The Alchemist: A Personal Legend of a Shepherd

For Coelho, personal calling is “God’s blessing.” It is the path that God chooses for us here on Earth. “Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend.” The centrality of personal legends in ‘The Alchemist’ tries to answer why it is so important to be aware and live our personal calling. Santiago’s personal legend is obvious, to find his treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. However, his personal legend became the journey itself. The travel and the wisdom he acquired from the journey literally became his treasure. His discovery of love in its many forms became part of his legend.

Personal legends serve as the only means by which an individual can live a satisfying life. In fact, the universe can only achieve perfection if all natural things continuously undergo a cycle of achieving their own personal legend, evolving into a higher being with a new personal legend, and then pursuing that new goal. This concept, that the individualistic pursuit of a personal legend exists as life’s dominant spiritual demand, lies at the center of the unique theology of ‘The Alchemist’. One of the important character in the novel who help Santiago to follow his personal legend is Melchizedek the king of Salem. He explains that Santiago has discovered his personal legend, which he defines as “what you have always wanted to accomplish.” According to Melchizedek, every young person knows what his or her personal legend is. It is only as they get older that a “mysterious force” convinces people that personal legends are impossible to achieve. This mysterious force is not exactly negative, since it prepares a person’s spirit and will. As a result, he or she can understand “the one great truth on this planet.”

Melchizedek tells that the treasure is in Egypt, near the pyramids. He further says that Santiago can find it by following the omens. Melchizedek opens his cape and removes one black stone and one white stone from the center of his breastplate, which he says are called Urim and Thummim. The black stone stands for “yes” and the white stone for “no,” he says, advising Santiago to rely on the stones when he cannot read the omens. Melchizedek gives Santiago two further pieces of advice: Do not forget the language of omens, and do not forget to follow your personal legend. He introduces the concepts of the personal legend, the world’s greatest lie, the mysterious force, the Soul of the World, the principle of favorability and following the omens to Santiago. These concepts recur throughout the novel, motivating Santiago’s actions and explaining to him many of the apparently inexplicable things he experiences.

To achieve our personal calling, first, we need to understand the unity of nature. In The Alchemist, the spiritual unity represented by the Soul of the World binds together all of nature, from human beings to desert sand. This idea underlies the parallel we see in the novel between the alchemist purifying metal into gold and Santiago purifying himself into someone capable of achieving his personal legend. According to the novel, the Soul of the World has created personal legend for everything, whether Santiago or a piece of iron. To accomplish its personal legend, each thing must learn to tap into the Soul of the World, which purifies it. That continual purification ultimately leads to perfection. This notion of humans, metals, and all other things sharing the same goal demonstrates that all elements in nature are essentially different forms of a single spirit. Furthermore, we see that Santiago must communicate with nature or the common language of the world. Santiago’s horse, for instance, communicates with him by showing him evidence of life in an apparently barren expanse of desert, and Santiago must employ the help of the desert, the wind, and the sun in order to turn into the wind. As the alchemist says when he leaves Santiago, everything from a grain of sand to God himself shares the same spiritual essence.

However, following one’s personal calling is not an easy task as Coelho writes, “we are only going to suffer more than other people.” The danger of fear comes as the obstacle in our journey of personal legend. In Santiago’s journey, fear comes up as the primary obstacle to achieve his personal legend. Santiago experiences several forms of fear: a childhood fear of having the gypsy woman interpret his dream; a material fear of losing his wealth by departing to Tangier or by joining the desert caravan; the physical fear of dying in the battle at Al-Fayoum; and the spiritual fear that he will fail to turn himself into the wind when the alchemist forces him to try. Santiago’s mentors, from Melchizedek to the alchemist, condemn fear by comparing it to materialism, and they describe it as a product of misunderstanding how the universe treats those pursuing their personal legends. Fear, they suggest, should become irrelevant, even in the face of death, if you faithfully pursue your dreams.

As we see, Santiago must give up his flock and leave Fatima, material success and even love pose obstacles to Santiago achieving his personal legend and must be delayed or ignored altogether. Those who put off their personal legends, such as the crystal merchant, suffer regret and fail to experience the wealth and other favors that the universe bestows upon those who follow their personal legends. In the novel, even alchemy, the central symbol of the book, entails coaxing metal to achieve its own personal legend to turn into gold. As a result, the idea that all individuals should live in the singular pursuit of their individual dreams emerges as the primary theme of The Alchemist. Santiago’s sheep symbolize the sort of existence lived by those who are completely blind to their personal legends. These sheep symbolize the characters in the book like the baker and the crystal merchant who do not pursue their personal legends. Similarly, alchemy functions as the dominant symbol in the novel, which represents Santiago’s journey to achieve his personal legend. The symbol also gives the novel its title. The Alchemist describes the process of turning base metal to gold as equivalent to the base metal realizing its personal legend. Likewise, the desert symbolizes the serious difficulties that await anyone in pursuit of their personal legend, but it also serves as an important teacher to Santiago during his journey to the pyramids.

Santiago learns, however, even the desert, despite appearing barren, and contains life and the Soul of the World. Santiago begins to understand his environment, and to see the signs of life in what seems to be a wasteland. Eventually he learns to recognize all of creation in a single grain of sand, and in the greatest test, he faces during the book, he finds he is able to enlist the desert in his effort to become the wind.

Finally, through ‘The Alchemist’, Coelho describes the role of love on the journey to the personal legend. Even though the world is divided by language, culture, political boarder and geography, the writer offers hope in unifying humanity through this universal language.


Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2014. Print.

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