The Alchemist: Symbols and Their Meanings (2023)

The Alchemist: Symbols and Their Meanings (1)

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

What are some of the symbols in The Alchemist? What do those symbols mean?

In Paulo Coelho’s story The Alchemist, symbols are important. Through these symbols, Coelho shares some deeply important messages about perseverance, love, and destiny. The major symbols in the story are the desert, the oasis, and the treasure.

We’ll go over each symbol and its meaning below.

The Desert

The first symbol in The Alchemist is the desert. A major theme of the story is overcoming obstacles, and Coelho shows us through the metaphor of traversing the hostile desert that perseverance in the face of obstacles is crucial in following one’s calling.

The desert itself appears almost as a character in the story, as it’s the space within which transformation and connection to the divine spirit happens. It symbolizes the “tests” Santiago has to go through in order to reach his destination and fulfill his calling. The desert is harsh and unforgiving on the surface, but when the boy learns to look deeply, to commune with the nature around him, and to speak the language of the divine spirit, he becomes aware that there’s life everywhere and that that life will guide him to his treasure. With this, Coelho also shows us that we can find beauty in all of life, if we look deeply.

The Symbolism of the Desert

The desert has a symbolic association in Christianity with the trials and temptations of Christ, and we see that mirrored in Santiago’s journey in The Alchemist. It has also been associated with spiritual transformation. A group of Chrstian monks called the Desert Fathers took to the Sahara desert to establish a contemplative practice called “guarding the heart.” This was essentially an ancient mindfulness practice of controlling and purifying your thoughts to improve your spiritual well-being. The ultimate aim of this practice was to achieve a state of deep inner peace. We see in The Alchemist this same kind of contrast between hardship and beauty; when the boy learns to recognize the life that’s all around him in the desert, he’s able to tap into the power of transformation.

The Oasis

The caravan eventually arrives at an oasis, where the boy finds love. He meets a girl named Fatima, with whom he feels an instant soul-mate bond, and he knows she must be part of his calling. He’s tempted to give up his mission and stay in the oasis with Fatima. He fears that if he leaves he’ll never see her again, although she assures him she’ll wait for him because she too believes in the universal signs. But again, his temptation to stay is a test, as he’ll soon discover. Santiago will realize that again he almost gave up on following his calling out of fear and the lure of comfort over risk.

Through this portion of the story, Coelho creates the contrast between desert and oasis to highlight the choices we may encounter along our paths to our calling. The desert represents the trials and tribulations one must face and the endless possibilities that lie ahead, while the oasis represents the comfort that people choose over those risks inherent in journeying through the desert.

Run From What’s Comfortable

Knowing that Coelho was influenced by the Sufi tradition, and particularly by the poetry of Rumi, we can see in that poetry connections to some of the major themes in The Alchemist. For example, in “Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion,” a Coleman Barks translation of Rumi, we find this verse:

Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.”

Throughout the book, Coelho warns us against choosing comfort over taking risks. He encourages us to live boldly and follow our calling, which may involve ruining our reputation with those who expect conformity. We may even be interpreted as “mad” by those who don’t have the courage to follow their calling.

The Treasure

In this final portion of the story, Coelho teaches us that we must be open to finding our destiny in unexpected places, and that it must be found before we can truly live the life we were meant to live.

When the alchemist leaves him, the boy continues alone on his path toward the pyramids, with the transformative power of alchemy as his strength. He has learned that not only can he speak with the wind and the sun, but those are parts of him—he is the wind and the sun and the desert and the stars. Everything is one, united by the universal soul and language of love.

After some more travel, as the boy reaches the top of a large dune, he sees in the distance the Egyptian pyramids. At that sight, he drops to his knees and begins to weep. Then he notices a scarab beetle next to him, which he knows is a sacred symbol to Egyptians, so he interprets this as a sign and begins to dig there for his treasure. (Shortform note: It is said that the scarab beetle represented renewal and rebirth in ancient Egyptian mythology. Whether this was intentional by Coelho or not, it seems appropriate considering the beetle appeared at the climactic moment, when the boy has faced near-death and finally arrived at the place where he’ll have the insight that will lead him to his life-changing treasure.)

But Santiago finds nothing. At that moment, some wanderers appear and attempt to rob him, but find that he has nothing. The boy then tells them about his recurrent dream that he’d find treasure near the Egyptian pyramids. One of the wanderers scoffs and tells him he also had a recurrent dream of a treasure buried in the ruins of a Spanish church, where a sycamore tree grows, but that he’s not foolish enough to go across the world looking for it. And it’s then that the boy realizes his treasure is really buried back where he began.

He sets off back through the desert, on the long trek back to Andalusia, to the same spot where he had the dream, at the church ruins, and he begins to dig. And there he finds a chest full of gold and precious gems. His treasure was there all along. But now he knows where his heart lies, and he takes the treasure and sets off again to return to Fatima, his true love who waits for him in the oasis.

In this final scene, Coelho reveals to us that in the search for our destiny, we must always remain open to finding it in the most unexpected places, even if it means crossing the world and back again.

The Alchemist: Symbols and Their Meanings

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full The Alchemist summary :

  • A guide to the infamous story by Paulo Coelho
  • A breakdown of the symbolism and lessons found in the story
  • A comparison of Coelho's ideas to other philosophical and spiritual traditions and beliefs

Get the world's best book summaries now


What are the symbols in the story The Alchemist? ›

Gold: Gold represents the knowledge, work, and time necessary to achieve something desired. Hawks: Hawks are symbolic of aggression, which can be tamed. Horse: The horse is a symbol of strength and passion; like hawks, horses can be tamed. Oasis: The oasis symbolizes life, love, and domesticity.

How does the symbol of alchemy affect the meaning in The Alchemist select each correct answer? ›

How does the symbol of alchemy affect the meaning in The Alchemist? Select each correct answer. Alchemy is an expression of the Soul of the World, which allows Santiago to perform incredible feats. Alchemy represents Santiago's journey and transformation.

What is the most important symbol in The Alchemist? ›

Alchemy, in which a base metal is transformed into a more valuable metal like gold, functions as the dominant symbol in The Alchemist and represents Santiago's journey to achieve his Personal Legend. The symbol also gives the novel its title.

What are the 5 lessons in The Alchemist? ›

5 Key lessons I learned from The Alchemist
  • Identify your personal legend. In a dream, Santiago, the main character in the Alchemist sees a child who tells him about a hidden treasure in Egypt. ...
  • Don't fear Failure. ...
  • Letting go of attachments. ...
  • Don't, Ever, Give up! ...
  • Live in the Moment. ...
  • About Me.
Jan 20, 2018

What symbols represent Santiago? ›

Throughout the novel, the Pyramids of Egypt are held in Santiago's mind as his end goal, as they mark the location of his treasure. Therefore, the pyramids symbolize his Personal Legend.

What does the heart symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

As Santiago continues his journey with the alchemist, he learns several new lessons about himself and his abilities. First, the alchemist explains that each person's heart emerges from the Soul of the World. Because Santiago's heart connects him to the Soul of the World, Santiago must learn to listen to it properly.

What is the most important text in alchemy in The Alchemist? ›

The Rosarium philosophorum or Rosary of the philosophers is recognised as one of the most important texts of European alchemy.

What does the snake symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

In The Alchemist, the alchemist finds a cobra in the desert as a symbol of life. Conventionally, snakes also are emblematic of male potency. The alchemist possesses the strength to confront things that emerge from the desert — the cobra, the three armed warriors, and so on.

What does gold symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

Gold is one of the seven metals of alchemy (gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead, iron & tin). For the alchemist, it represented the perfection of all matter on any level, including that of the mind, spirit, and soul. The symbol for gold could also be used to represent the sun in astrology.

What does the sun symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

For the alchemist, it represented the perfection of all matter on any level, including that of the mind, spirit, and soul." The symbol's association with both gold and the Sun evidently dates back as far as alchemy does.

What does the hawk symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

The hawks symbolize war and violence in The Alchemist. It is only when one of the hawks attacks the other that Santiago momentarily has another vision: "Suddenly, one of the hawks made a flashing dive through the sky, attacking the other.

What is the most important quote in The Alchemist? ›

whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it's because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It's your mission on earth." This statement, which Melchizedek says to Santiago upon their first meeting, forms the foundation of the philosophy of The Alchemist.

What are the two main themes of The Alchemist? ›

Critical Essays Themes in The Alchemist

Fate: Fate is often cited as a reason not to pursue one's Personal Legend, as in the case of the crystal merchant, whose motto is maktub: "It is written." Love: Without love, according to The Alchemist, our lives are incomplete.

What does The Alchemist teach about life? ›

You must never give up on your dreams, realize that if you truly want to reach your biggest goals, you have to follow your personal legend, no matter what obstacles get in the way. All you need is the courage to overcome anything that life throughs at you, so you can reach your wildest dreams.

What does Fatima symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

Fatima A beautiful Arab girl who lives at the oasis. Santiago discovers Fatima filling her water jug at one of the oasis's wells, and he falls in love with her. She supports his quest, even though it will take him away from her. Fatima represents true love, selfless and unconditional.

What does the Sharks symbolize to Santiago? ›

The Shovel-Nosed Sharks

They symbolize and embody the destructive laws of the universe and attest to the fact that those laws can be transcended only when equals fight to the death. Because they are base predators, Santiago wins no glory from battling them.

What do Santiago's hands symbolize? ›

So, Santiago's hands, specifically the hand that is cramped and is of no use to him to bring in the marlin, essentially symbolizes sin or an aversion to Christ. The symbolism in Santiago's hand becomes even more prominent when examining the marlin, which symbolizes Christ.

What does the butterfly symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

1. The butterfly- This omen occurred when the old king of Salem, Melchizedek was explaining about the importance of pursuing personal legends, and following omens. Then, the butterfly appeared. The butterfly was a good omen, and inspired Santiago to actually pursue his dreams and personal legend.

What does the pyramid symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

The pyramids of Egypt symbolize the interconnectedness of life and humility because they bring Santiago full circle. In the beginning of the novel, he dreams under the abandoned church about going to the pyramids to find treasure, but at the end of the novel, he learns that the treasure is back at the abandoned church.

What does the king symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

What does King Melchizedek symbolize in ''The Alchemist''? King Melchizedek is a biblical reference to the same king of Salem who helped Abraham in the book of Genesis. He symbolizes divine guidance as well as inner wisdom, and he helps people pursue their "Personal Legends."

What is the world's greatest truth in The Alchemist? ›

[T]here is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it's because that desire originated in the soul of the universe.

What does the emerald tablet symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

' According to the alchemist, the Emerald Tablet is a portal to the Soul of the World. The Soul of the World is a positive, unifying force that leads all things to their destiny.

What is the alchemy dragon symbol? ›

The Ouroboros, the serpent which devours its own tail, is the most ancient symbol of alchemy. It is also called the "paradoxical serpent" and represents the circular process of the alchemist's work.

What does the Flamel symbol mean? ›

The cross appears in Flamel's grave illustrations and many say to symbolize Flamel's relation to the Philosopher's Stone. In Alchemy, the Flamel represents the "fixing of the volatile", a vital step in the alchemical opus' process, related to the making of the mercury's elixir and of curative processes.

What is the alchemical symbol dragon? ›

The ouroboros or uroboros (/ˌjʊərəˈbɒrəs/) is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. The ouroboros entered Western tradition via ancient Egyptian iconography and the Greek magical tradition. It was adopted as a symbol in Gnosticism and Hermeticism and most notably in alchemy.

What does the Moon symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

To the alchemist of today, the Moon/Silver is a symbol for inner wisdom, contemplation, and transition. To the alchemist, the Moon/Silver's energy is used as a tool to understand one's own intuition and to better adapt to the new life they have created for themselves.

What does the Falcon symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

Answer and Explanation: The two dead hawks and the falcon in the oasis represent death and an impending battle. The fact that Santiago is able to understand and interpret these symbols gives him a significant status usually reserved for men far more experienced and older than he is.

What does the lion symbolize in alchemy? ›

For example, at least one medieval alchemical text uses the lion to illustrate stages of transformation, and even depicts a lioness in a winged form. Jung and others have said these lions represent primitive, and often turbulent, psychological states in the human life cycle.

What does the green lion symbolize in alchemy? ›

A green lion consuming the Sun is a common alchemical image and is seen in texts such as the Rosarium philosophorum. The symbol is a metaphor for aqua regia (the green lion) consuming matter (the Sun), gold.

What does green mean in alchemy? ›

Green is also associated with regeneration, fertility, and rebirth due to its connections with nature. In Alchemy, solvents for gold were named "Green Lion" or "Green Dragon" by the alchemists. Such liquids were instrumental in the beginning of the alchemistic Opus Magnum.

What are the 10 symbols? ›

These symbols are: the sun, clouds, mountains, water, pine trees, turtles, deer, cranes, peaches, and the herb of eternal youth. The 10 Symbols of Longevity reveals a cultural tradition unique to Korea. Of the 10 symbols, not all of them last eternally as the sun and the mountains do.

What are the 4 types of symbols? ›

  • pictogram.
  • ideogram.
  • icon.
  • rebus.
  • phonogram.
  • typogram.
  • logo (trade mark)

What are the 5 types of symbolism? ›

Types of symbolism
  • Metaphor. A metaphor refers to one thing by directly mentioning another. ...
  • Simile. Rather than implying a comparison like a metaphor, a simile explicitly denotes comparison between two things. ...
  • Allegory. ...
  • Archetype. ...
  • Personification. ...
  • Hyperbole. ...
  • Metonymy. ...
  • Irony.
Nov 5, 2020

What does the beetle symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

Ironically, the scarab beetle — a humble, ugly thing — represented God to the Egyptians, and it represents God to Coelho, as well. Even if an omen is unlikely, it must heeded.

What is the message at the end of The Alchemist? ›

The End of The Alchemist

In this final portion of the story, Coelho teaches us that we must be open to finding our destiny in unexpected places, and that it must be found before we can truly live the life we were meant to live.

What is the alchemists motto? ›

The motto that usually accompanied it was "From the One to the One." You are an alchemist; make gold of that.

What does The Alchemist teach about love? ›

What does The Alchemist say about love? Readers of The Alchemist learn that love has one purpose. The purpose of love is to make individuals into better people who will then make the world a better place.

What are two lessons Santiago learn in The Alchemist? ›

His greatest spiritual advancement, however, comes after he meets the alchemist, who helps him to understand himself and to read the omens in his environment. Santiago ultimately learns to communicate with the wind and the sun and the Hand That Wrote All, a force evidently synonymous with God or Allah.

What are three themes in The Alchemist? ›

The Alchemist explores many interesting subjects, although themes for The Alchemist that stand out include free will vs. fate, love, wisdom, pursuit of one's dreams, and the interconnection of the natural world.

What were the three goals of Alchemist? ›

Simplified, the aims of the alchemists were threefold: to find the Stone of Knowledge (The Philosophers' Stone), to discover the medium of Eternal Youth and Health, and to discover the transmutation of metals.

What is the motivating message in The Alchemist? ›

One of the central themes of The Alchemist is Santiago's quest to achieve his Personal Legend. He learns to pursue it above all else, and something more: once it has been achieved, everything else will fall into place.

Why is The Alchemist meaningful? ›

The Alchemist reminds us that each of us can make our own lives—and the world around us—better. But we have to put in the work and be willing to have the courage to confront our dreams: “That's what alchemists do. They show that when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”

What are symbols presented in the novel explain? ›

Symbolism is the use of words or images to symbolize specific concepts, people, objects, or events. In some cases, symbolism is broad and used to communicate a work's theme, like Aslan the lion in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a symbol of Christ.

Are omens a symbol in The Alchemist? ›

Omens. The motif of omens serves a dual purpose in The Alchemist. For one, omens offer Santiago guidance on his journey and reassure him that the Soul of the World has endorsed his journey.

What are the 3 types of symbolism? ›

Using symbols can create a powerful story that uncovers universal truths. Three key types of symbolism in literature are religious, romantic, and emotional symbolism.

What does the moon symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

To the alchemist of today, the Moon/Silver is a symbol for inner wisdom, contemplation, and transition. To the alchemist, the Moon/Silver's energy is used as a tool to understand one's own intuition and to better adapt to the new life they have created for themselves.

What do the stones symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

The stones are black and white, with their colors representing “yes” and “no” answers to questions—so Melchizedek tells Santiago that he must only ask objective questions of the stones. Because of this, Urim and Thummim symbolize certainty and objective knowledge.

What do scarab beetles symbolize in The Alchemist? ›

Ironically, the scarab beetle — a humble, ugly thing — represented God to the Egyptians, and it represents God to Coelho, as well. Even if an omen is unlikely, it must heeded.

What is Santiago's first omen? ›

Melchizedek explains the butterfly is Santiago's first omen and opens his cape to reveal a jeweled breastplate. Melchizedek gives Santiago two stones from the breastplate. He says the stones are called Urim and Thummim and they represent “yes” and “no.” They will help Santiago to read omens.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Fr. Dewey Fisher

Last Updated: 07/12/2023

Views: 5964

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Fr. Dewey Fisher

Birthday: 1993-03-26

Address: 917 Hyun Views, Rogahnmouth, KY 91013-8827

Phone: +5938540192553

Job: Administration Developer

Hobby: Embroidery, Horseback riding, Juggling, Urban exploration, Skiing, Cycling, Handball

Introduction: My name is Fr. Dewey Fisher, I am a powerful, open, faithful, combative, spotless, faithful, fair person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.