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Hermann Hesse
The Story of a Youth

Published by Harper & Row/NY in 1925
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2003


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Thomas Mann, in his 1947 Introduction to this famous novel, says that the intentional ambiguity of the subtitle "The Story of a Youth" may be taken to apply to a whole generation as well to Emil Sinclair. He closes the Introduction with these fine words which can serve humanity well during these trying times of the new millennium, "Assist the new without sacrificing the old."

[page xii] Toward the end of the book (the time is 1914) Demian says to his friend Sinclair: "There will be war. . . . But you will see, Sinclair, that this is just the beginning. Perhaps it will become a great war, a very great war. But even that is just the beginning. The new is beginning and for those who cling to the old the new will be horrible. What will you do?"
The right answer would be: "Assist the new without sacrificing the old." The best servitors of the new - Hesse is an example - may be those who know and love the old and carry it over into the new.

The very first sentences Hesse writes "I cannot tell my story without reaching a long way back. If it were possible demian would reach back farther still into the very first years of my childhood . . ." indicate something that has in deed become possible in our new century. With the science of doyletics, it is possible for someone, anyone of a will to do so, to reach back into the first years of their childhood and beyond, and in the process of so reaching to remove any unwanted affects remaining from those ages. Each of us exists at a point of intersection with this nascent science, and how we choose to use it is up to us. Hesse recognized the importance of "every man's story:"

[page 2] But 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 every 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.

The person speaking through Hesse is Emil Sinclair who is telling his story in the first person throughout the novel. He says that his story is not a pleasant one, "it is neither sweet or harmonious, as invented stories are; it has the taste of nonsense and chaos, of madness and dreams like the lives of all men who stop deceiving themselves." In a few words, Hesse has laid out the principles of Carl Jung's depth psychology, that "each man's life represents a road toward himself," a striving ever to discover what is unique and separates him from the rest of humanity, however much such a separation is unsavory or fraught with danger. On page 46, Emil says, "I realize today that nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself."

The first time Emil encounters danger, however, comes from an attempt to keep from being different from his peers by fabricating a story of stealing apples in order to fit in with the pranks and petty thievery of the rest of the group. As soon as he tells the story he finds himself caught in a web of deceit more serious than the simple white lie he told. Kroner threatens to reveal Emil as the thief to the orchard owner and claim the two marks reward. Emil doesn't have such a large sum and Kromer presses him to repay all of his debt or do Kromer's bidding until he has repaid this debt. He not only fit into the group, but had inextricably tied himself to the leader of the group, Kromer, as a bond servant, doing his every will for an indefinite period of time. Kromer was using the "unreasonable request" strategy to gain an advantage over Emil. I had first heard of this process from a modern day Kromer in a seminar. I tried it and sure enough it works. Here's how Emil describes the process:

[page 36] I was prepared for this new ruse or pretext of his. He did this often: demanded something impossible, frightened and humiliated me, then gradually offered some bargain as a way out, and I had to buy myself off with some money or a gift.

Demian tells Emil about the Mark of Cain carried by those who can see that Cain had suffered at the hands of a cruel God and should be the subject of admiration instead of revulsion. When Emil asked his father about this he was warned against harboring such ideas. Harry Potter in the J. K. Rowling series of books about a young wizard's growing up through seven years at Hogwart's School of Wizardry came to mind as I read about the mark of Cain. Harry has a mark on his forehead, one he got, when as an infant, his parents were killed by the Dark Lord, Valdemorte. All we know is that the blow intended to kill Harry did not succeed. I got an imagine while reading about the mark of Cain, what if Harry carries the mark of Cain on his forehead, literally as well as symbolically? What if it turns out that Harry was one of twin brothers, both infants, when the Dark Lord tried to them. Suppose the bolt of energy meant to kill Harry, killed Harry's twin brother instead and left Harry with only a mark on his forehead? Given the author's penchant for uncovering early secrets in Harry's live in each succeeding episode, I would expect this to be revealed, if it is the case, in Book Seven.

In this next passage we see how Emil lived in a peaceful world initially in childhood, but after he received the "mark of Cain" he began to live in a new world.

[page 48] If I wanted to, I could recall many delicate moments from my childhood: the sense of being protected that my parents gave me, my affectionate nature, simply living a playful, satisfied existence in gentle surroundings. But my interest centers on the steps that I took to reach myself. All the moments of calm, the , "islands of peace whose magic I felt, I leave behind in the enchanted distance. Nor do I ask to ever set foot there again.
That is why as long as I dwell on my childhood l will emphasize the things that entered it from outside, that were new, that impelled me forward or tore me away.
These impulses always came from the "other world" and were accompanied by fear, constraint, and a bad conscience. They were always revolutionary and threatened the calm in which I would gladly have continued to live.

In the process of growing up, we can either remain atavistically in the "islands of peace" of our childhood or we can follow the danger-fraught path to our inner selves. The danger comes from the possibility of collapse of the "fragile bridges" that our conscious selves attempt to build to connect our "islands of peace." Individuation, rightly understood, can only result when our childhood world effectively breaks apart.

[page 49] My conscious self lived within the familiar and sanctioned world, it denied the new world that dawned within me. Side by side with this I lived in a world of dreams, drives, and desires of a chthonic nature, across which my conscious self desperately built its fragile bridges, for the childhood world within me was falling apart.

Emil was growing up and discovering authors that spoke directly to him, like Nietzsche or Novalis. In this next passage, the aphorism that stands out for him, indicates to me that the concept of karmic influences from past lives was like a newly calved iceberg beginning to break through the surface of the icy waters of his consciousness. Rightly understood, what we variously call fate, destiny, conscience, or temperament appear in our current lives as a semi-conscious, bleed-through of past-life experiences. This bleed-through process will become ever more prominent in human beings as we progress further into the Consciousness Soul Age 1.

[page 86] During those weeks I had begun to read a book that made a more lasting impression on me than anything I had read before. Even later in life I have rarely experienced a book more intensely, except perhaps Nietzsche. It was a volume of Novalis, containing letters and aphorisms of which I understood only a few but which nevertheless held an inexpressible attraction for me. One of the aphorisms occurred to me now and I wrote it under the picture: "Fate and temperament are two words for one and the same concept." That was clear to me now.

During a homily at Holy Family Catholic Church recently, Father Finn mentioned that we were celebrating St. Augustine's feast day, and how his mother St. Monica prayed so fervently for Augustine to mend his libertine and riotous ways as a young man. "He was bad !" the good father told me. His mother was at home on the coast of North Africa sending her prayers to other side of the Mediterranean Sea to Augustine in Rome. Those prayers were finally answered and he became a great scholar and saint of the Church. It occurred to me that we have two cities named after this mother and son combination which are situated on the opposite shores of America, St. Augustine on the Florida coast and Santa Monica on the California coast. In a sense the prayers of St. Monica for her son to repent his evil ways yet today span the whole of this country for those who would listen. Listen, as Emil listened to Demian tell him about St. Augustine in the passage below. If I had been Demian, I might have mentioned the important role that Augustine's mother played in his becoming a visionary after his life as a roué.

[page 88] Then he laughed at me in his old lively and superior fashion. "Well, let's not fight over it! In any case, the life of a drunk is presumably livelier than that of the ordinary well-behaved citizen. And then I read that once somewhere the life of a hedonist is the best preparation for becoming a mystic. People like St. Augustine are always the ones that become visionaries. He, too, was first a sensualist and man of the world."

Jung introduced the world to many new concepts, but art therapy, the process of creating artworks as a means of understanding one's own unconscious processes as one travels into individuation or maturity, is one of the most important. A flat definition of art therapy such as mine will never serve as well as an actual explanation such as Hesse gives us in Emil's vision and painting of the heraldic bird. This bird first appears in the novel when Demian notices the faded coat of arms over the door of Emil's house. Then came the dream, Emil's painting, Emil's mailing the painting to Demian, and Demian's note.

[page 90] [the dream] That night I dreamed of Demian and the coat of arms. It kept changing continuously. Demian held it in his hand, often it was diminutive and gray, often powerful and varicolored, but he explained to me that it was always one and the same thing. In the end he obliged me to eat the coat of arms! When I had swallowed it, I felt to my horror that the heraldic bird was coming to life inside me, had begun to swell up and devour me from within. Deathly afraid I started up in bed. awoke.

[page 91] [the painting] Now it represented a bird of prey with a proud aquiline sparrow hawk's head, half its body stuck in some dark globe out of which it was struggling to free itself as though from a giant egg-all of this against a sky-blue background. As I continued to scrutinize the sheet it looked to me more and more like the many-colored coat of arms that had occurred to me in my dream.

[page 93, 94] [Demian's reply to Emil about the painting] "The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God's name is Abraxas."

Through this sequence of events we get a clear conception of why Demian is called the first psychoanalytical novel. Its popularity when it was released indicates to me that the world was filled with people who each had a personal equivalent of Emil's heraldic bird welling up inside of them, and now through this novel, they found the freedom to reveal the fearful image and to share it with others and to explore the dark portions of their individual psyche it revealed.

I was led to read this book because of its mention by Ronald Hayman in his fine biography, A Life of Jung. On page 14 of that book Hayman talks about Jung's fascination with fire as a youth. Emil exhibits a similar fascination with fire under the guidance of the organist Pistorius, and he recalls his earlier fascination with other natural phenomena:

[page 106] "Come," he called after a moment, "we want to practice a bit of philosophy. That means: keep your mouth shut, lie on your stomach, and meditate."
He struck a match and lit paper and wood in the fireplace in front of which he sprawled. The flames leapt high, he stirred and fed them with the greatest care. I lay down beside him on the worn-out carpet. For about an hour we lay on our stomachs silent before the shimmering wood, watching the flames shoot up and roar, sink down and double over, flicker and twitch, and in the end brood quietly on sunken embers.

[page 107] Even as a young boy I had been in the habit of gazing at bizarre natural phenomena, not so much observing them as surrendering to their magic, their confused, deep language. Long gnarled tree roots, colored veins in rocks, patches of oil floating on water, light-refracting flaws in glass-all these things had held great magic for me at one time: water and fire particularly, smoke, clouds, and dust, but most of all the swirling specks of color that swam before my eyes the minute I closed them.

Pistorius became his new teacher, and Emil resonated with every word, every thought that came from his mouth. In this next passage, one can observe how Pistorius is teaching Emil about the "different drummer" of Thoreau, the "self-reliance" of Emerson, and "freedom as a spiritual activity" of Rudolf Steiner.

[page 113] "You told me," he said, "that you love music because it is amoral. That's all right with me. But in that case you can't allow yourself to be a moralist either. You can't compare yourself with others: if Nature has made you a bat you shouldn't try to be an ostrich. You consider yourself odd at times, you accuse yourself of taking a road different from most people. You have to unlearn that. Gaze into the fire, into the clouds, and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak, surrender to them, don't ask first whether it's permitted or would please your teachers or father, or some god. You will ruin yourself if you do that. That way you will become earthbound, a vegetable.

Some of you who are near my age may recall when "Lost in Space" was a weekly program on CBS around 1970 as a result of their appropriating the ideas from Gene Roddenberry about how to make a successful space serial. This stealing of his ideas came about when Gene had proposed doing "Star Trek" to the top thieves, er, executives of CBS in a long, two-hour presentation. One can see the result of the primary thievery of CBS, the original "Star Trek" series has become a classic, and the copycat "Lost in Space" series has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

On "Lost in Space" was a Dr. Smith, who was constantly getting into trouble, many times endangering the entire crew's existence, and all the while, he whined. He was a constant whiner. The whining was irritating to me, almost hurt my ears. I enjoyed all of the show except Dr. Smith. I was so thrilled that someone had finally come up with a regular space show on television, I watched it every week, but Dr. Smith's antics completely and thoroughly irritated me.

One day I was sitting in the cafeteria having a chat with a co-worker, Gary Booth. The subject got on "Lost in Space" somehow, and I told Gary how much that Dr. Smith with his whining irritated me. I would gladly like to see Dr. Smith killed off in that show. Gary listened and when I was done, he looked at me with a serious look and said, "Somebody once told me that the person who irritates you the most is your greatest guru, that what you dislike in someone else is what you're doing out of your awareness." I was flabbergasted! The very thought that I could be as irritating to others as Dr. Smith was to me was inconceivable. And yet, Gary had no axe to grind his friendly tone told me that he was offering something helpful, but something that I was going to have to sort out on my own. My first response was to reject what Gary had said. "That can't be!" I thought vehemently. And a curious thing happened to me: the stronger I felt that Gary was wrong, the more I wanted to reject what he said, the more I realized that my own rejection indicated that it must be true! Gary Booth, like Demian and Pistorius had done many times for Demian, had given me a lesson in life. He not only thrown me a fish to eat, but had taught me how to fish for myself! Ever since that day in 1970 during a lunch period in the Lockheed Electronics cafeteria in Commerce, California, whenever someone has bothered me by something they did, I have gone into a period of introspection until I was able to uncover some part of myself that bothered others in the way this person bothered me.

When I read this next passage, I came to realize that it is plausible that Gary Booth had read "Demian" and was sharing the insight he received from it.

[page 116] "The person whom you would like to do away with is of course never Mr. X but merely a disguise. 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."

About ten years or so of study later, I penned this acronym EAT-O-TWIST which stands for Everything Allways Turns Out The Way It's Supposed To, where supposing is what you do inside ahead of the time of something turning out. It points to the process of thinking, planning, presupposing, expecting, fearing, dreading, etc, the whole gamut of human processes. I came to understand that it was that human process of supposing that distinguished us from animals it allowed us to create the very things that we dreaded or earnestly wished for. Pistorius also teaches that to Emil.

[page 116, 117] "The things we see," Pistorius said softly, "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. You can be happy that way. But once you know the other interpretation you no longer have the choice of following the crowd. Sinclair, the majority's path is an easy one, ours is difficult."

The first couple of sentences by Pistorius is in sync with EAT-O-TWIST, but how are we to understand this statement, "They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself. " If you absorb into your supposing process that the image you receive from the world is the way the world is supposed to be, then EAT-O-TWIST has little to do you are already aligned with the world, and there is a comfort in flowing downstream with the flow of the majority. The moment you encounter some great thought that expands your view of the world, however, such as those Demian and Pistorius gave Emil Sinclair or the one Gary Booth gave me, then suddenly you change your supposing and the world moves until it ends up in sync with your new supposing.

Are we humans but organic machines stamped out by the billions by God? Or are we each a unique individual, born into this time for a task which we can only discover by living our life to the fullest? Emil was beginning to see: we are the latter each of us essentially a gamble with the unknown. This is the vision that Hesse gave each of us through Emil's story.

[page 132] The new vision rose up before me, glimpsed a hundred times, possibly even expressed before but now experienced for the first time by me. I was an experiment on the part of Nature, a gamble within the unknown, perhaps for a new purpose, perhaps for nothing, and my only task was to allow this game on the part of primeval depths to take its course, to feel its will within me and make it wholly mine. That or nothing!

Demian finishes high school, but before he goes off to college, he takes a holiday and finds his old friend Demian again, and gets to meet his mother for the first time, only to discover that she was the woman in the painting he had been carrying around in his head for a long time. At last he feels as though he is home, he tells Frau Eva when he first meets her. Her answer is redolent of what we each feel when we encounter a person, place, or thing with which we suddenly feel comfortable it is the scent of reincarnation and karma flowing across our nostrils. In our previous life, we had met and interacted with someone we may have made some mistakes which we vowed to correct in the next lifetime. This is the next lifetime in which we vowed to make that correction and when we meet that person, we feel an affinity for them because the correction we vowed created a connection. We only know this for sure because we feel a sense of comfort, exactly as though an anticipated fulfillment were imminent. Frau Eva shows by her response to Emil that she is aware of this process.

[page 145] She smiled like a mother.
"One never reaches home," she said. "But where paths that have affinity for each other intersect the whole world looks like home, for a time."

Sometimes in our youth, we mistake the comfort we feel in bars drinking with friends for this real comfort of fulfillment we have come to achieve in this lifetime. Emil did that once, and his experience is a rather universal one, to my knowledge, in that everyone goes through this counterfeit comfort in the process of growing up. Frau Eva explains that Max told her when Emil was drifting back to the counterfeit comfort of booze and buddies.

[page 146] "Yes, Max said to me: Sinclair has the most difficult part coming now. He's making one more attempt to take refuge among the others. He's even begun going to bars. But he won't succeed. His sign [RJM: the heraldic bird] is obscured but it sears him secretly. Wasn't it like that?"

Max Demian tells Emil Sinclair later that he is the first person that his mother has allowed to call her Frau Eva on the first meeting. Emil tells us:

[page 148] From this day on I went in and out of the house like a son or brother -- but also as someone in love. As soon as I opened the gate, as soon as I caught sight of the tall trees in the garden, I felt happy and rich. Outside was reality: streets and house, people and institutions, libraries and lecture halls but here inside was love; here lived the legend and the dream.

As I read the words, "Outside was reality; Inside was Love" I wrote a poem inspired by that theme in the back of the book:

Outside Reality, Inside Love


To live spectacularly under the heavens above
Remember this, my Dove:
Outside is Reality, Inside is Love.

Outside is reality, the field and the stream
Inside resides the myth and the dream Refrain

Outside is reality, the tables of the fortunate, the feasts of the blessed
Inside the heart is where Jesus rests Refrain

Outside is reality, the faiths and the creeds
Inside the duty that destiny needs Refrain

Outside is reality, the planets and stars
Inside the healing of destiny's scars.

To live spectacularly under the heavens above
Remember this, my Dove:
Outside is Reality, Inside is Love.

Renewal in our lives always seem to come on the heels of a catastrophe. We lose a precious ring, a job, or a loved one, and we think for a time that we cannot go on. But eventually we do, and soon we find a new life springing forth which would not have been possible but for our loss. On a global scale, renewal comes on the heels of a catastrophe as well. Demian sensed that such a change was coming in the years leading up to the Great War and warned Emil by telling him of a dream he had:

[page 160] "I still know nothing except that something is going to happen on a vast scale, something dreadful in which I myself will be involved. Sinclair, we will take part in this event that we have discussed so often. The world wants to renew itself. There's a smell of death in the air. Nothing can be born without first dying. But it is far more terrible than I had thought."

If Demian had been alive in the year 2000, he might have experienced a similar sense that something was going to happen on a vast scale which will bring another renewal to the world. And he would have been right. Four large jet planes filled with passengers and fuel were used as guided missiles by kamikaze terrorists to obliterate the twin towers of the World Trade Center, destroy a large segment of the Pentagon, and, but for the pluck of its passengers, the fourth airliner would have destroyed the Capitol Building or White House. In one day, almost 4,000 humans lives were lost. What is being born in the wake of these catastrophes is perhaps too close to us to say, but we can be assured that a renewal is underway.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ footnotes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1) To learn more about the Consciousness Soul Age, see ARJ2: The Karma of Untruthfulness I and The Work of the Angels in Man's Astral Body .
Return to text above footnote 1.



Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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