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Demian | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Demian | Chapter 5 : The Bird Fights Its Way Out of the Egg | Summary



One day Emil Sinclair finds a piece of paper in the pages of a book. On the paper is written, "The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world." The message also explains that to be born, then, means destroying a world. It adds that once born, the bird flies to God, who is named Abraxas. Sinclair has no idea what Abraxas means, but later in a class he is surprised to hear one of his teachers, Dr. Pollens, talk about "Abraxas." The teacher has been discussing the origin of magic and its connection to a worldview more informed by philosophical and mystical truths than by scientific ones. The teacher adds that Abraxas was a "divinity on whom the symbolical task was imposed of uniting the divine and the diabolical."

Sinclair connects the idea of Abraxas with his previous ideas of the dark and light worlds. It aligns with Max Demian's notion that the whole world should be honored—that it would be better to worship God and the devil equally. Abraxas is another way of describing the same concept.

Sinclair's religious fervor for "Beatrice" fades, to be replaced by a new development. He has a recurring dream of returning home, going into the house with the bird crest, and being met by his mother. Then his mother transforms, resembling the Demian of the painting but with a womanly shape. The woman embraces Sinclair, and he feels it is both divine worship and a crime. The dream causes him both contentment and terrible guilt. After a time he understands that this dream is of Abraxas: "Rapture and horror, man and woman, the most sacred things and the most abominable interwoven." Sinclair anticipates the end of school and worries he doesn't know what he is going to do next in life. He feels Demian, the dream-hawk, and the dream-mistress are leading him to Abraxas, but he is not in control.

Sinclair finds a respite from inner turmoil in music played by Pistorius, the organist at a small church. One night he thanks the man for his music and tells him he feels it is like someone "trying to fathom heaven and hell." He tells the organist he is seeking a god who is at once god and devil, named Abraxas. Pistorius, coincidentally, is also a seeker after Abraxas and has knowledge to share. The two meet regularly, and Pistorius imparts his wisdom and knowledge. Pistorius teaches Sinclair a meditative practice and interprets his dreams. He also teaches Sinclair that all people carry the world inside them, with all its terrible and wonderful possibilities. Becoming human is a process of becoming conscious of these potentials inside oneself.

The discussions with Pistorius help Sinclair solidify and understand all he has been learning. Each one helps him break up more of the eggshell and let his dream-hawk push through the "ruins of the world-shell."


As before, a series of fortuitous and mysterious events contributes to Emil Sinclair's progress toward self-realization. The painted hawk, sent to Max Demian, seems to return a message from him. However, this message is delivered in a cryptic way, as if fate or providence had placed it inside one of Sinclair's books. The message interprets the image in the painting, suggesting the bird is Sinclair, or anyone trying to achieve self-realization, and the egg is the previous reality of the person that must be dismantled to allow a new reality to be born. Once the person is born anew from the broken original world-shell, it flies to the god Abraxas. Sinclair is perplexed yet intrigued by the message because it opens a new mystery while it also validates the importance of Sinclair's dream-bird painting. Fortunately, fate brings Pistorius and Sinclair together. Sinclair is out walking when he happens to hear the organ music, and Pistorius has just the knowledge of Abraxas that Sinclair needs to interpret the cryptic message found in the book. The sense that some force is directing Sinclair's journey to self-realization is undeniable.

The character of Pistorius is modeled after Hermann Hesse's therapist, J.B. Lang, who was trained by well-known Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Fulfilling the role of Jungian therapist, Pistorius helps Sinclair understand the collective unconscious, which according to Jung is a part of the unconscious common to all humans and inherited biologically. In this collective unconscious are the primordial images, or archetypes, that often manifest in the personal unconscious. Pistorius explains part of Jung's theory of collective unconscious when he asserts that "we have accumulated in our souls all the experiences through which a human soul has ever lived." Furthermore, he adds, if the whole human race died out except for one child, that child would be able to rediscover all of human knowledge: "it would be able to produce gods, demons, paradises, the commandments and prohibitions, old and new testaments—everything."

The help Pistorius provides Sinclair in interpreting his dreams brings to light another important aspect of Jungian therapy. According to Jung, dreams are from the whole self, parts of which are unconscious. Dreams do the work of integrating conscious and unconscious. They are filled with symbols and archetypes because this is the language of the unconscious.

Pistorius's guidance in teaching Sinclair about Abraxas is another important aspect of the novel. Abraxas is a sequence of Greek letters once thought to have magical qualities. The Gnostics, a 2nd-century religious sect, used this word to refer to a supreme being or deity. In The Seven Sermons to the Dead (1916) Carl Jung postulated that Abraxas was a combination of God and the devil. Humans were Abraxas because they both created and destroyed. The ideas of merging good and evil into one deity and also drawing a parallel between this deity and the self are part of the worldview Sinclair is developing.

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