Perhaps one of the most significant and prominent personages and entities in Catholicism or Christianity in general, the magi, were among Christ’s visitors when he entered the human world as an infant in swaddling clothes, in a manger in Bethlehem. The bible speaks of the magi as ‘wisemen from the east’ guided by a star in search of a baby who was prophesied to replace the then king of Jerusalem, Herod, and all other kings, lords, and rulers who were to be hailed and proclaimed by mere man as such. Although not numbered and named specifically in the bible, in most celebrations retelling the story of Christ’s nativity, by way of ancient storytellers, and as has been known traditionally, the three magi, who came to be known of as Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar (Paul) brought with them gifts from the proclaimed king and messiah or anointed one; namely, of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Mentioned in the bible solely in the book of Matthew, news of a group of magi or wisemen traveling from the east to pay respect and tribute to the prophesied king, guided by a star reached the knowledge of the infamous Herod, who was then king of Jerusalem. Herod had the wisemen called, and discussed with them the instance of their journey and apparent pilgrimage to see the said king. Threatened by his crown, Herod asked the wisemen to continue on their search for the child, and instructed them to advise and inform him on the instance of the Jewish king’s presence and location once they are able to find him. The wisemen, however, as their given title aptly connotes, later knew of Herod’s hidden and true intention by way of an epiphany which manifested in their dreams, advising them against Herod and returning to him with news of their discovery. After reaching Bethlehem, paying respects to the anointed king and leaving their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant christ, and to Mary and Joseph, the wisemen turned the other route, avoiding Jerusalem and Herod. But Herod would later on find out of the wisemen’s change of plans, and knowing that the prophecy foretells of a King being born in Bethlehem in his time from his priests, he would proceed to order the slaughter of infants in Bethlehem to rid him of the said king.
The instance and existence of the wisemen or magi in religious history and in stories relating or surrounding it, on the other hand, are not only confined to the subject of Christianity, or restricted solely within the bounds of faith and religion, but encompass the greater part of humanity and our conscious knowledge and understanding of the modern world. The iconic star which guided the three wisemen in their pilgrimage, traditionally referred to as ‘the star of Bethlehem’ for the most part, represents faith, hope, and direction as it relates to the better part of humanity, in human beings’ search or ‘journey’ for purpose and meaning in the scope and extent of life, and the larger scheme of things. It represents and embodies faith in a grand design. The magi followed the star from their country in the east, which religious critics speculate of being Iran (Behzahdi). They trudged on in camels bearing a full load of the most expensive gifts and tributes for an anointed king whose existence was questionable, save for the instance of the prophecy and the famous or infamous star aiding them in their journey. The latter served as their motivation, their means for pressing on and continuing in their quest or pilgrimage; basically their compass, their map, and quite literally, their guiding star. Faith played a significant part in their quest to reach the messiah and pay him tribute and respect, the same faith is pressed further and made tangible in the star. It relates to humanity on more than one level because every individual is in pursuit of a better version of themselves, of a better version of life, of happiness and everything else human beings are inherently predisposed to wanting, needing and clinging on to. Faith fuels the idea that the aforementioned notions and concept exist. The same star and faith which allowed the Magi to press through their journey is the same star and faith which aids and fuels every individual in the planet to press and trudge into the unknown daily and live their lives in the hopes of finding their purpose, and their proverbial Jesus.
Although, again, faith and organized religion are not the only aspects of humanity and reality by which the story surrounding the magi and the ‘star of Bethlehem’ sheds significant light unto. The concept that an entire world exists outside of our own, and not simply the biblical and religious world of heaven and hell, or purgatory, for that matter, is surprisingly given notice and made evident. In ancient biblical times, such divulgings appear to be either downplayed or unheard of, dismissed as something which belongs to the realms of sorcery, withcraft or blasphemy, along with other prejudiced and bigoted ideologies of the middle ages, and the era predating it. The idea that the whole universe seems to conspire or at the very least, is capable of doing so, of interfering or ‘aiding’ individuals to consummate and bring certain instances and turn of events into their intended and fated end result not only appears relatively modern, it occupies an entire philosophy or science, and world view altogether.
Astronomy or the study of stars, the universe, of cosmological entities and celestial beings, and fundamentally of ethereal elements not bound to this planet, is a concept regarded today as a formidable body of study and science. Whereas evidently, in the previous era and in older generations, the study of the previously enumerated aspects and elements of astronomy is coupled with and is almost synonymous to the divining of prophecies, the foretelling of intricate plans and designs surrounding mortality, and the circumstances and events predicted to occur in the distant, near or immediate future.
Priests, wisemen or magi, kings, and people in power or individuals in the upper echelons of society or the social class are among the privileged few privy to the study of the then mystical and divine study of communing with the universe and reading signs and symbols divulged therein. Astronomy and astrology blurred together as a matter of fact and principle. The latter immediately connotes the concept of horoscope and star signs, and centers on the study of stars and planetary alignments as it relates to an individual’s characteristics and personality, while the former is considered a much pronounced scientific study aimed at observing and understanding celestial and ethereal bodies, as well as stars, planets and cosmological entities, to better understand where our planet, the earth, stands in the universe, the solar system, and in the grander scheme of things which occur and exist outside our personal bubble, and not likely having a pronounced private effect on so.
Needless to say, these distinctions aren’t made particularly clear and evident in the older generations. In the previous era, astrology and astronomy went hand in hand, and lines and boundaries separating one from the other, if not blurred, appeared to be non-existent.
The star of Bethlehem, however, appears to be a supernatural entity which critics and scholars have a difficult time identifying in another title other than such: ‘the star of Bethlehem.’ scientists have argued that the star is really a comet, or Venus, a supernova, and perhaps an unstable star burning a bright blaze. But historical records of such a comet or star occuring in the time of Jesus’ birth, and practicality – the fact that a natural, or celestial body can emit light from the east to the west, and specifically pointing to a particular house or manger – dictates otherwise (De Young).
Ultimately, the story surrounding the magi or the wisemen’s pilgrimage from the east to the shabby manger in Bethlehem guided and led by a brightly burning star is one which piques not only the faith and belief of individuals in a literal higher being, and the instance of divine intervention at work, but also of people’s consciousness of the world outside our own. And more importantly, to individuals in the previous era; that the world is not flat, that other entities, other pieces of rock and massive formations blazing, burning, or otherwise, but spinning, like the earth, ever onwards, amidst and within each other, in their respective orbits, winding and rewinding in all their machine-like adroitness. People may or may not choose to believe in it, but its concept, nonetheless is available to either be rejected and acknowledged, and that, more than anything, contributes to the making and unmaking of humanity and civilizations.
“The Three Wise Men of Epiphany. Paul, Linda J. Retrieved 27 December at http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art47553.asp
“Overview of Bethlehem” Webb, John Jr. Retrieved 27 December at http://www.flex.com/~johnboy/Overview.htg/Overview.htm
“The Magi Revisited.” 28 May 2002. Behzadi, H. Retrieved 27 December at http://www.farsinet.com/wisemen/magi.html
“The Star of Bethlehem: Fact or Fiction?” 24 December 2007. Totheroh, Gailon. Retrieved 27 December at http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/290796.aspx
“What Was The Star Of Bethlehem.” 24 December 2002. De Young, Don. Retrieved 27 December at http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2002/1224star.asp