This is the story of the family and the diverse characters that populate the many branches of our family tree. ... Even if medieval genealogies connecting ancient kings to Adam are pure invention, they retain certain psychic values that are part of the archaeology of the collective .... These images are our prima materia.
The symbolical names of the prima materia all point to the anima mundi, Plato's Primordial Man, the Anthropos, and mystic Adam. Adam Kadmon is the "man of light" and therefore identical with the alchemical filius philosophorum.
Paracelsus says of this astral man, "the true man is the star in us. Prima materia, is "the animal of earth and sea," or "man," or "part of man," that is his hair, blood, and so on. Dorn, student of Paracelsus, said prima materia was "Adamica," which coincides with Paracelsus' limbus microcosmicus.
The secret of alchemy is that it is a personal journey of transformation, and cannot be explained but only experienced. It is "eating the dish," not just reading about it in an alchemical cookbook. Its effects must be channeled into spiritual growth, for if alchemy is used to gratify personal desire the work is lost. This means the ego gets inflated with its own importance when the real power source lies within the Self. This naturally produces a regression back into an unconscious state, back to the prima materia, raw psychic material. The instinctual urge for growth and transformation lies within us. For this urge to be considered evolutional requires that the ego must cooperate quite deliberately and consciously with the Self. This leads toward self-realization. The main purpose of the Opus is "to create a transcendent, miraculous substance which is variously symbolized as the Philosopher's Stone, the Elixir of Life, or the universal medicine (panacea). The procedure is, first, to find the suitable material, the so called prima materia (lead), and then to subject it to a series of operations which will turn it into the Philosopher's Stone (gold)." (Edinger, 1978).
The First Matter is a homogenous unity of Mercury, Sulfur and Salt. It is therefore 'three,' but can also be expressed as 'four' elements, which are again essentially 'one.' Jung felt that the secret of the psyche was contained in this question of the 'three' and the 'four.' In alchemy it is expressed as the axiom of Maria Prophetessa: "Therefore the Hebrew prophetess cried without restraint: 'one becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the One as the fourth.'" Today, physicists echo this statement when they call 'plasma' both the fourth and first state of matter (the others being liquid, gas and solid).
In Jungian psychology, the prima materia is the original undifferentiated condition of ordinary consciousness, which is really unconsciousness -- subjective awareness. Mystics of all times have repeated that in the ordinary state we are all asleep or even "dead" to the true Reality. In psychology the four-fold nature of the prima materia is expressed by the four functions which correspond with the alchemical elements: intuition (fire), thinking (air), feeling (water), and sensation (earth). In Jungian theory we have a dominant function and limited access to one or two others, but the fourth function is inaccessible, elusive, maladapted, or hard to integrate. It is what keeps us from "getting it all together." Thus, we are out-of-balance.
Balancing the four functions means achieving an integrated personality, harmony and well-being. This requires undergoing a symbolic process of the union of opposites, which is what both alchemy (and Tantra) and Jungian analysis are all about. Both alchemy and Jungian psychology require a period of depth analysis (solutio) to distinguish the original, undifferentiated contents. The ego learns what part of the personality comes from itself and which parts from the Self. It reflects on its own component parts (subpersonalities) and learns to see itself as a small part of a greater whole, the larger unity of the Self. Edinger says, "The fixed, settled aspects of the personality which are rigid and static are reduced or led back to their original, undifferentiated condition as part of the process of psychic transformation," i.e. back to a state of 'innocence.' Further, Edinger compares the problem of discovering the prima materia to the problem of finding what to work on in psychotherapy. He gives some hints:
(1) It is ubiquitous, to be found everywhere, before the eyes of all. This means that psychotherapeutic material likewise is everywhere, in all the ordinary, everyday occurrences of life. Moods and petty personal reactions of all kinds are suitable matter to be worked on by the therapeutic process.
(2) Although of great inward value, the primal materia is vile in outer appearance and therefore despised, rejected or thrown on the dung heap. The prima materia is treated like the suffering servant in Isaiah. Psychologically, this means that the primal materia is found in the shadow, that part of the personality which is considered most despicable. Those aspects of ourselves most painful and most humiliating are the very ones to be brought forward and worked on. (3) It appears as multiplicity, "has as many names as there are things," but at the same time is one. This feature corresponds to the fact that initially psychotherapy makes one aware of his/her fragmented, disjointed condition. Very gradually these warring fragments are discovered to be differing aspects of ones underlying unity. It is as though one sees the fingers of a hand touching a table at first only in two dimensions, as separate unconnected fingers. With three-dimensional vision, the fingers are seen as part of a larger unity, the hand. (4) The prima materia is undifferentiated, without definite boundaries, limits or form. This corresponds to a certain experience of the unconscious which exposes the ego to the infinite. ...It may evoke the terror of dissolution or the awe of eternity. It provides a glimpse of the pleroma. ...the chaos prior to the operation of the World-creating Logos. It is the fear of the boundless that often leads one to be content with the ego-limits he has rather than risk falling into the infinite by attempting to enlarge them. The different operations to transform the prima materia follow as the natural consequences of finding the material to work on. The imagery associated with these operations is profuse and draws from myth, religion and folklore. The symbols for all these imagery-systems comes from the collective unconscious. There is no set number of alchemical operations, just as there is no set number or order to archetypes. However, certain of the operations seem to recur more often in the literature and experience. We could consider these as the skeletal frame of the alchemical process. Their order switches around also. Edinger lists seven operations which seem to typify the major transformations of the alchemical process. These include: calcinatio, solutio, coagulatio, sublimatio, mortificatio, separatio, and coniunctio. Other major operations include nigredo, albedo, rubedo, solificatio, multiplicatio, projectio, separatio, circulatio, and more. We can detail the nature of each of these operations later. For now, it is enough to grasp the overview which is best stated by Jung, himself, in Mysterium Coniunctionis: "...the alchemist saw the essence of his art in separation and analysis [solve or solutio] on the one hand and synthesis and consolidation [coagula or coagulatio] on the other. For him there was first of all an initial state in which opposite tendencies or forces were in conflict; secondly, there was the great question of a procedure which would be capable of bringing the hostile elements and qualities, once they were separated, back to unity again. The initial state, named chaos, was not given from the start but had to be sought for as the prima materia. And just as the beginning of the work was not self-evident, so to an even greater degree was its end. There are countless speculations on the nature of the end state, all of them reflected in its designations. The commonest are the ideas of its permanence (prolongation of life, immortality, incorruptibility), its androgyny, its spirituality and corporeality, its divinity and its resemblance to man (homunculus)." He goes on to point out what this might mean psychologically. We could view it as conflicting drives originating on the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical levels creating splits in the personality. Jung says that, "The obvious analogy, in the psychic sphere, to this problem of opposites is the dissociation of the personality brought about by the conflict of incompatible tendencies resulting as a rule from an inharmonious disposition. The repression of one of the opposites leads only to a prolongation and extension of the conflict, in other words, to a neurosis. The therapist therefore confronts the opposites with one another and aims at uniting them permanently. The images of the goal which then appear in dreams often run parallel with the corresponding alchemical symbols." He reiterates the value of accessing the alchemical symbolism for increasing insight. "Investigation of the alchemical symbolism, like a preoccupation with mythology, does not lead one away from life anymore than a study of comparative anatomy leads away from the anatomy of the living man. On the contrary, alchemy affords us a veritable treasure-house of symbols, knowledge of which is extremely helpful for an understanding of neurotic and psychotic processes. This, in turn, enables us to apply the psychology of the unconscious to those regions in the history of the human mind which are concerned with symbolism." Each of the operations of alchemy functions as the center of focus of an elaborate symbol-system. Other symbols which are related to the operation cluster around the theme of the operation -- they share a common essence. These central symbols provide basic categories which we can use to understand our own personal psychic life, and even the transformation processes of others. Taken together, the alchemical operations illustrate almost all of the full range of experiences which are involved in the process of individuation. As Grossinger points out, "Alchemy is thus a form of chemical research into which unresolved psychic elements were projected. The alchemical nigredo, the initial phase of the operation which produces 'black blacker than black,' is also an internal experience of melancholia, an encounter with the shadow." But this is also the necessary first stage in Jungian analysis -- confronting that which has been rejected or repressed is essential to becoming whole. This realm of the shadow can often provide more real substance for the spiritual quest than mimicking the teachings of a spiritual master without really changing oneself. Though stumbling around in the dark seems frustrating, if it is honest and heartfelt, and one really grapples with the shadow problem, the way is cleared for progress that will be sustained by a firm foundation gained in the early phases. Throughout the alchemical process, the lapis functions as an inner guide by presenting itself in diverse symbolism. It symbolizes the growing manifestation of your latent potential for wholeness. It frequently manifests in mandala symbolism. This includes such forms as a revolving wheel or the zodiac, the petals of a magnificent flower, or a serpent eating its tail. As a grand union of opposites, it symbolizes the unification of king and queen, man and wife, conscious and unconscious, personality and society, etc. in a royal union called the Marriage of the Sun and Moon in alchemy Alchemy is a means of understanding our unconscious projections of archetypes into the world. In "Spiritual Development as Reflected in Alchemy and Related Disciplines," Rudolf Bernoulli summarizes the basics of extroverted and introverted alchemy. He says, "There are two kinds of alchemy: one strives to know the cosmos as a whole and to recreate it; it is in a sense the precursor of modern natural science. It aspires to create gold as the supreme perfection in this sphere...The other alchemy strives higher; it strives for the great wonder, the wonder of all wonder, the magic crystal, the philosopher's stone." "This is not a substance susceptible of chemical analysis. It does not represent a spiritual or psychological state that can be reduced to a clear formula. It is something more than perfection, something through which perfection can be achieved. It is the universal instrument of magic. By it we can attain to the ultimate. By it we can completely possess the world. By it we can make ourselves free from the world, by soaring above it. This is alchemy in the mystical sense ...The goal is reached only when a man succeeds in creating the ...stone within himself, and this is made possible only the intervention of the 'inner master.'" i.e. the Self. Psychologically, the union of body and spirit or of conscious and unconscious can be safely attempted only when both have undergone a purification brought about by the earlier stages of analysis, in which the conscious character and the personal unconscious are reviewed and set in order. (Psychic Energy, p. 452-3).