Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Witch of Portobello.. and Beyond

I was always interested in Witches…even beyond the typical fairy tales where they are always depicted as bad-ugly women harming innocent people. When I first read about the witch hunts of middle ages, I was very confused and I wanted to read more-know more ,about those witches and why they were considerred such a threat to the society . Later, thanks to internet I heard about the new form religion of Wicca. The more I read about it the more I am convinced that “That which you create is the truth, What occurs is not always true.” I was so moved by the stories of witch-hunt that during my civil service training when I had to choose a topic for dissertation I decided to work on the “Art of witchcraft” . My batchmates initially thought that I was joking but I hope later they realize the seriousness of the issue. Here is the presentation I made for the dissertation .
Today a witch for me is an empowered woman. I believe that they were “hunted” because they were talking about the things and ideals for which the world was not ready…. or should I say “Christianity” was not ready.May be that is the way with all organized religions - they have to first prove (by force mostly) that the existing religions are not good enough for the people- that the teachings of those religions are wrong – that the pagan traditions are un-holy , to offer themselves as an alternative . In the tales of these hunted witches one finds first traces of feminism, of worship of sacred-feminine and of individual liberty .
Needless to say that I was very curious about the new book of Paulo Coelho when head that it is called “The Witch of Portobello” . Last night I finished reading the book and …its after long that I am so moved by a book. A very powerful book- extremely lucid style of writing and a very convincing tale to tell. The book is mind blowing-perhaps much more than any other book by Coelho…including all time favorite The Alchemist .
Don’t get me wrong by thinking that the book is about Witchcraft. No it is not. It is about finding yourself. Awakening your true self and accepting yourself.It is about having courage not to pretend being NORMAL when you know you are more than that.... Have you not met someone (man and woman alike) who is trying hard to fit the bill of the world by being what she/he is not? Not daring to look at the blanks left between the business of life …not accepting the dissatisfaction of her/his mind. Fearing that she/he will be branded “different”. Well , I know many such souls …including my own self . No wonder therefore, that I could relate to the story so instantaneously

“A new witch-hunt is starting to gain ground. This time the weapon isn’t the red-hot iron, but irony and repression. Anyone who happens to discover a gift and dares to speak of their abilities is usually regarded with distrust. Generally speaking, their husband, wife, father or child, or whoever, instead of feeling proud, forbids all mention of the matter, fearful of exposing their family to ridicule.”

The book tells a story of Athena, or Sherine. Her life is pieced together through a series of recorded interviews with those people who knew her well or hardly at all - parents, colleagues, teachers, friends, acquaintances, followers , her ex-husband. Athena was born to a gypsy mother who abandoned her in an orphanage in Romania from where a Lebanese family adopted her . After spending her childhood in Beirut she shifts to London with her adoptive family when war breaks out. On a material plain she is like any other woman- having a fair mix of successes and failures , but then she has some blanks between her activities and unlike others she decides to look into those –attempts to fill it by discovering who she really is? Her journey though begins with her search for her natural mother, could not stop after that .After a series of events marking her search for self Athena, who has been dubbed ‘the Witch of Portobello’ for her seeming powers of prophecy, disappears dramatically, leaving those who knew her to solve the mystery of her life and abrupt departure.

“These are her gardens, her rivers, her mountains. Now that she is gone, I need everything to return as quickly as possible to how it used to be. I am going to concentrate more on traffic problems, Britain's foreign policy, on how we administer taxes. I want to go back to thinking that the world of magic is merely a clever trick, that people are superstitious, that anything science cannot explain has no right to exist. When the meetings in Portobello started to get out of control, we had endless arguments about how she was behaving, although I am glad now that she did not listen to me.”

But as I followed Athena in her journey, I was compelled to ask the same questions myself. I found the answers interesting. Coelho’s storytelling craft is amazing in this book as he relentlessly explores the crevices of the soul to come up with gems of observations that haunt us long afterwards. The book is simply unputdownable and even after you will finish reading the text its meaning ..its essence.. will not leave your mind.


Paula said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paula said...

Dear Atoorva,

Paulo Coelho has read your post and would like to share it with his readers in his blog:
Would you be so kind to tell us if there will be no inconvenience for you?
You may send a reply to this email address:


Advait said...

Once a witch, always a witch! Saw your presentation. Loved it!

none said...

awesome post.

love and light

life said...

dear Atoorva,
i loved the book, but it made me think about lot of things. and when i tried to find answers to those, i just could not find a good platform to do that. reading the passion through your words about the book it struck to me that may be you are the person to share those feelings with you.
let me know if you are still interested in discussing it. i am sure these questions must have come to you as well. let me know in your reply to this.

Kabul said...

Hey, I just read an article by you Paulo Coelho’s Blog. “The Witch of Portobello.. and Beyond by Atoorva Sinha” Published on July 9, 2007. And it actually says "To read the rest of this article of Atoorva Sinha, please visit "his" blog : A Blue Dot of thoughts" !