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The Adoration of the Magi remains one of the most popular themes in Christian art[1]

Magi is the plural of Magus or Mage, meaning a wise man, an expert in occult and esoteric practices, or a magician; including in the more negative sense of fortune-telling or fakery. The term has at least three meanings relevant to the history of astrology plus the modern application of Magi astrology.

Hellenistic Meanings

The Greeks equated the “Magoi” with the Zoroastrians of Persia. Although the Greeks differed on the originators of astrology, some believed that Zoroaster invented astrology, dream- and omen-interpretation, and divination through communication with the dead (necromancy.) Some ancient Greeks believed the religion’s founder Zoroaster was a Chaldean by birth, an ethnic term nearly synonymous with astrologers in ancient times; and that their own ancient sages such as Pythagoras studied with him. Pythagoras, in turn, was credited with inventing some of the number symbolism of Hellenistic astrology. The Greek historian Herodotus named the Magoi as one of the tribes of Medea, a region of ancient Babylon also noted for its diviners. Although there is little evidence that Zoroastrian Persians invented astrology, their conquest of Babylon in 539 BC made them a likely conduit of astrology, to both the East and West.[2]

Christian Interpretations

The New Testament gospel of Matthew (2:1-12) contains the only mention of magi visiting the baby Jesus, after following the Star of Bethlehem. Magi is traditionally translated as “wise men” or the “three kings” although the Bible does not mention their number or any royal status. In Christian tradition the magi were either from Persia, Babylon, or the Arabian Peninsula (the ancient source of myrrh and frankincense) or a mix of countries; the first two locations being nearly synonymous with astrologers. Presumably astrologers possessed foreknowledge of special nativities that could be read from the heavens. Although the early Church fathers disagreed on whether or not astrology had a rightful place in the new religion, the idea that special signs in the heavens presaged royal births attracted many believers in Antiquity.

The magus as expert of astrology and alchemy, together with more magical practices, influenced the intellectual life of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Notable among them were the German physician-astrologer nicknamed Paracelsus (1493-1541); English polymath John Dee (1527- ca. 1609), court astrologer to Elizabeth I; and the popular literary figure of Dr. Faust. Faust sold his soul to the devil in exchange for vast knowledge. His real prototype may have been a German astrologer and alchemist, Johann Georg Faust (1480-1540). The magus went out of favour in the Enlightenment, together with belief in their magical arts.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

The Magus was the second-highest level of attainment in the degree system of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Golden Dawn was a London-based secret society devoted to retrieving and teaching esoteric lore and magic to its initiates as a means of advanced spiritual attainment.[3] Although it used astrology in a primarily symbolic, rather than an applied manner, it did help to resuscitate interest in astrology after its near demise in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Magi Astrology

Magi astrology, a product of the Magi Society (The Magi Associates, Inc.), is an offshoot of modern astrology. Society members claim that it originated in 1625 in China as a secret society, under the tutelage of a Chinese monk who studied in Europe with Johannes Kepler. The society went public in 1995 and states that its new methods are based on empirical research. Some of its materials are restricted to fee-paying members.

John Dee's expertise ranged to navigation and mapping

Some of the features distinguishing Magi astrology from mainstream modern astrology are:

  • The use of decimals rather than minutes and seconds. For example a planet at 5 degrees 30 minutes is written as 5.5 degrees.
  • An emphasis on “planetary geometry”: i.e., the shapes resulting when 3 or more planets form aspects. Magi astrologers use some aspect figures familiar to modern astrologers such as the T-Square but also numerous additional ones.
  • Magi astrologers do not use houses or zodiac signs, but claim accuracy even without correct birth times. They focus on planetary aspects, using tight orbs.
  • They share many concepts with modern astrologers, yet often use a different vocabulary, or emphasize particular manifestations of common concepts in new ways. For example, Magi “clashes” are another name for disharmonious aspects; and “enhancement” for harmonious aspects (although the Magi aspects in either category differ somewhat from modern astrology.) Some clashes are given specific names. For example, a Saturn-Chiron square is an example of a “heartbreak clash.” A “nuclear clash” might be a Jupiter-Saturn opposition.
  • Magi astrologers regularly include Juno (for romance), Ceres (important in business), Chiron (indicator of true love, marriage, children), Vesta, an earth + moon blend in heliocentric charts, the Trans-Neptunian Sedna, and the asteroid Sappho.
  • Malefic bodies (called “Saturnian planets”) are Saturn, Sedna, Juno, and often Ceres.
  • Some midpoints are important: such as those involving Saturn/Chiron, and Saturn/Jupiter.
  • Interpretations depend on four different charts for the same nativity or event: the basic geocentric chart, the heliocentric chart, a geocentric chart showing declination to determine parallels and contra-parallels, and a chart of “heliocentric latitudes” that adds the vertical dimension to a heliocentric chart.


Notes and References

  1. Giotto (1306) painted the Star of Bethlehem as a comet, perhaps because Halley’s comet had been visible in 1301
  2. Nicholas Campion, 2008, The Dawn of Astrology: A Cultural History of Western Astrology, The Ancient and Classical Worlds, Continuum, pp. 77-82;
    David Pingree, 1963, Astronomy and Astrology in India and Iran, Isis 54: 229-246
  3. Israel Regardie, 1937 (reprinted 1989), The Original Account of the Teachings, Rites, and Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Llewellyn;
    Nicholas Campion, 2009, A History of Western Astrology, Vol. II: The Medieval and Modern Worlds, Continuum