Who Were the The Magi?
A favourite carol tells of the three wise men who came to worship the child Jesus in the stable, a story retold for two thousand years. There are many interpretations of who these visitors might have been. They are variously described as Kings of the East and Astrologers, and are commonly referred to as the Magi. The word Magi means ‘wise ones’ and relates to those who had a deep knowledge of the divine sciences including astronomy, astrology, numerology and the study of the celestial heavens and the ancient star maps. Today’s term ‘magic’ is derived from it and is used to describe something supernatural or beyond the ordinary. Many intriguing questions arise. If the story is true and the Magi did indeed come to pay homage to Jesus how did they know of his birth? We are told they were guided by a star arising in the East which ‘went before them’ and finally ‘came to rest’ over the place where Jesus lay. When did this visit occur? Today Christians celebrate The Adoration of the Magi and the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th in remembrance of this event. Epiphany means ‘great light’ or ‘illumination’, referring in this instance to Jesus as the Light of the World.
If the Magi had ‘traversed afar’ from their own kingdoms, reputedly of the Persian Empire, this would have been a lengthy and even hazardous journey with much preparation required. How could they possibly arrive within days of the birth, for in that time the journey from Persia to Jerusalem covered some twelve hundred miles and involved a journey by camel of a minimum three to six months? Travellers were required to cross the Syrian desert to Damascus, then south by what is now the Great Mecca Route, with the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan to the west before reaching the crossing point near Jericho. According to the story, the Kings went directly to Jerusalem where they began to enquire, ‘Where is he that has been born King of the Jews for we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him?’ Word reached King Herod the Great, the ruler of Judea, who understandably became apprehensive. He was not alone in this for factions within the Sanhedrin, the ruling Council which governed Jewish religious affairs, were also concerned about anything which might disrupt the status quo and threaten their position of power. Herod enquired of the Jewish Scribes and Pharisees concerning the prophecies of where the expected Messiah was to be born, and was told ‘In Bethlehem of Judea for so it is written by the prophet’. At this news Herod summoned the Magi and asked them at what time the star had appeared. This might seem a strange request but was in fact a sensible one, since Herod had his own court astrologers who armed with this information could draw up a chart to ascertain whether or not this was truly an auspicious event. Herod then directed the Kings to the town of Bethlehem and told them to ‘Search diligently for the child and when you have found him bring me word that I too may come and worship him.’
History has shown us that Herod’s intention was not to worship but to destroy the child. The Magi, having found the place where Jesus lay, presented their gifts and ‘being warned in a dream not to return to Herod they departed to their own country by another way.’ When Herod realised that he had been misled by the Magi he flew into one of the rages for which he was renowned. He determined to eliminate what he perceived to be a rival to his throne and commanded that all male children under the age of two were to be killed. This edict was carried out and is remembered by both Jews and Christians as the Slaughter of the Innocents, depicted in iconography and retold through time. Some have doubted the historical accuracy of the story which was not given prominence by historians of the time. The truth, however, is that vicious cruelty was a hallmark of Herod’s bloody reign and there were many massacres, murder and revenge being the order of the day; this was simply one more. Once again Joseph received a dream in which an angel appeared to him with a warning saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you: for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him… and he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed into Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.’
Herod was to die a slow and agonizing death soon after this event, surrounded by plots to poison him. His death is believed to have occurred in the Spring of 4 BC at his palace on the Dead Sea. He was succeeded by his son, Archelaus who the Jewish people did not wish to be their ruler and appealed to Caesar to give them an alternative king. Caesar divided the land over which Archelaus had control, saying that he would only receive the royal title if he ruled virtuously. Archelaus ruled for seven years before being exiled to Gaul. The Bible gives no account of the Flight into Egypt but states that on their return from Egypt, Joseph took Jesus and Mary to live in Nazareth because Archelaus still reigned in Judaea. Archelaus was succeeded by his brother, Herod Antipas, who would one day be called upon to judge Jesus of Nazareth.
The Star of Bethlehem
Fulfilment of a 3,000 year prophecy?
What then of the star and the visit by the Magi which traditionally depicts the Magi present at the nativity scene following his birth. How can we reconcile the timing of these events for the journey would take many months? We can only answer the seeming contradictory timing of these events through an understanding of natural law and cosmic cycles; it is astrology which holds the key. The Magi, or Mage, were Masters of the esoteric arts with a deep understanding of the celestial heavens and the significance of planetary configurations. Astrology, as a cornerstone of the divine sciences throughout antiquity, had amassed a vast wealth of data concerning the interrelationship between the human and the divine. The birth of a Messiah had long been foretold by the prophets and was awaited impatiently by the Jewish people, astrologers would have been aware of this. An event of such magnitude as the birth of an Avatar, or World Teacher, would certainly have been expected to be heralded in the heavens, and not simply on the day of the birth but well in advance. It would be reasonable to expect the unfolding of not one but a series of unusual planetary configurations. We shall see that this is exactly what occurred, for the Star of Bethlehem was preceded by a series of planetary conjunctions which alerted the Magi who had been scanning the heavens awaiting the sign that the birth of a king was imminent. At this point they would prepare for and begin their long journey to Palestine which would indeed take many months. Through their ability to read the astrological signs they were led by the Star of Bethlehem which ensured their arrival in the region coincided with the birth of Jesus.
Since all kings in antiquity appointed their personal Astrologer to the Court some have wondered why Herod’s astrologers did not identify the Star, and have explained this by stating that astrology was not part of the Jewish culture. In fact diverse schools of Astrology had developed over the centuries according to individual cultural tradition, including the Jewish. The Magi are frequently depicted in iconography wearing Persian robes, an indication that their roots lay in the ancient teachings of the Zoroastrian priesthood established five centuries before the birth of Jesus. Interestingly Zarathustra, the founder of this new religion in Persia, prophesied that in time a king would arise from Abraham who would raise the dead and transform the world into a kingdom of peace. The arcane teachings of Persia had their origins in the Chaldean mystery schools of ancient Egypt and later embraced Pythagorean principles based on solar and lunar cycles. The Jewish tradition did not accept the Persian school of thought which they considered to be of pagan origin. It would not be surprising therefore that there would be differences of interpretation for Herod’s astrologers, while anticipating the birth of the Messiah, did not practice according to Persian principles and failed to recognise the signs.
Astrologers and astronomers have pondered on the mystery of the Star for centuries and many possible explanations and have been put forward. The Star has never been explained satisfactorily because we begin with preconceived ideas and assumptions, looking for physical answers to metaphysical concepts. Assuming the validity of the story, we must first decide whether the Star was the result of natural phenomena, a miraculous event, or perhaps a combination of both. We can turn to Johannes Kepler for assistance. Kepler, a German astronomer born in 1571, is credited with the discovery of the laws of planetary motion; he was also a brilliant astrologer. In December 1603 as Christmas approached Kepler, intrigued by the mysteries of the Star of Bethlehem, sought an answer and through his calculations found there had been a Jupiter/Saturn conjunction in Pisces in both 7 and 6 BC.
Jupiter, we should note, was acknowledged by ancient peoples as the King’s planet, the highest authority and ruler of the solar system and known by many names. To the Babylonians it was Marduk, to the Greeks Zeus, and to the Romans Jupiter. Kepler referred to the writing of a medieval scholar Rabbi Abarbonel to learn the particular significance of the Jupiter/Saturn conjunction for the Jewish people. Saturn, the ringed planet, was accorded the role of Shield of Palestine, while the constellation Pisces associated with Syria and Palestine represented epochal events. The planetary configuration of Jupiter encountering Saturn in Pisces occurring at the time of the birth of Jesus would certainly have indicated to the astrologers of the day the imminent arrival of a divine cosmic ruler to appear in Palestine. Fifteen centuries after the life of Jesus, Kepler identified the triple conjunction, which lasted for a period of ten months, as the Star of Bethlehem foretold by Old Testament prophecy as the coming of the King of Kings, the Messiah. Jewish prophecies had predicted that the arrival of the Messiah would be heralded by a celestial event as a sign from God. In Jewish tradition when the King’s Star Jupiter lined up with Saturn, the star of ultimate authority, this was referred to as the Star of David. Jesus, as we have seen, was of the royal line of David. Christ, or Christos, is not a name but a title, translated as ‘anointed of God’. Small wonder that from a Christian perspective the star would be seen as the celestial signature for the birth of Christ the King.
Astrological calculations are exact and therefore the date for the birth of Jesus is critical in proposing that these celestial configurations in any way heralded his mission. Controversy over this date has continued to vex theologians and strengthened the argument for sceptics. We know that in the sixth century the monk Dionysus Exiguus was appointed by Pope John the First to create a new calendar in an attempt to reconcile the Roman and the Celtic calendars, which did not agree. This he did taking the birth of Jesus as the new reference point for its commencement. After some reluctance and debate this was formally adopted by the Synod of Whitby, England in 664 AD, and from then on chronological time has been measured from the birth and death of Jesus as BC or AD. Centuries later it had become apparent that Dionysus had miscalculated. Jesus was known to have been born in the reign of Caesar Augustus, the commencement of his reign was of course known. However, Dionysus did not take into account that when proclaimed emperor, Augustus had already reigned in another name for some four years. It is a historical fact that Dionysus miscalculated by a period of approximately 5 years. By the time this was realised it was too late for the Church to concede their error, the masses were never informed and have continued to celebrate oblivious to the fact that Jesus was born not in the first year of the first century but some years before. For millions who approached the millennium celebrations in hope or even in fear of what this might bring this has some significance, and for those who study cycles and prophecy it is important to know that it is later than we think.
Christmas Day – Pagan or Christian?
The debate continues as to when Jesus was actually born with various authorities placing his birth anywhere between 6 BC and 2 BC. The traditional birth date of 25th December is dismissed by many on the basis that the Christian Church adopted and adapted pagan festivals as an effective means of converting the masses. This is not in dispute. However, the argument is then put forward by some that the Christian calendar is meaningless and that the birth of Jesus celebrated as 25th December is therefore false. With a greater understanding of cosmic cycles we can see how such synchronicity might come about naturally rather than through manipulation, and how both pagan and religious sites and festivals might automatically merge.
Pagan festivals and sites are aligned to the solar and lunar calendars. We might expect the predestined birth of a World Saviour, or Messiah, to coincide with celestial cycles, in particular the solstice, which in pagan terms was the manifestation of a sun god. A title bestowed upon Jesus is ‘The Light of the World’ one who is the supreme demonstration of the light in action as the ‘Son’ (or the sun) of God according to our preference. It might be suggested that while the language differs a correlation can be seen. When we examine some historical data it is easy to see how we might dismiss as seemingly irrelevant the key cyclical patterns which demonstrate the link between pagan and Christian festivals, for the dates can be used to demolish the case for or against depending upon your point of view. The birth of Jesus at Christmas and his death at Easter occurred in accordance with the Law of Cycles, mirrored in the pagan festivals which honour the natural rhythms of earth, sea and sky; a supreme demonstration of synchronicity as each successive religion builds upon the same energy cycles.
It is an easy matter to dismiss seeming manipulation by the early church fathers as the sole evidence for his birth however this is in fact derived not from Christian records but from the Jewish, and not from the birth of Jesus himself but from the birth of John the Baptist, who we know was six months older than Jesus. According to the traditional account, Gabriel appeared to Mary to inform her that she was to be the mother of Jesus, she was also informed of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, ‘and this is the sixth month with her’. The Torah, the sacred book of the Jewish people is exact concerning ritual and ceremony; the very word Torah means ‘the law’. Strict temple law governed priestly ceremonial by rota. When we refer back to the story of Zachariah, ‘a priest of Abi’dah who served in the temple’, we can therefore identify the exact timing of his service in the temple which was laid down according to sacred custom. According to the records Zachariah served during the period which relates to October, the month when he received the visit from Gabriel and the month in which Elizabeth conceived. Using these predictors and the natural gestation period of pregnancy historians have calculated the dates for the conception and births of John and Jesus. Elizabeth we are told was six months pregnant when visited by Mary who had already conceived. John was born in June and his feast day is celebrated on the 24th day of that month. Since Mary conceived when Elizabeth was already six months pregnant, this event would have occurred at the end of March or the beginning of April, and today Christians celebrate the Annunciation on March 25th as the day when Mary received the message from Gabriel that she was to be the mother of Jesus. If we follow the natural gestation period the birth would then have occurred in late December making the traditional date of 25th December eminently possible.
The birth of both Jesus and John almost synchronise with the summer and winter solstices. The birth of John is commemorated on June 21st the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. This is the hidden meaning behind Johns words: ‘He must increase while I must decrease’ referring to the mission of Jesus who will come after him as the Messiah or Saviour who will enlighten the world.
The Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year normally occurs on the 21st or 22nd of December. The Pagan Roman festival of ‘natalis invicti’ (birth of the unconquerable sun) historically commemorated the birth of Apollo the Sun God at the Winter Solstice, a time of darkness. In esoteric terms the birth of Jesus on December 25th occurs after the winter solstice and is determined by the Annunciation, the visit of Archangel Gabriel to announce to Mary that she would bear a son. As with the pagan festival the timing of the birth symbolizes light overcoming darkness.
Light of the World
Hanukkah and Christmas
Given these coordinates of the predestined events confirmed not by the Christian scripture but by the Jewish, we can also note that Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, on occasion also coincides with the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. The two feasts merge on 25th December on the occasions when these two diverse calendars coincide. For the Jewish people the lights of Hanukkah represent the hope of a miraculous return of the Shekhina Glory of God, the light which was present when their God spoke to them through their prophets. We can marvel at one more coincidence and perhaps wonder whether this was the same light reported by the shepherds in the field when ‘glory shone around’. We can now consider the metaphysical aspects of the Star to discover whether this was simply natural phenomena, a scientifically recorded historical event or something more. While there is no doubting the unusual triple conjunction which occurred over a ten month period in 7 and 6 BC as an actual physical event, we must also take into account the description given that the Star of Bethlehem appeared in the East and moved in a westerly direction coming to rest ‘over the place where Jesus lay’ in Bethlehem.
If we return to the principle that matter is light energy clothed in a denser vibration we might trace the emanation of light back to its origin, consciousness of such magnitude that it created a point of light within the night sky for all to see. The electromagnetic field which surrounds every living thing reflects the consciousness within. It is possible to observe and to photograph the energy variance between lifestreams and indeed between human beings. Those whose awareness is limited only to the gross physical level, for whom their only priority is to have their own needs met, emit a different frequency from one who has attained a greater degree of empathy, compassion and respect for others. The auric field is magnified in accordance with the advancement of soul awareness. In the case of a highly evolved soul or spiritual Master this energy vibrates at an accelerated frequency, attracting or magnetizing others into its orbit. This is the principle of spiritual attainment, one who has acquired true humility will inevitably attract others. We might use the examples of Mother Theresa or Gandhi who inspired thousands, even millions of followers. The title Mahatma bestowed on Gandhi by his followers means ‘great soul’.
How great would be the auric field of a cosmic Master returning to earth to expand personal and planetary consciousness in an attempt to bring enlightenment to the masses. There is much misunderstanding concerning the term Christ which has come to be associated exclusively with Jesus, when in fact this is a title denoting an appointed and anointed representative of God on earth. This then was the Bethlehem star, the light body or etheric presence of Jesus whose predestined mission was to demonstrate Christ consciousness for the people; literally to show them ‘The Way’.