The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho

But of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, thou shalt not eat of it ... -- God

Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know Good and Evil. What if he eats from the Tree of Life and lives forever? -- God

Those who trust in God will also honour the stability of the world: the orbits of the Sun and the Moon, winds and air, earth and water ... We have no other foothold. If we give up this world we shall be destroyed by demons and deprived of the angels' protection. -- Hildegard von Bingen

And a certain ruler asked him, saying, 'Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' And Jesus said unto him, 'Why callest thou me good? None is good, save one, that is God. -- Luke 18:18-19

Man needs what's worse in him in order to achieve what's best in him. -- Nietzche

The world around us is created as a framework within which we may learn the first beginnings of growing up towards what God wants for us. It is the way it is so that we can be directed towards God. And so this is how we must see the world. Yes, it exists in one sense for humanity's sake; but it exists in its own independence and beauty for humanity's sake – not as a warehouse of resources to serve humanity's selfishness. To grasp that God has made the material world, ‘composed’, says John of the Cross, ‘of infinite differences’, so that human beings can see his glory is to accept that the diversity and mysteriousness of the world around is something precious in itself. To reduce this diversity and to try and empty out the mysteriousness is to fail to allow God to speak through the things of creation as he means to. -- Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Christmas 2007

The Devil and Miss Prym (2000) by Paulo Coelho is the third of a trilogy, concerning love, death, power. The first two of the trilogy were By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (1994) and Veronika Decides to Die (1998).

God threw Adam and Eve out of Paradise for acquiring knowledge without his authority. But was this fair of Him? Did Adam and Eve then become as powerful as God, His equal? Who was the 'we' God spoke of?

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk contains an interesting discussion from the viewpoint of the Devil.

Is the Christian interpretation of the Garden of Eden and the eviction of Adam and Eve correct?

The story of the Garden of Eden is full of inconsistencies. If God did not wish Adam and Eve to eat of prohibited trees, why place temptation in their way? Why does he call out to ask where they are hiding? Is He not all knowing, omniscient? He threatens them with death, but does not carry out His threat. Is God playing with mere Mortals?

Did God instruct the serpent to tempt Eve? If not, what was the serpent doing in the Garden of Eden, Paradise does not contain imperfections?

What work was Adam to carry out in the Garden of Eden? There are no fields to plough, the crops grow on their own, no watering or irrigation is required as a river flows through the Garden of Eden. What therefore did God mean when He instructed Adam to 'tend and maintain'?

The most disturbing aspect was when God gave Man dominion over all his creatures, which has been interpreted ever since as a God given right to exploit the Earth in the name of Man's Greed.

As Gandhi once said, the earth provides enough for every man's need, but not for every man's Greed.

A further Creation anomaly in Genesis, compared with the culture and myths of indigenous peoples, Eastern religions, and more ancient fragments and allusions in the Bible, is that the creation was a relatively tranquil affair, not the result of some gigantic struggle between God and the forces of evil, or some demon or monster, where order holds sway over chaos. If order is wrought out of chaos, we have a Cosmic Covenant where the role of Man is to maintain Gaian order, to preserve and maintain the order of the Cosmos. [see Christian Theology and Gaia]

Psalm 74 is one of the rare places where we get a glimpse of this primordial battle of good over evil, order out of chaos, victory over dragons and a many-headed Leviathan. The description of the order of Creation, each within its bounds, a sacred covenant, is similar to what we are told in more detail in the Book of Enoch. The concept of order, the elements in their proper place, is repeated elsewhere: Job 38, Psalm 104:5-9, Psalm 148:6, and Proverbs 8:29. Jeremiah 5:22-23 contrasts the bounds kept by the elements (ie Gaian order) with the disobedience of Man.

We then see the role of Adam in a different light, the instruction to 'tend and maintain' is an instruction to maintain the Gaian order. What Paulo Coelho alludes to throughout his trilogy and makes more explicit in The Witch of Portobello. Paulo Coelho refers to this Gaian role as the feminine side of God or the Mother God. The Archbishop of Canterbury alluded to this Gaian role in his Christmas 2007 message.

This feminist side is also explored in Brida, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, and in the informal conversations Paulo Coelho had with Juan Arias. [see Paulo Coelho]

In Brida (first published 1990, but not in English until 2008) we see this maintaining of the Cosmic Order during Brida's initiation ceremony, the role of the guardian stretching back through eons of time, Brida being one of the most recent initiates in a very long heritage.

Kabbalists see Adam and Eve as a duality, two opposites, yin and yang. God created them in His image as a single entity. They become separated and turn into separate entities. Adam was given the job of tending the Garden of Eden. But what was there to tend in Paradise where the trees bore fruit and were watered by the flowing river (cf with the punishment on eviction from the Garden of Eden where Adam had to toil to feed and clothe himself)? Adam's role was to maintain the cosmic order of which he/them Adam/Eve were a part.

When Adam and Eve acquire knowledge, they become as one with God, what Eastern religions would term enlightenment. But were Adam and Eve not created in the image of God?

Nowhere in the Creation myth is there mention of 'original sin'. This was invented by the Church for the subjugation of women.

A friend who is a Mormon, gave the following views when I put to him the questions posed by Paulo Coelho on his blog:

I believe God forbade Adam eating of the tree of life (Eternal life) while he was in sin having been disobedient to God. Adam was in need, as we are,of a Saviour, and needed to repent. Adam was commanded by God not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, if he did he would die. A commandment he broke, which brought him out of the state of innocence and immortality he was in and into mortality (he was also told that when he ate of this tree he would be subject to mortal death). So he now brought into the world spiritual death (disobedience to God) and physical death. However, now with knowledge, he could keep the other commandment God gave him which was to multiply and replenish the earth. Our Saviour Jesus Christ gives us spiritual eternal life if we follow Him. He suffered for our sins in Gethsemane, and was resurrected from the tomb after dying on the Cross and overcame mortal death.

In Brida, Paulo Coelho gives a different thought on Genesis. Adam and Eve are Soulmates, being created from the same soul. God draw their attention to the Tree of Knowledge, placed temptation in their way, knowing they'd be tempted. Forcing them out of the Garden of Eden and their idyllic existence, they are left to life's existential and mysterious forces and they evolve and grow.

This interpretation in Brida is close to the Kabbalists view.

Paulo Coelho believes that life sets us challenges, challenges that may have profound effects upon us not only as individuals, but also as a society. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto December 2007 sent shock waves around the world. The First World War was triggered by the assassination of one man, that single shot reverberated around the world. As did the shot that killed J F Kennedy. The execution of the leader of a small and insignificant Jewish sect 2,000 years ago led to the founding of one of the world's great religions. We see the same in the excellent novel The Sixth Lamentation by William Broderick. The choices made in Occupied France cast a long shadow into the future.

When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready.

The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.

We have to be prepared. We cannot look back and bemoan that the unexpected took place. [see Manual of the Warrior of Light]

Berta sits outside her house, as she has been doing for the last fifteen years. Finally her patience is rewarded, a stranger arrives in the remote mountain village of Viscos in the back of beyond, a stranger Berta knows to be accompanied by the Devil.

Are humans inherently evil? The Devil through the stranger he accompanies tempts the villagers with ten gold bars to break the Ten Commandments. Will they be willing the break the commandment Thou shall not kill if the price is high enough?

It is no fun being the Devil. If humans are inherently evil, what fun is there in trying to subject them to temptation?

About the nature of human beings. I discovered that confronted by temptation, we will always fall. Given the right circumstances, every human being on this earth would be willing to commit evil.

This is the theme that Paulo Coelho explores in The Devil and Miss Prym. Similar themes, with variations, are explored in The Monk by Mathew Lewis, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson.

The Book of Job is one of those rare places where the Devil makes an appearance. Job was willing to worship God when everything was good in his life. The Devil challenged God. He said God made it too easy. Would Job still worship God if everything in his life went wrong? God put Job to the test.

God accepted the challenge from the Devil. Year on year he punished Job, he killed his animals, killed his children, made him ill. After great suffering, Job rebels and blasphemes against God. Only then does God restore what he has taken away.

Why did God force Job to behave in that way? To show that he was by nature bad, and that everything that came to him was by grace and grace alone, and not a as reward for good behaviour. We have committed the sin of pride in believing ourselves to be better than we are – and that is why we are suffering.

God accepted the Devil's wager and – so its seems – committed an injustice. Remember that: God accepted the Devil's wager. And Job learnt his lesson for, like us, he too was committing the sin of pride in believing that he was a good man.

None is good, says the Lord. No one. We should stop pretending to a goodness that offends God and accept our faults: if one day we have to accept a wager with the Devil, let us remember that our Father who is in heaven did exactly the same in order to save the soul of His servant Job.

Are we not all guilty of the sin of pride in believing ourselves to be good?

The villagers have seven days in which to make their choice. Seven days is the deadline in all the books of the And on the Seventh Day trilogy. Pilar spends seven days in a struggle for her soul, Veronika is granted seven days to live after an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

The Devil and Miss Prym concludes the trilogy And on The Seventh Day. The first two books were: By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (1994) and Veronika Decides to Die (1998). Each of the three books is concerned with a week in the life of ordinary people, all of who find themselves suddenly confronted by love, death and power. I have always believed that in the lives of individuals, just as in society at large, the profoundest changes take place within a very reduced time frame. When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not ready.

The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.

The man who comes to the village of Viscos, with the Devil at his side, resembling a pilgrim, bears an uncanny resemblance to Paulo Coelho. He gives the villagers seven days in which to accept and fulfill his challenge. If they take up his challenge, ten gold bars are theirs for the taking.

The Devil and Miss Prym is a tale of Good versus Evil, an epic struggle – a tale that has its antecedents in the Creation Myth, with Adam and Eve being evicted from the Garden of Eden.

What happens when a stranger walks into town, offers people a fortune beyond their wildest dreams, appeals to their base instincts?

The Devil and Miss Prym is in essence a dialogue between Good and Evil, the characters, actors in a cosmic play.

Those who are ill, were once thought to have deserved their fate. It was Jesus who asked, what wrong a leper had done.

If we are wronged, it is natural to want to avenge that act, but in doing so, in seeking revenge, we simply perpetuate a cycle. We have to learn to break the cycle, to forgive those who have wronged us. It is not easy though to forgive. [see Why Forgive? and What's So Amazing About Grace?]

God can only show grace if we sin.

Through understanding, ie partaking of the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge, do we become as one with God?

That is the promise made in the opening of The Gospel of Thomas:

And he said: Whoever finds the correct interpretation of these sayings will never die.

Jesus said: The seeker should not stop until he finds. When he does find, he will be disturbed. After having been disturbed, he will be astonished. Then he will reign over everything.

It is also the theme explored in How to Know God by Deepak Chopra.

To return to Genesis, we find in Genesis 1:29:

Human beings will come some day to reign over everything within the worlds that they find within themselves.

On his Blog, Paulo Coelho posed a question relating to Adam eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the fight between Good and Evil.

The following week, Paulo posed the question, was the stranger who arrived in Viscos to tempt the villagers with eleven bars of gold, intrinsically bad.

The answer is no. Certainly the stranger had flaws, he was after all an arms dealer. His wife and child were slaughtered by terrorists, he sought vengeance, but when vengeance was not enough, he sought Truth. Ultimately though, he was an innocent man, caught up in a Cosmic battle between Good and Evil.

What the stranger shows, indeed all the people of Viscos, is that we are all capable of good and evil. The good do evil deeds, the bad do good deeds. We each have on our shoulders a guardian angel and a devil, each whispering in our ears.

What we decide to do, ultimately depends on us. It is us who choose between the path of good and evil, no one else makes that choice for us.

Adam and Eve chose to eat of the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge, no one forced them. It could though be said it was churlish of God to say they could not. Why was He being so selfish?

The villagers of Viscos have a Day of Atonement. God accuses them of all their misdeeds. They in turn accuse God of all the injustices he has perpetuated against them. The balance sheet is set straight until the following year.

The starting point for The Devil and Miss Prym is the passage in the Gospel according to Luke where an important man approaches Jesus and asks of him 'Good Master, what shall I do to inherit internal life?' The response of Jesus is 'Why callest me good? None is good, save one, that is, God.'

Is Man good because he is inherently good, or is he good because he is a coward, because fear and terror keeps him on the right path?

That is the question the stranger tries to get answers to when he arrives in Viscos with a devil at his side.

The stranger had evil done to him and the Devil was able to enter his soul. Is Man evil because he has experienced evil?

We all have our own vision of Hell. Very often it is what we have constructed for ourselves.

Old Berta, the oldest inhabitant of Viscos, had sat outside her house for many a long year since her husband had died. She was on the lookout for Evil. When she saw the stranger arrive with the Devil at his side, she knew that day had arrived.

It was a much more complicated situation than Berta could imagine ...:Good and Evil were locked in combat, and no one could interfere. Angels and demons were in the midst of one of the periodic battles that decide whether whole regions of the earth are to be condemned for a while or saved.

And all because of what had happened to the stranger. His wife and child had died, slaughtered when a kidnap plot went wrong and the kidnappers slaughtered them in revenge. Had the daughter survived, she would have been his consolation and helped him through this bitter experience, gone on to make something of her life. Instead his soul was engulfed by hatred, impotence and a desire for revenge. This allowed the Devil to claim his soul as his own.

What does it take for the angels to triumph?

In The Alchemist, Santiago learnt to follow his destiny, to grasp the opportunities that life presents to us. In The Devil and Miss Prym, life throws up a challenge, a challenge that may change our destiny. Do we have to ability to face life's challenges when we least expect it? What would we do if faced with the same challenge as the stranger presented to the people of Viscos?

Like all the works of Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym is very thought provoking. Shades of The Pilgrimage, The Fifth Mountain, Manual of the Warrior of Light and Brida. A very powerful novel.

Good and Evil is present in all of us. It is all a matter of personal choice.

We are the same as the evil man. We are the same as the saint. The only difference between us and they is the choices we make, the path we choose to tread.

Synchronicity: In his Christmas 2007 message, the Archbishop of Canterbury, criticised the greed of Man, his failure to act as the steward of the planet, to appreciate the diversity of God's creation. A message that does not seem to get through to the Christians who with their holier-than-though attitude and smug arrogance turn up to church in their gas-guzzling cars.

Synchronicity: Christmas 2008, when I re-read The Devil and Miss Prym, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a similar message to 2007, that we should focus on the things in life that matter, not on greed, on accumulating material wealth.

Synchronicity: When I first read The Devil and Miss Prym at the end of 2007, Paulo Coelho referred to the novel on his blog both indirectly and directly.

Copies of The Devil and Miss Prym have been registered as BookCrossing books.

BookCrossing books are released into the wild and their progress checked on the Internet via a unique BookCrossing ID (BCID).

For Shuna, Claire, Dasha, Iva and Alissa.
Books Worth Reading ~ Paulo Coelho
(c) Keith Parkins 2009 -- February 2009 rev 1