A Brief Evaluation of Spiritual Themes in the book by Paul Coelho
By Marcia Montenegro, October 2016


“…we are returning to the cult of the Great Mother. The Greeks called her Gaia….” Athena, main character in book


Paulo Coelho’s bestselling book, The Alchemist, features a shepherd boy learning about alchemy and concepts of occult mental powers; this book, The Witch of Portobello, is centered on the “Mother.” The Mother is the Goddess, also viewed as Gaia, the Goddess in the form of nature.


Yet the first page in the book has a quote from the King James Version of Luke 11:33:
 No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.


Coelho uses Scriptures freely but always out of context. I believe that the quote from Luke is about the divine light of the heroine Athena and how she was willing to share it in her teachings and how we should do so as well.


The story recounts the posthumous life of the central character Athena through the eyes of various people who had known her. Athena was born to a gypsy woman but adopted by a Lebanese Christian family and raised in London. After ending a bad marriage, Athena, now divorced, is refused communion in her Catholic Church. This causes her to reject Christianity and to search for her birth mother, which leads her on a journey into the esoterica of Goddess spirituality.


The Great Mother

Athena is initiated into this spiritual journey via a woman with a “teacher,” and this woman becomes Athena’s teacher. Even Athena’s gypsy birth mother has turned to this spirituality (which differs from the gypsy beliefs, though she still retains some of those). Athena’s birth mother tells her:


“We don’t believe that God made the universe. We believe that God is the universe, and that we are contained in him and he in us……Although in my opinion, we should call ‘him’ ‘goddess’ or ‘Mother'” (118).


If creation is contained in God and God in creation, that is panentheism, though if God is the universe, as also asserted here, that is pantheism. So it is not clear which view is being offered, though both views are against Christian theism. God is the Creator but is always distinct from His creation. He does not need creation nor does He depend on it.


It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host. Isaiah 45:12


Later, Athena teaches an actress about spirituality, and says this as part of a longer speech on returning to Goddess worship:


“…we are returning to the cult of the Great Mother. The Greeks called her Gaia….” (148).

These views include the belief that a divine nature resides in us. Athena’s teacher at one point speaks of “living as a human being and as a divinity” (178).


Athena becomes a channel for the “Mother” (called here Hagia Sophia, which means “holy wisdom” and is also the name of a mosque) and gives a series of psychic readings about the future to a group of people (187ff and 196ff).


Athena explains the channeling as feeling “as if I were suckling on the great breast of the Mother, drinking the milk that flows through all our souls and carries knowledge around the earth” (200).


Athena holds regular meetings where she dances (assumedly part of her Gypsy blood) during which she falls into trances, channels Hagia Sophia, and teaches a group of followers. This all takes place on Portobello Road in London. Rumors are started about Athena by a minister who leads a demonstration against her and calls her “the witch of Portobello Road” (hence, the title of the book). Coelho makes sure the minister is presented as a harsh legalist who does not mind voicing untruths to make his point.


Spirit Guides

In a conversation with Athena while she’s channeling Hagia Sophia, the journalist friend, Heron, who is in love with Athena, tells her that he has discovered his spirit guide, Philemon (255). This is interesting in light of the fact that Carl Jung claimed he had a guide named Philemon. Coelho is undoubtedly making an allusion to that.


Jesus and Sin

One of Athena’s speeches to her group is about Jesus’ forgiveness. She asserts that the word “sin” was introduced by “powers of darkness” trying to control people’s minds and hearts. Sin, according to Athena, is “to prevent Love from showing itself” and “the Mother is Love” (229).


But sin was introduced by mankind, the first sin being disobedience to God. (see Genesis chapter 3 and Romans chapter 5). God’s righteous nature does not allow acceptance of sin, but He loved humanity so much, He sent Jesus to pay for the penalty of sin on our behalf, offering forgiveness and reconciliation with God to all who believe. Therefore, sin is against God but despite that, it has revealed God’s love.


For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God. John 3:16-18


All the prophets testify about Him that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins.” Acts 10:43



Many long-winded speeches are given by Athena about love, but nothing said is profound or definitive. It is more like what would be read in poorly written romance novels. Yet the Mother and love are one of the main messages. Love “just is” and has “no definitions.”


The themes in this book reminded me somewhat of the Divine Feminine messages in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code though that book ties Jesus into the theme. In an interview at the back of the book, Coelho talks about the “feminine side” of God. Coelho seems to mix occult views from Crowley, Gerald Gardner (founder of modern Wicca), and Carl Jung.


Anyone who takes the time to look at the context of Coelho’s references to certain Bible passages or figures will see that he has grossly misused them.


*Edition used: NY, NY, HarperCollins, 2006


ADDENDUM: About Paulo Coelho

Paul Coelho, author of several bestsellers, including The Alchemist, which sold over 100 millions copies, once followed the teachings of controversial ritual sorcerer and occultist extraordianaire, Aleister Crowley.


Quote==Researching a story, he came across the writings of the English occultist Aleister Crowley, and then joined the Alternative Society, a sect that advocated drugs and practiced black magic, and sought to embody Crowley’s principle “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”==From “The Magus” in The New Yorker by Dana Goodyear at


Coelho left those teachings after being imprisoned by the junta military group in Brazil and although many sites refer to him as having returned to his childhood Catholic faith, that is not exactly true. What really happened is that Coelho had a vision of a man when visiting Dachau (former concentration camp), a man he later saw in Amsterdam.


Quote==This man, a Jewish businessman whom Coelho refers to in his writing as “J.” and “my Master,” inducted him into something he calls the Order of R.A.M. (Regnus Agnus Mundi), a society for the study of symbols. R.A.M. is surpassingly obscure–discounting the allusions Coelho makes to it–and has a curiously ungrammatical Latin name, though he says that it is part of the Catholic Church, and that it is more than five hundred years old. (Efforts to verify its existence proved futile.) Not long after the encounter in Amsterdam, Coelho met J. in Norway, where, in a ritual beside three Viking ships, J. gave him a snake-shaped silver ring, which he wears to this day, on the fourth finger of his left hand. ==From “The Magus”


Coelho also states that he does not regret his time with his occult group doing what he calls “black magic.” Further evidence of his non-Christian and seemingly occult-New Age leanings is this:


Quote==In Coelho’s latest book, “The Witch of Portobello”the author seems to be growing disillusioned with Catholicism, and explores the re-emergence of Goddess religion. ==End quote from a pagan website, The Wild Hunt, at


And from The New Yorker article:
Quote==“The most famous witch of El Camino, Jesus Jato, is coming from Villafranca del Bierzo, six hundred kilometres away.” Jato has a shelter on the road, where pilgrims can spend the night for free. “He arrived today. He is the classic witch, sorcerer, call it what you will.” The plane began to move, and from underneath his black T-shirt Coelho took out a chain heavy with medallions: St. Joseph, St. Teresa, St. George, St. Michael. (“The Warriors of Light, as I see all these angels who fight,” he said.”I hate crosses. I hate sacrifice.”) ==End quote


The type of “Catholic order” that Coelho follows is apparently not Catholicism at all, but rather an esoteric occult group (assuming it exists), and Coelho’s views expressed in these articles are sorcery and occultism. Coelho states that he “hates crosses” and “sacrifice,” clear references to the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, which he either rejects or disdains. Coelho writes spiritual content, but it is from a place hostile to Jesus Christ.


He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death–even to death on a cross. Philippians 2:8


I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me would not remain in darkness. John 12:46


For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Philippians 3:18