Lesson 7 - Three Primes and Four Aspects
Comprehend the three primes as well as the four aspects.
Understand how this directly affects our magic.
Today we'll be going over the Three Primes and the Four Aspects. Both groups are under a big umbrella known as classical elements, which are simpler substances that are used to explain concepts defining the nature and complexity of matter. Of course there are more elements that can be considered classical elements depending on which culture you're talking about, but for today we'll focus on these seven. The four aspects were seen more commonly in ancient Greece as well known philosophers tried to make sense of them. In his treatise, On Generation and Corruption, Aristotle took the four aspects and related them to sensible qualities:
Notice how they seem to connect to each other when you look at their qualities. Of course, this theory was questioned by alchemists and philosophers after Aristotle. During the Medieval era, a Persian alchemist named Jābir ibn Hayyān created an element system that used the four Aristotelian elements along with two philosophical elements: sulphur and mercury.
It wasn't until Paracelsus came along that the three metallic principles came along. He called these tria prima, otherwise known as the three primes. They consisted of sulphur, mercury, and salt. Paracelsus believed that the four aspects appeared in our bodies in the form of the three primes. He believed that anything could be created by combining mercury and sulphur. The product of combining the two substances is salt. This applies to not only figuratively, but also physically. Paracelsus believed every metal is made up of a certain ratio of mercury and sulphur. Under this theory, he believed a metal can be transmuted into another metal by either adding or removing sulphur. Imagine how fire burns wood. The smoke represents the volatility in mercury. The actual flames represents the flammability in sulphur. The remaining ashes are the solidarity in salt. Paracelsus used this explanation to justify the three primes.
As the first of the three primes we'll discuss, sulphur is a bright yellow non-metal. It oxidizes several non-metals as well as most metals. It's an essential element for all life as it plays an important role in enzymes and antioxidant materials in the body.
In alchemy, sulphur represents the omnipresent essence of life. It represents our soul, what we are on the inside. No matter how you change on the outside, you're still you. Sulphur represents fire. It's fiery and active; hot and dry. It’s also symbolic for our emotions and desires.
Sulphur is the polar opposite of mercury. An important aspect of alchemy is being able to dissolve (turning a solid into a liquid) and coagulate (turning a liquid into a solid) elements. Sulphur can coagulate liquid mercury. Due to this reaction, the two primes are said to be connected in a mystic marriage, Conjunctio. In this sense we aren't talking about the actual elements themselves but the forces of nature themselves, Sol and Luna, otherwise known as the Sun and the Moon. Inside gold is the alchemical Sun, however inside the Sun is sulphur. Alchemists link sulphur with the Sun, giving our souls life.
"Sulphur, the fiery spirit that vivifies
everything. The wings on his head and feet are the
traditional representations of the god Mercury.
But that (the fire) which comes from the sun,
which fire maintains
every bodily thing
for as far as it is natural."
- Nicholas Flamel
You may already know mercury as three different things: the chemical element, the planet, and the messenger god. In its chemical form, mercury is also known as quicksilver. It's the only metal that liquefies at standard room temperature and pressure. It's also very toxic so do be careful if you are ever handling this element. Mercury is also symbolic for moral judgement and imagination.
As you may know from the last lesson, Mercury is the messenger of the gods in Roman mythology. In Greek mythology, he is known as Hermes. He's a quick and cunning god of transitions and boundaries, moving to and from the mortal and divine worlds.
Mercury is representative of the fluid connection the High and Low (which we will go into more detail about in Year Four). It's the glue that connects us to the ups and downs, between the heavens and the underworld. The fixed substance represents water and ambivalence. More importantly, mercury is our spirit. Our spirit connects to magic, which then connects back to the universe. It keeps us grounded on the Earth. Yet, while mercury may be what keeps all of us connected, it's also the chaos in our universe that can break those same bonds.
If sulphur is the Sun, then mercury is the Moon; if sulphur is fiery and solid, then mercury is volatile and liquid. They're total opposites of each other yet they complete each other if we go by the concept of Conjunctio. In fact the entire idea of this mystic marriage symbolizes the inner meaning of alchemy!
"Hermes is the Primal Source.
After so many injuries
have been done to the human race,
I flow forth,
by divine decree
and assisted by the Art,
as a healing giving medicine.
He who is able to, drink out of me.
He who wants, purify himself in me.
He who dares, jump into my depths.
Drink, brother, and live."
- Johann Valentin Andreae in Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreutz (Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz)
When we bring sulphur and mercury together, the physical form of Salt is created. Salt represents the body, our vessel that lets us live on the physical plane. It nullifies the opposing forces of sulphur and mercury and brings them together in order to exist in the material world.
Salt wasn't actually prominent until Paracelsus deemed it to be a part of the three primes. Before that alchemists only considered fire, earth, air, water, sulphur, mercury, and maybe aether as important elements. Paracelsus had a theory of there being a natural balsam. He believed it to be a salty preservation that shields the body from decay, corruption, and old age. Alchemists have been experimenting with salt in creating the Elixir of Life due to this theory. Even if it's not the key to gaining immortality, it could be a useful ingredient in beautification potions.
Salt is symbolic for knowledge and wisdom as well as the earth aspect. It is an awareness of our inner-wisdom and self-conscious. In its most basic form, it's described as bitter. What alchemists are referring to as bitterness is self knowledge, which can be bitter and painful. Salt can also be associated with ash, the ouroboros, and even the Philosopher's Stone itself.
"He who wants to get insight and enlightenment in all truth,
think of God’s birth in himself,
in the depth of his soul.
As soon as he will open himself for that,
all energies of the soul come to life,
and in one instant
he receives more wisdom
than anybody can teach him."
- Meister Eckehart
That concludes the three primes. Moving on to the four aspects, as you know these four are fire, air, earth, and water. Long ago, the four nations lived in harmony… Okay, I'll stop with the references. Anyway, the four aspects correspond to the modern scientific knowledge of plasmas, gases, solids, and liquids respectively. These four elements are what all alchemists study at the very least. Some believe that other aspects belong in this category but these are the basic ones you should know.
Before we talk about each aspect individually, I want to point out that the four aspects can be used to identify which aspects of our personality we can improve. A balance between all the aspects is ideal. Carl Jung, a psychologist and modern alchemist, was known for connecting several alchemy concepts with his psychology works from the 1940’s and on. In his theory of personality types, he used the four aspects to describe different archetypes in everyone. He characterized air and fire as active, masculine traits while water and earth were passive, feminine traits. Overall, Jung encouraged a balance of the four aspects in a person.
Don't these look somewhat familiar? I'm sure most of you have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test already and know that you lean more towards one type than another. Intuition and sensation pair up with each other while thinking and feeling are pairs. You can actually use the Myers-Briggs test to see which side you lean on to work on creating a balance. If you're more sensing, then maybe try to be more intuitive. Why? This helps you build a fully integrated inner self rather than staying on one end of the spectrum.
Then everything changed when the Fire nation attacked...
Sorry, I couldn't resist! Our first aspect today is obviously fire. It's a chaotic element that is hard to tame. However, chaos isn't always bad. In fact, chaos can bring out a creative spark from within you. It represents our passion, our desire, our will.
Fire is the most active part of our imagination and consciousness, creating original ideas and breakthroughs. Fire initiates many processes and it can be used as a catalyst. Out of the Jungian types, fire is our intuition. When channeling fire, we don't need to think about it, instead we need to feel it.
Looking at fire can be quite calming. Fire has a warmth and enthusiastic characteristic about it that may remind you of many positive memories. Even though fire has so many good qualities, it’s still hard to tame. When it gets out of hand, it can raise a lot of havoc and destruction. Fire magic is an archaic form of magic. Most of the people who choose fire as their main source of magic either have insidious intentions or are very ambitious.
When casting any form of fire magic, it's always a good idea to take precautionary measures in case things get out of hand. I recommend that you find a fire-safe place such as a fireplace. Be sure to keep your wand pointed at the target instead of anywhere else. You don't need to burn your mother's favorite house plant or accidentally set the sofa on fire. One fire spell that would be great to practice is Incendio. You learned this in Charms already so I won't walk you through it. Remember to keep the fire contained and have a good control over it.
Air is a resemblance of our intellect. In fact, it symbolizes many of the thought patterns that happen in our minds. Thoughts are constantly moving and expanding just like air. Air symbolizes how our thoughts flow freely in the direction we want to send them. It invokes reason and logic, but in an expansive way instead of limiting. It goes without saying that the Jungian type that corresponds to air is thinking.
Air is more distant than the rest of the elements. It's flexible and its magic is light and springy. Air magic is easier to produce than fire magic as it is not as complex. The trick to mastering air is to keep a clear mind. Take a deep breath in and then let it out. See how calming that feels? Keep that feeling in mind when you are casting any air spells.
In alchemy, air can be used to help us find our inner self. We can separate which thoughts and emotions to keep and which to discard. It can raise our awareness about higher levels of consciousness and subtlety.
Here's a spell that you might find useful. It's a little more difficult to get your desired result than some of the other spells we've learned this year, however it's not difficult to master at all once you get the hang of it.
Name: Air Charm
Incantation: Marum aeris (ma-RUE-m air-IS)
Wand Movement: Hold the wand straight out in front of you and slightly flick it to the right
The charm will produce a gust of air coming out of your wand. The duration of how long your wand will produce wind depends on your focus, while the strength of the gust of air depends solely on your willpower. This spell is tricky at first because most people underestimate the amount of concentration and willpower that are needed to get more than just a tiny puff of air.
Everything is physical, from the grass, to the trees, to the flowers. Like salt, earth is also our body or matter on the material plane. We use earth to take our higher energies and ideas and put them into a physical form. We make things tangible so we can put them into practical use.
For a mundane example, imagine that you had an idea about how to make the world's best slingshot. You plan it all in your head. Earth represents the actual building of the slingshot as well as the ability to use it when it's done. We can think of many ideas and get creative all day but they won't become a reality until you take action. That's where you get results.
In the four Jungian types, earth is sensation. In a psychological perspective, sensing means paying attention to the physical reality. Can you see, touch, hear, taste, or smell it? Sensing means paying attention to what is current, present, and real, as well as wanting to see the practical use of things. Earth is all about practicality and observing things in a physical form.
In order to use earth magic, you need to be spiritually connected with the Earth. There is a connection among each individual person, whether they are magical or non-magical. That connection is what you need to tap into. After doing this, remember that earth is all about bringing things into the material plane. For example, let's say you're trying to grow flowers with magic. You need to engage the body through your five senses to get the end result. Focus on what the flowers would look like, what they smell like, etc. while doing the spell. Using your description of the flower, you make it tangible and real.
This may sound complex, but it's actually very simple. Earth magic is taking ideas we believe to be complex and bringing them to life by simply using our senses. Like fire magic, earth magic dates far back to ancient times.
Water is quite an emotional aspect. While fire gives us that creative spark and air lets our thoughts flow freely, water is able to take our creative thoughts and keep them flowing until they reach their destination. It may seem weak, but water is a powerful force. It's a quiet storm that is capable of wreaking havoc at any given moment. Just look at tsunamis! When they're out in the ocean, they may not seem like much at all. In fact, if you're on a boat when a tsunami passes under you, it'll feel like a normal wave. However when they reach land, they can climb up to massive heights and destroy a lot of infrastructure.
Water is our ability to flow and be flexible. It can take the shape of any container it's in. This encourages us to be adaptable to situations. Since this is the last element we're discussing, obviously water relates to the Jungian type feeling.
Emotions are a great thing but they do need to be kept in check. They're often unpredictable and can make us do stupid things. When you're in the heat of the moment, your actions won't seem that bad. After you calm down and look back at what just happened, that's when you begin to reflect and regret your actions. Water is often the same way in terms of the aspect as well as its magic.
In alchemy, water is used for purification, cleansing, and dissolving impurities in a system. Water can also be used as a medium for storing information as it has been scientifically proven to have a great capacity for memory. That will actually help us when we use earth to give it a physical form.
Water is capable of expanding the reaches of magic towards the unknown. There's a mystery factor behind this aspect. Alchemists often wonder about the ability that water has in the physical and metaphysical world. One of the reasons Dzou Yen was able to transmute lead into gold was because he used water magic. The ancient Greeks believed in the power that water had over us as well. They believed that water could renew one's spiritual self by cleansing impurities in a form of metamorphosis.
That concludes this lesson! Before you leave, I'd like to share an image that links the whole lesson together:
It shows the relationship of the three primes with the four aspects and it incorporates Aristotle's theory! Isn't that something! Anyway, I just thought it was cool. This week you have a quiz and an extra credit essay. I hope this lesson was a little eye opening if nothing else. Really, play around with these ideas some; they're pretty interesting. I'll see all of you next week!