Science, Tech, Math › Science The Three Primes of Alchemy Paracelsus Tria Prima Share Flipboard Email Print Jrgen Wambach/EyeEm/Getty Images Science Chemistry Basics Chemical Laws Molecules Periodic Table Projects & Experiments Scientific Method Biochemistry Physical Chemistry Medical Chemistry Chemistry In Everyday Life Famous Chemists Activities for Kids Abbreviations & Acronyms Biology Physics Geology Astronomy Weather & Climate By Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Chemistry Expert Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville B.A., Physics and Mathematics, Hastings College Dr. Helmenstine holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and is a science writer, educator, and consultant. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Updated July 03, 2019 Paracelsus identified three primes (tria prima) of alchemy. The Primes are related to the Law of the Triangle, in which two components come together to produce the third. In modern chemistry, you can't combine the element sulfur and mercury to produce the compound table salt, yet alchemy recognized substances reacted to yield new products. Tria Prima, the Three Alchemy Primes Sulfur – The fluid connecting the High and the Low. Sulfur was used to denote the expansive force, evaporation, and dissolution. Mercury — The omnipresent spirit of life. Mercury was believed to transcend the liquid and solid states. The belief carried over into other areas, as mercury was thought to transcend life/death and heaven/earth. Salt — Base matter. Salt represented the contractive force, condensation, and crystallization. Metaphorical Meanings of the Three Primes Sulfur Mercury Salt Aspect of Matter flammable volatile solid Alchemy Element fire air earth/water Human Nature spirit mind body Holy Trinity Holy Spirit Father Son Aspect of Psyche superego ego id Existential Realm spiritual mental physical Paracelsus devised the three primes from the alchemist's Sulfur-Mercury Ratio, which was the belief that each metal was made from a specific ratio of sulfur and mercury and that a metal could be converted into any other metal by adding or removing sulfur. So, if one believed this to be true, it made sense lead could be converted into gold if the correct protocol could be found for adjusting the amount of sulfur. Alchemists would work with the three primes using a process called Solve Et Coagula, which translates to mean dissolving and coagulating. Breaking apart materials so they could recombine was considered a method of purification. In modern chemistry, a similar process is used to purify elements and compounds through crystallization. Matter is either melted or else dissolved and then allowed to recombine to yield a product of higher purity than the source material. Paracelsus also held the belief that all life consisted of three parts, which could be represented by the Primes, either literally or figuratively (modern alchemy). The three-fold nature is discussed in both Eastern and Western religious traditions. The concept of two joining together to become one is also related. Opposing masculine sulfur and feminine mercury would join to produce salt or the body. Cite this Article Format mla apa chicago Your Citation Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "The Three Primes of Alchemy." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/tria-prima-three-primes-of-alchemy-603699. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2020, August 26). The Three Primes of Alchemy. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tria-prima-three-primes-of-alchemy-603699 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "The Three Primes of Alchemy." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tria-prima-three-primes-of-alchemy-603699 (accessed June 14, 2021). copy citation Alchemy Symbols and Meanings Transmutation Definition and Examples Mercury Facts Aether Definition in Alchemy and Science Alchemy in the Middle Ages 10 Interesting Sulfur Facts 10 Fun and Interesting Chemistry Facts A Guide to Mercury Applications in Metalurgy Biography of John Dee The History of the Thermometer Interesting Facts About Arsenic Amalgam Definition and Uses Alchemy Experiment: Turning Water Into Liquid Gold 10 Facts About the Element Mercury What Are the 5 Traditional Elements? What Was the First Known Element?