Sunday, September 16, 2012

Magi - Zoroastrian Priests

Rock carving at Museum
for Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara.
Possibly a magus carrying a baresman
bundle and haoma mortar/cup.
Strabo (15.3.14) describes the magi
of Anatolia as "holding in their
hands a bundle of slender myrtle wands."
The priests of Zoroastrianism, the magha or maga, were known to the Greeks as the magi (singular: magus). Plato (429–347 BCE) calls Zoroaster the founder of the doctrine of the Magi. According to one of Plato's disciples, Hermodorus, Zoroaster was a ‘Persian’ (all Iranians were called 'Persians' by the Greeks) and the first Magian. Zoroastrians were also known as Magians. Persia was a small but dominant kingdom of the Iranian federation of kingdoms - province (also see Iran and Persia, Are They the Same?) and therefore the Greeks called all of Iran, 'Persia' akin to called Great Britain, 'England'.

When the classical Greek writers refer to Zoroaster as an 'inventor' of astrology, they probably mean ancient Zoroastrian priests, the magi, who were the inheritors of Zoroaster's wisdom, and who during the era of the Persian-Achaemenian Empire (c. 600-c. 330 BCE) were renowned from the borders of Greece and Egypt to those of India and China as physicians, healers, astronomers and even astrologers.

In maintaining the tradition of astronomical observations and a resulting calendar initiated by Zoroaster, the magi became keen and systematic observers of the movements of celestial bodies.

Despite the attempts of a few Hellenic authors to belittle the magi by naming magic after their practice, the credibility of the magi as wise healers, physicians and seers was without parallel in the known world, so much so, that Christian tradition found it necessary to claim that it was the magi who found Jesus based on an astronomical observation that was prophesized by ancient magian astrology.

The head of the magi is sometimes referred to as the arch-magus or archmage. In Western literature this title has become synonymous with wizardry. It is greatly upsetting to Zoroastrians to see their noble religion denigrated in this fashion by mindless and ignorant individuals. Zoroastrian texts view deceptive wizards and gnomes/nymphs (jadugan and parigan) in a negative light. It is our hope that those who undertake a serious study will be able to discern fact from fiction and hyperbole.

Zoroastrians call the position of arch-magus, Mobed-e Mobedan. According to the Zoroastrian text the Jamasp Namah (the Book of Jamasp), as well as Western sources, Zoroaster was the first Mobed-e Mobedan and upon his passing away, that office was inherited by a noted contemporary, Jamasp. In Zoroastrian literature, it is Jamasp (and not Zoroaster) who figures prominently as an astrologer.

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