The Alchemist By Paulo Coelho: False Theology & Sorcery

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“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

By Marcia Montenegro| The focus of this book is on following a dream, and that this is what “God” wants us to do. “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” is stated many times.

Themes of the book are omens, following your Personal Legend, the Soul of the World, the Language of the World, maktub (“it is written”), and finding your treasure. Exactly what does all this mean?

Panentheistic God?

The author uses “the universe” and “Soul of the World” apparently as indicative of his concept of God. Both of these terms are impersonal and suggest a possible panentheistic view of God. In fact, the “World-Soul” was a term used in the earlier versions of Panentheism (God contained in the world and the world in God, but God also beyond the world).

Panentheism, even though some forms of it make distinctions between God and creation, always includes some kind of relationship whereby God is dependent in some way on the need for creation or is participating in it in a way that affects His knowledge or His nature.

Although “God” and “Allah” are referred to, it is usually in vague terms and it seems that the “Soul of the World” is a manifestation of God.

The Stealing of Melchizedek

The main character, a shepherd named Santiago, meets a man who says he is the “King of Salem.” I immediately thought of Melchizedek in the Bible and, sure enough, further down the page (19), the man says he is Melchizedek (Melchizedek first appears in Genesis 14;17-20; is mentioned in Psalm 110:4; and is discussed extensively in Hebrews chapters 5, 6, and 7).

This Melchizedek even tells Santiago that he must give him one-tenth of his sheep, clearly a parallel to when Abraham (then called Abram) gave one-tenth of the spoils of a battle to Melchizedek in the Genesis account. In fact, a short while later, this character recalls meeting Abraham (33) and states he required one-tenth from Abraham. However, the Bible does not say Melchizedek required anything; it only tells us that Abraham (Abram) gave one-tenth to Melchizedek.

Coelho’s Melchizedek seems omniscient and can read Santiago’s mind. He tells Santiago about seeking his “Personal Legend.” The Personal Legend is about how one is here to live out his or her personal dream. This Melchizedek can also appear as anything, even as a stone (24) in order to accomplish a certain purpose.

Santiago is told by Melchizedek to follow “omens” and that God has left these omens for everyone to follow (29). However, the true God specifically forbids following or reading omens (Deuteronomy 18:20, 2 Kings 17:17).

Under his cloak, Melchizedek wears a gold breastplate made with precious stones and which contains a black stone and white stone called Urim and Thummim; he gives them to the boy for asking yes and no questions (30). The author is confusing passages about the Urim and Thummim given first to Aaron in Exodus 28.

There is no record that Melchizedek had these. No one is sure what the Urim and Thummim were although some surmise they were a black and white stone. We do know that God initiated this as a means by which the high priest consulted God at certain times (the last mention of the Urim and Thummim is in Nehemiah).

However, in this story, Melchizedek gives them to the shepherd to use as an omen, with no connection to God and certainly out of context with anything in the Bible. Urim and Thummim were used only by the high priest in the Old Testament, under direct instructions by God.

The Importance of the Real Melchizedek

The biblical Melchizedek is mentioned only briefly in the Old Testament but at length in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Why? Because although Melchizedek is an Old Testament figure, his significance is a New Testament one.

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.” – Hebrews 7:1-3

No record is given for Melchizedek’s lineage. “Without father, without mother, without genealogy” does not mean he had no parents but that his lineage is irrelevant, contrary to the need for lineage for the priests under the Law, who must come from the tribe of Levi. This is to contrast Melchizedek with the Levitical priesthood and is set up prior to and apart from the priesthood under the Law.

Having no “beginning of days nor end of life” does not mean that Melchizedek is godlike but rather that his priesthood foreshadows the eternal priesthood of Jesus. “Made like the Son of God” tells us not that he is the Son of God but that he was made a similar priest in a similar manner that Jesus was.

This is a theme in the book of Hebrews building up to the point that Jesus is not a priest under the Law, the Levitical priesthood, but is a high priest in the manner of Melchizedek, which preceded the Law and the Levitical priesthood, and which is an eternal priesthood. Jesus is the final and superior High Priest due to His sacrifice on the cross and bodily resurrection, and the fact that He ascends to a superior tabernacle in heaven. (This is explained in detail in Hebrews chapters 5 through 9).

The theme of the book of Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus as high priest because this was written to encourage Jewish believers who were being persecuted to not return to the old covenant sacrifices and rituals (the Temple was still standing but soon to be destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D.).

Therefore, the author of Hebrews demonstrates the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus Christ to the priesthood under the old covenant.

The False Melchizedek

Coelho’s Melchizedek goes against God by recommending omens and by giving Santiago advice that contradicts what God has said. He tells Santiago that he must find his dream and Personal Legend and that this is what God desires. In actuality, God’s will is that all should come to trust His Son, Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross enables all who believe to have forgiveness and eternal life, and to live for and serve the true living God.

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. – 1 Timothy 2:3-4

This false Melchizedek bears no resemblance to the real one, and is used by Coelho as a prop for articulating his self-help New Age beliefs. Using a biblical character to represent values that go against God is a move of hubris and defiance. The book’s Melchizedek is presented as all-wise when, in fact, he represents the wisdom of the world as opposed to God’s wisdom.

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” – 1 Cor. 1:20-21

The Englishman

We must not forget the title of this book. Santiago meets an Englishman who is traveling to an oasis in search of an alchemist reputed to be 200 years old. Alchemy supposedly can give immortality, and the Englishman is on a quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life. Both of these originate in the occult art of alchemy which sought to turn base metals to gold. However, alchemy was more than that.

The Philosopher’s Stone should ring a bell in our culture due to the title of the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (published in the U.K. under the original and more accurate title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).

The “Philosopher’s Stone” is part of the lore of alchemy and medieval sorcery, and was supposedly a stone which could be used to turn base metal to gold, and was the Holy Grail of sorcery (Bill Whitcomb, The Magician’s Companion, St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1994, pp. 351, 485, 527. From CANA article, “Harry Potter, Sorcery, and Fantasy“.

And more from the same article:

The philosopher’s stone is connected to alchemy, an occult practice that combined the exploration of minerals with Gnostic practices of sorcery seeking to turn base metal into gold, and through that, attain an inner spiritual transformation.

Alchemy is defined by one occultist as “the process of the transmutation and purification…of the soul via the discipline of purifying and combining physical materials and chemicals which are symbolic of spiritual transformations,” and the Philosopher’s Stone was a “metaphor for the illuminated mind,” and the “First Substance from which all other metals derived,” (Whitcomb, 485, 527).

This Englishman, it turns out, also has a Urim and Thummim, and he also seeks omens. He also is seeking the “universal language” (70). He also speaks of the Soul of the World, saying that “When you want something with all of your heart, that’s when you’re closest to the Soul of the World. It’s always a positive force” (78). He continues, saying that everything has a soul, including earth, and that “we are part of that soul” (79). The shepherd boy later apparently realizes this is “true”.

Alchemy

Santiago (who is usually referred to as “the boy”) reads some of the Englishman’s books about alchemy and learns that purifying metals for years and years can eventually turn them into a liquid part and a solid part. The liquid part is the Elixir of Life that cures illnesses and prevents age, and the solid part is the Philosopher’s Stone.

But this process is also a spiritual purification. So alchemy, beyond turning metals into gold and finding eternal youth, is a spiritual path, and is called The Master Work. This type of esoteric thinking is a hallmark of occult philosophy.

The Alchemist

The book switches to the different points of view of the various characters, so we see the Alchemist (first on page 86) thinking about what he observes. He believes in omens, of course, and thinks to himself that people become “fascinated with pictures and words” and so they forget “the Language of the World,” another theme of the book (87).

The Alchemist refers to God, as do the other characters, but the content of what they believe and how they see reality is strong evidence against the true God.

During the boy’s search at an oasis for the Alchemist with the Englishman, he runs into a woman at a well named Fatima and instantly feels love. He discovers that this (love) is “the Language of the World.”

Fatima tells Santiago that the alchemist communes with the genies, that is, the spirits of good and evil in the desert.

Later, Santiago meets the Alchemist, who talks about omens giving the answers, the Soul of the World, the Language of the World, pursuing one’s Personal Legend, and maktub, meaning “It is written,” another theme of the book (59). The Alchemist also repeats what Melchizedek said, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

The Seers

Coelho speaks of “seers” and writes that

“One could open a book to any page, or look at a person’s hand; one could turn a card, or watch the flight of birds…..and find a connection with his experience of the moment” (101).

What he describes here are both divination and reading omens. Looking at a person’s hand is palm reading, turning a card is reading cards, and watching the flight of birds is reading omens. But Coelho also understands the principle behind this because he states that it is not these things in themselves that give a message, but rather that they were a means for “looking into the Soul of the World.”

By this, I think he is saying that occult divination is a means whereby one can understand a deeper meaning behind the externals because of a connection to the spiritual world (“Soul of the World”). I say this because for many years I was a professional astrologer, and had also studied palmistry, numerology, and Tarot. Seers like psychics, card/palm readers, astrologers, etc. use objects or symbols as tools to connect to the spiritual dimension so that the spiritually attuned person is able to see the hidden meaning.

It is like sensing an invisible flow and falling into its rhythm with an extra-sensory ability (though I do not believe this ability exists, but rather that the seer is getting information from their guides, fallen angels).

Reading Coelho’s words, I think he is expressing this view. Since Coelho was involved deeply in the occult, and studied the teachings of ritual magician Aleister Crowley, it is not surprising that he has this occult view.

More Misuse of the Bible

Aside from the false Melchizedek, there are references to Joseph who is said to have “believed in dreams.” Of course, Joseph did not believe in dreams; he believed in God. The interpretation of dreams was given to him by God.

When Santiago is conversing with the Alchemist, he asks why the Alchemist has wine because alcohol is not used there. The Alchemist responds, “It’s not what enters men’s mouths that’s evil, it’s what comes out of their mouths that is” (115). This is similar to what Jesus says in Matthew 15:

“Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” – Matthew 15:17-20

The difference is that there is no depth or meaningful context to what the Alchemist says. Jesus was speaking of outward rituals versus what is in the heart, and Jesus’ words are penetrating, revealing the sins hidden in men’s hearts. The Alchemist’s statement, which is merely about wine, is exposed as shallow in light of the words of Jesus.

In fact, the advice of the Alchemist contradicts what Jesus states in Matthew. The Alchemist tells the boy, “Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there” (127).

The Alchemist says at least twice, “Wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.”

Jesus said something similar but the heart and treasure are reversed:

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Jesus was speaking of the futility of material riches and how one is to invest in spiritual riches instead. “Heart” in ancient times did not have the romantic and idealist meaning it has today or the way the Alchemist uses it.

“Heart” usually meant the inner person, including one’s mind and will. So although the Alchemist says something that sounds like Jesus, the words “heart” and “treasure” are reversed; without the context it does not mean the same thing; and it is about following one’s feelings and subjective experiences.

In fact, as the boy listens to his heart, he discovers that his heart tells him that “all people who are happy have God within them” and “everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him” (131).

Later, the alchemist tells the boy the story of the centurion who went to Jesus to get his servant healed (Matthew 8). Jesus is called the Son of God by the alchemist but his account is tied to a dream that the centurion’s father had years before about one of his sons saying words that would be immortal.

The point of the Alchemist’s story is to believe in your dreams. This is completely disconnected to the actual biblical account of the healing of the centurion’s servant which was a demonstration of Jesus’ power to heal, fulfilling Old Testament prophecies for the Messiah (Matthew 8:5-13).

The Test

A test comes for the boy as the Alchemist had predicted. Meeting up with a hostile army, the Alchemist avoids death by declaring that the boy is an alchemist and can prove his powers by destroying the camp in 3 days by transforming himself into the wind; the army leaders agree.

The boy, Santiago, is anxious because he doesn’t know how to turn himself into the wind, but the Alchemist reassures him, telling him he knows everything he needs to know and the only thing that can thwart him is fear of failure. He also states:

“The world is only the visible aspect of God. And that what alchemy does is to bring spiritual perfection into contact with the material plane” (142).

The idea expressed here is the essence of the philosophy of sorcery: to manifest that which is in the spiritual plane into the material plane. Alchemy is a form of sorcery but practitioners believe alchemy is superior due to the desire to achieve “spiritual perfection.”

After communing with the desert and listening to his heart, the boy stands on a cliff with the army seated nearby and he has conversations with the wind and the sun. The wind stirs up a strong sandstorm at the boy’s request, and the sun tells the boy to speak “to the hand that wrote all.” The boy says a wordless prayer during which he has insights about creation becoming a “Master Work.” Apparently this works:

“The boy reached through to the Soul of the World and saw that it was part of the Soul of God. And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul. And that he, a boy, could perform miracles” (152).

The tale ends with the boy reaching the Pyramids where he had dreamed of a treasure only to discover that there is a treasure where the boy is from in Spain. He returns to Spain and finds Spanish gold coins there. There are questions for discussion at the end for the readers to apply the ideas and lessons of the book to their lives.

Melchizedek and Jesus Christ

As written previously in this article, Melchizedek, king of Salem in the Bible, foreshadows Christ and represents the eternal priesthood that is held by Jesus Christ. In contrast, Coelho’s Melchizedek is a king going by omens and the wisdom of the world.

Furthermore, in the Bible, Melchizedek means “priest of the Most High God,” and Salem means peace. But Coelho’s Melchizedek does not honor the true God, and cannot offer true peace. Jesus, the one and only true priest in the order of Melchizedek, is the only one who can offer peace, the true peace that comes with reconciliation with God through faith in Christ.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. – Romans 5:10

Addendum

At the end of this book is an interview with Paulo Coelho. Here are some concepts he reveals as his beliefs.

All religions “point to the same light.”

There is no such thing as time.

He sees death as “a beautiful woman.”

“Omens are the individual language in which God talks to you” (184). And the omens “are not logical.”

Brief comments on Coelho’s remarks: Death came through sin (Romans 5), and death is called the “last enemy” in 1 Corinthians 15:26. Death is not beautiful. God forbids omens, so God is not speaking through omens, as pointed out in this article. Nor does God speak illogically or through illogical means.

God is a God of order (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40, 15:23). The design of the universe and the use of language to convey truth in the Bible all reflect logic and meaning. To be illogical would go against the very nature of God.

Coelho’s beliefs indicate that although he refers to God and biblical passages, his views are not in line with and are opposed to revealed truth from the true God.

This article was originally featured on Christian Answers for the New Age and was republished with permission from the author.
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