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Melancholy: The Saturnine Temperament, by Scott Whitthers

Four humours reign within our bodies wholly
And these compared to four elements,
The sanguine, choler, phlegm and melancholy.
The latter two are heavy, dull of sense.
The other two are more Jovial, quick and jolly
And may be likened without offence
Like Air both warm and moist is sanguine clear,
Like Fire doth choler hot and dry appear.
Like Water cold and moist is Phlegmatic,
The Melancholy cold, dry Earth is like.
The Regimen of Health

Culpeper says of the Melancholy temperament:

Their colour is duskish, and swartish pale, their skin is rough and cold in feeling; they have very little or no hair on their bodies, and are long without beards, yea, sometimes beardless: the colour of their hair is duskish; as touching their conditions, they are naturally covetous, self-lovers, fearful with out cause; pusillanimous, solitary, careful, lumpish, seldom merry or laughing, stout, stubborn, ambitious, envious, fretful, obstinate in opinions, of deep cogitation, mistrustful, suspicious, vexed with dolours of the mind, and dreadful imaginations (as though they were infested with evil spirits) and are very spiteful, curious, majestical in behaviour, and retain their anger long; the vertue of concoction in them is very feeble, yet they have good appetite to their meat. Their Urine is palish and mean in substance, and they dream of fearful things, terrible visions and darkness.
(Astrological Judgement of Diseases)

This is not particularly flattering. However, the key to understanding the Melancholic temperament lies In Culpeper's description of the height and stature of a melancholic person.

Melancholic men are mean of stature, and seldom very tall; for excess cold doth binde the substance, and suffereth it not to stretch in length; and although melancholy be dry in temperature, yet they are little, and slender in body, the occasion (I imagine) of excess cold, by means whereof much superfluity is ingendered, which somewhat allayeth the dryness, For melancholic men are full of flegm and rumatique matter.

(Astrological Judgement of Diseases)

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. Cold is the quality that accumulates and condenses, and does not allow for any flow or movement. Think of a cold lump of plasticine or putty that does not have any malleability until the heat of your hand loosens its structure. Heat is the activating and dispersive quality, cold shuts things down and conserves. Hence Culpeper's statement that "cold doth binde the substance".

Although coldness dominates the melancholic temperament, the quality of dryness is what distinguishes it from the other cold temperament, phlegmatic, where moisture abounds. Dryness is the quality that resists and gives form. It is hard, compact and insular. Imagine the difference between a mud brick before and after it's been fired. Moisture makes the brick adaptable and impressionable, whereas the firing process dries the brick and sets it into a strong, structured, resistant object. Moisture receives and allows for the absorption of matter, dryness resists letting other matter into its structure. For this reason, physiologically, bones, cartilage, hair, nails and ligaments are all considered dry. Where the dry quality occurs in the body, or where there is an abnormal concentration of it, it blocks the passage and intermingling of other substances in that area.

So, with 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. There is an internalisation of all behaviours that insulates and isolates the individual.

I have my books and my poetry to protect me,
that none may penetrate.
I have no need for friendship, friendship causes pain,
Its laughter and its loving I disdain.
I am a rock, I am an island.
(I am a Rock, Simon and Garfunkel)

Melancholy encompasses the processes of internalisation, introspection, isolation and introversion. The internalisation and isolation manifests in the traits of care, fear, mistrust, solitariness, dreadful imagining, suspicion, envy, spite and anger retention; introversion manifests as pusillanimity, obstinacy arid stubbornness. As you can imagine, the melancholic temperament wasn't held in particularly high regard. Culpeper, of himself, writes:

I am exceedingly melancholy of complexion, subject to consumptions and chilliness of my vital spirits, a slavish and sickly life being allotted to me in his city. I had the Sun opposite to Saturn in my nativity, which probably may be the natural cause of it.
(A Physical Directory)

Of another nativity, Lilly writes a little more kindly

Our Native absolutely is a melancholy person (per se) grave, austere, of a firm resolution, solitary, laborious, taciturn, nothing loquacious, &c. The square of Mars to Saturn induce him to be obstinate and a little willful, a tincture of malice remaining in him.
(CA. p.746)

However, one of the most important traits of a melancholic person is that of introspection - melancholics were seen as the thinkers and the scholars of the Renaissance. Hence, with melancholy comes curiosity and deep cogitation. It was understood that they were privy to a deep understanding of the workings of the world. Perhaps this is why they are "vexed with dolours of the mind".

Melancholy is therefore a cognitive temperament, but of the three traditional functions of the brain (judgement, imagination and memory), it solely rules the function that is most internalised and is the least expressive in quality, the memory:

Memory is seated in the hinder cell of the brain, it is the great register to the little world; and its office is to record things either done and past, or to be done. It is [in] quality cold and dry, and melancholick, and therefore generally melancholick men have the best memories, and [are] most tenacious in every way. It is under the dominion of Saturn, and is fortified by his influence, but purged by the luminaries.
(Pharmacopoeia Londinensis, Culpeper)

Memory was a part of the retentive function of the body, which also included the stomach's ability to hold onto food long enough for the digestive faculty to properly concoct it and separate the nutrients from what we ingest:

The retentive virtue is in quality cold and dry; cold, because the nature of cold is to compress, witness the ice; dry, because the nature of dryness, is to keep and hold what is compressed. It is under the influence of Saturn, and that is the reason why usually Saturnine men are so covetous and tenacious.
(Pharmacopoeia Londinensis, Culpeper)

We are starting to see Saturn's influence over the melancholic temperament. 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.

So what is Saturn's influence in all of this? We all know of the bad name Saturn has earned for itself over the years, but sifting through all this bad press, there are some interesting insights. Lilly notes that Saturn signifies Jesuits and monks (CA,p.59) which is a departure from his statement that Jupiter signifies "ecclesiastical men" (CA, p.63). This may have been a political stance that reinforced the negative views about the 'Papal bondage', but there are other considerations to bear in mind. The Society of Jesus was established on a military model which was very structured and disciplined - very Saturnian. The seclusion of the monasteries also points to another aspect of Saturn - its solitary nature, and introduces his contemplative quality. At the time of the publishing of Christian Astrology, the Jesuits were expanding their mission through the new world, primarily as teachers of the faith and the guardians of knowledge and salvation. It is the view of Saturn as teacher that bears some significance here.

Lilly writes that Saturn finds joy in the twelfth house, "for naturally Saturne is the author of mischief" (CA., p.56). The twelfth house is the house of witchcraft, which corresponds with our understanding of the occult connotations of this house. 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).

Saturn, as the "author of Solitariness" (CA., p.58) is often associated with hermits, the embodiment of introspection, who draw upon a wisdom gained through contemplation of life's experiences. To draw upon the symbolism of most Tarot books, hermits are depicted with a lighted lantern, and popularly used in literature for guiding lost or wayward travellers back to their path (despite their gruff manner). This analogy is apt for the melancholic temperament, encompassing both the positive and negative character traits.

But Saturn is not the only melancholic planet; Mercury, too, is cold and dry. When well placed, Lilly says that Mercury represents

... 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)

This, of course, merely reinforces the image of a melancholic as a profound thinker. Within the melancholic temperament therefore we have the searching, learning, intellectual characteristics of Mercury coupled with the depth, solitude and introversion of Saturn to create a temperament that naturally lends itself to contemplative pursuits. Because melancholy has as its element earth - dull, heavy and common - it is often not afforded this consideration.

Melancholy corresponds with autumn and middle-age, times when the Sun and our vitality are in their decline. Summer makes way for autumn. Youth slips into middle-age. Choler is transformed to melancholy by intrinsic heat cooling. The difference is obvious on one level, subtle on the other.

In youth, we need to display more openly who we are - to establish ourselves as individuals, to attract partners, to impress employers. Middle-age is a time to consolidate all that we have gained in our youth, a process which is just as ego-oriented, but not as overt. Likewise, the vibrant displays of summer fade with the onset of autumn, but life is just as strong, although more tenuous because the stakes are higher. The abundance of summer has past and he need to preserve against the looming winter is essential. So the final feeding frenzies start, food is collected and stored, and the leaves fall from the trees so as to conserve all energy for the preservation of life through the Winter.

With the melancholic temperament, there is an understanding of time, of preservation, and of the importance of the internal processes, not just the external displays.

The melancholy from the rest do vary,
Both in sport and ease and company refusing
Exceeding studious, ever solitary,
Inclining pensive still to be, and musing
A secret hate to others apt to carry.
Most constant in his choice, tho' long a-choosing
Extreme in love sometime, yet seldom lustful,
Suspicious in his nature and mistrustful.
A wary wit, a hand much given to sparing,
A heavy look, a spirit little daring.
Regimen of Health


Blagrave, Joseph, Astrological Practice of Physick. 1671. Ascella.

Culpeper, Nicholas, Complete Herbal and English Physician. Magna Books.

Culpeper, Nicholas, Astrological Judgement of Diseases from the Decumbiture of the Sick. 1655. Ascella.

Culpeper, Nicholas, Pharmacopoeia Londinensis. 1669.

Lilly, William, Christian Astrology. 1647. Regulus

Tobyn, Graeme, Culpeper's Medicine. A Practice of Western Holistic Medicine. 1997. Element. (Quotations from Regimen of Health are also taken from this source)

Scott Whitters is a researcher and astrological consultant invigorated by the crystal clean air of Tasmania, Australia. In between protecting chickens from Tasmanian Devils and Spotted Quolls, Scott immerses himself in both modern and ancient thought and its applications of how astrology was practised then and can be practised now. He has spent many years researching and collating the works of the Apothecaries and Astrologers of the 17th Century and earlier to arrive at a comprehensive database of plant and planet correlations and health applications. Scott teaches, consults, lectures, writes, sings, dances and frolics - but not necessarily in that order.

Scott can be contacted by email at

© Scott Whitters. This article was first published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine (published by Ascella), issue 18, March 1999; pp.26-28