September 25, 2020
The basis of the opus, the prima materia, is one of the most famous secrets of alchemy. This is hardly surprising, since it represents the unknown substance that carries the projection of the autonomous psychic content. (Jung, 1968, pp. 317, para 425)
When I was a child, my friends and I would go outside on a partly cloudy day, lie down, and see what shapes were in the clouds. There were things all of us could see, but every now and again, someone would see something no one else could see. They would not point it out, but the rest of us had to find it and call out, “got it” or if we couldn’t find it, we would say “ok you win. Where is it?” It was a fun game to play. It was completely organic, and the time limited shapes captured our imaginations.
How we interact with things we see in the outside world depends on perception (perhaps facts that lead to a conclusion) and/or imagination. Ordinary life is quite different than nine months ago. The familiar is shifted, disrupted, or even destroyed. So now our task is to evaluate what has been given, recognize what we now face, and choose the best response to it. Life changes much like the clouds. However, we are not powerless or helpless in life unless we just watch life as it goes by. The current state of the world is often a result of human action. The challenge is to cherish, invigorate or stand up for what you value. The world needs our participation to make it a better place.
Each one of us deals with the crisis and trauma in a unique way. It is personal like our fingerprints. Under such situations of duress, our ego consciousness is overwhelmed, and our personal and collective unconscious is activated to support and guide us. However, for the unconscious to convey its message to us it must fine a receiver of the message in our consciousness. This receiver is the Prima Materia of alchemy. The unconscious organically improvises a medium to project its guidance in a symbolic manner to be de-coded by consciousness.
The Prima Materia is selected from whatever is readily available to consciousness that can receive, transmute, and convey the message from our depths. In my clinical experience over 45 years, it is fascinating to catalogue this projection system of the unconscious onto a conscious content which is available and amenable to carry to the symbolic content from the unconscious that is necessary to deal with the crisis at hand.
Here are some clinical examples of such a Prima Materia. One individual consulted me around the stress generated by remodeling her home. I thought that this would be a brief support psychotherapy encounter for a few sessions, which lasted for a decade! I realized that the home project was the Prima Materia for this patient. It took complex twists and turns way out of proportion to the project which should have taken a few months max. Each aspect of this project became a Herculean task. The house building was a projection of her soul making. It became a medium for relationship with her estranged daughter – emerging Self, a contentious neighbor – the Shadow, the city among – the collective, among other layers of the psyche.
Other examples of Prima Materia include politics, constitution, workplace, marriage, relationship tangles, a medical or psychiatric problem. Since these carry the massive projections of the unconscious materials, they are not meant to be resolved but understood as to the symbolic value of these issues. An attempt to problem- solve prematurely only leads to the unconscious choosing another medium for its projection. There is no way out till the message is decoded and implemented. Its like the famed Penelope’s loom in Homer’s Odyssey. She wove it in the daytime the unwove it night so that it was never completed. Once completed, she had to choose a suitor as her husband and accept her husband’s death. She kept this up for 10 years till Odysseus returned and slayed all the suitors. The Prima Materia is like the Penelope’s loom; it will not stop the projection till the task prescribed by the unconscious is attended to.
In this present blog, the images BJ chooses are the Prima Materia. While he chooses the image, they are really chosen by both of us since we are in the Alchemic vessel together and in a state of unconscious connectivity – the Participatio Mystique. The collective unconscious has for reasons beyond us chosen us a vehicle to convey its prescriptions via our shared blog to contribute to dealing with the storm in a small way. We are a slender thread in the tapestry of the response paradigm. So, the images and the blog are the Prima Materia.
Points to Ponder:
- Write a story about the cloud. What made it form? How big will it get? What shapes will it take?
- How are the dynamics of the story similar or different than your life?
- What action can you take to improve the world you are dissatisfied with?
- What projections have you made that help you identify unknown (or rejected) parts of yourself?
- What is your Prima Materia that is the focus of your attempt to stay centered in the storm?
- What instructions from your deeper Self come via your Prima Materia?
- How do you implement this inner guidance?
Jung, C. G. (1968). Psychology and alchemy (2d ed. Vol. 12). [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton University Press.
Ashok Bedi, M.D., Jungian Psychoanalyst
Robert BJ Jakala PH.D., Jungian Psychotherapist
In a storm, the safest place is in the eye of the storm. My colleague BJ and I will share our daily reflections on this centering process from an Analytical perspective, sharing from the repertoire of our personal and professional experience. BJ is a psychologist and a photographer and will pick an image of the day that catches him in this collective crisis. I will amplify it from a Jungian Analytical perspective. We hope that this may offer you a baby step on the path to your own unique response to this chaos.
© Ashok Bedi, M.D. and Robert BJ Jakala, PH. D