This Brazilian writer is now well-known throughout the world. His spirituality-based fictions are translated into several languages and widely read. His first book The Pilgrimage and his second book The Alchemist received lukewarm response at first. When he got the same books published by a bigger Publishing House , they became best sellers. Some ten more books followed and most of them have received acclaim. The latest book written by Coelho is The Witch of Portobello.
Athena , the ' Witch', was born in the Gypsy community in Romania. Her mother was Gypsy based in Romania and father was probably a Romanian White( the author's hint is very indirect). Her mother leaves her in an Orphanage and goes back to her community. A rich Arab couple from Beirut ( not Muslim but Christian) adopts Athena, overruling the advice of a nurse of the orphanage based on the child's Gypsy lineage. The Khalils name the child as Sherine. A member of the extended family of the Khalils suggests that in view of the increasing prejudice against the Arab world internationally, it is better to change the name to Athena. Sherine likes the sound of the name and becomes Athena.
From the early age, Athena exhibits certain supernatural abilities. She is also very religious in the Christian sense. The family migrates to London. Athena joins an Engineering course, falls in love with fellow-student Petersen , marries him, leaves the University and becomes a mother. The couple develops difference of opinion and get divorced. The story starts galloping only from now on. Athena shifts to a rented accommodation with her child . There she comes in contact with a Polish refugee and gets introduced to a mystical dance form. The dance changes her life completely. In Athena's words, " When you dance, the spiritual world and the real world manage to coexist happily". Athena, now working in a Bank, introduces her colleagues to this particular dance which takes one to trance. There is a qualitative improvement in the functioning of the staff and Athena gets promoted to move to Dubai. At Dubai, she learns calligraphy from Nabil Alaihi as a means to discover new spiritual dimensions. Still restless, she decides to undertake a trip to Romania in search of her biological mother, finds her and gets reconciled. While in Romania, she has a chance meeting with Edda, a Scottish woman deeply interested in the Tradition of considering God as feminine and Mother. This meeting influences Athena tremendously and her spiritual search continues when she is back in England. Edda advises Athena to learn what she does not yet know, through teaching. While this advice is initially puzzling to Athena, she starts teaching Andrea McCain, an actress. Andrea is very suspicious of Athena since Andrea's journalistic boy-friend is attracted to Athena. It is love unrequited. Athena succeeds in getting the Divinity to manifest on herself; the manifestation calls herself Hagia Sofia. Athena becomes clairvoyant whenever this manifestation arrives. As Athena's following grows in number, the orthodox Christian establishment gets provoked . How could they tolerate a parallel religious movement that poses a challenge to their centuries-old hegemony? What happens thereafter is interesting and the end is as surprising as a Sheldon thriller. What happens to Athena in the end? Is she murdered by the fundamentalists? or some jealous lover? or left free to spend her life in anonymity? Is her claim that her lover is working for Scotland Yard just a protective shield from male attention? If you want to know the answers, please read the book. Of course, I do not sell books and so there is no vested interest involved in asking you to buy the book.
Why the title 'Witch'?
Witch is a label the Organised Religion gives to any one performing any spiritual rituals which it does not understand and which are not part of the approved rituals of the Establishment. Athena's spiritual path in which Mother is the supreme Divinity and her non-Christian beliefs and methods of worship earned her the title Witch from the Christian Establishment. Since Athena and her followers used to meet at a building in Portobello Road , she becomes the Witch of Portobello in the eyes of the Orthodox Church.
The world has been seeing God as masculine and demanding obedience. May be, it is time to break free from this fear of God and move to love of God; a feminine God, the Great Mother who does not control , but loves. In the worship of Mother, fear gives way to love. Authority is replaced by compassion. This is not new. Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism already say that every thing is one. Divinity is in every thing and every thing is part of the Divinity. They do not see God as domineering figure.
In order that one gets to come in contact with the Divinity, one needs to unlearn. One needs to cease to follow the beaten path of rules. Athena does it by getting herself freed from the stranglehold of rhythm in her dance, thus creating chaos momentarily making space for the NEW ( Divinity) to manifest itself. Her teacher Edda does it by knitting in a completely irrational way.