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.


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.


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.


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 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.”