A man, who feels himself to be half wolf, wanders through the rainy night streets of a European city. He comes across a strange door in a wall and sees this sign, or thinks he sees it, but then does it disappear?
Admission not for everybody
— Not for everybody —
MAD PEOPLE ONLY
Harry Haller, the protagonist of Hermann Hesse’s masterpiece, the short novel Steppenwolf, is having a bit of a crisis. Not only does his own life feel meaningless and empty, the world around him, especially the bourgeois world, seems hypocritical, deluded (and yet, and yet, strangely beautiful).
This is a novel about the arduous and sometimes life-threatening nature of the quest for self-knowledge.
One thing that thrilled me, reading this book now, 90 years after its first publication, is how exactly Hesse describes a transit of Pluto.
“This Steppenwolf had to die, he had to put an end to his detestable existence. Either that or he must undergo the deadly flames of further self-scrutiny till melting point, then transform himself, tear off is mask and enter upon a new stage of self-development. Alas, I was no stranger to this process, I knew it of old; I had already experienced it several times, always in periods of extreme despair….my then self had on each occasion been shattered in fragments; each time profound forces had shaken and destroyed it; each time I had been deserted by and lost a cherished and particularly dear part of myself…
“Every time my life had been shattered in this way I had, there is no denying it, ended up gaining something or other; something in the way of liberty, intellectual and spiritual refinement, profundity…”
There is much more on this theme as Haller struggles to find a reason to go on living. Steppenwolf is rich in mythical and psychoanalytic imagery. For example, at one point Haller falls asleep to dream of a scorpion climbing his leg as he waits to meet his great hero Goethe.
Hermann Hesse made no bones about this being a fictionalised account of his own mental turmoil in the years before the book’s publication, so I looked up his chart on astro.com. Of course, he has Sagittarius Rising and Pisces Moon — all of Hesse’s work is profoundly philosophical, spiritual and mind-expanding.
Hesse worked on Steppenwolf between 1924 and 1926. The transits on the chart published here are for today’s date in 1926.
You can see that during those years, Hesse did indeed experience a transit of dark Pluto to his super-sensitive Cancerian Sun, and what is more electrifying, disruptive Uranus was on his poetic, boundless Pisces Moon. This latter may be reflected in another passage in the book:
“Only humour — the splendid invention of those highly talented but unfortunate individuals who are frustrated in the pursuit of the highest ideals, figures bordering on the tragic — only humour (possibly the most original and brilliant of humankind’s achievements) can accomplish the otherwise impossible feat of uniting all spheres of human life by bathing them in the iridescent light of its prisms…”
What is more, Hesse was going through his Chiron Return by 1926, often a tough transit characterised by deep soul searching and a desire for greater meaning.
If you, or anyone else you know, is experiencing a dark night of the soul — or a transit from an outer planet to a sensitive point in the chart, pick up Steppenwolf.
Excerpts here are from a translation by David Horrocks.