Brida by Paulo Coelho

We used to sit until late at night in a café in Lourdes. I was a pilgrim on the sacred Road of Rome and still had many more days to travel in search of my Gift. She was Brida O'Fern and was in charge of a certain stretch of that Road. -- Paulo Coelho

It is necessary to run risks, follow certain paths and abandon others. No one can make a choice without feeling fear. -- Paulo Coelho

But how will I know who my Soulmate is? By taking risks. By risking failure, disappointment, disillusion, but never ceasing in your search for Love. As long as you keep looking, you will triumph in the end. -- Paulo Coelho

When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way. -- Paulo Coelho

All my life has been governed by feminine energy, by women. -- Paulo Coelho

Before coming to know the feminine I didn't know the meaning of compassion. -- Paulo Coelho

Juan Arias flew to Rio to interview Paulo Coelho, or what Juan Arias called a series of informal conversations. On the flight over he met three Spanish girls, fans of Paulo Coelho, who much to their delight were invited to one of the sessions. [see Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim]

On the flight over the girls were reading: Brida, The Fifth Mountain, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept.

During their conversations, Paulo Coelho mentions Brida, a woman he met who was to greatly influence him. He met her on the Road to Rome, what he calls it the 'feminine way'.

Although first published in 1990, Brida was not published in English until 2008.

The feminine side of religion, of a Mother God, are themes Paulo Coelho explores in the novels By the River Piedra I Sat Down and The Witch of Portobello and during conversations with Juan Arias.

There are two types of people, those that build and those that plant.

Builders may take many years to plan and design what they are going to build. They start building a wall, but there is the ever present danger they may have walled themselves in, built their own prison, like those who live in gated communities who think they are keeping the world out but in reality are locking themselves in.

Gardeners plant seeds, tend their seeds. Each seed is unique, hidden within its germ plasm is the history of the university stretching back generations. The seed has evolved, buffeted this way and that by life's mysterious and existential forces. When we plant our seed and watch it grow, we do not know what will happen, will there be enough sun, enough rain, will it be too hot or cold, will it get eaten by pests or succumb to disease or get strangled by weeds.

Like when I grew beans and courgettes and pumpkins one warm wet summer, everything I planted got eaten by slugs and snails.

That is why it is so important that we safeguard our genetic heritage, as it is our future too.

Our garden, like our seeds, grows and changes, with the seasons, with the years. No one is exactly like another.

Once we have built our building, what then, when our task is done. Metaphorically, we have walled ourselves in, with nowhere left to go. With our garden, our task is never done, we continue to grow and change and evolve with our garden.

There were four paths a medieval pilgrim could travel.

One, the Road to Santiago or The Way of Saint James, Paulo Coelho describes in The Pilgrimage.

Another was the Road to Rome, which Paulo Coelho alludes to in Brida.

To walk the Road to Santiago is to develop discipline, strength of will. To walk the Road to Rome is to develop compassion, meditation. Brida (not published in English until March 2008) is the story of a woman Paulo met on the 'feminine way', whose experience was very close to his own.

Brida was inspired by an Irish lady Brida O'Fern who Paulo met at Lourdes. Brida O'Fern had travelled the Road to Rome, she had travelled it in Ireland. When Paulo Coelho met her, she was a guardian of part of the Road to Rome. Brida is her story.

'I want to learn about magic,' said the girl. The Magus looked at her. Faded jeans, T-shirt, the challenging look adopted by all shy people when it's least needed. 'I must be twice her age,' he thought. And despite this, he knew he had met his Soulmate.

Paulo Coelho starts Brida with an apology.

In The Diary of a Magus, now known as The Pilgrimage, Paulo describes spiritual exercise which he undertook during his pilgrimage. The main reason for the pilgrimage was to learn humility, but it could not have been a lesson well learnt, as he thought he knew better and in the book he substituted some of the exercises with his own, an act of rebellion for which he was severely reprimanded by his Teacher.

In Brida he describes spiritual exercises practiced by The Tradition of the Moon, with a warning, only to be practiced under guidance, as otherwise can be dangerous and far from aiding the spiritual search, will hinder it.

Brida goes off to find a Magus who resides in a forest, a three hour bus journey from Dublin. If he agrees to be her Teacher, he will teach her of parallel universes that surround us, of angels, of the wisdom of nature, the mysteries of the Tradition of the Sun and the Tradition of the Moon.

When Brida seeks out her Magus in a forest in Ireland, she has already learnt something of astrology, tarot and numerology. She is 21, nice looking, the Magus at least twice her age, but he knows he has found a Soulmate and accepts her and agrees to become her teacher. He tells her that what she has learnt are mere languages, there are many languages that speak magic to the heart.

Brida asks him what he means by magic. He tells her magic is a bridge to cross into the other worlds.

Magic is a bridge. A bridge that allows you to walk from the visible world over into the invisible world, and to learn the lessons of both those worlds.

Or in other words, magic is a means to cross the transition zone.

In response to her question how do we cross that bridge, he goes on to tell her that we all have our own way, everyone has their own way.

The Magus, although he is learned in the Tradition of the Moon, he agrees to teach Brida in the Tradition of the Sun.

On her return to Dublin, a chance conversation with the owner of an occult bookshop in the centre of Dublin, she learns of Wicca, a Teacher.

Wicca agrees to teach Brida in the Tradition of the Moon.

I used to walk along the coast of Cornwall. I'd walk for miles, find some remote spot, sit and relax and be aware of the world around me. I'd walk in ancient woodlands, find a pleasant spot and sit in quiet contemplation.

Once, when walking along the spine of a low line of hills in Dorset near Swanage, I became aware of ghosts and spirits around me. It was misty and I could just make out strange bumps in the ground. Later, I learnt it was an ancient site.

Once, walking the alleys around the back of Winchester Cathedral, I was aware of the ghosts and spirits around me.

Once, I was at Old Sarum, looking out across the valley towards Salisbury. In the far distance, there was a notch in the hillside, like the sight of a rifle, the spire of Salisbury Cathedral was exactly in my line of sight. I was aware of the ghosts and spirits around me. I learnt the line I was looking along, was an ancient ley line. The exact location of Salisbury Cathedral was told in a vision.

In Cornwall, at a cross roads, the other side of the hedge, and yet not visible from the road, was a very old earth fort. From the fort, there was stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The ghosts and spirits were all around me.

I have walked along cliffs in Ireland during what in Ireland passes as summer. I was on a narrow strip of grass between a fence and the cliff edge. I would look over at the precipitous drop. I looked down, saw far below a path etched into the cliff face, on the path small dots that I realised were people walking along this narrow path. I was overcome with vertigo and had to sit down. It took great strength of will to carry on with my journey. Eventually the cliffs ended, and I was down at sea level. I found myself at the Giant's Causeway. Curiosity took me along a path more or less at sea level headed back the way I had come. I passed over a little wooden bridge, maybe it was a suspended rope bridge, too long ago for my memory to be sure. I had only intended to go a little way, but the further I went, the harder it was to turn back. Eventually I realised I was walking the path I had seen far below me, etched into the cliff face.

On her second visit to the Magus, Brida and the Magus sit watching the sun set.

On the edge of Puerto de la Cruz, Playa Jardin lies between Puerto de la Cruz and the little village of Punta Brava. On the Puerto de la Cruz side of Playa Jardin a seawall juts out to sea, the ancient castle lies behind the wall. In the spring, around seven o'clock in the evening, you will find people sitting on the wall watching the sun go down.

sunset in Brighton In Brighton, late summer, you will find people on the west side of Brighton Pier watching the sun go down.

There is something special about sitting in quiet contemplation watching the sun go down.

If we are lucky in life, we meet our Soulmate. We know when we meet our Soulmate, there is no doubt, certainty is absolute. We lose control, we achieve an intensity of feeling we could not dream of, but we also risk everything and have to be prepared to risk everything.

If we do not meet our Soulmate or pass our Soulmate by or fail to recognise our Soulmate, we will be condemned to the worst kind of torture humankind invented for itself: loneliness.

It is a long time since I read the the works of Carlos Castaneda (probably not since the early seventies), and yet the mystical journey Paulo takes us on strongly reminds me of Don Juan, only for Brida to take these journeys, to cross the transition zone, it is not necessary to use peyote or mescalin.

Brida hesitates which path to take, not willing to commit herself, not daring to take the risk.

Carlos Castaneda (in The Teachings of Don Juan):

Any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you ... Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question ... Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use.

Herman Hesse is another writer who crosses the transition zone. In Steppenwolf, the man with two souls, in The Glass Bead Game, an esoteric game, in The Journey to the East we enter the magical theatre.

We not only wandered through Space, but also through Time. We moved towards the East, but we also travelled into the Middle Ages and the Golden Age; we roamed through Italy or Switzerland, but at times we spent the night in the 10th century and dwelt with the patriarchs or the fairies ....

We think of witches as bad, evil even, dressed in black with a sinister pointed black hat, riding around on broomsticks, casting spells, handing out poisoned apples to little children.

Paulo Coelho paints an entirely different picture of witches. Wicca is a witch, Brida is learning to be a witch or trying to rediscover what she already knew. Witches are seen as part of an ancient Christian tradition. A force for good, but more in tune with the natural world than the Church.

Why do we have this image of witches? Is it years of persecution of women, especially women of culture, women of talent, women of knowledge and women of wisdom?

Mary Magdalene has suffered from a 2,000 year smear campaign by the Church.

Joan of Arc, rode to lead her country to victory, had visions, was visited by angels, she refused to recant what she had seen, what she knew, her grateful country had her burnt at the stake.

The first Crusades, the beginning of the Inquisition, was against the Cathars in the south of France. The 'sin' of the Cathars was to treat women as equals, to rejoice in the joy of sex, to see sex as communing with God, to refuse to recognise the male hierarchy of the Catholic Church, to believe it was possible to communicate directly with God without the need for the intervention of male priests.

When Jesus was abandoned and disowned by his own disciples, it was the women who stood by him.

Some time in the past, men decided to appoint themselves the representatives of God, guardians of His religion, claimed to speak in His name. We cannot blame God for decisions made in His name, words uttered in His name, actions taken in His name.

In Brida, Paulo Coelho talks of crossing the bridge between the visible and invisible world. In The Alchemist, he talks of communication with the Soul of the World.

What he is discussing is crossing the transition zone. Something saints, mystics, prophets and witches seem to be able to do with ease.

We all possess a Gift, posses Wisdom, but that does not mean we have to become a Witch or a Teacher, we just have to practice our Gift.

A good mechanic understands an engine, he is in tune with it, be it a ship's engine or a car engine, he treats it like a living organism, cares for it. A craftsman can turn out wonderful and beautiful things from wood. A writer can create a work of great beauty, as can a poet or an artist or a musician.

What we should never do is waste our Gift and not use it.

It is through the use of our Gift that we too can learn to cross the transition zone.

Paulo Coelho has a very interesting interpretation of Genesis. The creation of Adam and Eve and there being sent forth, is the creation of two souls, two halves, male and female. When these two souls meet in some future reincarnation and reunite, it is the meeting of Soulmates.

God drew attention to the apple. Why did he do so if he did not want Adam and Eve to eat it, to partake of the Tree of Knowledge? He could have placed it out of their reach, not mentioned it. Is it fair of God to play games with mere mortals?

Brida lies somewhere between The Alchemist and The Witch of Portobello. Santiago is on a quest, Brida is on a quest, The Witch of Portobello is an exploration of the feminine side of religion, as is Brida. Athena meets a Teacher, who recognises that Athena has a Gift and agrees to be her teacher. Brida meets Wicca, who recognises that Brida has a Gift and agrees to be her teacher. Athena is a witch, Brida is a witch.

There are also close parallels with The Pilgrimage and By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. In one we travel the Road to Santiago, the way of reason, the other the Road to Rome, the intuitive way. Pilar learns to explore the feminine side of religion, as does Brida.

Paulo Coelho has more to say on his exploration of the feminine side of religion in his informal conversations with Juan Arias. [see Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim]

A very magical book, beautifully written.

For two lovely friends Iva and Alissa who have much of Brida within them.
Books Worth Reading ~ Paulo Coelho
(c) Keith Parkins 2009 -- April 2009 rev 0