Coelho was brought up in the Jesuit faith. However, he was soon to rebel against his strict upbringing, during which time his parents had repeatedly committed him to a mental institution for dreaming of becoming a writer, and in 1968 he became a self-proclaimed ‘hippie’. The abandoned church, taken over by nature, may therefore symbolize the role of religion in Coelho’s life: ‘Spirituality has nothing to do with whether you believe in God or not: it is an approach to life.’
" eyes that vaguely recalled the Moorish conquerors "
The Moors were North African Muslims who ruled over the Iberian Peninsula from 711 to 1492. They called this territory ‘Al-Andalus’.
The Moors showed great tolerance of Andalusia’s existing religions, and left behind the architectural marvels of Cordoba and Granada. Salman Rushdie's novel, The Moor's Last Sigh, recalls the last Moorish ruler of Granada, known as Boabdil.
Numerology, or the study of numbers, is closely linked to alchemy. ‘This subject is based on the belief that the name you were given at birth and the day, month and year you were born, influence who you are and trends during the course of your lifetime.’
This clearly fits in with Coelho’s idea of a ‘personal legend’.
The number three is linked to Santiago: ‘This number is optimistic and fun loving and strives to uplift and colour its surroundings. Its energy is youthful, enlivening and enthusiastic... like a child.’ By contrast, the merchant is associated with the number four: ‘Four is constructive, realistic, traditional and cautious. It is the number of system, order and management.’
" they’ve forgotten how to rely on their own instincts "
Dream interpretation is incorporated into the alchemic process. Carl Jung, one of the better known students of alchemy, utilized his knowledge for the interpretation of dreams and the unconscious world. Like Santiago, Jung’s investigation into alchemy was triggered by a series of repeated dream experiences: "Before having discovered alchemy," wrote Jung, "I had dreamed repeatedly dreams that treated each time the same theme.”
" Gypsies spent their lives tricking others "
Santiago’s suspicion of Gypsies is the result of a long-standing prejudice against the race, which began with their official persecution in 1492. Laws intended to eliminate gypsy communities in Spain were enacted. Gypsies were required to marry non-gypsies, and were forbidden to practice their traditional rituals or use their own language. No gypsy was allowed to hold public office.
I could plainly see His heart, pierced and bleeding, yet there were flames, too, coming from it and a crown of thorns around it. He told me to behold His heart which so loved humanity. Then He seemed to take my very heart from me and place it there in His heart. In return He gave me back part of His flaming heart.
" transported me to the Egyptian Pyramids "
Alchemy has strong Egyptian connections. The oldest recorded alchemic practices were in China, but western alchemy stems from Egypt. The Egyptian practice was founded by Hermes Trismegistus, who ruled around 1900BC.
Muslims are required to pray five times a day: at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and nightfall. This is called the Salat, and is one of the five pillars of Islam (the others being Profession of Faith, Giving of Alms, Fasting at Ramadan, and Pilgrimage to Mecca.
In Hebrew, Melchizedek means "King of Righteousness". He features in Genesis (14:18), when he meets Abraham.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!"
Melchizedek has strong associations with alchemy, as High Priest of the cosmic Order of Melchizedek. It was said he was not born and could not die. Indeed, he brought the science of alchemy and transmutation to mankind.
" I always appear in one form or another "