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44Who are the Magi and what is the Magian Fellowship?
 

European Centre for Zoroastrian Studies

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Who are the Magi and what is the Magian Fellowship?

Who are the Magi and what is the Magian Fellowship? written by:
A.A. Jafarey ( A shortened article from Los Angeles, 27 Dec. 2002)

We often hear, talk and read about magic, magician, magic lantern, magic square, and the "Magic Mountain" amusement park in Los Angeles. Around Christmas, we hear about the "Wise Men of the East," also known as the Magi or Magians, who followed a star to Bethlehem to pay their respects to infant Jesus. They brought with them gold, frankincense, and myrrh as presents.
Let us look up the dictionary. "Magus, plural Magi, [Latin from Greek Magos -- more at magic] 1 a: a member of a hereditary priestly class among the ancient Medes and Persians b: often capital: one of the traditionally three wise men from the East paying homage to the infant Jesus 2: Magician, sorcerer" (Webster New College Dictionary). An encyclopedia has more: " followers of Zoroaster, the Persian teacher and prophet. Gradually, the religion of the magi incorporated Babylonian elements, including astrology, demonology, and magic." (Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, 1983)

The word "Magi" is, therefore, linked with Zoroastrianism.

It is "Maga" in the Zoroastrian scripture. "Maga" in Avesta and "magha" in Sanskrit is derived from "maz/mah" meaning "to be great, magnanimous, liberal, generous." Maga/magha means "greatness, magnanimity, generosity." The adjective is magavan/maghavan, "great, liberal, generous, magnanimous." The Sanskrit adjective is used mostly in honor of Indira, the Rigvedic god of clouds and rains, who was "generous" enough to bring riches to the Vedic Aryans by driving the drought away.

Zarathushtra uses Maga for the "Fellowship" he founded through his existential philosophy and "Magavan" for every member of the "Magnanimity." The two words -- Maga and Magavan -- are mentioned for eight times in the Gathas (Maga: Songs 2:11, 11:14, 16:11, 16:16, 17.7 (twice), and Magavan: 6:7, 16:15). Zarathushtra calls his Maga as "maz, great" in two Gathic stanzas -- Maz Maga, the Great Magnanimity, Great Fellowship (2:11 and 11:14).

The gist of the above stanzas is that the Great Fellowship is based on its smallest unit – family- forming unity in "weal and woe." The units aggregate to include the entire living world. It teaches radiant happiness that reaches all. A person who consults righteousness, uses his/her good mind, and lives a life of progressive peace, qualifies to be a member of the Fellowship.
In the beginning Zarathushtra prays to Ahura Mazda to lead him to expand his newly founded Fellowship. Later, he is joined by King Vishtaspa and his sagacious team, and the work to promote the "Great Fellowship" gains a great momentum. Zarathushtra's "best wishes" come true when he watches the Fellowship grow far and wide.
In the west, the professional priests of Median "nation" were clever enough to retain their caste ("tribe" in the words of Herodotus), and at the same time call themselves Magu, the Median/Old Persian pronunciation of Magava(n). Magu (Magush as nominative singular masculine) was Grecized into Magos with Magi as its plural.
The word "magic" and other cognates, derived from Magu, show how highly learned and advanced were the Magi in their knowledge and crafts. They made non-Iranians wonder and imagine that they were watching "sorcerers" at work. This could happen to any backward people if they see modern scientific implements used by the advanced. We have many stories how people looked first at wireless, telephone, locomotive engine, train, and other inventions and imagined them to be magic and "products of the Devil." Some still do!
With the Magi's name and fame in mind, all the priests of the Babylonian and Assyrian priests of other creeds, all serving within the great Persian Empire for centuries, took the name "Magi" for themselves. It is simple to understand the rest of events, even the Three Wise Men who are said to have visited and paid their respects to the newborn Jesus. Every Magus in what we call Middle East was not Zoroastrian. He was just a "priest."
Even the very word "priest," shortened from "presbyteros," literally "elder," was originally applied to "a member of the governing body of an early Christian Church." Today most of the religious orders, including Traditionalist Zoroastrians, have "priests" for themselves. We have a few more examples in Guru, Yogi, and Mogul.
However, in the case of Jesus, it could be the Zoroastrian Magi because by that time the institutionalized Zoroastrianism was awaiting the miraculous birth of the "Saoshyant" from a virgin womb. The early Christians, most likely the gentiles, were finding a way to strengthen their story of the virgin birth by linking it to the "famous" Magi in the east. And who knows, some of the impatiently awaiting Magi did accept Jesus as the savior when they were about his virgin birth!
The Median "Magu" has survived in the Pahlavi writings of the Sassanian days: Magh/mogh and magog (priest), magaah (priesthood), magopat (mobed -- priest), Magopataan magopat (Mobedaan Mobed -- Chief Priest). The word "magopat," literally "magu-master," shows that the priest was the "Head of the Fellowship," a normal evolution of the Fellowship and those who directed it. Arabic "Maja»s" occurs in the Quran. It says: "Lo! Those who believe [Muslims], and those who are Jews, Sabeans, Christians, and the Magians [all four counted placed together as the People of Book], and those who are polytheists -- Lo! Allah will decide between them on the Day of Resurrection (22:17)." The Armenian language has mog, mogpet, and movpet. The Armenians were Zoroastrians before they embraced Christianity during the Sassanian period.
Persian has mogh (Zoroastrian, Zoroastrian priest) and mobed (Zoroastrian priest). The word "Mogh" occupies a high position in Persian poetry, especially in the Divaan of Haafez of Shiraz (cir. 1324-1391 CE). Par-Moghaan, the Zoroastrian Head Priest, is an inspirational guide to the master poet who is said to have the Quran memorized and was therefore called "Hafez." It may be added here that the term also means a "singing poet" in Persian, a term more fitting to what Hafez was with his lyrical ghazals at the royal court. His name was Shams al-Din, "The Sun of the Religion," a name given by his parents to a baby who grew into a lively liberal. His famous couplet:

Az aan be deir-e Moghaanam aziz mi-daarand
Ke aatashi ke namirad hamisheh dar del-e maast.

Translation:( I am held high at the Magian Temple
Because the Fire that never dies is always in my heart.

Although still surviving, the trend shows a fall of "Maga" from the World Fellowship of Zarathushtra 3700+ years ago to a dwindling community during the days of Hafez in 14th century CE. Yet the "Fire" was not out. It was live and livening!
And now, with the Eternal Fire enlightening our mind, let us turn to the Gathas of Zarathushtra and re-establish the Maz Maga, the Great Magnanimity of World Fellowship, based on wisdom, love, respect, freedom, democracy and prosperity for all without any distinction and discrimination.

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PS: It may be noted that (a) the visit by the Magi is menioned only in the Mathews out of the four Gospels, (b) that the number of three is determined by the three gifts, and (c) that they came "from east to Jerusalem" and "departed into their own country," implying that they belonged to one country. When the term "Magi" became less known, it was substituted by "Wise Men." In recent days, when certain Christian communities were wondering why their representatives did not go to "worship ... the born King of the Jews," the term "Kings" has been introduced by adding that one was black from Africa and the other two from different parts of Eurasia. It now covers the entire Old World. The point missed by these "King-makers" is that a King does not travel alone. He has his bodyguards. And in those days, such a visit would have meant an invasion. One one wonders, how could three kings from three quarters of the world submerge together and Herod, the great King of Judea, did not know about their arrival until they met him! As for as the fourth is concerned, one may add as many as to make more happy.

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