C.G.Jung / Literature

Steppenwolf and Abraxas – Hermann Hesse and C.G. Jung revisited


The things we see are the same things that are within us. There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.” ― Hermann Hesse, Demian

Herman Hesse is a Nobel Laureate who created four masterpieces – Demian, Siddhartha, Glasperlenspiel and Steppenwolf – that are well worth studying.  Hesse, the son of missionaries represents the last blue flower of German romanticism and the philosophical ideas that took the great journey of wisdom to the East with Schopenhauer and C.G. Jung himself (very attracted by the Abraxas). He cannot be understood if separated from the roots of his literary tradition of German romanticism of Novalis and Hölderlin, Kleist and Nietzsche himself, which Hesse had admired so much and most of all, the psychoanalyst C.G. Jung.

Hesse derived his understanding of the Western and Eastern religious foundation and Gnostic thoughts from C.G. Jung’s psychology. It opened a new thinking and a new, modern and fascinating way to interpret and to make his personal experiences fruitful for his poetic work. C.G. Jung’s  teaching gives him the key for the synopsis of the world religions and specifically for the combination of psychology and religion, specifically in “Demian”. Even more C.G. Jung’s psychology of religion provides the theoretical justification for the central message of Hesse in his  poetry: the identity of raising consciousness and experiencing God. It confirms his own hunches and insights on the common psychological and anthropological understanding of the world religions and thus it opens access to those “summa metaphysica”.

The tracks of C. G. Jung’s core ideas become increasingly clear in Hesse’s Work since 1922. Central for the development of Hesse’s intellectual ideas between 1919 and 1943 was Existentialism of the subjectivity search for meaning by the way of Individuation, reinforced by the personal and longer fight – and many psychoanalytic sessions – with Joseph B. Lang and Carl Gustav Jung. With Thomas Mann, he shared the conservative (better middle) position against the Nazi attacks of the bourgeois, non national socialist readers in Germany. Both meet several times in the Switzerland and Hesse was referring Mann in the work as a friend of the later Nobel Prize winner.  In all books the Christian  theological message and those from the Far East, are amazingly preserved until today.

Siddhartha

The key influences are the crisis phases are 1919-22 with Siddhartha in response to the total change of circumstances: Moving to Switzerland after the failure of his first marriage, the death of his Father (a lonely painter) and his own transformation of all own values after the First World War. “But this man, Siddhartha, was not a follower of any but his own soul…” Born the son of a Brahmin, Siddhartha was blessed in appearance, intelligence and charisma. In order to find meaning in life, he discarded his promising future for the life of a wandering ascetic. At one point in the book, he says there are three things he can do – “I can pray, I can wait and I can fast. About 12 translations in Indian languages, of Siddhartha further ones into Chinese (three since 1968) and Japanese exit and proof its meaningful intercultural dialogue.

Steppenwolf

With its blend of Eastern mysticism and Western culture, Hesse’s best-known and most autobiographical work is one of literature’s most poetic evocations of the soul’s journey to liberation. In the bourgeois circles of Europe after the Great War, Harry Haller, a solitary intellectual, has all his life feared his dual nature of being human and being a beast. He’s decided to die on his 50th birthday, which is soon. He’s rescued by the mysterious Hermine, who takes him dancing, introduces him to jazz and to the beautiful and whimsical Maria, and guides him into the hallucinations of the Magic Theater, which seem to take him into Hell. In the German original of the Steppenwolf, the female actress Hermina means this is the feminine form of Hermann (Hesse). This is same alchemic tantric game such as in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte”: Pamino and Pamina. Hermann Hesse roots are like many other Germans in the great tradition in the music of Mozart and Bach. The female is an important and recurring motif for Hesse. Hesse pictures Freud’s Oedipus complex for Demian ( Emil’s Self) in his construction of Demians mother (Frau Eva)  and in his exploration of her relationship with Emil Sinclair. His treatment of the female becomes more intricate, however, in Steppenwolf, as the prostitute Hermine becomes the Ego for Harry Haller. According to Jung, “Every man carries within him the eternal image of woman, not the image of this or that particular woman, but a definite feminine image…I have called this image the ‘anima’.” The character diagram mirrors Hesse’s experiences with psychoanalysis and his efforts to explore his subconsciousness:

Hallucination, fantasy, and unreality are important elements in the novel. Consequentially it was tried to portray Hesse as a bohemian, as a hippie, as a follower of the drug culture or as a pacifist vagabond (he was by the way really pacifist) and to make Hesse to a consumer product. There is an impressing movie that is worth to see even with its primitive special effects/animation technology, are not convincingly covering the fantastic emotional/surreal visions of the book.

Glasperlenspiel

It is easy to belittle from postmodern mindset the “overachieving” epic unity. The insights Hesse about the collapse of opposites “yin and Yang, individualism and” Serve” in the reception “Eastern meditation techniques and the associated” Attitude” is caught up today by the spiritual multiculturalism fashion “ideal, that might have proved as hollow as the ideals the traditional values of good old Europe. Nonetheless the breaking out of the “self-sufficient spiritualism” at the end of the novel, his last “magnum opus” implies the “synthesis of spirit and life” for the continuing, global reader looking for a valid meaning of life. In this book are musical polarities Hesse and mathematical abstractions and similar as by C.G. Jung’s enigmatic holistic symbols of the Mandela.

Demian

Demian proves tha basic thesis that Hesse - merged autobiographical experiences and fictional plot elements-in the design of the main characters and themes, as well as in the his poetry. It is critical to understand the  Jungian psychology individuation model and the dualistic view of the world to understand Demian and other works of Herrmann Hesse.

Under the influence of C.G. Jung’s (and Lang’s) psychoanalysis treatment, Hesse fell completely for the Germanic alchemical dream whose tendons to unity and the union of opposites. The inner self was revealed in Demian; the main character of his book was named, and loved and admired by Sinclair, i.e. of Hesse. Demian tells the story of a boy coming of age as a troubled German youth prior to WWI. Its imagery and plot have been the inspiration for countless songs, whether the composers read the book or not.

“Our god’s name is Abraxas and he is God and Satan and he contains both the luminous and the dark world.” ― Hermann Hesse, Demian

The book gives a vision of the two worlds: for Emil the main character, there is a bright world to which his parents and siblings belong and where everything is good and pious, and another, dark world, which starts at the door of his home and which is both wild and ghastly as well as mysterious and fascinating. Sometimes he would live like in the dark, forbidden world because he felt the other world as boring. At other times in turn it was comforting and wonderful to live in the light, religious world and to feel like an Angel.

Short overview of the book Demian.

1. Chapter – The Shadow

The story opens with Emil’s childhood experience, which earned him his first confrontation with the still so strange, dark world: Emil is little more than ten years old and visited the Latin school, when he met Franz Kromer, an older pupil of the elementary school. Franz is strong and quite malicious, so that it is feared among all kids. One afternoon, it happens that Emil and Franz talk about their school pranks. Emil spins a hero story to impress Franz how he stole apples with friends. As Emil wants to participate in the trip back, Kromer accompanied him and threatens Emil to reveal the theft, if he does not pay him two Reichsmarks the next day. After a few weeks, and Emil feels as he sinks ever further in the dark.

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

2. Chapter “The Self”

Emil is very fascinated of Max Demian, a new older student at the Latin school. He is some years older than Emil and visited a higher class. Initially, Emil is biased, but soon they deepen in a conversation about the story of Cain and Abel. Demian tells him that there are different interpretations for each story, and never one alone the truth corresponds to. Demian promises him that he will help him against Kromer. As the Self it leads Emil to the right decision. As Emil returns home that day, he confesses his parents which surprisingly listening to him and then forgive him. From now on he feels belong again the light world.

3. Chapter Ego and Persona

A few years later Emil and Demian in confirmation classes meet each other again. In the confirmation, the story is of the dying of Jesus tells them that there is no free will, however, it could affect the will of others if you focus just enough. A few days later Emil and Demian discuss the two worlds. Demian is impressed, and feels confirmed in his own, and comes to the conclusion that every person must find the right measure for themselves. The day of the confirmation is getting closer, and Emil decides to commit his recording in the mind at the same time with his inclusion in the Church. However, his parents decide that he should visit another school after the shortly upcoming holidays.

4. Chapter Beatrice the Anima (Dantes »Divina commedia«)

In his new boarding school, Emil receives little respect and sinks stages into melancholy and self-pity. Emil is now often in pubs with friends, where there lavishly richly celebrate and get drunk. So, his grades in school get always worse, and he is threatened even with the dismissal from the school. After the Christmas, which he spent at home, he falls in love with a girl, but does not dare however to attract them, and so he gives her the name Beatrice. His school grades improved, and again like he deals with spiritual themes. Also he starts to paint; first ornament and plants, and finally Beatrice. When the image is completed, Emil finds it not really resembles her, and later, he realizes that he had painted no her, but Demian. One night, Emil has a dream by Demian and the heraldic bird, which is placed over the door of his own home. He decides to paint this bird, and to send the image to Demian.

5. Chapter – Abraxas

Emil sends the drawing from his dream bird to Demian which come to a piece of paper. On it, he writes about a God named Abraxas, which is a combination of divine and devilish attributes. Emil is interested to understand this God and provides research, which remain however largely unsuccessful. One night Emil comes past on a walk on church organ music and stops and listens. The organist plays Bach is the pieces however, as Emil thinks, a passionate own note. From that day on, he often stands in front of the Church and listening to the music. One day he follows the musician, Pistorius, as he leaves the Church. He enters a bar on the outskirts of the city, and Emil sits down at the table to him. They start to talk amongst other things about and come on Abraxas.

6. Chapter  The Jungian Adviser

From his conversations with Pistorius Emil finds his self-esteem and learns more of Abraxas, his new God. One evening, he is approached by a classmate named Knauer, who asks him about spiritualism. On the same evening still Emil begins to paint a picture. Again, it’s a face that he can map not a particular person. Emil comes to the conclusion, that for everyone a particular work or task is intended, and that Pistorius had missed his. The only important work in a person’s life, it is however to find themselves.

“Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again. That is why every man’s story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration. In each individual the spirit has become flesh, in each man the creation suffers, within each one a redeemer is nailed to the cross.”

7. Chapter – The Great Mother  the fulfilment of individuation

In the holidays Emil does looking after Demian and they meet and Demian recognizes his old friend, he invites him to his house, so that he could get to know his mother. During his visit, Emil discovered that Demian has his picture of the dream bird in the entrance hall to on slopes, what affects him deeply. He falls in love with Demians mother – his  The Great Mother, but the (sexual) desire  is rejected. Later in the war he gets injured by a grenade. Sinclair witnessed in one overwhelming vision the desirable rebirth of personal and collective by projecting the great mother into this:

“In den Wolken war eine große Stadt zu sehen, aus der strömten Millionen von Menschen hervor […] – Mitten unter sie trat eine mächtige Göttergestalt, funkelnde Sterne im Haar, groß wie ein Gebirge, mit den Zügen der Frau Eva. In sie hinein verschwanden die Züge der Menschen, wie in eine riesige Höhle, und waren weg […]. Ein Traum schien Gewalt über sie zu haben, sie schloß die Augen, und ihr großes Antlitz verzog sich in Weh. Plötzlich schrie sie hell auf, und aus ihrer Stirn sprangen Sterne, die schwangen sich in herrlichen Bögen und Halbkreisen über den schwarzen Himmel. Einer von den Sternen brauste mit hellem Klang gerade zu mir her, schien mich zu suchen. Da krachte er brüllend in tausend Funken auseinander, es riß mich empor und warf mich wieder zu Boden, donnernd brach die Welt über mir zusammen.”

C.G. Jung’s Psychology offers also attempt an explanation of this rebirth phenomenon.  Jung  notes that a mobilization the deeper archetypes – such as the “Anima” or of the “Self” only in a withdrawn and introverted life is possible. The Conclusion is valid, that Hesse was stimulated by reading C.G. Jung’s  ” Symbole der Wandlung / Icons” of the”Conversion” to his haunting poetic design of Sinclair’s  rebirth experience . The nature of incest fantasy is explained as  regression of the libido into the unconscious, where they enable the compensating and healing powers.

I want to end with the power of the Self as a (spiritual)  leader, which I have experienced over and over again:

Wenn der, der etwas notwendig braucht, dies  ihm Notwendige findet, so ist es nicht der Zufall, der es ihm gibt, sondern er selbst, sein eigenesVerlangen und Müssen führt ihn hin.”

5 thoughts on “Steppenwolf and Abraxas – Hermann Hesse and C.G. Jung revisited

  1. I find it interesting that you link Jung and Hesse. I recently read an essay on these two people. At one time they were pretty good friends, but in essay I read their relation got more “frosty” later on. Hesse might’ve thought Jung was rejecting him.

    • Thanks for your comment. A big part of this blog’s agenda is to fan out from C.G. Jung, revisiting topics I was or have been interested. I hope its not “if you have a hammer every problem looks like nail”. Hesse underwent psychoanalysis under Carl Jung’s assistant J.B. Lang and has visited C.G.Jung several times 1921 for therapeutic discussions to overcome a creativity/ production crisis but canceled them. The direct influence of Jung also seemed to fade with the years as the Hesse became more mature in his profession as a writer and confirmed in his basic philosophy of life.

      There are lots of biographic connections between C.G. Jung and Hesse. Both had similar upbringings, e.g. trouble with their (rigid religious) fathers (Hesse’s father was a Pietist missionary / C.G.Jung a protestant priests), struggled with their conservative foundation. In their spiritual search they were open to Western and Eastern religious thoughts and Gnostic ideas. Both at some point of times were criticized supporting the Nazi ideology.

      Even stronger felt is the Jungian influence felt in Hesse’s work. The structure and content of the novel Demian is that of a typical process of Individuation. The way to the Self leads first to childhood and its experiences: It is a direct outgrowth of his psychoanalysis of 1916-17 and reflected Hesse’s personal crisis as well as the interest in Jungian psychoanalysis. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, once said that Steppenwolf is among his favorite books because it “exposes the problem of modernity’s isolated and self-isolating man”. I found C.G. Jung’s psychology indispensable for my understanding and appreciation of Hesse’s writings. To me Jungian symbols and Archetypes are strikingly evident in Steppenwolf – particularly in the visualization of the movie (available as DVD) as the main character Harry Haller, goes through his mid-life crisis with drinking, dancing, music, sex, and drugs. Very appropriate for the sixties. Both Jung, and Hesse seem noised out in today’s mainstream. I wonder why, maybe in today’s political correctness it is inconvenient that life is made up of both light and shadows but also that we should come to terms with the fact that the world is more than “brot und spiele”, media spin, consumerism and economic figures – that beyond materialistic ideas, there is a need for religion and spiritually…

      • I do sympathize with a lot of what you write. It seems that Jung is not all ruled out in today’s mainstream. Jung’s typology does get attention, in it’s popularized version, the MBTI test. However that is not understanding Jung on a deeper level I suppose. Maybe it’s that many people are afraid of looking at things deep and be serious.
        Jung and Hesse were both persons who dared to look deeper. The Glass Bead Game by Hesse is one of my favorite books.

  2. It is true that many terms, concepts and techniques of C.G. Jung are wi(l)dly used today. However, mostly without giving him credit or knowing about him. In the mainstream? I am not sure either that Jung is understood on a deeper level; not even sure if that is the case with the psychoanalysis mainstream dreaming the Freudian science dream. Most people don’t even know were Typology and the Extro/Introvert comes from. Professionally I came across popularized MBTI tests and also good team tests which were watered down C.G. Jung typology. I had a few intercultural trainings for low and high context cultures, only later I discovered that much of it was derived of C.G. Jung’s Typology, Archetypes and collective unconsciousness. I found C.G. Jung concept of individuation highly useful if one wants look into oneself. Jung is a very livid topic, however, within the religious realm: I know one Benedictine monk personally well, who is a trained Jungian.

    I observe that many people are afraid of looking at things deep and be serious – as it is painful. As C.G. Jung says:” People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul”. Hesse was like C.G.Jung a seer, who was not afraid to look further. and dared to look to anything “which works” – Gnostic, Astrology, Alchemy, Eeastern Philosophy – you name it. The Glass Bead Game by Hesse is certainly his most accomplished book. Besides of the obvious connection of the four Jung Functions to the four biographic stories, the metaphor of the Glass Bead Game is prophetic. Is has been said, that vision of the future includes the possibility of the universal, or ‘global’ communication, which is independent of any regional cultural context. Hesse saw the approach in mathematics and art (music) coming together just like Kepler (who used already the term archetype). It occurred to me, ironically, our version of Hesse’s Glass Bead Game is the Internet and todays Kafkaesque transnational system and bodies. Aren’t we in Kastaliens’ administrative system in the year 2500 aleady, with its instances and administrative rules, with game commissions, game institutions, committees,game master office, game courses, game laws, game archives, controlled media and Orwellsche archivists? There are even the ordinary peasants (amateurs) in Platos cave, who see only the deceiving reflection of the game in todays media.

    “Es wurden nun in jedem Lande eine Spielkommission und ein oberster Spielleiter bestimmt,
    mit dem Titel Ludi Magister, und es wurden offizielle, unter der persönlichen
    Leitung des Magisters durchgeführte Spiele zu geistigen Feierlichkeiten erhoben. Der
    Magister blieb natürlich, wie alle hohen und höchsten Funktionäre der Geistespflege,
    anonym; außer den paar Nächsten kannte niemand ihn mit seinem persönlichen Namen.
    Einzig den offiziellen, großen Spielen, für welche der Ludi Magister verantwortlich war,
    standen die offiziellen und internationalen Verbreitungsmittel wie Rundfunk und so
    weiter zur Verfügung. Außer der Leitung der öffentlichen Spiele gehörte zu den Pflichten
    des Magisters die Förderung der Spieler und Spielschulen, vor allem aber hatten die
    Magister aufs strengste über die Weiterbildung des Spieles zu wachen. Die Weltkommission
    aller Länder allein entschied über die (heute kaum mehr vorkommende) Aufnahme
    neuer Zeichen und Formeln in den Bestand des Spieles, über etwaige Erweiterungen
    der Spielregeln, über die Wünschbarkeit oder Entbehrlichkeit neu einzubeziehender
    Gebiete.”

    The glass bead game itself is a very interesting mathematical, aesthetic, philosophical and mystic concept. To me, it lays the foundations for an artistic game, which integrates all fields of human and maybe spiritual knowledge through forms of symbolism. Herrman Hesse: “How far back the historian wishes to place the origins and antecedents of the Glass Bead Game is, ultimately, a matter of his personal choice. For like every great idea it has no real beginning; rather, it has always been, at least the idea of it. We find it foreshadowed, as a dim anticipation and hope, in a good many earlier ages. There are hints of it in Pythagoras, for example, and then among Hellenistic Gnostic circles in the late period of classical civilization. We find it equally among the ancient Chinese, then again at the several pinnacles of Arabic-Moorish culture; and the path of its prehistory leads on through Scholasticism and Humanism to the academies of mathematicians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and on to the Romantic philosophies and the runes of Novalis’ hallucinatory visions.”

    Anyway, you may refer to my incomplet draft comments in regards the global (language) game in http://stottilien.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/3285/

  3. Pingback: Steppenwolf and Abraxas - Hermann Hesse and C.G. Jung revisited | Image of the World | Scoop.it

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