The Prima Materia, literally meaning the first matter, is one of the most fundamental concepts of alchemy. It
is also the key to unlocking the wisdom hidden in its obscure symbols.
The prima materia is the original material from which the universe is created. The idea that all things in the
world are made, ultimately, from the same substance is the basis for the alchemical theory of transmutation, and the infamous
belief that you can turn lead into gold.
But the identity of this mysterious substance is the greatest secret of this notoriously secretive tradition.
Anyone who managed to isolate the first matter would succeed in the ‘Great Work’; but whilst there was a great
deal of speculation on how to attain it there was never a consensus.
Although the whole concept of the prima materia sounds like a peculiarly alchemical and mystical idea, it is
not at all out of step with science. Lead and Gold are in fact made from the same electrons, positrons and neutrons, and metals
are routinely transmuted from one to another in the heart of stars. But according to the doctrine of spiritual alchemy the
laboratory experiments beloved of the ‘puffers and blowers’ are there to serve as a theoretical framework and
series of metaphors, whose ultimate purpose is ‘spiritual gold’ and the magickal power of an enlightened being.
According to this perspective the first matter is not a material substance in the ordinary sense of the word
at all. So what can we say about the nature of the prima materia according to the tradition of spiritual alchemy? The first
thing to say is that unlike scientific materialism we accept the self-evident existence of consciousness. This is a crucial
point, because the first matter, as the origin of all things which exist, must
be found prior to the division of the universe into the duality of mind and matter.
This is the foundation of all the miraculous powers attributed to the philosopher’s stone and the elixir
of life – that a mind which has turned inwards and found within itself its own fundamental nature resides on that plane
of existence from which all material causes arise.
But here is an enigma: Whilst the main task of any aspiring alchemist is to attain the state of the first matter,
and whilst it seems from the above considerations that in doing so they attain to the ultimate goal of alchemy, it is also
true that most books on practical alchemy begin with the prima material. In order to begin the work of the alchemist one must
already possess this mysterious substance, which you then work with to create the philosopher’s stone.
So here is the riddle: Within its singular nature mind and matter are united, and it is both the beginning and
the end of the work.