S.C. Hickman (earth_wizard) wrote,
S.C. Hickman

Saturn and Melancholy: The Force of the Daimonic

"Gbeyn pushes the allegory even farther than Durer had done. He not only represents the nature of the melancholic symbolically but raises him to the stature of a semi·divine being, remote from all contact with the world of men, who yet carries his human sorrow with him into the spaces of the heavens."              
     - Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art

A step-dame Night of mind about us clings,
Who broods beneath her hell-obscuring wings,
Worlds of confusion, where the soul defamed,
The body had been better never framed...
       - George Chapman, Shadow of the Night

Sometimes scholarship can lead one into a maze that resonates unto the farthest reaches of the mind's dark light. As I was reading Shadow of the Night by George Chapman I began a meditation on inspiration and the daimonic.:
 As Barbara L. Lakin in a superb work The Magus and the Poet: Bruno and Chapman's The Shadow of the Night says:

George Chapman's long allegorical poems puzzle, annoy, and frustrate most readers and have done so for nearly four hundred years. Our modern skeptical minds have little sympathy for, or patience with, the abstruse doctrines that fascinated Chapman."

Yet, for me, it is those very abstruse and arcane monstrosities of scholarly learning that awaken my imagination and bring forth visions that tilt the balance of my mind toward ideas and images that are both uncanny and full of that strangeness, or - dare I say it, weirdness, I love. As Dame Francis Yates once said in her book, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, speaking of those learned poets and scholars of The School of Night:

"That Saturn, the Saturn of the Renaissance, star of highest and deepest learning and of profoundly ascetic life, is the guiding star of this group gives the clue to their place in the history of thought. These Elizabethan noblemen and their learned friends are Saturnians, following the ‘revalued’ Saturn of the Renaissance in their devotion to deep scientific studies and lofty moral and religious aims.(p. 158)"

George Chapman has retained to this day the considerable reputation he achieved in his own lifetime. Playwright, poet, translator, he is still considered an exceptionally important figure in the English Renaissance. His plays, particularly, were adapted for the stage throughout the Restoration, and, though his reputation dipped during most of the eighteenth century, the nineteenth saw a marked revival of interest in Chapman's works, perhaps best summed up in John Keats's well-known sonnet "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" (1816).


Chapman's poem explicates what Yates terms the three stages of Melancholy used by the poet following the path Cornelius Agrippa laid down in the three volumes of his De Occult Philosophia:

"Agrippa quotes the definitions of inspired melancholy from Pseudo-Aristotle and classifies the inspiration, or demonic power which emanates from it, into three types, or grades, or stages. The first stage is when the inspired melancholy fills the imagination, producing wonderful instruction in the manual arts, through which a man may suddenly become a painter or an architect or some outstanding master in an art. The second stage of inspired melancholy is when the inspiration seizes on the reason, whereby it obtains knowledge of natural and human things; through the inspired reason a man becomes suddenly a philosopher, or a prophet. But when, through the melancholic inspiration, the soul soars to the intellect, or the mens, it learns the secret of divine matters, the law of God, the angelic hierarchies, or the emergence of new religions."

The idea that inspiration brings forth the 'daemonic' is a powerful tool in the understanding of not only this poem but Renaissance thought in general. What is the daemonic?

The genesis of the idea "daimon" is difficult to pin down. The term proper is thought to have originated with the Greeks, by way of Latin -- dæmon: "spirit", derived from Greek -- daimon (gen. daimonos): "lesser god, guiding spirit, tutelary deity".

For the Minoan (3000-1100 BC) and Mycenaean (1500-1100 BC), "daimons" were seen as attendants or servants to the deities, possessing spiritual power. Later, the term "daimon" was used by writers such as Homer (8th century BC), Hesiod, and Plato as a synonym for theos , or god. Some scholars, like van der Leeuw, suggest a distinction between the terms: whereas theos  was the personification of a god (e.g. Zeus), daimon  referred to something inderteminate, invisible, incorporeal, and unknown..

The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Empedocles (5th century BC) later employed the term in describing the psyche or soul. Similarly, those such as Plutarch (1st century AD) suggested a view of the daimon as being an amorphous mental phenomenon, an occasion of mortals to come in contact with a great spiritual power.

The earliest pre-Christian conception of daimons or daimones  also considered them ambiguous -- not exclusively evil. But while daimons may have initially been seen as potentially good and evil, constructive and destructive, left to each man to relate to -- the term eventually came to embody a purely evil connotation, with Xenocrates perhaps being one of the first to popularize this colloquial use.

Some modern interpreters have thrown back to a more traditional understanding of the term. For example, the psychologist Rollo May defines the daimonic as "any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person... The daimonic can be either creative or destructive, but it is normally both... The daimonic is obviously not an entity but refers to a fundamental, archetypal function of human experience--an existential reality".

In Psychology
As Rollo May writes, "The daimonic refers to the power of nature rather than the superego, and is beyond good and evil. Nor is it man's 'recall to himself' as Heidegger and later Fromm have argued, for its source lies in those realms where the self is rooted in natural forces which go beyond the self and are felt as the grasp of fate upon us. The daimonic arises from the ground of being rather than the self as such."

The daimonic is capable of both positive and negative outcomes and is a naturally occurring human impulse or urge within everyone to affirm, assert, perpetuate and increase the self. It is capable of both positive and negative outcomes and must be integrated into consciousness through the process of therapy in order to be harnessed into creative energy.

If each Self possesses a process of individuation, an involuntary and natural development towards individual maturity and harmony with collective human nature, then its driver is the daimonic, the force which seeks to overcome the obstacles to development, whatever the cost, both guide and guardian.

The demands of the daimonic force upon the individual can be frightening, contemporarily unorthodox, and even overwhelming. With its obligation to protect the complete maturation of the individual and the unification of opposing forces within the Self, the inner urge can come in the form of a sudden journey (either intentional or serendipitous), a psychological illness, or simply neurotic and off-center behavior. Jung writes, "The daimon throws us down, makes us traitors to our ideals and cherished convictions — traitors to the selves we thought we were." It is no wonder Yeats described it as that "other Will", the incorrigible will of man to achieve his humanity.

In Literature
The journey from innocence to experience is not an idea that originated with this term; rather the Hero's Journey is a topic older than literature itself. But the "daimonic" subsequently became a focus of the English Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Typically, the daimonic tale centers around the Solitary, the central character of the story, who usually is introduced in innocence, wealth, and often arrogance. But under the masks of control and order lies a corruption and unconscious desire towards disintegration. Some event, either external or internal, leads the character towards some type of isolation where he is forced to confront his daimons.  

The fall, or the descent, (from hubris) into the liminal world where light and dark meet is usually very dramatic and often torturing for the hero and the audience alike, and comes in myriad forms. In the depths, in hitting bottom, he ultimately discovers his own fate and tragedy ( catharsis), and in a final climax is either broken or driven towards rebirth and self-knowledge. The glory of the daimonic is in the humble resurrection, though it claims more than it sets free, as many a foolish men are drawn into its vacuum never to return. As Stefan Zweig writes, the hero is unique for "he becomes the daimon's master instead of the daimon's thrall".

The daimonic has always been, and continues to be, a great source of creativity, inspiration, and fascination in all forms of art. [1]

Harold Bloom, in the preface of The Anxiety of Influence, reminds us that within Shakespeare—and therefore within English-speaking culture—the word influence has two different, though related, meanings. One involves the troubling way an individual can be overtaken by something (traditionally, forces from the moon and other celestial bodies) or someone outside of self; the other more directly describes the welcome force of inspiration.

Bloom's theory of poetic influence regards the development of Western literature as a process of borrowing and misreading. Writers find their creative inspiration in previous writers and begin by imitating those writers; in order to develop a poetic voice of their own, however, they must make their own work different from that of their precursors. As a result, Bloom argues, authors of real power must inevitably "misread" their precursors' works in order to make room for fresh imaginings.

As he said in The Anxiety of Influence:

"Poetic influence-when it involves two strong, authentic poets-always proceeds by a misreading of the prior poet, an act of creative correction that is actually and necessarily a misinterpretation. The history of fruitful poetic influence, which is to say the main tradition of Western poetry since the Renaissance, is a history of anxiety and self-saving caricature, of distortion, of perverse, willful revisionism without which modem poetry as such could not exist."(p. 30)

As for inspiration bringing forth the 'daimonic' the poet, William Butler Yeats, wrote in his book Mythologies: "I think it was Heraclitus who said: the Daimon is our destiny.  When I think of life as a struggle with the Daimon who would ever set us to the hardest work among those not impossible, I understand why there is a deep enmity between a man and his destiny, and why a man loves nothing but his destiny....  I am persuaded that the Daimon delivers and deceives us, and that he wove the netting from the stars and threw the net from his shoulder...." This idea of the daimon as a hard taskmaster who leads us through the difficult and painful initiations of life along the road to our destiny is a powerful symbol of all that ancient force residing within us. As Patrick Horpur says about Soul and Daimon on RealitySandwich:

"The daimon can be understood, like the ka, as a personification of the ancestors -- an apt metaphor because, like the daimon, the ancestors are both intimately related to us yet, like the dead, separate and remote.  It can be thought of as a specific ancestor, as the Inuit believe, standing in for our fledgling souls until its wings are formed and it can fly for itself.  It is like the voice of the unconscious, or of our ‘higher selves'.  It is the ‘still small voice' we must listen for in the midst of the turbulence and earthquake of existence.  If it is not itself a god, as it may very well be, it is the intermediary through whom we communicate with the gods and they with us.  It can be a Doppelgänger whose estrangement means illness, madness or even death.  It is most alive when we are dying, most conscious when we sleep.  It directs the unfolding of our souls, but it does not itself develop.  It is a paradox."

 Matt Cardin on Demon Muse explains it this way: "this discipline of embracing your inner genius, is the alignment of your creative act with your deep creative intent. It’s about divining your daemonic passion and then letting this be your guide when you write..."

Cardin quotes a passage from H.P. Lovecraft's letters that relate an almost gnostic insight into the daimonic:

"the impulse which justifies authorship. . . . The time to begin writing is when the events of the world seem to suggest things larger than the world — strangenesses and patterns and rhythms and uniquities of combination which no one ever saw or heard before, but which are so vast and marvellous and beautiful that they absolutely demand proclamation with a fanfare of silver trumpets. Space and time become vitalised with literary significance when they begin to make us subtly homesick for something ‘out of space, out of time.’ . . . To find those other lives, other worlds, and other dreamlands, is the true author’s task. That is what literature is; and if any piece of writing is motivated by anything apart from this mystic and never-finished quest, it is base and unjustified imitation.

– H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters II (1925-1929)"

That objective reality becomes 'vitalised' when it begins "to make us subtly homesick for something 'out of space, out of time'" is the central paradox of modern gnostic literature. As Thomas Ligotti writes: "To perceive, even if mistakenly, that all one's steps have been heading toward a prearranged appointment, to realize one has come face to face with what seems to have been waiting all along — this is the necessary framework, the supporting skeleton of the weird."

In his book, The Gnostic Religion, Hans Jonas unravels the enigmatic instability which lies at the heart of alienation and homesickness:

“The alien is that which stems from elsewhere and does not belong here. To those who belong here it is thus the strange, the unfamiliar and incomprehensible; but their world on its part is just as incomprehensible to the alien that comes to dwell here, and like a foreign land where it is far from home. Then it suffers the lot of the stranger who is lonely, unprotected, uncomprehended, and uncomprehending in a situation full of danger. Anguish and homesickness are part of a stranger’s lot. The stranger who does not know the ways of the foreign land wanders about lost; if he learns its ways too well, he forgets that he is a stranger and gets lost in a different sense by succumbing to the lure of the alien world and becoming estranged from his own origin. Then he has become a “son of the house”. This too is part of the alien’s fate. In his alienation from himself the distress has gone, but this very fact is the culmination of the stranger’s tragedy. The recollection of his own alienness, the recognition of his place of exile for what it is, is the first step back; the awakened homesickness is the beginning of the return. All this belongs to the “suffering” side of alienness. Yet with relation to its origin it is at the same time a mark of excellence, a source of power and of a secret life unknown to the environment and in the last resort impregnable to it, as it is incomprehensible to the creatures of this world. This superiority of the alien which distinguishes it even here, though secretly, is its manifest glory in its own native realm, which is outside this world. In such position the alien is the remote, the inaccessible, and its strangeness means majesty.” (p 50)

If we are in exile in this loneliness, this alienation, lost amid the starry vastnesses of this great cosmic nightmare what else do we have but those inner guides, those daimones to help us along the way toward our true home among the stars? Maybe we should invoke their power as Chapman does in his poem:

All you possess'd with indepressed spirits,
Endued with nimble, and aspiring wits,
Come consecrate with me, to sacred Night
Your whole endeavours, and detest the the light
Sweet Peace's richest crown is made of stars,
Most certain guides of honour'd mariners,
No pen can anything eternal write,
That is not steep 'd in humour of the Night.

But before you go and get all googly-eyed remember the words of forensic psychologist Dr. Stephen Diamond who tells us of the two sides of genius in his article on Phil Spectre:

"I term these two distinct types or personalities eudaimonic genius or dysdaimonic genius. While each have the innate capacity--like all of us to some extent--for both creativity and evil, in contrast to the dysdaimonic genius, the eudaimonic genius is the more mature, conscious, integrated, whole, balanced and self-possessed person. He or she has learned to deal relatively constructively with their inner demons, whereas the dysdaimonic genius has not. The dysdaimonic genius embodies a confounding combination of exceptional creative powers juxtaposed with equally strong tendencies toward psychopathology, perversity, destructiveness, cruelty and evil."

The idea that some artists are able to integrate their daimons in a creative manner, and that others are used by them to destructive ends should be a warning to all. As he says of anger: "An archetypal human emotion. Chronic repression or suppression of anger is counterproductive and, ultimately, futile and dangerous. This is why we as a culture need to encourage the acceptance of anger as a natural phenomenon, and teach children, adolescents and young adults how to manage and express it more constructively."

Sublime melancholy is that dark humor that since the early days of the Greeks has served artists of all types well in its ability to inspire. The term comes from the ancient Greek melas (black) and chole (gall). The Greeks believed that it was bile in the body that produced the despair and depression that so characterized the poets and artists of their time. In medieval times, scholars and artists formed "melancholy clubs" and in 1621, Briton Robert Burton wrote "Anatomy of Melancholy," the first systematic research into the phenomena.

Since Dürer's work appeared in Germany in the 16th century, no country has come to be so associated with melancholy through its literature, art and philosophy, particularly in the Romantic period following the Enlightenment which glorified the feeling.

"Melancholy characterizes those with a superb sense of the sublime," wrote German philosopher Immanuel Kant in his work "Observations on the Feelings of the Beautiful and Sublime" in 1764. According to his definition, sublime feelings arouse both enjoyment and dread.  

German writer Heinrich Heine took up the theme later in his famous poem, "Die Lorelei."

"I do not know what haunts me, what saddened my mind all day," he wrote.

We have all experienced moments of melancholy when coming upon certain ruins or ancient buildings crumbling into dust. Ruins express the passage of time, and more specifically the qualities of impermanence and transience, all closely associated with melancholy. Ruins induce a contemplative state of mind, suggestive of events and lives from past ages that have come to an end. These decaying structures leave behind only fragments of past lives and events, enticing imagination to reconstruct narratives around, for example, well-preserved ruined abbeys, castles or the overgrown foundations of once-lived in stone cottages. The reflective stance may be part imagination, part memory, but, in any case, melancholy attaches itself to various aspects of the experience: the deserted places of many ruins, the way that ruins generally express the impermanence of culture, or more specifically to, say, the associations made between a ruin and events surrounding it. Here, again, we find shades of both positive and negative feeling in nostalgia for another time and place now gone, for the glory of past times, and so on. As surviving structures, many ruins symbolize human feats, but this is coupled with an awareness that as the forces of nature take control, no feat is immune to the ravages of time.[2]

When mourning transforms itself into melancholy, when the desperation of a loss has calmed down and is mixed with pleasurable memories, then we have an instance of melancholy, which in itself seems to create an aesthetic context of its own. The calmness and reflection involved in melancholy resemble the traditional requirement of contemplation in the aesthetic response. Melancholy in this everyday context may lack the intensity of artistic experience, but its refined harmony is no less a significant aesthetic feature. The pleasure of melancholy does not come from excitement or intensity, but indeed rather from overall harmony we are experiencing.

Melancholy is comprised of the two primary qualities of coldness and dryness - and it is the active quality of coldness that dominates its passive partner. As Scott Whitters shows us in the "Melancholy temperament, we see a tendency to conserve, condense and accumulate feelings, thoughts and experiences into a structured, compact and resistant way of life."[3]

This is where Saturn's influence comes in, for Saturn is naturally cold and dry, and has dominion over the seat of melancholy in the body - the spleen. The spleen was seen to be the receptacle of melancholy and its associated humour, black bile. Black bile, when attracted to the stomach, stimulates appetite and strengthens the retentive virtue of the stomach. It creates the want for food and the ability to hold onto that food until all of the nutrient is removed. Applying this to the melancholic mind, we can understand the craving for information and experiences, and the deep cogitations to which this data is then subject.

Lily said of Saturn that he was the "author of mischief", that as ruler of the Twelfth House(i.e., the house of Witchcraft) he was associated with the study of the occult. "So whilst Saturn finds joy in the house of "sorrow, tribulation, Imprisonments, all manner of affliction, self undoing etc." (CA., p.56), it must be said that it is equally at home with the occult mysteries and, from a modern point of view, the sub-conscious and its musings. Melancholic people may be high-minded self-lovers, but "the finest thing in the world is knowing how to belong to oneself". (Michel de Montaigne, Of Solitude)."

When a man of melancholic temperament is ruled by that other benefactor Mercury he becomes as Lily states it:

"... a man of subtil and politick brain, intellect and cogitation; an excellent disputant or Logician, arguing with learning and discretion, and using much eloquence in his speech, a searcher into all types of Mysteries and Learning … a man of unwearied fancy, curious in the search of any occult knowledge; able by his own Genius to produce wonders; given to divination and the more secret knowledge... (CA., p.77)"

So an artist formed of the daimonic force of Saturn and Mercury combines the depth, solitude and introversion with the fast pace searching, learning, and intellectual resilience that produces a "temperament that naturally lends itself to contemplative pursuits."  

In Margot and Rudolf Wittkower's fine study, Born Under Saturn: The Character and Conduct of Artists, reads - as one critic stated it: "like Vasari’s Lives of the Artists rewritten as an appendix to Burton—a colorful tour of eccentricity and genius, populated by all manner of rogues, gentlemen, penny-pinchers, hypochondriacs, and enduring masters. Every page has a diverting tale, and the cumulative effect is to set the reader’s mind reeling."

What is interesting in their study is after the Wittkowers process all the available data they show that, in fact, artists were likely no more saturnine—or bizzaro—than anyone else. Like Harold Bloom with his theory of 'misreading' the Wittkowers discover that “misinterpretation is one of the great stimuli for keeping the past alive.” Though convincingly debunking the “mad artist” ideal, they recognize that “the notion…is a historical reality and by brushing it aside as mistaken, one denies the existence of a generic and deeply significant symbol.”

Julia Kristeva in On The Melancholic Imaginary states, succinctly:

"Melancholy is amorous passion's sombre lining. A sorrowful pleasure, this lugubrious intoxication constitutes the banal background from which our ideals or euphoria break away as much as that fleeting lucidity which breaks the trance entwining two people together. Conscious that we are destined to lose our loves, we are perhaps even more grieved to notice in our lover the shadow of a loved object, already lost."

It is this lost object, this forever gone liminal memory of something on the edge of awareness, that haunts us and awakens that daimonic force that keeps us wanting to recapture the lost paradises of our heart's desire. The nihilist would on the other hand tell us that there is no big 'Other', no lost object, either inside or outside to be recovered, therefore the only solution to the melancholic's temperament is either of suicide or murder. As Kristeva says, "The metaphysical meaning of these patterns of behaviour is, of course, the nihilist rejection of the supreme Value which provokes... the believer's revolt against this erasure of the transcendental."

At the beginning of our century the twin markers of our transcendental heritage of 'God' and 'Self' have been erased, yet they still haunt the limnings of our dark horizon, and still awaken that melancholic despair beyond which there is no escape. How best to live beyond this despair, this abject nihilism?

H.P. Lovecraft in the opening of The Haunter of the Dark relates:

I have seen the Dark Universe Yawning
Where the Black Planets roll without aim
Where they roll in their horror unheeded
Without knowledge, or luster, or name...

This repetition, this negative incision in the fabric of reality, this invocation of the black bile of a melancholic temperament forms the basis of that cosmic alienation at the heart of modern horror in all its forms. The artists that form this nucleus of melancholics have been called by Thomas Ligotti "a gallery of eccentric, for the most part grim-minded, and occasionaly demented  figures in world literature... "[6] 

As melancholy is the door to supernatural, terror, sadness, grief, unreason, madness, unconsciousness, even power of intellect, it challenges the boundaries of truth and reality. Shakespeare, who considered melancholy as a key to the truth, heightened the disease, whose symptoms were feared for many centuries. Thereafter Gothic literature embodied the nature of melancholy by a nostalgic attitude toward the old texts whose elements were of supernatural character and switched the power of literature on the melancholic side. Most interesting, all types of melancholy are to be found in every Gothic text, where the characteristics of both Gothic literature and characters are those of different types of melancholy and that is the explanation of finding the same elements in both contexts. Walpole took another step forward and made explicit the fruitfulness of melancholy on the trip to the Truth:

“The dead have exhausted the power of deceiving” (Watt, p.38)[7]

1 Encylopedia, reference.com
2 Melancholy as an Aesthetic Emotion, Emily Brady and Arto Haapala (Contemporary Aesthetics)
3 The Saturnine Temperament, Scott Whitters
4 Lilly, William, Christian Astrology. 1647. Regulus
5 ibid. The Saturnine Temperament
6 Writers of the Supernatural by Darrell Schweitzer
7 Gothic Literature Personified by Melancholy/ Malady in Literature (2005, The Netherlands) by Blerina Berberi


Tags: authors, horror, melancholia

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