The Alchemist: Dreams and Their Meanings

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.

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What do dreams symbolize in The Alchemist? What are the two major dreams in the book?

In The Alchemist, dreams play an important part in the story—it was a reoccurring dream that set Santiago out on his journey in the first place. It’s also a dream that brings his treasure hunt to an end.

Let’s take a look at dreams in The Alchemist.

Santiago’s Dream

In The Alchemist, dreams are important symbols. As we follow Santiago’s travels, Paulo Coelho first takes us through the Spanish countryside, to an old ruined church where the boy stops with his flock to sleep. There’s a sycamore tree growing in the midst of the ruins, and each time the boy sleeps under it he has the same dream: of a child who magically transports him to the Egyptian pyramids.

When the boy arrives in the next town, he visits a fortune-teller to inquire about the meaning of his dream. She tells him that dreams are the “language of God” and that he must heed this dream and go to the Egyptian pyramids, where a treasure awaits him. He finds this conclusion preposterous and goes about his day. 

We see in this part of the story that the boy is dismissing his dream as meaningless and is in danger of not following his calling. Here, Coelho shows us that the universe gives us signs and prompts to recognize our calling, but we often ignore them. However, we see that for a person who truly wants to find their destiny, the universe will not give up so easily and will give them more chances to recognize its signs.

Learning to Recognize Signs

Leo Carver, a teacher with The Chopra Center, says that the universe is speaking to us all the time. We just need to learn to listen to it and interpret the messages it’s giving us. In order to learn to understand the universe’s signs, some of the advice he offers is:

Be fully receptive: When you ask the universe for a sign or an answer, you must be totally open to hearing it, whatever the answer is. Don’t ignore signs just because they may not be what you wanted to hear.

Be vigilant: Signs can appear to you anywhere and everywhere. Be always on the lookout for them. Begin to cultivate mindfulness, so that you’re paying close attention to yourself and your environment at all times, and you will start to notice signs you may not otherwise have noticed. 

Notice patterns: It’s especially important to notice recurring signs or messages. For example, if you keep running into the same person, or a topic comes up repeatedly in a short period of time, these may be the universe giving you a particularly important message. 

Don’t overanalyze: When you get a sign, you may be tempted to overthink what it means, to the point of over-complicating it. Try to take signs as simple and straightforward, and don’t make them unnecessarily complex; a sign is meant to point you in a direction—just follow it without too much questioning about how or why it’s taking you somewhere.

Later that day the boy encounters an old man in the town plaza, who affirms the fortuneteller’s message and has much more advice for him.

The Robber’s Dream

Near the end of the story, 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.

The Alchemist: Dreams and Their Meanings

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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

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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