The Importance of Religion and Spirituality in The Alchemist
To most people, the brand of religion they follow, as well as the God they believe in, are the two most important factors of their religion. Most religions have similar philosophies, with guidelines that involve being kind, being honest, not cheating, and other basic moral rules. But the biggest controversy comes in when a god and the certain ways to achieve closeness to that god are named. Although it can be inferred that Santiago, the protagonist in The Alchemist, is heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian values through the various Biblical symbols present in the book. However, he does not resort to traditional means of achieving religious fulfillment; instead, he rejects his father’s notion of religion when he refuses to become a priest, because of his unique interpretation of his faith. People forget that religion is simply a means by which people achieve spirituality – not a competition. Since spirituality is a bond between the heart and mind, one must experience things differently from others in order to achieve it. This is why Santiago decides to become a shepherd. He is passionate about his travels, finds peace in that, and thus he becomes closer to God through these travels rather than as a priest in the Church. Everyone has different ways of attaining spirituality and religious status, but a commonality lies in that it can only be achieved in the pursuit of one’s personal legend: the purpose of one’s life. Santiago achieves both spirituality and religion in pursuit of his Personal Legend. Religion in The Alchemist is used to manifest the notion that there is greater meaning to Santiago’s life and that it is his duty to realize that meaning; it also serves as the basic discipline and structure he needs in order to gain spirituality, without which Santiago could never have achieved his Personal Legend.
In The Alchemist, the concept of Personal Legend plays something of a religious role in Santiago’s quest, convincing Santiago that he has a purpose to fill that is greater than his own life and gives Santiago the basic outline to follow in order to achieve his end goal. Religion in many cases is when a person has faith in the unknown and in this pursuit of the unknown, religion provides outlets to refer to in the case a person is lost. These outlets include holy texts, religious figures, and signs which have symbolic or historical importance and are an important characteristic of religion because they allow for a person to go back and see where he stands. In this novel, Melchizedek, who is a king of Salem, plays a critical part in the universe in convincing people and things of their personal legend. Melchizedek introduces Santiago with an idea that displays characteristics of a religion that tells Santiago to take control of his own life and to follow his Personal Legend. Initially, Santiago is unsure about this concept of Personal Legends Melchizedek introduces, however, when he witnesses and envies the liberty with which the wind called Levanter moves, he, just like any religious person would, decides to take a leap of faith into the unknown by selling his sheep and boarding the ship to Tangier. This aspect of uncertainty present with Santiago’s Personal Legend lies parallel with the concept of religion because they both require faith which is the ability to believe in the unknown.
Another reason that the Personal Legends act as a religion is that they provide outlets like other religions, such as omens for visual confirmation of where Santiago stands. Omens are an important part of religion because according to Melchizedek “God has prepared a path for everyone to follow [and they] just have to read the omens that He left for them” (Coelho 30). In this case, Personal Legends can be classified as a religion because of its use of outlets, however, it is not entirely an independent one because it relies on God to make some aspects work. Without the work of God and these omens: Santiago would never have dropped Urim and Thummim (which are stones that decipher omens) reminding him once more of his personal legends, he would not have given any significance to the fight of the hawks and would have been killed in battle when armies swept into the oasis to maraud, and he would not have noticed the significance of the beetle in the desert, thus would never be able to find his treasure. In the book, we see the concept of Personal Legends be introduced which can be classified as a religion itself, and this religion provides Santiago with outlets and the means to achieve his end goal, however, it is a religion that is not entirely independent since it relies on god to make certain things happen and therefore only exists to complement already established religions
Spirituality is the crucial concept of having the mind and heart in total synchronization with each other; without that, a person will never be able to perform their one hundred percent; this can only be achieved after your beliefs and desires have been rigorously tested, which in the case of Santiago is his journey to achieve his Personal Legend. He is tested for his beliefs and his willpower at every turn of the page in the book and as these tests become harder the progress he makes in terms of coming at peace with his heart becomes clear. After the point he gets robbed, Santiago cries about losing his sheep and his mind begins to think of “selling the stones [Urim and Thummim] and buying a return ticket [back to Andalusia]”, however, later as “he ran his fingers slowly over the stones, sensing their temperature and feeling their surface” his heart said “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” and then continues his journey (Coelho 42- 43). In this, his spiritual weakness can be seen as his mind and heart conflict and recognize their desires, but are afraid of never being able to return to his old life as a shepherd, however, his faith and religion begin to take shape. Later on he meets Fatima, who turns out to be the love of his life, and he feels afraid that he will lose Fatima in pursuits of his Personal Legend. Santiago realizes that his heart is trying to distract him from his Personal Legend, and calls it a “traitor” (Coelho 132). He asks the alchemist why he should listen to his heart while it commits “treason” and the alchemist responds by telling him “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow” (Coelho 132). He still is not satisfied and tells the alchemist that “[his] heart is afraid that it will have to suffer” and in response the alchemist tells him “that no heart suffers when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God” (Coelho 134). This thought comforts Santiago and “from then on [he] understood his heart” (Coelho 136). At this point, he still has some progress to make, but he had gained the fundamentals. This was an important step because now his heart and mind no longer conflict and nothing was there to hold him back, which gives him the willpower and patience to stop at nothing. Spirituality is achieved when religious beliefs are thoroughly tested, and is important because when a person is in doubt he is no longer able to function at his best; as Santiago progresses through these harsh test he begins to gain spiritual enlightenment.
Paulo Coelho introduces us to the concept of Personal Legends which shares many features of many established religions. This particular type of religion Coelho introduces shares the fact that it requires some degree of faith in the unknown as all religions do, and it shares the importance of symbols and religious figures. One important distinction can be made that much of the concept of Personal Legend relies on a supreme deity that constructs an entire purpose for you, which makes this concept dependent on already existing religions. Ultimately, in the book religion only seems to be a way of discipline which makes it a vessel to achieve spirituality. Spirituality is a far more important phase because if one is not at peace with himself, it means he is not at peace with his belief, and therefore cannot achieve his Personal Legend. In most cases, people fail to take the first steps towards their Personal Legends due to distractions caused by the small things in life in the same way Santiago was distracted by his sheep. We all know what our Personal Legends are, but many of us fail to look past our sheep to realize that the unknown is more promising.
Rawis, James, and Chris Clarke. “Omens in “The Alchemist”.” February. N.p., 04 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.
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