At a crucial juncture in the quest for himself, the protagonist of Hermann Hesse’s Demian, Emil Sinclair, comes under the influence of the ‘God’, Abraxas. Sinclair’s discovery of Abraxas is preceded by his dream of the sparrowhawk breaking out of the world egg. We recognise in the sparrowhawk a recurring symbol of the self which Sinclair seeks. First purified by the cult of Beatrice, then energised by the sacrifice of her image, Sinclair is given an image of his self as a liberated bird-of-prey rising from a state of dependency in solitary and rapacious splendour.
Abraxas enters Sinclair’s life when he turns to meditative art work in order to make sense of this important dream. He makes a painting of the sparrowhawk and sends it to Max Demian, not knowing if it will ever reach him. There follows one of the co-incidences which Hesse uses to advance his narration. At school one morning, after a break between lessons, Sinclair finds a message placed in his lesson book by a mysterious hand:
‘The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever would be born must destroy a world. The bird flies to God. The God’s name is Abraxas‘. 
In the next class of the day, again quite by chance, Sinclair learns from his teacher that Abraxas is the name of the ‘God’ who in ancient times had the symbolic task of uniting good and evil.
After a fruitless search for further knowledge of Abraxas, Sinclair has a second dream, which he declares to be the most important of his life. In this dream, Sinclair returns to his father’s house, and the sparrowhawk on the coat of arms lights up in greeting. Moving to embrace his mother, Sinclair finds in her place a powerful androgynous being, whose features remind him both of his mother and of Max Demian. This entity enfolds him in a passionate embrace, which, in the dream, he gladly returns, in an act of both worship and transgression.
Sinclair draws from the dream a number of insights. In an allusion to Beatrice in the previous episode of the novel, he perceives that Love is neither a “dark animal drive” (ein tierisch dunkler Trieb) nor “spiritualised adoration” (fromm vergeistigte Anbeterschaft), but both of these at once, and much more. He also perceives that he is actively calling Abraxas into his life. The ‘God’, he now sees, stands for both man and woman, holiness and unholiness, innocence and guilt, all mixed together. The ‘both and much more’ of warring qualities, what has sometimes been referred to as the ‘unity’ or ‘conjunction’ of opposites, he now accepts as an existential task he must embrace in his life.
More is revealed to Sinclair by a new friend, Pistorius, who is well versed in ancient lore, and who begins to instruct him in arcane matters to do with Abraxas. This ‘God’ is at the same time both God and Satan. Here, the terms ‘God’ and ‘Devil’ or ‘Satan’ have a psychological rather than a metaphysical reference. According to Pistorius, the Gods and Devils known to man dwell in the soul and provide potencies and schemata for the creation of experience. The choice of Abraxas as one’s God requires a commitment to non-conformism and transgression. Empathising with Sinclair’s youthful sexuality, Pistorius advises the conscious affirmation of erotic dreams, the more dangerous they seem, the better it is. In scenarios of great sinfulness, it is Abraxas who is dreaming in the dreamer. Pistorius asserts that even the desire to commit murder can be good, though he hastens to add that this should not lead to the act of murder itself. Their concern as friends of Abraxas is the affirmation of the reality of the forbidden desire, and this can be achieved just as well by committing murder in the imagination. Despite what he has heard from Pistorius, Sinclair is still unable to deal conclusively with his transgressive erotic dream. His attempts at creating an adequate image of the dream figure through meditative art work have so far come to nothing.
Pistorius goes on to warn Sinclair that if he were ever to become a conformist and submit to the external laws of the collective, he would lose his relationship to Abraxas. In a telling image, the human being is compared to a kitchen pot to which the ‘God’ comes in order to cook his thoughts. If one human pot proves inadequate, Abraxas leaves it aside and finds another. For Pistorius, Abraxas is still “an infant” (ein Säugling). He dreams of a cult of Abraxas which is still to be formulated and of installing himself as its priest. Not least because of the nostalgia Pistorius shows here for the cultic paraphernalia of institutional religion, Sinclair recognises his teaching to be merely “antiquarian” (antiquarisch), and he breaks with him.
Emil Sinclair has now summoned Abraxas into his life, or, to paraphrase Pistorius, he has turned his human resources into a kitchen pot for the ‘God’ to cook his thoughts in. What does this mean for Sinclair? The immediate effects are revealed by the episode with Knauer, a former schoolfriend, whom Sinclair re-encounters shortly before his break with Pistorius. Knauer, like Sinclair, is interested in arcane knowledge and has been trying to deal with a tormented sexuality through ascetic exercises. Knauer now hails Sinclair as a spiritual master. Sinclair quickly sees that what he has learned from Pistorius about Abraxas could be of use to Knauer, but he decides that he cannot help him. He reasons that because the affirmation of his erotic dream has so far eluded him, any teaching he could impart to Knauer would merely repeat the words of another and would lack the authentication in himself. The lack of personal authenticity, we may remark, was the essential flaw of the ‘antiquarian’ teaching of Pistorius.
After the dismissal of Knauer, Sinclair is finally able to paint the androgynous figure from his dream. Contemplating the finished work, he strongly affirms his incestuous and perverted desire in an act of euphoric fusion with the painted image. Following this, the image becomes internalised as an inner voice of guidance. Afterwards, Sinclair chances again upon Knauer, whom he finds in extreme distress, and succeeds in restraining him from committing suicide. Sinclair permits the younger man to associate with him for a time, but he persists in his refusal of the role of teacher.
It is interesting to note, even if Hesse does not develop it further, that in rejecting the role in which Pistorius had disappointed him, Sinclair at the same time turns down the chance to play the much greater role that Max Demian had earlier played, that of daemonic friend and guide. Sinclair’s resolution to solitude has now become more radical. Nothing that he and Knauer had in common, not their shared esoteric interests, not their shared personal difficulties, not even their shared humanity, allow for a common way forward.
Having brought Sinclair to renounce the benefits of friendship and having brought him to affirm his transgressive erotic dream through a ritual act, Hesse emphasises the new stage of maturity his protagonist has reached. As the rescue of Knauer demonstrates, Sinclair has become an instrument fit to be used by a greater reality. At the same time, he is marked by that reality, both psychologically and physically. The effective affirmation of his love-dream, the triumph over the temptation to inauthenticity with Knauer and the guilty break with Pistorius come together to plunge Sinclair into despair. For the first time, we read, Sinclair knows the meaning of prayer: a cry for help in near-total darkness. Also, for the first time, the mark of Cain, the sign of Sinclair’s destiny, which Max Demian had clairvoyantly perceived, can clearly be touched on his forehead.
These, then, are the fruits of Sinclair’s invocation of the ‘God’, Abraxas. Just as he had symbolically murdered his love-object, Beatrice, Sinclair disposes of his mentor, Pistorius and of his unfortunate schoolfriend Knauer, and devours the androgynous being from his dream. At the same time, he dispenses with the images of relationships, specifically those between man and woman, between teacher and pupil, between fellow wayfarers and between parent and child, that had nourished him, and had been nourished by him, since his childhood. The resulting solitude and despair appear to him as both a curse and a blessing. Though Hesse does not spell it out, Sinclair is confronted here by a ‘conjunction’ of opposites in his experience, which, of course, is what one would expect of a disciple of Abraxas. Having pulled the protagonist to this cursed and blessed point of extreme solitude, the ‘God’ who is both God and Satan now pushes him onwards towards the sublation of solitude in the esoteric community of Frau Eva.
As was mentioned, Pistorius teaches Emil Sinclair that the Gods and Devils are internal to the human mind where they provide potencies and schemata for the creation of experience. Which potency, then, does Abraxas stand for? Scholars of Hesse have drawn attention to the close affinities between Demian and certain ideas introduced by C. G. Jung to his circle of collaborators in 1916.  Following Jung’s Septem sermones ad mortuos und Basilides, Abraxas corresponds to what Jungians at the time thought of as the primordial instinctual drive or life energy (Urlibido), which, though it remains largely unconscious, manifests itself in human experience through the play of opposites. In particular, Abraxas stands for the power of effectiveness by which each member of a pair of opposites moves from the potential to the actual.
Turning back to Demian, one finds that Hesse avoids presenting opposite qualities as equals side by side. In a childhood marked by the dichotomy between the world of light and the world of darkness, Sinclair loses the light when he chooses the darkness. Light and darkness are not experienced as having equal power or value together. His encounter with Beatrice is followed by a turn from a life of cynical dissipation to one of cultic adoration. He does not practice both dissipation and adoration at once. When Sinclair hears of Abraxas, the novel makes a stronger gesture towards the idea of a conjunction of opposites. Two specific pairs of opposites come into focus: that between good and evil and that between male and female, both of which Abraxas is said to unite in himself. The former pair are construed as categories of convention. The latter are construed as oriented towards their sublation in the Androgyne. The pairs of opposites therefore seem to lack singularity and stability as opposites.
In his later novel, Das Glasperlenspiel (1943), Hesse has his Music Master explain to Josef Knecht that the opposites must first be recognised as true opposites, and subsequently as poles of a single unity.  In Demian, however, the tension between singularity and unity appears to be largely undeveloped. As mere categories of convention, good and evil have no fundamental meaning and can disappear into each other without any loss. In Hesse’s use of the Androgyne, the singularities of male and female are not maintained, but collapse into the androgynous figure painted by Sinclair. I referred above to a further pair of opposites, the curse and the blessing. Being emotional responses to something prior to them, these, too, cannot stand side by side as true opposites.
In Demian, much less importance is given to the recognition of opposites than to the affirmation of desire. The outcome is a levelling effect which Hesse fails to bring out clearly, but which the reader meets with again and again in the author’s textual anomalies.
As was mentioned, the affirmation of the love-dream resulted in an androgynous transformation of Sinclair’s internal guide, in a radical deepening of his solitude and desolation, in a strengthening of his personal charisma and in a new readiness for destiny. Clearly, Sinclair’s sense of himself has been overlaid by the sense of a greater self working in and through him. The Jungian the term ‘Libido’ (Urlibido) can help to elucidate this sense of a greater self. Because Libido is both subject and object, that is, non-dual, the awareness of a greater self goes hand in hand with an awareness of the mutual inherence, the non-duality, of self and world. In Demian, Pistorius speaks of the new conscious life which is opened up to the initiate of Abraxas, and compares it to flying. The thrust into the air corresponds to the collective heritage of humanity, through which the human being and the different kinds of force are interconnected. If one does not succumb to fear, one acquires from archaic nature a new power, comparable to the breath, which serves as a steering faculty.
It seems to me that Hesse’s artistry aims at the discovery of the experiential point where this new power of conscious direction is acquired. At the same time, this is the point where an individual life begins to participate responsibly in the generative, supra-individual flow of images out of which the reality we can recognise takes shape. The experiential point of participation, which is referred to by the protagonist as his ‘I’ or ‘self’, is the object of the intense inner search which Hesse narrates. The force which animates this search, as we now see, is the ‘God’ Abraxas.
In suggesting that the Abraxas-driven discovery of the ‘I’ or ‘self’ is liberating and personally fulfilling, Hesse completely fails to convince. Certainly, Sinclair’s transgression of gendered and moral limitations goes hand in hand with an affirmation of desire and with it, of an ‘I’ made stronger towards experience by desire. This, however, does not amount to a liberated sexuality. At no time does Sinclair share sexual love with another person. His sexuality remains bound up within himself. Nor does the extreme solipsism amount to personal fulfilment. Despite Hesse’s efforts, it is abundantly clear by the end of the novel that a life capable of being lived has not been achieved. The transgressions of the protagonist equip him for nothing more than a short-lived sojourn in Frau Eva’s esoteric community, where he prepares for large-scale apocalyptic destruction, his own included.
When Hesse’s Demian comes to an end, European civilization has become a wasteland. A bird-of-prey circles on the edge of the reader’s mind. This is Abraxas, who is looking for another Sinclair foolish enough to spill out his share of Libido and give him bodily form.
It is to be hoped that Hesse’s readers have their wits about them, and are able to refuse.
 “Der Vogel kämpft sich aus dem Ei. Das Ei ist die Welt. Wer geboren werden will, muß eine Welt zerstören. Der Vogel fliegt zu Gott. Der Gott heißt Abraxas.”
 See, for example: Wolf, Uwe. Hermann Hesse: Demian, die Botschaft vom Selbst. Bonn: Bouvier, 1979
 “Unsere Bestimmung ist, die Gegensätze richtig zu erkennen, erstens nämlich als Gegensätze, dann aber als Pole einer Einheit. So ist es auch mit dem Glasperlenspiel.”