In traditional Western magick, there are said to be four humours, or temperaments, which correspond to the four elements, and four of the planets: Sanguine of air and Jupiter; Choleric of fire and Mars; Phlegmatic of water and the Moon; and Melancholy of earth and Saturn. People endowed with the sanguine humour were active, successful, and outgoing; choleric people were irritable, and inclined towards fighting; phlegematic people were tranquil, and sometimes a little lethargic; while, conventionally, melancholic people were viewed unfavourably, and those born under the influence of the Saturnian sphere were considered to be sad, poor, and unsuccessful.

Despite this initial negative impression, the dark humour of melancholy came to be embraced by a small group of poets, artists, and occultists. Instead of being viewed as a trait of the poor and the unfortunate, melancholy was reappraised as a trait of all the great philosophers, prophets, artists, and heroes. This change in attitude was brought about by the Pseudo-Aristotelian text Problemata physica, whose theories were assimilated into the Neoplatonism of the Renaissance. Using a detailed, medical argument, the Problemata physica stated that when the heroic frenzy, madness, or furor, which Plato named the source of all inspiration, combines with the black bile of the melancholic temperament, it produces great people. These people, these melancholy heroes, have appeared throughout history and fiction: Plato, Heracles, Empedocles, Hamlet, while the image of the depressed poet is a veritable cliche. Even in modern mythology, the figure of Batman is an apt melancholic hero (discounting the more recent cinematic versions, in which he has been confused with the aberration that was camp tv series of the sixties), whose entire raison d’etre comes from the spirit of melancholy.

The virtue of melancholy was promoted in the Renaissance through the works of the growing group of Hermeticists. The planetary magickian Marsilio Ficino wrote of it in his book De triplici vita, in which he advised Saturnian, melancholic students that they should not resist the natural inclination to study, but rather, temper it by using Jovian and Venereal influences. More influential than Ficino's work, though, was De occulta philosophia of Henry Cornelius Agrippa. Agrippa stated that: "The humor melancholius, when it takes fire and glows, generates the frenzy (furor) which leads us to wisdom and revelation, especially when it is combined with a heavenly influence above all with that of Saturn ... Therefore Aristotle says in Problemata that through melancholy some men have become divine beings, foretelling the future like Sybils ... while others have become poets ... and he says further that all men no have been distinguished in any branch of knowledge have generally been melancholics.''

Agrippa then went on to classify three distinctive stages and forms of melancholy: imagination (imaginatio), rational (ratio), and mental (mens); mirroring Agrippa's own division of his book into three sections of elemental, celestial, and supercelestial. When the soul is set free by melancholy, it becomes concentrated in the imagination, and receives advice and instruction from, what Agrippa terms, lower demons. This means that at the imaginatio level, a previously unskilled person can suddenly become a great artist or artisan. At the second level, when the soul, set free by melancholy, becomes concentrated in the reason, it becomes the home of middle demons. Here, the soul receives knowledge of the natural and human worlds, and so the person can become a philosopher, or a physician. Finally, when the soul becomes concentrated in the intellect, the person becomes privy to the great secrets of mysticism and spirituality.

What is significant about Agrippa's division of the stages of melancholy into art, philosophy, and spirituality, is the influence it had on Albrecht Durer; fifteeen years Agrippa's senior. Perhaps the most famous of all the artist's works is Melancholia I, which is so named as it appears to represent the first imaginatio stage of melancholy. The date of the engraving is 1514, almost twenty years before the official printing of De occulta philosophia (in 1533), which suggests that Durer must have had access to the manuscript edition of 1510. The work shows the winged spirit of Melancholy sitting in the pose characteristic of both her, and those afflicted, or blessed, by her: her head resting in her left hand, with her gaze fixed in concentration. She has the facies nigra of the melancholic (said to be caused by the black bile of the humour), and she is holding compasses in her right hand. On the floor surrounding her are an array of carpenter's tools, a purse, and a sleeping dog, whilst in the background is a polyhedron, and an ascending ladder. Durer has followed the advice of Ficino to temper melancholy with Jupiter or Venus, because on the wall behind Melancholy is the magic square of Jupiter; whilst a nearby set of scales could be conjected to represent Venus, since that sphere rules Libra.

Melancholia I- Albrecht Durer

The engraving is, then, an image of the goddess and genius Melancholy. She sits not in an orthodox state of melancholic depression, but in a melancholy-induced trance, inspired by the daemon of Saturn, with her attention focused totally on the experience. The sleeping, and starved, dog beside her is indicative of the intensity of her vision, with concerns for the physical world of senses left far behind; melancholy has been described as the sweet sleep of the senses. It is only the hand of Melancholy that moves, as she records the events in her vision.

So if Melancholia I represents the first stage of Agrippan melancholy, what of the ratio and the mens? Erwin Panofsky, in Albrechth Durer, has suggested that Durer's engraving of St Jerome in his Study, which was produced in the same year as Melancholia I, may have been its counterpart; certainly, Durer would give the two prints as sets to friends, and only one copy of Melancholia I was ever given away by itself. If St Jerome is indeed part of the triune melancholy sequence, it would symbolise the spiritual third stage, with the saint engrossed in his studies, in a room that Panofsky describes as "impeccably correct from a mathematical point of view ... The apparently indelible impression of order and security ... can be accounted for by the fact that the position of the objects freely distributed about the room... is firmly determined by perspective construction.''

There is no engraving by Durer that would correspond to a Melancholia III, but Dames Frances Yates has suggested that, if it did exist, it may have looked like, and influenced, a painting by Matthias Gerung (Melancholia 1558). The painting shows a central winged female figure, sitting in the pose of melancholy, while in the vast landscape around her, hundreds of figures engage in all kinds of activities. As symbolising the stage of ratio, Gerung's Melancholia is apt, in that it shows the second stage melancholic in her philosophical and scholarly retreat, where the wars, sports, and amusements of everyday men are revealed to be inconsequential.

It should now be obvious to everyone that this black-faced goddess of melancholy is really a form of Hela. One can draw a comparison between the reappraisal of Saturnian melancholy by Renaissance magickians, and the recovery of Hela by Rökkr adherents in the twentieth century. Certainly, the orthodox view of Hela would regard her in much the same way that the humour of melancholy is, with her servants: Delay, Slowness, and Hunger, all representing broadly Saturnian themes. It is also significant that Melancholy is regarded as the daughter of Saturn, since Saturn (other than a Rökkr association with Nidhogg) represented Loki in Norse astrology, particularly under his Anglo-Saxon name Sætere; from whence we derive the name of Saturday. Kozmologically, the world of Nifelheim is also ruled by Saturn.

From the continental world of Agrippa, Durer, Gerung, and Ficino, the cult of the black goddess Melancholy migrated to Elizabethan England, where, next to the engravings of Durer, it found its most vivid expression. Traces of Melancholy can be seen in the writings of Shakespeare, John Spenser, George Chapman, and the somewhat later John Milton. It is in George Chapman's poem The Shadow of Night  that this hidden stream is at its most numinous. The two part poem (Hymnus in Noctem and Hymnus in Cynthiam), published in 1594, begins with the description of the "humour of the night," who is weeping and sad, but devoted to her esoteric studies. Chapman then goes on to contrast the profound, spiritual, nature of the night, with the ephemeral and mundane nature of the day.

Chapman's poetry acts as the visual counterpart to Durer's work, with an identical sense of talismanic and invokatory power. Just as Melancholia I advises the viewer to correctly use the force of Melancholy, so Chapman advises: All you possest with independent spirits, Indu’d with nimble and aspiring wits, Come consecrate with me, to sacred Night Your whole endeuors, and detest the light... No pen can any thing eternal write, That is not steept in humour of the night. Chapman's description of Melancholy similarly echoes the imagery provided by Durer's engraving, and once again suggests Hela as the melancholic goddess: Mens faces glitter, and their hearts are blacke, But thou (great Mistreese of heauens gloomie racke) Art blacke in face, and glitterst in thy heart. There is thy glorie, riches, force, and Art.

Chapman explores each of the three levels of melancholy in the course of the poem. The imaginatio moves to ratio in the middle of Hymnus in Noctem, and then into the spiritual mens in the Hymnus in Cynthiam. Rather than an encounter with the Judaeo-Christian concept of the divine, Chapman's spiritual experience is with Cynthia, the moon; simultaneously a pagan goddess, and our empresse, Queen Elizabeth. In this respect, Chapman echoes Edmund Spenser's Faery Queen, which depicted Elizabeth as the legendary queen of the faeries; something also implied by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Might's Dream. In the kozmology of The Shadow of Night, the lunar goddess that is the Virgin Queen manifests as the peak of the melancholic experience, her silver body cast against the black saturnian night.

Many of Shakespeare's works also feature a palpable sense of this melancholic night: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set entirely in a faery world of night and moonlight; Macbeth is set in a world in which the witch-cast umbra of melancholy hangs heavily on all the participants; while Much Ado About Nothing features a song to the goddess of night: "Pardon, goddess of night, Those that slew thy virgin knight; For the which, with songs of woe, Round about her tomb they go..."

But it is Hamlet that is the pinnacle of melancholic art. It appositely begins in the very middle of the night, on the ramparts of Elsinore castle, when Hamlet encounters a ghost that marks the onset of his melancholy. Throughout the play, the black humour of Hamlet's melancholic humour comes to the fore, allowing him to speak with a prophet's voice of great kozmic truths. Considering our assertion that Melancholy is Hela, it is apt that Hamlet has its source in the universal myth which appears in northern mythology as the story of the Rökkr giant Aurvandil and his son Svipdag/Amleth.

Shakespeare is also important because he appears to give a name to this Elizabethan cult of the goddess Melancholy. In Love's Labour’s Lost, Berowne, one of the lords attending on Ferdinand the king of Navarre, is in love with a dark woman, with a black face, called Rosaline . She enables him to hear the sounds of kozmic harmony as sweet and musical. As bright Apollo's lute, strung with his hair. Berowne waxes about his love, and how for my love, day would turn to night, to which his companions respond with various retorts about blackness, and the king exclaims: "O paradox? Black is the badge of hell, The hue of dungeons and the school of night.''

It has been suggested that the school of night was a group of Elizabethan noblemen scientists and artists, connected to the Hermeticism of continental Europe (and particularly what would come to be known as the Rosicrucians) and instrumental in the deification of Queen Elizabeth, and the growth of her empire; as instigated by Dr John Dee. It appears that it was the School of Night that George Chapman talks of in a letter that prefaces his poem: a group of certain noblemen who have devoted themselves to deep studies, and drawing science out from neglect. They are shod with the sandals of Mercury, and "girt with Saturn's adamantine sword." The school would have centred around Sir Walter Raleigh, who was not only familiar with Hermeticism, but wrote an epic poem, now mostly lost, which celebrated Elizabeth as the lunar goddess Cynthia, and may have echoed Chapman's Shadow of the Night. That Raleigh was a Saturnian, venerating the moon, can be deduced from a well known portrait of him, in which he appears in a costume of black and white, with a silver doublet, and a black cloak decorated with silver rays; with the moon shown in the upper left-hand corner of the image. The Saturnian black, combined with the lunar silver/white, were also the official colours of Elizabeth herself.

With the transition from the Tudor Elizabeth to the Stuart James, the change of a Elizabethan renaissance to a Jacobean witch-hunt meant that many of the figures from the School of Night fell out of favour. However, it seems that members of the school of night went underground, which is why, in later years, the poet John Milton was able to enter this esoteric stream of melancholy with his work Il  Penserosa.

In Il Penserosa, John Milton echoes Agrippa's and Durer's visual and literary descriptions of Melancholy, whose black face hides a bright saintly visage, that is impossible to be unveiled by mortal eyes. Through Melancholy's inspiration, Milton gains access to visions of: What world or what vast regions hold The Immortal mind that hath fosook Her mansion in this fleshly nook; And of those demons that are found In fire, air, flood, or underground, Whose  power hath a true consent With planet or with element.

Milton echoes Agrippa's use of demonic-classification, as it were, to describe the inspiration of Melancholy, and then in completion of the third spiritual stage of the humour, he shows himself in old age: Till old experience do attain To something like prophetic strain.

John Milton could have drawn on any number of sources for his knowledge of dark Melancholy: if he knew the alchemist and defender of Rosicrucianism, Robert Fludd, then he would certainly have known of Agrippa, one of Fludd's prime fonts of inspirationg similarly, he could have discerned the vein within the poetic works of Chapman, and to a lesser extent, Shakespeare. The latter seems most likely, considering how his treatment and placing of Melancholy is so characteristic of the Elizabethan reign, and the cult of the Virgin Queen; despite Milton's otherwise staunch republican stance. Milton certainly did echo the renaissance figures of the School of Night, placing his revolutionary philosophy (which included a belief in the right to divorce) within the context of the magickal traditions of the Renaissance. While these magickal traditions became supressed on the continent where they had first flourished, Puritan England, as exemplified by Milton, provided a refuge for its exponents; hence the publication of an English translation of the Rosicrucian manifesto, and the adoption of elements of John Dee's philosophy by earnest parliamentarians. . If that she learn not of her eye to look: No face is fair that is not full so black.

George Chapman

1) Rosaline, the name given to Shakespeare's dark goddess of Melancholy, is significant. The rose appears in northern and western Europe as a symbol of the goddess, and an equivalent of the Indian lotus, and the Middle Eastern lily; although the lily also features in Europe as a symbol of the goddess. Apposite then that the red rose was the design of the Tudor dynasty, and that combined with an equal-armed cross, it was the symbol used by the Rosicrucians; whom Dame Frances Yates argues were based on memories of John Dee's trips to Europe. Attention should also be drawn to the similarity between the name Rosaline and that of Saint Rosalia. At sixteen, Rosalia left her Sicilian home to live in a cave as a hermit, where nothing would distract her from being at one with God. This implies the third stage of melancholy, in which spirituality comes to the fore.

* * *