The three alchemical principles for personal growth are Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt. Together, these form the “Tria Prima,” or Three Primes, as discovered by Paracelsus, related to the Law of the Triangle in which two components come together to produce the third.
We see this in biological conception: feminine (Mercury) + masculine (Sulfur) = physical cells which become a body (Salt). The Primes are philosophical in nature rather than chemical. We aren’t able to combine the chemically recognized elements of Mercury and Sulfur to create Salt— this is more of a universal archetypal language. All things in our universe, material and ephemeral, are comprised of the Three Primes in varying concentrations.
Understanding the three principles is an invaluable way to develop personal growth and a deeper understanding of our world, to recognize the patterns and interconnections. They represent truth, and thus are easily observable cross-culturally and throughout art, science, and history. Look, for example, to examples of the tri-fold structure in concepts like Vata, Pitta, and Kapha in Ayurveda; Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable in Astrology; The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in Catholicism; Liquid, Solid and Gas in science; and Proton, Neutron, and Electron in physics. In ourselves, we see these patterns as Body, Mind, and Soul, as well as in the Freudian model of Ego, Id, and Superego.
Sulfur is a combination of the elements Fire and Air. In the human being it is representative of the Soul, or our essence, which is eternal and not bound to the physical form. In the Freudian model, it represents the Superego, or the idealistic, moral/spiritual aspect of the psyche. Mercury is composed of the Air and Water elements, half ethereal and half corporeal. In our human selves, Mercury represents our minds, and most importantly, the animating, universal life force found in all living beings.
In the psyche, it is appropriately representative of the Ego, which moderates and directs instinctual desires with intellect and reason based on experience of the external world. Salt embodies the elements of Water and Earth, and as such represents the human body, the physical form. In the Freudian psyche, Salt represents the Id, or the instinctual, primitive part of the mind that is present at birth. Its main concern is for bodily needs and pleasures be fulfilled, regardless of morality or consequence. Salt (the body, Id) and Sulphur (the soul, Superego) are opposing forces, while Mercury (the mind/spirit, Ego) acts like a go-between; the three are united but often bucking against one another.
As we can see, alchemy deals at once with the spiritual, intellectual, and physical realms. Applying our understanding of the alchemical principles to our own lives begins with simply observing. Do we see these patterns in our personalities? What about in daily life, the stories we tell, the problems we solve? Can we experience these patterns in our minds, in our bodies, in our souls? Do we see one prime stand out more than the others?
Slowly and without judgement, we can being to incorporate practices to invoke any of the less prominent primes and practices to balance out the more prominent ones. Alchemy posits that everything can be distilled, refined, and recombined, and there are myriad, gentle ways we can apply this theory to our own lives.
Meditation is a wonderful way to balance out an overactive Mercury prime, whereas reading, journaling, or even attending weekly trivia will call in a greater Mercurial influence. Exercise, dietary adjustments, hydration, and getting enough sleep will nourish our physical bodies and call in the element of Salt, whereas scheduling time away from the couch, booze, and comfort food will help to balance it out. Getting in touch with your spiritual beliefs, creating ritual and ceremony— and again, meditation— will invoke the prime of Sulfur whereas limiting self-criticism, a tendency towards perfectionism or control, and moral values that have become inhibiting or rigid will temper Sulfur.
Remember: each person is a combination of all three of these perfect primes, and there is no right or wrong way to experience or work with the Tria Prima. Recognizing the three prime patterns and appreciating the interweaving of our worlds can show us magic we may have forgotten or taken for granted and help develop our personal growth. Balancing our Tria Prima is a lifelong dance with the true language of the universe.