Book Review: C.G. Jung & Herman Hesse – A Record of Two Friendships by Miguel Serrano

SERRANO is a Chilean diplomat who has devoted many years of his life to the study of custom, belief and spirituality in India. He is particularly knowledgeable in the fields of Yoga and the Occult and has had several other books published in English, including ‘The Ultimate Flower’ (1969), ‘The Mysteries’ (1960), ‘The Visits of the Queen of Sheba’ (1973), ‘The Serpent of Paradise’ (1974) and ‘NOS: Book of the Resurrection’ (1984).

However, even more significant than Serrano’s own contributions to the field of spiritual philosophy were the close relationships he cultivated with two of Europe’s finest scholars. This book – first published in 1966 – is split into two halves. The first is a touching account of Serrano’s many encounters with Herman Hesse, author of such outstanding works as ‘Peter Camenzind’ (1904), ‘Unterm Rad’ (1906), ‘Gertrud’ (1910), ‘Siddartha’ (1922), ‘Der Steppenwolf’ (1927), ‘Narziss und Goldmund’ (1930), ‘Das Glasperlenspiel’ (1943), ‘Klingsor’s Last Summer’ (1970), ‘The Journey to the East’ (1964), and ‘Demien’ (1985). Such works are unusual in that Hesse’s charcters usually represent the various aspects of his own personality. ‘Narziss und Goldmund’, for example, perhaps one of his most popular novels, contains two fundamentally oppositeand diverse personalities; the first, a contemplative monk satisfied with the uncomplicated silence of the cloister, and the second, a man of action, rage and lust. Elsewhere, ‘Der Steppenwolf’ is renowned for its depiction of a man who thinks he is a wolf. In fact Hesse always stressed the incompatibility between mankind linked with nature and the West’s gradual decline into absolutism and Christianity. In other words, Hesse recognised that life is made up of both light and shadows, and instead of constantly striving towards the light he believed that we should come to terms with the fact that the world is far from ideal. Serrano provides the reader with an account of Abraxus, mentioned by Hesse in ‘Demien’ and lauded by his surviving disciple for the fact that it provided a solution which Western Man can rediscover both himself and his own destiny:

that is to say, a projection of our souls both outwards and inwards, both to the light and to the deep shadows of our biographical roots, in the hope of finding in the combination of the two the pure archetype.

According to Serrano this would fully address the problem of our current spiritual dilemma, because the more

shadowy side of real life is ignored, and Western Christianity provides us with nothing which can be used to interpret it. Thus the young men of the West are unable to deal with the mixture of light and shadow of which life really consists; they have no way of linking the facts of existence to their preconceived notion of absolutes. The links connecting life with universal symbols are therefore broken, and disintegration sets in.

In other words, his many visits to India have taught him that absolutes do not exist in the East, so consequently there is no God and there is no Devil. As a result the East is closer to nature and unlike those in the West its inhabitants are not so individualised and act as a single, collective soul. Abraxas would act as a synthesis between East and West in that God and the Devil become one; a concept not dissimilar to that of Loki in the Northern Tradition. Serrano has a quite beautiful style of writing, and one example of the great love which he has for matters literary is expressed in the opening chapter:

Even today, I would go halfway round the world to find a book if I thought it essential to my needs, and I have a feeling of absolute veneration for those few authors who had given me something special. For this reason I can never understand the tepid youth of today who wait for books to be given to them and who neither search nor admire. I would go without eating in order to get a book, and I have never liked borrowing books, because I have always wanted them to be absolutely mine so that I could live with them for hours on end.

In fact the author had first become attracted to the work of Hermann Hesse around 1946, even though he was virtually unknown in Serrano’s native Chile. Consequently, as a young man – like so many others become him – Serrano packed a few belongings into his knapsack and decided to pay Hesse a personal visit and present him with a volume of his own newly-published work, ‘Neither By Sea Nor Land’ (1951). The great affinity Serrano felt towards a man many years his senior is probably best conveyed by recounting the pairs very first meeting in June 1951 at Hesse’s scenic home in Montagnola Switzerland. It was n this occasion that Hesse demonstrated his great love of silence and solitude:

Outside the late afternoon sky began to pale, and a tenuous blue light tinted the windows and played over Hesse’s slight form. ‘Tell me’, I asked, ‘have you been able to find peace here in the mountains?’ Hesse remained silent for a time, although his soft smile never disappeared. We seemed to hear the gentle murmur of the afternoon light and the silence of things until at length he spoke: ‘When you are close to Nature you can listen to the voice of God.’

The young Chilean was not to meet his mentor again until several years later, but their friendship soon began to blossom like a flower in Springtime. On one occasion Serrano was even presented with a hand-written copy of Hesse’s ‘Piktor’s Metamorphosis’, which had been lovingly emblazoned with the German writer’s colourful and exquisite illustrations.

But Serrano’s book isn’t simply about friendship, it is also important because it has put many of Hesse and Jung’s conversations on record. Serrano, then, is sharing the knowledge with the reader. The second half of the book is less anecdotal and far from philosophical. Jung’s personality was significantly vibrant than that of Hesse (yet another differentiation, perhaps, between the actor and the contemplative), and the reader often gets the feeling that during their discussions Serrano often struggled to get a word in edgeways. Jung’s immense energy was apparent from the very first time that Serrano made his acquaintance on 20th February 1959, in the Hotel Esplanade at Locarno:

I immediately recognised him as he came down the central stairway. He was tall but a little stoop-shouldered, has wispy white hair and carried a pipe in his hand. He greeted me affably in English and invited me to sit down with him in a corner by the balustrade where we would be completely private. ‘I understand that you have just come from India’, he said. ‘I was there some time ago, trying to convince the Hindus that it is impossible to get rid of the idea of the Ego or of consciousness, even in the deepest state of Samadhi.’ Thus Dr. Jung began on the central theme. His gestures and words were solemn and elegant, but underneath there was a burning enthusiasm which indicated his extraordinary vitality, even though at the time he was nearly eighty-two years old.

So began the makings of a long and enduring friendship between the author and his subject, a friendship which is reflected by the natural rapport that took place between them. But whilst the dialogue in this book is highly fascinating, it does pay to have a basic grounding in Jungian psychology because it concerns many of C.G. Jung’s main themes and does – in part, at least – assume knowledge. One such theme is that of the personal and collective unconscious. Jung believed that the unconscious possessed its own laws and functions, and is basically presupposed. Therefore it can both affect and interrupt the unconscious itself. The personal unconscious is based upon fairly repressed, childlike facets, but the collective unconscious is much broader and acts like a race-memory. This is made up of both instincts and archetypes, and as a creative force it works to the benefit of the individual. Just as Hermann Hesse had pointed out that Indian Civilisation was far closer to Nature so Jung postulates the same theory in line with his own thoughts on the unconscious:

[W]hat is needed is to call a halt to the fatal dissociation that exists between man’s higher and lower being; instead, we must unite conscious man with primitive man. In India we can find a civilisation which has incorporated everything that is essential to primitivism and, as a consequence, we find man considered as a whole…

In fact Jung and Serrano are both fascinated by the unity of will and spirit which existed – and continues to exist – in India. As the book draws to a close Serrano reiterates his belief that Man must be reconciled with Nature, returning once again to the concept of Abraxus, the god which has rejected the absolute and combined both light and shadow:

[I]n addition to the joyful God there must also be a sad God who is really waiting for us to reveal the depths of his joys and grief. As the alchemists used to say, ‘Man must finish the work which Nature has left incomplete’.

All in all, this is a fine book and testimony to the fact that Miguel Serrano has taken it upon himself to continue the transformation of the West in light of Eastern wisdom. A wisdom which – thanks to the intervention of men like Hesse and Jung – is now being manifested.

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