I read Paulo Coelho’s the Alchemist on the train from Berlin to Amsterdam last spring, and was impressed at how simply Coelho was able to explain the magical path. This seems to be Europe’s best seller, and here it is explaining alchemy to anyone who cares to take time to read this short little novel.

I’ve been curious about Coelho’s connections to the occult, and it turns out he’s lead a pretty interesting life. He’s Catholic now, but was a practicing occultist for several years.

In 1973, Paulo and Raul became part of the Alternative Society, an organization that opposed capitalist ideology, defended the individual’s right to do what he or she pleased, and also practised black magic. He later described these experiences in The Valkyries (1992).

During this period, they began publishing “Kring-ha”, a series of comic strips, calling for more freedom. The dictatorship considered these subversive, and Paulo and Raul were detained and imprisoned. Raul was soon released, but Paulo was kept in for longer because he was considered to be the ‘brains’ behind the comic strips. His problems did not end there however; two days after his release, Paulo was seized as he was walking down the street and taken to a military torture centre where he remained for several days. According to him, he only escaped death by telling them that he was mad and had already been admitted to mental hospitals three times. He started physically harming himself when his kidnappers were there in the room, and, in the end, they stopped torturing him and let him go.

Paulo Coelho