Stage 2 - Mythic-Literal Stage
The disoriented Coelho described in the first chapters of “Aleph” commits himself to develop further and go on a trip to Russia. With this decision to go on the journey, Coelho starts regaining his position as a “king of his kingdom”, enabling himself by ordering his thoughts, perspectives and experiences, as described as typical for this stage by Hughes (1997, p. 1). By living through his new experiences, be regains self-control and meaningfulness in past and present lives.
Time and space concepts develop in Coelho, as is typical for Stage 2, and narratives are enjoyed while individuals do not differentiate their own selves from these narrations (Elifson & Stone, 1985, p. 31). Coelho is aware of time and space concepts, of present, past and future lives and he experiences himself in these different time and spatial zones. He does not differentiate himself from his past life experiences; on the contrary, he sees himself as the main character of these past life experiences without questioning his experiences of reincarnation. He feels like an integrated part of the narration and does not - as described for Stage 2 by Elifson and Stone (1985) - differentiate himself from the past life experienced.
Fowler and Dell (2004) highlight that a feeling for linearity and predictability is developed at this stage. In the autobiographical work, Coelho, however, does not refer to the concept of linearity and predictability, he rather refers to interconnectedness, circularity, simultaneousness and synchronicity (Coelho, 2011, p. 17). He says: “I am in the Aleph, the point at which everything is in the same place at the same time” (Coelho, 2011, p. 79). By believing in the “Aleph”, he believes in parallel worlds and circular time concepts, systemic approaches to life. With regard to the faith development stages, it is difficult to say if these concepts to which Coelho refers are pre-stages of linearity or a post-modern concept of systemic reality interpretations. These concepts are not addressed in the theoretical frame of Fowler (1981), but need to be addressed in future (see Sect. 9.10.3).
During mythic-literal faith development, the child develops forms of logical thinking, as well as conscious interpretation and meaning in life (Piaget, 1976). Coelho (2011) is able to interpret the situations that occur consciously, experience these in a coherent and logical manner and refer differently to the meaning of life throughout the book. In chapter 1, Coelho returns to Stage 2, asking himself and his master, J., what the meaning in life is. Throughout the journey, Coelho recreates his own ideas of meaning in life, which entails different ideas from living life fully to experiencing life in the context of others.
Levine (1990) emphasises that children develop their self-esteem, self-awareness and identity; they explore their limits, autonomy and individuality while negotiating their conformity, as well as abilities to deal with emotions, needs and attention in Stage 2. Coelho (2011) also emphasises his self-awareness regarding the changing concepts of awareness during travelling (Coelho, 2011, 10): “I started travelling like a mad thing. The great lessons I had learned that been precisely those that my journeys had taught me.” Coelho mentions his recreation of identity through travelling and the negotiation of his individuality in the context of all the other travellers travelling with him on the train to Vladivostok. During the time on the train, Coelho on the one hand sees himself as an individual who is responsible for many of the others who are with him on the train (Coelho, 2011, pp. 75-76); on the other hand, Coelho is noteworthy as the initiator of this trip and keeps his individuality without blending into the group. Furthermore, Coelho describes how conformity is created in the group travelling together on the train. This conformity in the group develops so far that in the end the group struggles with saying farewell (Coelho, 2011, p. 278).
Narrative and narrations become highly important during this stage of faith development (Stroud, 2004). Coelho integrates different narrations in “Aleph”, such as the narrations on at least three different lives of the author (Coelho, 2011, p. 7), the narration on J. in his home in France (Coelho, 2011, pp. 2-12), his journey to Tunis (Coelho, 2011, pp. 33-43), the story of the fire of friendship on the mountain (Coelho, 2011, pp. 45-46), which is central to the relationship between Hilal and Coelho, as well as the narration of the “sacred fire” in the bush, which is about connection to God through sacred memories and stories (Coelho, 2011, pp. 129-130). As to a child, narrations and stories on faith-related issues are highly important to
Coelho and he integrates them in his autobiographical work to gain different perspectives and to provide the reader with various perspectives on the self and the other characters (Croucher, 2003; Fowler, 1981, 1987).
With regard to faith and God, children at this age construct God in personalised terms with highly differentiated internal emotions and interpersonal sensitivities. Coelho, however, has a more advanced image of God, an image that says that a person cannot even have an image of God (Coelho, 2011, p. 121): “Anyone who knows God cannot describe him. Anyone who can describe God does not know him. ”
At Stage 2, children recognise “the cosmic pattern of God’s rule” (Fowler & Dell, 2004, p. 21) and develop concepts of fairness and morality. Coelho, in “Aleph”, refers to the “cosmic pattern”, to the universe and the humans who depend on God and his rule. As described in Stage 2, the child believes that “goodness is rewarded and badness is punished” (Fowler & Dell, 2004, p. 22). Coelho believes implicitly that his development stagnates because of his guilt and the evil he has done in his former life.
In chapters 1 and 2 Coelho doubts his faith, his religion and his spirituality and appears to be back at the stage of the “11-year-old atheist” (Fowler & Dell, 2004, p. 22). This role is later on taken by Yao, who has lost his faith in God, while Coelho develops himself. Coelho descibes his life concepts and ideas in a simple and symbolic way: The train, the church, the violin, the journey, the ring of fire, the fire on the mountain, the bush fire, and the saints are all ancient symbols and stories referred to (Coelho, 2011, 72). They are symbols and stories that relate to Christian concepts and identity change, as described by Dykstra (1986) and Fowler (1984) at this stage. Coelho is a Christian, writer and traveller (Coelho, 2011, p. 11), and recreates himself as a new holistic and spiritual individual (Coelho, 2011, p. 43).
As the child experiences the need to develop contrasting or clashing stories that lead to reflection to find deeper meaning, Coelho constructs contrasting narrations through the different characters (who, as explained before, are all part of himself), their clashing stories, thoughts and ideas. The main character, Coelho, is led into deep reflections on his spirituality, his future, the shamans, thoughts on life and death. These reflections represent the cognitive development highlighted by Piaget (Fowler, 1986), which gains importance in Stage 2.