October 30, 2013

The Alchemist - Susan Barclay

Almost two years ago I established a book club with a couple of neighbours. Since that time, the group has grown to include four of us on our street plus three friends of mine. We read both fiction and non-fiction and rotate the selection among the seven of us. If you choose the book, you host the meeting that month.

We've certainly all read books we'd never have picked up otherwise. Sometimes we've enjoyed them, sometimes not. Some titles have provoked more discussion than others, and we haven't always agreed on whether or not we liked a particular book.

This month's novel is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. According to Good Reads, I'm 62% of the way through it as I write this post. Two of the book club members are also Good Reads members who have completed the book and given it a 5-star rating. A former co-worker on Good Reads couldn't finish it and accorded it one star. 

What does this have to do with faith? Well, for starters, the title of the book indicates that its content has something to do with alchemy. Dictionary.com defines alchemy as 
  1. a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.
  2. any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value. 
Wikipedia explains  
Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose practitioners have, from antiquity, claimed it to be the precursor to profound powers. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied, but historically have typically included one or more of the following goals: the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone; the ability to transform base metals into the noble metals (gold or silver); and development of an elixir of life, which would confer youth and longevity. Alchemy is recognized as a protoscience that contributed to the development of modern chemistry and medicine. Alchemists developed a framework of theory, terminology, experimental process and basic laboratory techniques that are still recognizable today. But alchemy differs significantly from modern science in its inclusion of Hermetic principles and practices related to mythology, magic, religion, and spirituality.
 Indeed, The Alchemist carries huge spiritual overtones and strikes me as very New Age, as the author brings in references to Christianity, Islam, and eastern mysticism. In a 2008 article in The Telegraph, we learn that while Coelho's mother was a devout Catholic, and he himself has 'returned to the fold', he has been inducted into a secretive group known as the 'Order of the Ram', and in the 1960s devoured the works of well-known occultist, Aleister Crowley, even presiding over some black masses.

As a committed Christian, I find this book difficult to read because of its false teachings, and I'm sure it will be challenging to discuss in a group where not everyone shares my beliefs and values. If you think of it in advance of November 15th (the date of our next meeting), will you pray that our conversation would be edifying, that the Holy Spirit would even now be preparing hearts, and that the Truth would prevail? I'd appreciate it very much.


For more of Susan Barclay's writing, please visit her website at www.susan-barclay.ca


  1. I'm sure you'll find Christians who would shy away from this broad ethereal spiritual focus--even chide you for reading it.
    How can we combat false teaching if we don't know what it is?
    I commend you for taking the plunge in this endeavour. You will be better equipped to contribute to the discussion on the subjects raised.
    God bless you in your meeting.

  2. Will keep you in my prayers!

    I know that those topics can be difficult and sometimes awkward to talk about, but don't worry! God will be with you and give you the words to say!

    God Bless,

  3. I've never heard of this book, but does sound interesting. Prayers for your next meeting, I know God will meet you there!

  4. Way to be 'light' in the darkness...

  5. Agreed, Susan. I found this book very enticing, and I can see how so many buy into this broad wash of faith. Yet it is so deceiving. How did your meeting go? Just curious!

  6. Thanks for the affirmation and prayers, one and all. The meeting went well enough, without any conflict. But perhaps that's my fault. Only 4 out of 7 members showed up, and of those who did, 3gave the book 5 stars. No one asked me how many stars I gave it (one). I did say, however, that I found the book too New Agey for my tastes. The meeting devolved into chit-chat...


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