The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho is a novel about the pursuit of wisdom. In the story, the protagonist—most likely Coelho himself—is on a journey, or pilgrimage, in search of his sword. The sword is a metaphor for the character’s inner strength and wisdom.
The story follows Coehlo’s journey along the Camino de Santiago in Spain led by a guide named Petrus. Along the journey, Petrus teaches Coehlo about the purpose of wisdom through various tests and lessons characterized by his mystical philosophy.
These are some of the most important lessons that Coehlo teaches us throughout the story.
Don't be too attached to the destination that you miss the journey
In the story, Petrus takes Coehlo through the forest along the initial part of the trail. As the night approaches, Coehlo realizes that they are still quite far from their destination. He asks Petrus why they have been walking for much longer than expected and if they will arrive soon. Petrus points out a landmark and asks Coehlo if he recognizes it. After some thought Coehlo realizes that it looks familiar.
“Of course,” says Petrus, for they had already passed it several times.
He then explains to Coehlo that he had been too preoccupied with the destination and had forgotten to look around and actually notice where they were going. They had been walking in circles.
Petrus never pointed this out because he intended to teach Coehlo a lesson.
“Don’t be too attached to the destination that you miss the journey.”
Although we are often eager to get to where we’re headed, if we fail to be present throughout our journey we can often fail to actually reach our destination.
Some things can't be taught
An important lesson that Coehlo teaches us is that some things simply cannot be taught. In the novel this is illustrated by a moment when Coelho finds himself desperate and unsure of where to go next on his journey. Up until this point, Petrus had always been eager to give him advice and guide him willingly but this time things are different.
Coelho, upon asking Petrus for advice, receives a cold, empty answer. Confused, Coelho inquires as to why Petrus is unwilling to guide him any further and Petrus explains that there are some things that he cannot help him with.
There are some points in our personal journeys where we may seem the most lost. Oftentimes we feel that these are the moments when we desperately need advice, however, the truth is that these moments are often the times that we most need to trust ourselves.
Going to war is an act of love
In the climax of the novel, Coelho must defeat a vicious dog that attacks him and tries to take his life. This is a transformative moment for Coelho as it causes him to have a monumental realization.
During the fight, Coelho comes close to quitting and relinquishing his life to the dog. As he is almost about to do so, he has a realization that allows him to summon an inner strength that he was unable to achieve before.
Coelho realizes that the dog is not there to defeat him but instead to bring him the gift of challenge. This challenge is what ultimately allows him the ability to access strength he never knew he had.
Defeating the dog allows Coelho to realize that going to war is an act of love because our enemies are truly the ones who drive us to become our better selves.
Wisdom is only valuable if it's applicable to life
In the end of the novel, Coelho finally achieves his goal and gains his sword. However, this achievement suddenly leaves him unsure and confused of how to precede.
He realizes that the pursuit of wisdom is ultimately futile if it is not applied to some aspect of our lives. The whole pilgrimage he had been searching for something but with the achievement of his goal he realized that he truly never needed it all along.
This is an important lesson for us to learn for it reminds us of the importance of appreciating what we already possess and that oftentimes we search for things that ultimately have no real value to our lives.
All in all, The Pilgrimage is a fantastic book about the pursuit of wisdom. Similar to The Alchemist, Coelho uses his mystical philosophy and deep insight of the human experience to us teach valuable lessons about life. Accompaning Coehlo on his journey allows us to descover with him insights about the purpose of wisdom and leaves us wiser and better off because of it.