The Pilgrimage, written by Paulo Coelho, is an autobiographical mystical, poetic description of his experience walking to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The road to San Tiago (St. James’ remains) also referred to as “the road of the common people” has drawn travelers from all over the world since the time of Christ. Paulo is on a quest to attain his sword in order to complete his training as a master of “The Tradition”. His guide on the walk is Petrus, who is already a master in “The Tradition”. Petrus demands Paulo complete many difficult exercises along the way to ready him to be worthy to receive the sword, but alas when the swords are given out to the most worthy pilgrims, Paulo does not get his. With no explanation, Petrus leaves him to finish the walk on his own. Paulo did everything his master asked of him and does not understand what more needs to be done to get his sword. Paulo’s main purpose on this pilgrimage is to complete his task of obtaining the sword. His guide helps prepare him to achieve his goal but this external direction is not enough. Once Paulo is left by his guide, he has to turn to his own inner resources. Embracing Petrus’ guidance, Paulo starts to trust his own inner wisdom, the God which had been sleeping within him, starts to awaken. He shifts his focus from getting the sword and finishing his journey to understanding how he might use the sword. The infinite purposes of the sword will be revealed to him throughout the rest of his life.
History is full of stories like this one, where the hero or heroine departs on a journey filled with trials and tribulations, in order to fulfill their destiny. The Holy Grail, The Odyssey, and more currently The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars are all timeless initiation stories. These classic myths come from disparate times and regions but all have the same basic pattern. Carl Jung saw this universal theme of the hero’s journey as a psychological path to individuation, or more simply, the process by which we struggle to become individuals. Often when we are facing a difficult situation, our search will take us through three stages. The first stage is called separation, in which our ambivalence about staying with what we have always known is challenged by our need to grow. In The Pilgrimage, Paulo’s challenge is to obtain the sword, but he must leave his home and work and go to a place he has never been before to achieve his goal. Often this is when people start therapy. The second stage of this journey is the initiation in which we are subject to the trials and tribulations necessary to get where we are going. Several times Paulo meets a black dog on the path to Santiago and each time there is a brutal confrontation. The first fight results in the dog running off, the second is a stand- off and the third Paulo is mauled by the dog. The dog symbolically represents Paulo’s shadow. When we are besieged by those parts of ourselves that are dark and foreboding, we will often respond by “running these parts off”. In order to face these parts of ourselves, often it is helpful to have a guide like Petrus or a therapist. With the help of his guide, Paulo was able to face the symbolic black dog. He then felt mauled by those aspects of his personality that were hidden. The final stage of the individuation process is the return. When Paulo was able to transcend his ego by facing himself as he is rather than an idealized version of himself, he returned home and would become the next master for a new pilgrim on the path. Only when we face our own demons, can we find the freedom to live and the wisdom to teach others.
LISTEN to Paulo Coehlo’s interview with Krista Tippit “On Being” NPR