Care of the Soul

Depression aka, Saturn's Child

Reprinted with permission from "Care of the Soul," by Thomas Moore,Harper Collins Publishers

Saturn's Child

Today we seem to prefer the world of depression over sadness and melancholy. Perhaps its Latin form sounds more clinical and serious. But there was a time, five or six hundred years ago, when melancholy was identified with the Roman god Saturn. To be depressed was to be "in Saturn," and a person chronically disposed to melancholy was known as a "child of Saturn." Since depression was identified with the God and the planet named for him, it was associated with other qualities of Saturn. For example, he was known as the "old man," who presided over the golden age. Whenever we talk about the "golden years" or the "good old days," we are calling up this god, who is the patron of the past. The depressed person sometimes thinks that the good times are all past, that there is nothing left for the present or the future. These 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 souls desire to be both in time and in eternity, and so in a strange way they can be pleasing.


Sometimes we associate depression with literal aging, but it is more precisely a matter of the soul's aging. Saturn not only brings an affection for the "good old days," he also raises the more substantive idea that life is moving on: were getting old, experience, and maybe even wise. A person even in the middle or late thirties will be in conversation and offhandedly recall something that happened twenty years ago. He will stop, shocked. "I've never said that before! Twenty years ago. I'm getting old." This is Saturn's gift of age and experience. Having been identified with youth, the soul now takes on important qualities of age that are positive and helpful. If age is denied, soul becomes lost in an inappropriate clinging to youth

Depression grants the gift of experience not as a literal fact but as an attitude toward yourself. You get a sense of having lived through something, of being older and wiser. You know that life is suffering, and that knowledge makes a difference. You can't enjoy the bouncy, carefree innocence of youth any longer, a realization that entails both sadness because of the loss, and pleasure in a new feeling of self-acceptance and self-knowledge. This awareness of age has a halo of melancholy around it, but it also enjoys a measure of nobility.

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Thomas Moore
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