If Siddartha was a turning point in literature for me, then Demian is a lynch pin. I was originally drawn to Hermann Hesse for Steppenwolf, and in waiting to pick up my physical copy of that, ended up with Siddartha because it was free on Audible for members. That compelling tale of spirituality completely changed my perception of Hesse, even though I didn’t know much about him before. I started Demian with a thirst for more of Hesse’s views and philosophy. For a bit of background, he was raised in a Swabian Pietist household. Apparently, Pietists value deep thought, and so arrange their lifestyles to prioritize it. Hesse’s grandparents served at a mission in India, where his mother was born. His grandfather had an extensive library, from which young Hermann was invited to learn. This Nobel Prize winning German author valued authenticity, self-appraisal, and spiritual growth.
Essentially, he’s right up my alley.
I’ve been thinking of my pursuit of spiritual enlightenment as separate from my love of books until Hesse. Of course someone was bound to walk this path before me, I’m just glad I found this particular author. Akin to when I discovered Phillip Pullman late last year, it is reassuring to find a like mind. In this case too, it is fitting that this realization comes with Demian. A significant theme in this novel is mentoring and learning from those whom started down your path ahead of you.
Demian is the story of a boy. As the story begins, he is what society would expect, until the magnetic personality of a mysteriously enlightened young man opens his eyes to another way of viewing existence. The boy, Emil Sinclair, experiences the opening of his third-eye over the course of the story. With guidance from the young man, Max Demian, Sinclair explores what this means. They speak of a very non-Christian idea of accepting both extremes of light and dark within the self. They talk of a God that supports thoughts of servitude and rebellion, politeness and irreverence, good and evil. From what I gleaned of this, the concept is perfect balance.
So here is partially where my own adjacent journey came into play. I have been studying astrology for several months now. I went from knowing my sun sign, to developing a more complex understanding of the intricacies of planetary alignments, zodiacs in houses, and the incredibly detailed relationships of celestial bodies related to every single human being. This concept of balance characterizes the sign of Libra (which lies on the cusp of my first house of self). For me, this element of Demian resonates beautifully.
Coincidentally, Hermann Hesse had Libra on the cusp of his ninth house, the part of his astrological natal chart that corresponds to philosophy and spirituality. He had Sagittarius (the zodiac related spirituality) in his twelfth house of the subconscious… our link to the deep and difficult to access truths of life and the way the world works. Hesse’s moon was in Pisces, which relates to mysticism, empathy, and an intrinsically acute intuition. He and I differ practically everywhere in our charts, though my moon is in Pisces too.
I can’t quite say that Demian is an exceptional work of literature. The pacing is a little hit and miss, though my perception of this may have something to do with only getting to listen to it a few minutes a day. It is rather short, so someone able to dedicate a more sustained approach may experience it differently. The prose is fair and the plot sound. I’ll even venture to say that the characters are a bit one-dimensional and repetitive. However, if you approach this novel for its’ ideas, individuals looking for new patterns of thought may enjoy this deeply nonetheless.
For my own part, I am going to pursue Nietzsche next. Hesse was in part inspired by this German philosopher, critic, composer, writer, and philologist. There are quotes by Nietzsche that I already know I like. In this, I hope to delve deeper into these concepts of balancing the dark macabre and lightness of spirit. Demian is a welcome change amidst the ideas I’ve thus far read. Even though it doesn’t make my favorites list for the sum of its’ parts, I do believe it transcends this.