Prima Materia  LbNA # 58251

Placed DateJan 28 2010
LocationTilden Park, Berkeley, CA
Planted Bymandala    
Found By fleetwood7
Last Found Jan 29 2010
Hike Distance?
Last EditedSep 20 2015

Prima Materia

Prima Materia

Boxactive Apr 3, 2011
by CompassRose
Location: Tilden Park, Berkeley, CA [MapQuest] [Yahoo! Maps] [Google Maps]
Plant Date: January 28, 2010
Last Modified: June 3, 2011
Prima Materia: An Alchemical Letterbox

(see also the listing for this box on where my trailname is CompassRose. )

In alchemy, prima material refers to the base material that becomes transformed, through the alchemical process, into gold. If you complete this quest, you will discover an amusing example of such material, and that symbol may suggest to you others of your own. I have another letterbox called Prima Materia 2, which is located very close to this one, and you can actually pick up the clues for it on the same walk as this letterbox hunt. What I recommend is that you separate the clue gathering for the 2 boxes by gathering the clues for the 1st on the way uphill, then gather the clues for the other on the way downhill. This would work well and also keep the 4-stage theme of the first all together, as well as keeping you from getting numbers mixed up.

Take this 1.5 mile journey to delve into the rich symbolism and complexity of the alchemical process.

Update June 3 2011: letterbox is fine and in the same position, clean and waiting for visitors.

This is a difficult letterbox hunt, not because of anything “tricky” about the final hiding spot, but because of the skills needed to obtain the clues to find it. If you have decent compass skills and math skills, then the only other thing that's needed is putting in the time to use them. NOTE: some of the clues needed to find this box may be difficult or impossible to obtain on a very foggy day. I have an alternate way to calculate one of the clues that may be fogged out, but there are a couple others that you really need the weather to cooperate for. Best to do this hunt on a day that's not too fogged in.
There is no bushwhacking required, and there is no poison oak in the immediate area. The terrain at the letterbox site is not precarious. The most you'll face is a slight, short scramble along the way.
After you find the box, replace it with only the "base material" part showing.

Note: This rubber stamp is one of the first I hand carved and it is humble. Don’t expect a brilliant stamp…hope you do this hunt because the process is fun for you!

By the way, if you happen to also do any geocaching, you might be interested in a similar geocache I have planted and listed on For this letterbox quest, you will need these items:
• A sighting compass, preferably something like a Silva baseplate compass with mirror (costs as little as $21 at REI) or, even better, a military lensatic compass ( I recommend the Cammenga model 3-H Military Tritium Lensatic Compass, at . If you try using one of the dime-sized compasses that come at the end of a keychain, you may be on this hunt for a few months or years.
• A 12 inch ruler
• A protractor
• A blank piece of paper 8.5 by 11 inches in size, and something to support writing on it.
• A map of Tilden park, the kind the park makes, available at most main trailheads. (You’ll be writing on it.) (IF the trailhead kiosk is out of maps, you can get one at the kiosk in the paved parking area, or at the INspiration point trailhead, or the LIttle Farm trailhead, and some other trailheads in the park).
You will need these skills:
• Knowing how to take compass bearings
• Knowing how to find your position by triangulation.
and, knowing how to use a map to find a bearing between two points on a map.
For this quest, you will NOT need to take magnetic declination from True North into account. You can just use simple magnetic bearings. You do not need to be precisely accurate with your bearings because crosschecks will keep you on track if you are off by 9 degrees or less.

For Carl Jung, alchemy was a fantastic source of insights into psychological processes. Depending upon one’s approach to the alchemical process, it was said to have 7 stages, or sometimes 3 or 4 stages. The 4 stages and some aspects of their meanings are the following:
1. NIGREDO: (black) Putrefaction and decomposition. The body is reduced to primal matter from which it arose. This symbolizes encounters with shadow material, monsters, difficult initiation. Saturn is the planet symbolizing this stage.
2. ALBEDO: (white) Deep in the dark, a white light appears. Masculine and feminine are united, one discovers the “hermaphroditic nature” of the human being. This stage is symbolized by Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn, or by the morning star, Venus/Aphrodite.
3. CITRINITAS: (yellow) Of the sun, the solar light, a golden rose, the wise old man archetype within.
4. RUBEDO: (red) In the culminating stage, the alchemist has accepted his or her spiritual inheritance, realizing divine essence while in human form. This stage results in the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone, often portrayed as a phoenix.
(The photo accompanying this letterbox listing shows nigredo, albedo and rubedo as three creatures combined in an alchemical retort, an illustration from Roob's book above.)

To begin:
Are witch’s spells, potions and broths a variety of alchemy? They like the alchemists use a vessel to prepare a mix: perhaps a cauldron instead of a retort, a magical vessel nonetheless.
You’ll be beginning near a place in the East Bay Hills of the San Francisco Bay Area, where the powers that be have created space for a particular creature who is known by these lines from Macbeth:

"Eye of _____, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."
Macbeth (IV, i, 14-15)

Find the place in the East Bay hills where each year, a road is closed to protect the travels of the creature who fits into the quote above. If you don’t know where this is, you can call the East Bay Regional Park District (main office in Oakland). From the higher elevation end of this road, park in the nearest paved parking lot that is open year-round. It is near a place that children like, where they can go on rides and hear the whistle blow. Restrooms and water are available here.
After parking your car, head up the road that goes uphill toward a metal gate, where a paved trail begins. PICK UP A PARK MAP HERE! You will need this for your alchemical journey. (If the kiosk is out of maps, you can get one at the kiosk by the paved parking lot or at the Inspiration Point trailhead, or at the LIttle Farm trailhead). Walk uphill on this paved trail as it curves around a couple bends. Continue on until you see a radio tower to your right (east). Just north of this area, you’ll see two large black stones with curves in the middle that look like ruins of something. This is our NIGREDO point.

Go to the easternmost of these two stones. Place your compass along the north side of the upper part of the stone. Read the westerly bearing (the larger of the two numbers of its directional orientation.) This bearing is ABC, where A + B + C = 11.

Now look east to the light. Walk a little further north until you come to a bench with a plaque on its back. Here, if it is not too overcast or foggy, you can see the summit of a place where the black of the Devil, shadow and destruction meets Aurora in the white light of the dawn or the encompassing clouds. Standing centered behind the bench, take the bearing to the topmost part of this summit. This bearing is DE, where D + E = 15.
If the day is foggy or overcast and you can’t see the summit, use another bearing below to get this bearing: the bearing is P(P+1) eg 1st digit P, 2nd digit P + 1.

Perhaps it takes fluid to assist in the mixing of the elements we want to combine. From the same spot at the bench, take a bearing to the center of the body of fluid in the landscape before you. Bearing is FG, where F + G = 6.

Do we yet have enough fluid in our retort? Walk just a little further to where you see a metal gate to the right, centered between two large posts, looking out onto a small grassy plateau. Stand on the rock at the base of the diagonal support for the southern post, and take a compass bearing to the hermaphroditic “dragon” emerging out of the large fluid body in the landscape below you. (In prosaic terms, a tower: but hats off to the imaginative among you!). This compass bearing is one digit only, call it H, and crosscheck: H = C.

Continue walking until you see something that has the qualities of both yellow and three. This will be something that does not change with the seasons. Standing 3 feet in front of this object, take a compass bearing to the hard, crusty, wise old man standing at the fork in the road (in a more mundane perspective, you might say he looks like cylindrical metal object). Compass bearing is JKL where J + K + L = 9.

Continue on the paved path uphill toward the summit. The reaching of the summit symbolizes the end of the journey, the realization of divine essence and the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone. Go until the point where the blacktop ends. Just to your left, you will see a 12 ft tall tree (Bay tree?). Stand on the corner of the blacktop end nearest this tree, and take a compass bearing to the red object on the wall of the building in front of you to the south, an object having to do with the element FIRE. Compass bearing = MNP where M + N + P = 10.

Now you have almost all the bearings you need, so go back down the hill to the bench you sat at before. Get comfortable on this bench and find one more bearing, but this one you’ll find from a map, not from the landscape itself. Get out the Tilden Park map.
Notice the North arrow on the map. Using your ruler, use this north arrow to make a north line on the map. Then draw a perpendicular to that line, which intersects the summit you have just climbed. Now, draw a third line on the map, another north line, which goes through the summit as well. Now, locate the place on the map where Wildcat Canyon Road intersects with Park Hills Road (both are labeled). Use your protractor and/or compass to determine the compass bearing from the summit you have just visited, to this road intersection. Do not worry about magnetic declination. Pretend the map’s north is magnetic north as well, and that the bearing you derive is based upon magnetic north like all the other bearings you have taken today.
Crosscheck: the 3 digits of this bearing add up to 18.

Now take out your piece of blank 8.5 by 11 inch paper. In its center, make a mark and then draw a horizontal and vertical line centered on that mark, so that you have lines symbolizing the 4 points of a compass. Now, starting at the center where the lines intersect, use your protractor to find the correct angle to draw a 3 inch line, emerging from the center and extending out, to represent each of the bearings you have taken today, including the one from the map. (For instance, the line for a bearing of 30 degrees would be drawn 30 degrees from the North vertical, in the Northeast quadrant, the line for a bearing of 100 degrees would be drawn 100 degrees from the north vertical, or 10 degrees below the 90 degree eastern horizontal line) Make all these lines from the center 3 inches long. You will end up with 7 lines emerging from the center of the horizontal and vertical axes, the cardinal compass point lines. The bearing you took from the map will be the only one in the northwest quadrant.
Crosscheck: You should have 3 lines in the Northeast quadrant, 2 in the southeast quadrant, one in the southwest quadrant, and one in the northwest quadrant, for 7 total. All lines should be 3 inches long.

Now, you will determine two numbers, Q and R.

To determine Q, you will be taking all the bearing lines that you have drawn, and finding the angle from those lines to the closest vertical or horizontal line. So for instance if you drew a bearing of 130 degrees, that is closest to the horizontal line representing the East direction, and the angle between the 130 degree line and this eastern horizontal line is 130 – 90 = 40 degrees, so your Q(1) would be 40. Call each of these angles that you find, Q(1), Q(2) and so on.
Q = Q(1) + Q(2) + Q(3) + Q(4) + Q(5) + Q(6) + Q(7). Crosscheck: the sum of the digits of the number Q equals 10. There should be 7 bearings total that you took, including the one from the map, so you should get 7 angles.

Now, use your ruler to measure the distance between the ENDS of the two 3-inch lines representing (1) the bearing you took in CITRINITAS, to (2) the last one you took in ALBEDO toward the large fluid body. Round this number to the nearest quarter inch.
R= (This measurement) X (number of stages in our alchemical process).
Crosscheck: the sum of the digits in R is either 4 or 5 (either one, you're close enough).

(number of stages is also same as number of cardinal directions on the compass, or the number of elements or suits in the Tarot: in any case, a number that for Jung, quintessentially represented wholeness).

To find the letterbox:
Stand at a point you obtain by triangulation:
Bearing to plaque on the bench = JP
Bearing to saddle in the eastern “nigredo” stone = JMH
Bearing to more western of the two 4 ft wood posts near these stones = MCG
(And note: in the clue below, a "pace" is one normal sized adult step...)

Standing ready on this point of the triangle'd array,
Use bearing Q to find the dark doorway.
Approach the place
And soon upon a branch you’ll see
An object that suggests the key.
When the forest about you
Begins to close,
Proceed R paces
Along the way an animal knows.
I am like Yggdrasil tall and wide
Fallen to ruin, are many arms by my side
Hard at my base
The base material lies.