, the protector of his woman and all that he holds dear.
The female and the male have often been set against each other in the less honourable eras of human history – of which there have been far too many. They have often been regarded as oppositional to each other because of their differences. But it seems to me that at the heart of it, male and female are complementary – a complementarity that has the potential to bring harmony through the strengths of female qualities and the strengths of male qualities. Female and male have irreplaceable qualities in a shared adventure.
I was quite fascinated when I read about an ancient Chinese view of the world in the Tao, where wholeness is regarded as a complementarity of male and female. Figuratively, there is one mountain which has one side in the sun while the other side will be in shadow. This is the original meaning of the words yin and yang.* Yang is the strong male, creative power associated with Heaven; it is firm and protective. Yin is the receptive, female and maternal element represented by Earth. In the old understanding of the way the world was, the heavens moved around the earth which remains still. In the Tao, this came to represent Yang, male, whose essence was movement, while Yin as female was typified by rest. In the area of thought, Yang was rationality, while Yin was the intuitive mind. Yin is the quiet, contemplative stillness of the sage, while Yang was the strong, creative action of the king.
An essential aspect of Yin and Yang was that it is a dynamic relationship. It was a cyclical pattern, always revolving. And even at its fullest extent – whether male or female – it contains an aspect of the other in it – represented by the two dots in the Yin/Yang symbol, and it will rotate into the other aspect.
It was believed that these two aspects permeate the human body and also culture as a whole. Whenever a situation develops to its extreme, it will continue turning and become its opposition. Thus ‘There is a time for being ahead, a time for being behind; a time for being in motion, a time for being at rest; a time for being vigorous, a time for being exhausted; a time for being safe, a time for being in danger’ (29).
When I came across those words in the Tao, it struck me how similar they are to the words found in the Wisdom Tradition found in the Bible in the Ecclesiastes: ‘A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace’ (selected verses from chapter 3).
In the Hebrew tradition when God wanted to express himself in creation, he did not do so fully in one manifestation. Rather he imparted certain aspects of his image to the human male, and different aspects of his image to the human female (Gen 1: 27) – and when the two cleave to each other and become one, those combined, irreplaceable qualities can be made manifest most fully in the world to bring harmony and strength.
And the statue of Victoria and Albert reminded me of all this! They look at each other adoringly, with loyalty and devotion, each manifesting different and essential qualities. Their hands are joined – united and travelling through life together.
*The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, Fritjof Capra, chapter 7.