The Teenage Years (1962-1966)

Referring to spirituality and religion, the teenage years brought about a strong change in Coelho’s life. In an interview with Arias (2001, p. 33) he described his years at St Ignatius as a “horror of religion” - a.) in terms of the description and communication of God - which drove him to distancing himself from belief, becoming “an atheist” (Arias, 2001, p. 13), struggling for the first time to believe in God (Morais, 2009). His religious doubts finally took over in 1963 when his grandfather died of a sudden heart attack - Coelho deteriorated even more in his school career

(Morais, 2009, p. 73). He was terrified by the idea of losing his faith; however, he could not do anything to halt this process (Morais, 2009, p. 73). His communication with God was mainly defined by feelings of guilt and fear of punishment and he primarily saw God as a punishing father.

His (b) practice of religion was consequently ambitious: he prayed and hated God at the same time and was frustrated about his loss of faith (Morais, 2009, p. 74). According to Arias (2001), during his teenage years Coelho distanced himself from his childhood belief and became an atheist, anti-religious and anti-christ (Arias, 2001). His b.) choice of practice of religion changed drastically in comparison to his childhood. However, he still practised religion at school and during the retreats, but also struggled with the practice of religion during a school retreat in 1962 because he experienced a clash of religion and sexual desires: He suffered because of his sexual desires, gained new confidence and familiarised himself with mysterious rituals of religion through his “first encounter with God” (Morais, 2009, pp. 58-59). However, his belief was unstable: In one moment he felt encouraged and faithful, in the other he hated the priests and the religion, fearing punishment for his thoughts (Morais, 2009, p. 74). He became insecure about the c) conceptualisation of humankind’s place in the universe and his relation to God and the universe. These unbalanced feelings about his place in the world shook Coelho’s world view and life and he experienced a pool of emotions, such as confidence, guilt and shame, which changed constantly.

In terms of the question of how Coelho considered the d) nature of immortality and how he tried to overcome mortality, his dream of becoming a writer plays a significant role. Through becoming a writer, he felt alive (Morais, 2009, p. 90) and it can be assumed that he unconsciously felt immortal and close to God through writing. Coelho recognised his desire to become a writer and he e) reflected on the presence and nature of the meaning of his life. His books, the reading, acting in the theatre and artistic expression became meaningful in his life, particularly after his school change to a more liberal and less religious school, and he developed the dream to become a writer (Coelho, 2006, p. 11). In 1964 he became consciously aware of his vocation and meaning in life (Morais, 2009, p. 79): becoming a writer and living life to the full, doing what he had liked to do (Arias, 2001, p. 37), making everything possible (Arias, 2001, p. 164) and being happy (Coelho, 2006, p. 122). However, the life’s dream was not only an individualised dream, but also connected to the “dream” as emphasised in the Bible in the Old Testament (Coelho, 2006, p. 22). This leads to the interpretation of a strong religious influence from his childhood days, which placed his dream in a biblical and religiously meaningful context.

All five spiritual components where addressed in this life period, which showed a high degree of spirituality (Table 7.3).

Life forces that influenced him were the following:

Family Coelho was still close to his mother; however, this closeness was shaken by her taking him for an appointment with a nerve doctor for the first time in 1963 (Morais, 2009). During the same period, Coelho felt the loss of his beloved grandTable 7.3 Life task spirituality in Coelho’s teenage years

Life span

Life task spirituality with sub-categories

Periods in Paulo Coelho’s development

(a) Description and

communication with God

(b) Practice of religion


Conceptualisation of humankind’s place

(d) Nature of



Contemplation of nature of meaning of life

3. The

teenage years (1962-1966)






Source: Researcher’s own construction

father, which became a key issue with regard to the loss and deterioration of his faith and belief in God (Morais, 2009, p. 73). He felt rejected by his parents (Morais, 2009) and since he did not manage his school career well, his father found him a badly paid job at the docks after school as punishment (Morais, 2009, p. 77). His father punished him even more after he had almost killed a boy on the streets, driving a car he was not allowed to drive (Morais, 2009, p. 90).

Because of Coelho’s opposition to his parents, they took him to a mental hospital for the first time in 1965 for 28 days, where he was classified as schizophrenic (Morais, 2009, p. 101). Another break with his parents occurred when Coelho was taken to the asylum for a second time in 1966 for about 3 months. He suffered from enthusiasm, panic attacks and depression after electroconvulsive therapy. He felt that he was not insane, but was being punished for following his dream (Morais, 2009, p. 134). His parents only allowed him to come home after he had fled from the hospital and had disappeared for over a week (Arias, 2001). He was then taken on and supported by his maternal grandfather who allowed him to stay in his small apartment in the city centre (Morais, 2009). However, he only stayed there for a few months before moving back into his parents’ house (Morais, 2009, p. 143). The break with his parents also brought about a break in belief in Coelho’s parents’ religion and spirituality.

Religion During his teenage years, Coelho was torn apart by his belief in God as a punishing father and his loss of faith and hatred towards the priests in his Jesuit school. He distanced himself from his childhood belief and became an atheist (Arias, 2001). At the age of 19, he was anti-religious, anti-Catholic and had abandoned the faith of his parents, only keeping a remnant of his childhood faith (Arias, 2001). During his teenage years, Coelho experienced depression, joy, loneliness, a feeling of humiliation, as well as emotional dependence on the doctor who put him through electroshock therapy (Morais, 2009). He led the opposite of an emotionally balanced life.

Education Since Coelho got very low marks at school, his parents sent him to Andrews College, which was co-educational and more liberal (Morais, 2009). The punishment meted out by his father made Coelho more indifferent towards school and he failed another school year, this time at Andrews College (Morais, 2009).

Coelho decided to go to theatre plays and became interested in books that increased his understanding of himself and society (Morais, 2009, p. 71). In 1963, he wrote his first play about a young boy who commits suicide, feeling rejected by his parents and society (Morais, 2009, p. 76), followed by a second one in the same year.

Coelho was moved to a fifth-rate college in 1965, where he was later able to finish his schooling (Morais, 2009). During all this time, he enjoyed acting in the theatre and became involved in his first theatre play for adults in 1966 (Morais, 2009).

Community Coelho extended his community memberships and started to act in the theatre. A major event during his teenage years was the move from his security complex to Gavia, where he had many friends and where he was in a leadership position (Morais, 2009). His contact with his friends was reduced by his father, who grounded him at home. However, Coelho founded a literary club called Rota 15 in 1963, got his first girlfriend in 1965 and fell into a depression after the failure of this relationship.

In 1965 Coelho became part of a club of intellectuals and left-wingers and found a job as a reporter for a small newspaper, which brought him closer to his new friends and girlfriends.

Media Coelho used his books as “recreational reading” and thus increased his well-being through reading as a major health resource.

Business/Industry After Coelho had worked at the docks as punishment, he moved on to become a reporter and enjoyed writing (Morais, 2009).

No information was found on the impact of the government on Coelho’s life at this stage. It seems as if he was occupied with himself, his books, his dreams, feelings and emotions, his struggle with his faith, his parents and his despair about how to fulfil his life’s dream of becoming a writer. No direct information about the influence of global impacts on Coelho during his teenage years is available. He seemed to have lived in his own world (Morais, 2009) of his books and novels, his theatre plays, his emotional ups and downs and his girlfriends.

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