In 1986, after failing his spiritual initiation as a Master of the Order of Regnus Agnus Mundi (RAM), Coelho loses confidence in himself and starts to question his beliefs and spiritual learnings. To complete his initiation and regain his sword – the spiritual object he failed to acquire during his final test, he must walk the Way of St. James and seek the thing he had lost.
The Way of St. James, or the El Camino de Santiago, is an 800-kilometer road that spans Northern Spain, starting at Roncesvalles near the border of France and ending at Santiago de Compostela, which is the final resting place of the remains of St. James the Apostle. Since the Middle Ages, the El Camino has been traversed by religious leaders, kings, and commoners seeking religious or spiritual enlightenment. Today, pilgrims from all over the world still walk or cycle the Way of St. James for the same religious/spiritual reasons as those of pilgrims of yore and but also to fulfill a vow, to set a personal record, or to experience a unique way of seeing the world.
On his quest for his lost sword, Paulo Coelho is guided by a mysterious pilgrim who is also from the Order of RAM, whom he refers to only as Petrus. During their travels, Petrus teaches Paulo different RAM meditation exercises designed to clear his mind and strengthen his understanding of himself and others. On his unique adventure, as Paulo confronts his weaknesses, doubts, and personal demons, Petrus teaches him about pride and the different types of love.
On his path to self-discovery, Paulo not only learns what he needs to get his sword back but also how to put his spiritual learnings to practical use. He realizes that his meditation exercises are designed to help him accomplish tasks simply and efficiently and that wisdom, like the El Camino, is accessible not only to the enlightened few but also to everybody.
While The Pilgrimage describes Paulo Coelho’s real-life pilgrimage on the El Camino de Santiago, it also provides step-by-step guides to different meditation exercises designed to help practitioners find their path to enlightenment. The meditation exercises that Paulo learns from Petrus are as follows:
- The seed exercise
- The speed exercise
- The cruelty exercise
- The messenger ritual
- The arousal of intuition (the water exercise)
- The blue sphere exercise
- The buried alive exercise
- The RAM breathing exercise
- The shadows exercise
- The listening exercise
- The dance exercise
Before I read this novel, apart from being about the El Camino de Santiago, I had no idea what it was about. Prior to reading The Prilgrimage, I didn’t know anything about Paulo Coelho’s personal and spiritual life. I had not read any of his other novels except for The Alchemist, which I enjoyed not for its philosophical teachings but for its simplistic adventure story. Thus, I was caught unawares by The Pilgrimage’s prominent new age theme.
I’ll admit that had I known what this novel is really about, I probably would not have bothered reading it. The only reason I was really interested in it was because I thought it would be a sort of travelogue about the El Camino de Santiago, which is on my list of “things to do before I die.” Unfortunately, apart from brief descriptions of the scenery and weather, the novel lacked any practical and detailed descriptions on the actual route, towns, and cities along the way and other essential travel information for modern pilgrims.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against new age teachings. I found the meditation exercises interesting, but I have no desire to try any of them to discover how they can help me in real-life situations. If you are into spiritual enlightenment, self-discovery, and new age mysticism, then go ahead and read this book – it might really inspire you. Personally, I’m not into those kinds of things. However, if you’re looking for a practical guide about traveling along the El Camino de Santiago, then I suggest you bypass this book and read something else (and please recommend it to me because I still have not found one).
The Pilgrimage (O Diario de Um Mago) (1987) – Paulo Coelho
Harper Collins; 263 pages
Personal rating: 1.5/5