July 2000Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian author of bestsellers such as The Alchemist, The Valkyries and Veronica Decides to Die, comes from a powerful tradition of magic. He believes in angels and omens. Excerpts from an e-mail interview with Anupama BhattacharyaFor Paulo Coelho, the only crime against life is to believe in the word 'impossible'. According to him, each person has a role to play, a life pattern that is uniquely designed for an individual. And fulfillment lies in following and understanding that pattern, being who you are, instead of walking on the trodden path.Q: What basic philosophy do you try to express in your books? My inner questions and doubts when facing the present moment. I see philosophy as something alive, something that changes according to our inner needs. But if I were to synthesize my work, I would say: live your Personal Legend, pay the price of your dreams, read the omens, awaken your feminine side, and dare to be different. Q: How would you categorize your books? Two of them are nonfiction (The Pilgrimage and The Valkyries). The rest are based on my various life experiences—but in a metaphorical and symbolic language. I believe that any artiste (or person) has only to share something that he has already experienced, regardless of whether the experience was in the symbolic realm or in the so-called 'reality'. Q: When did you start writing? As a teenager. But then, my mother told me that it was impossible to make a living out of writing in Brazil. I believed her, and tried to do something else. Nothing that I did, however, gave me joy. So, I dropped college and started to travel—as a hippie. When I returned to Brazil, I created an underground magazine. I was then invited to write lyrics for songs, and later, journalism. I made a living out of writing, although I did not write a book till I was 38. Why? Because I believe there are two things that keep you away from your dream: to think that it is impossible, and to realize that it is possible (in this second case, you fear losing the meaning of your life). Q: What inspired you? My turning point was my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It was then that I, who had dedicated most of my life to penetrate the 'secrets' of the universe, realized that there are no secrets. Life is and will always be a mystery. We have to follow the omens, and pay attention to others. Life is a constant miracle, and this miracle manifests itself in encounters with other people. After the pilgrimage, I simplified my spiritual search a lot, and instead of searching for answers, I started to understand that life itself is an answer. Q: In your book, The Valkyries, the protagonist is Paulo Coelho. Is this book autobiographical? It is autobiographical, and everything stated there is true. To complement the question above, I used to think of guardian angels as something too 'simple', too 'naïve', till I realized that innocence is one of the best roads to God. Q: Why did you write of yourself in the third person? Because I wanted not only to discuss spiritual concepts, but also some important issues such as marriage. And I could describe my wife's thoughts only if I used a third person approach. Q: Have you ever seen an angel? What are angels really? Yes, I've seen angels. They are what everybody knows: messengers of God. Sparks of the Divine Light. But they use the most unusual ways to talk to us—through other people, for example. Q: In The Valkyries, you have called yourself a wizard. Are you, in reality, a practitioner of magic? Everybody is a magus-another important lesson from the Road to Santiago. The thing is: nobody accepts that she/he has gifts and powers. In magic, there are two traditions: the moon and the sun. The first is accumulation of knowledge and the second is revelation. In my youth, I used to practice traditional rituals, till I realized that I—and everybody—know everything. It is just an act of will to open ourselves to the Soul of the World. Q: You wrote that you even dabbled in black magic. What brought you out of it? It is written in the book: I was dealing with forces that I was not familiar with, and with total irresponsibility. But God is merciful, and gave me a tough lesson. Q: Carlos Castaneda also wrote of sorcery. Is there any similarity between your ideas and his? Castaneda played a major role in my youth. As for the ideas, I tend to believe that the universal knowledge is accessible to anybody through faith. Castaneda concentrated his work on a more specific path. Q: What has been the driving force in your life? Knowing that everybody has a purpose. We know when we are closer to our goal by listening to our heart. So, my driving force is to fulfill my destiny. Q: Does an author cultivate writing, or is he divinely gifted? You need discipline and inspiration, rigor and mercy, earth and heaven. You need to have a clear goal, but you also need to allow yourself to be guided to get there. Q: Today, most people are talking about transformation , astral travel, holistic healing, channeling . Do you think these are indications of a paradigm shift in humanity? It depends. I also see people complicating the communion with God. The new paradigm includes Rigor and Mercy. But we cannot be stupid enough to think that this is all. Appendicitis needs a surgeon, not a holistic healer. Q: Where are we really heading as a civilization? We are at a crossroads. Since spirituality is going to play an important role during the next century, we have two choices: either we go towards fundamentalism or towards tolerance. I am preaching tolerance, but this is a long fight, and it depends how people behave here and now. Q: In Veronica Decides to Die, you have portrayed a young girl who tries to commit suicide... No, it's not a book about suicide. It is about the necessity to accept our differences, instead of trying to fulfill other people's destiny (like the destiny that our parents choose for us, for example). When, as a young man, I insisted on being a writer, my family sent me to a mental institution—not only once, but three times. Veronica is based on this experience. We must stop following the 'Manual of Good Behavior', this non-written book that guides our life, and dare a little bit more. Veronica is bored, because she realizes that today is the same as yesterday, and it will be the same tomorrow. By the way, talking about my experience in the asylum: there are some battles that kill you, and some that make you stronger. For me, it was the latter. I never saw myself as a victim of circumstances, but as an adventurer who must, from time to time, cross troubled waters. Q: The Alchemist has been the most popular of all your books. Which of your books do you personally think is the best? I rate all my books A+, because I put the best of myself in them. That means my books are better than myself. Q: Have you been inspired by any authors? Yes. Castaneda, Henry Miller, William Blake. But, above all, Jorge Amado and Jorge Luis Borges. Q: What role does a writer play in the society? The same as a gardener or a taxi driver: do your job with love and enthusiasm, and people will be affected for the better. Q: Your books portray a lot of sensitivity. Sometimes even pathos. A trend not often seen in many of today's New Age books, Which focus more on a feel-good, rose-tinted worldview. What makes you different? I don't want to judge other people's books. My books only portray my experience, not my wisdom. First, because I am not wise—as I said earlier, everybody knows everything or nobody knows anything, because God is democratic. Second, because experience is all you have and must share. This is our reason to be here: to share. A book can act as a catalyst, making people understand that they are not alone. Several authors made me understand that, and I felt relieved during some critical moments in my life. A book can be a good companion. But it is up to each one of us to learn from our own experiences.
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