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 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."
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.
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).
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.
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
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.