"Today we seem to prefer the word depression over sadness and melancholy. Perhaps its Latin form sounds more clinical and serious. But there was a time when melancholy was identified with the Roman god Saturn. To be depressed was to be "in Saturn", and a persona chronically disposed to melancholy was known as a "child of Saturn"......melancholic thoughts are deeply rooted in Saturn's preference for days gone by, for memory and the sense that time is passing. These thoughts and feelings, sad as they are, favor the soul's desire to be both in time and In eternity, and so in a strange way they can be pleasing."
Thomas Moore, "Care of the Soul"
"The Well of your Joy is as deep as the Well of your Sorrow."
The past week or so I slipped into a depression. I've been so busy taking care of everything for so long, it was "unexpected". As if such things could be expected, put into the calendar. I became depressed because I'm living in a house alone where my mother and brother once lived, their cats and noise and lives, and they will never return. I became depressed because I remembered that tigers, and polar bears, and so many creatures are leaving the world, and it suddenly was very real to me. I became depressed because a lot of people have come to my house recently, and not one commented on my art, or even my orchids, but all of them talked, exhaustively, about money, and it sickened me. I became depressed because........
My depression fell over me like a heavy grey blanket, making it hard to move. What I found depressing as well was how very little permission I had from others, or myself, to experience it. Spiritually oriented acquaintances I tend to avoid at such times, because depression is not very positive or uplifting, and you can feel like a leper. Even my former therapist (seemed) to look at me like was a kind of lapsed alcoholic, and suggested a self-help book by a popular psychologist, and to begin her exercises right away.
To be honest, I thought wistfully of a long ago bar I used to go to in a long ago town, and the fine therapy of crying in one's cups with a fellow sympathizer. In retrospect, there was some real use to that.
In a culture that demands an impossible standard of constant economic growth and individual productivity, where pharmaceuticals promise relief, and a better, newer, probably more expensive self-help workshop to transform your higher consciousness and find lasting bliss is in order........I miss simpler times when I had the Mole's Eye Bar, and a vodka tonic.
So I stayed home alone, and let my depression be, and invited Saturn and Hecate to visit.
That intense time before the Solstice, it seems to me, is "Saturnine", the month of endings, celebration of the dead, composting of the year, going underground, dreaming, life review.........age. What does "age" mean? Memory, slowing down, reflection, loss. Sometimes wisdom, sometimes depression.
Why must we always "keep up"? Should we feel shame, failure, if we "fall behind"? I recognize that we have responsibilities, obligations.......but inner life doesn't always respect such timetables. Where can people "falling behind" go? Retreats, dream temples, monasteries, where the "fallen" can go to rekindle their souls? Is there a garden shrine at least, a compassionate space, a psychic allowance within the whirlwinds of our lives where we are not punished for "falling apart" just a little, for being "depressed", where some inner or outer voice isn't telling us we're "losers"?
I find myself in increasing retreat from the continual "stimulation" of our time. Some days I look at my computer with a kind of terror, because it represents such an overwhelming vista of possibility. I now allow that.
And I don't despise my depressions anymore, rather, I consider them worth listening to. In fact, they sensitize me, restore my empathy, and compassion.
As everything seems to accelerate and accelerate, I, at least, find it harder and harder to touch things. To touch the depths of the stories of our lives, to touch anyone, to relish and taste within the onslaught. Somewhere beneath the pavement there are still those layers of history, layers that belong to lives that preceded us, old bones, old trails, leys and currents and the ghost of the hidden sea. I sleep on all these stories, they want me to dream them, to open the conduit.
The pace, and of course the urban disconnect from natural cycles........leaves little room for the kind of Saturnine composting of spirit that a good depression can give, the cyclical return to the dark that is, I believe, reflected in all organic systems...........to "compost". To rot, fall apart, not know, slow down, fall by the wayside, re-form, be re-formed by the organic, collective forces we are woven into within the cycles of the planet, and within our souls.
Roman gardens used to have lots of little shrines, and a special shrine was devoted to the morose god, Saturn. A place, it was understood, one went to be alone, to brood, perhaps to grieve. A place to be melancholy. The word "melancholy" derives from a word that meant "black bile", believed in the middle ages to be one of the four "Humours", the four (like the four directions or cardinal points) whose balance was believed to determine one's emotional and physical state - those humors were: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. So here is the idea of balance, and that balance must include the dark as well as the light, the depressive as well as the enlivened.
Hecate, like Saturn, represents age. She's an old woman, past menopause, past ambition, close to the door that separates this world and the other world. In the story of Persephone, Hecate is the one who bears a torch, illuminating her passage through the dark caverns of the underworld. I've always loved that metaphor.
"In us is also a dark angel (Hekate was also called "angelos") - a consciousness (she was also called "phosphoros") that shines in the dark and witnesses such events because it is already aware of them a priori.........Part of us is not dragged down but always lives there, as Hekate is partly an underworld Goddess."
"The Dream and the Underworld", James Hillman
Hecate is the patroness of women (and men) who are no longer producing hormones. Hormones are very potent drugs that induce us to want to reproduce, and thus carry on the evolutionary, planetary urge. When estrogen or testoserone is gone one's consciousness changes. I've heard lots of women say that life's illusions seem to peel away. Veils that have muffled all kinds of personal illusions, beliefs, and ideals and drive fall away ..........and there you are. Depressed sometimes. Revealed. Clarified. Ignorant. Thankful.
Occasionally, I even notice phosphorescent threads of wisdom, gleaming, candid in the dark and lovely mystery of it all. I think any new mask of Hecate might be both black, and white. Maybe Hecate, in her mask and role as old woman, may represent the SOUL aspect of self. "Part of us is not dragged down, but already lives there........." as Dr. Hillman said.
Already lives there, the gestalt, the storyteller as well as the story. Looking at the yin/yang symbol I wear on a ring, I remind myself that somehow the various parts of my being are, like the dark teardrop and the white teardrop, in flux and co-creation. This weaving of story is not only enlightenment, it is also "endarkenment", the self that waits, is circular, un-named, yin. That "already lives there."
I think to honor her, to honor Saturn, we have to stop blunting the descent, which is hard in a culture that so powerfully rejects the idea, no longer even has a recognizable "god" or a "goddess" to help initiates find their way. We don't see "melancholy" as about balancing the humors, we see it as something inconvenient, wrong with us, we're ashamed, we're guilty of being "negative", we want it to go away as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can "get back in the race".