Magi; the scholarly/priestly class of ancient Aryans founded by Prophet Zarathushtra and the ancient origins of the biblical Magi

Magi; the scholarly/priestly class of ancient Aryans founded by Prophet Zarathushtra

The term Magi denotes “the fellowship of the learned masters” founded by the ancient Aryan prophet Zarathushtra.  The Magi were followers of Zarathushtra or followers of what the Hellenistic world later associated with Zarathushtra.

Magi were members of the scholarly/priestly class of ancient Aryans founded by the great sage Zarathushtra, during the Iron Age and possibly earlier. They were most knowledgeable concerning consciousness/mind, and believed that consciousness/mind is the magical substance/stuff out of which universe, with all its marvelous hidden dimensions/powers are made.

The oldest surviving reference to the magi comes from the poetic gathas of the prophet. In the sacred verse or the gathas, the term “mag” refers to the “great mastery of spiritual/mental powers” and the “powers of mind/spirit to manifest.” (See the 1st rhymed verse line of Yasna 51.15 and the ancient commentaries of the same.)

The term appears in the following places in the poetic gathas;

In the 2nd rhymed verse line of Yasna 29.11, magái comes with mazöi “magnificence, splendor,” á-paití “kingship, reign, power over,” and žánatá “in-depth, higher knowledge, gnosis.”

In the 2nd rhymed verse line of Yasna 33.7, magáünö comes with srüyæ “song, melody, music.”

In the 2nd rhymed verse line of Yasna 46.14, magái comes with mazöi “magnificence, splendor” and srüidyái “art of singing, enchanting and musical speech.”

The 2nd rhymed verse line of Yasna 48.10, talks about delivering a crushing blow to müthrem “defilement, pollution, latin macula.” And making magahyá, the “council of magnates/pundits” immaculate and free from spiritual pollution.

In the 3rd rhymed verse line of Yasna 51.11, magái is associated with powers of a superb, wonder-mind/spirit, and “choicest intuition” into the conclusion of things “a.chistá.”

In the 1st rhymed verse line of Yasna 51.15, magavabyö comes with mízdem “great prize, power to produce the desired effect” and “amazing abilities of mind/spirit to manifest.”

In the 1st rhymed verse line of Yasna 51.16, magahyá comes with khshathrá “wielding godly powers, great ability, power, rule, sway, Greek kratia/kratos.”

In the 1st rhymed verse line of Yasna 53.7, magahyá is associated with mízdem “great prize, power to produce the desired effect, mastery, command.”

The root of the word goes back to Proto Indo European magh-“to be able, have power” compare with Old.English. mæg “am able,” Old High English mag/magan/mahta; German mag/mögen/mochte; Old Norse ma/mega/matte; Gothic mag/magan/mahte “to be able,” Old.Church.Slavic. mogo “to be able,” mosti “power, hidden force,” Sanskrit mahan great, most efficient.

In the Vedas, Indra has many epithets, notably maghavan “magnanimous, greatly efficient.” Sanskrit mahatma “magnate or great-souled” comes from the same root.

The term “magi” is most commonly used in reference to the Gospel of Matthews concerning “magi/wise men from the East.” The Gospel of Matthew states that magi visited the infant Jesus shortly after his birth (2:1-2:12). The gospel describes how Magi from the east were notified of the birth of a king in Judaea by the appearance of his star.

Herodotus also mentions the Magians as interpreters of omens (7.37) and dreams (1.107, 1.108, 1.120, 1.128, 7.19).

Roman Philosopher Pliny reports that Greek philosophers—among them Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, Heraclitus and Plato—traveled abroad to study with the magi, and then returned to teach their marvelous wisdom (xxx.2.8-10).

The Greeks well understood that Zarathushtra was the founder of the magi order.  Zaratushtra was further understood to be the seer/author of a vast compendium of hidden knowledge (A.vesta) and sacred poetry. The Greeks considered the best wisdom to be “the ancient and other worldly wisdom” of Zarathushtra.

The Athenian author Xenophon (c.430-c.355), who visited the Achaemenid empire in 401, calls the Magians experts “in everything scholarly” (Cyropaedia 8.3.11). He also states that the Magians sing hymns to the rising sun and all divine powers (8.1.23).

The Chinese term wū (巫 “wizard,” Old Chinese *myag) is a loanword from Old Persian *maguš “magi. ” The recent discovery at an early Chou site of two figurines with unmistakably Caucasoid or Europoid feature is startling prima facie evidence of such ancient Iranian influence. It is especially interesting that one of the figurines bears on the top of his head the clearly incised graph which identifies him as a wuu (myag.)

In the sixth century BCE, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus directed his prophecies against the wanderers of the night: the Magians, the Bacchantes, the Maenads and initiates. Heraclitus threatens them with tortures after death, he threatens them with fire, for what they believe to be initiations in the mysteries are in fact impious rites. [Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 12]

This was the first time that the word ‘Magians’ was used negatively. Later authors lumped the expression together with words like ‘witch kings’ and ‘sorcerers. ‘

The famous Macedonian philosopher Aristotle of Stagira (384-322), who had spent a good part of his life in ancient Iran’s western territories states explicitly ‘that the Magians neither know nor practice black magic or sorcery’ (The Magian, fr.36 Rose).

The evidence of the Persepolis fortification tablets and the Greek authors allows us to give a description of the role of the Magians. They were scholar/priests, fire kindlers and keepers of ancient flames. They usually served as advisors, councils or administrators at the royal court, and have been consulted as interpreters of dreams and omens.

According to Persepolis tablets and Darius Texts, the only type of offerings associated with Magi priests were fruit, milk and wine offerings. Accordingly, Darius allotted every month 30 liters of barley or flour, fruits and 10 liters of wine in connection to Persepolis offerings offered to Ahúrá Mazdá, the only god mentioned in Darius’ texts. Another interesting observation is that the Magians are never mentioned in connection to non-Aryan gods in the tablets. Their only activities seem to have been the kindling of light/flame and offering of sacred hymns to Ahúrá Mazdá on behalf of the ancient Iranian/Aryan people.

Yet, Herodotus mentions the Magians as sacrificers 7.43 (libations at Troy), 7.113 (a sacrifice of white horses) and 7.191 (bloody offerings to sea gods). Herodotus allegations concerning bloody sacrifices is not corroborated by Avestan or ancient Persian sources and contradicts Herodotus own account concerning the vegetarian diet of the Magi.

It should be noted that in Greek and Latin sources, the difference between a Magian, a Brahman and a Chaldaean priest – was of no importance or significance. Accordingly, they were all the same, although it was known that they were from three different countries, Persia, India and Babylonia. But their activities seemed interchangeable.

In another instance, Herodotus talks about a red-letter day in the Persian calendar, marked by a festival known as the Magophonia, or Killing of the Magian, during which no Magian is allowed to show himself. Every member of the caste stays indoor till the day is over. [Herodotus, Histories 3.79;  tr. Aubrey de Sélincourt]

Herodotus misreads/mistakes the month of Bâga-yâdiš, or “Yazishn, celebration of Bog/GD” for  Mâgu-jâdiš, “killing of or striking at the Magians.”

Yet, Herodotus correctly and accurately points out to the ancient custom of killing ants, snakes, flies and other noxious pests by the Magi; Herodotus, Histories 1.140; as well as Magi custom of exposing their dead to dogs and vultures, in remote mountain tops or in large edifices built for such purpose in the wilderness.

According to Herodotus, there were Magians at the court of Astyages, the last leader of independent Media, who was defeated by the founder of the Achaemenid empire, Cyrus the Great (550 BCE).

This statement of Herodotus correctly suggests that Magi were comparable to the Celtic Druids among the ancient Persians and Medes, and were similarly involved in spiritual advisory and priestly duties.

He also makes a brief remark in Herodotus’ Histories that the Magians were a Median tribe (1.101). This is due to the mistaken association of ancient Riga (modern Ray south of Tehran) as a Median city. Riga is identified in Avesta as the seat of Zarathúshtrötemö, “the highest Zoroastrian leader and the first among the Magians.”

Riga has been in existence for more than three thousand years, and has been the stronghold of the Magians long before the Medes and Persians developed into distinct Aryan/ancient Iranian tribes.

The Greek geographer Strabo of Amasia (64 BCE-c.23 CE) writes that in that in Cappadocia -the sect of the Magians, who are also called fire kindlers, is large- they have fire temples [pyrethaia], noteworthy enclosures; and in the midst of these is an altar, on which there is a large quantity of ashes and where the Magians keep the fire ever burning. And there, entering daily, they make incantations for about an hour, holding before the fire their bundle of rods and wearing round their heads caps/turbans, which reach down their cheeks far enough to cover their lips. [Strabo, Geography 15.3.15]

In the winter of 331/330, Alexander the Macedonian invaded ancient Persia, and put an end to reign of the noble Achaemenid dynasty. Greek sources mention Magians at Alexander’s court and we may conclude that there was collaboration between at least some Magians and the conqueror.

However, it is equally certain that Alexander destroyed Zoroastrian sanctuaries, persecuted priests and destroyed religious writings. It seems that many Zoroastrians went to the land of Scythians where they taught each other what they remembered of the correct rituals. The inaccessible parts of northern Media were also a refuge for the faithful, who were protected by a nobleman named Atrópates.

In the northeast, the Magians played a role of great importance in the Parthian empire In the third century, the Parthians were defeated by the Persians, who founded a third Zoroastrian empire. The Sasanian king Ardeshir conferred many privileges to the Magians, who gained great political powers. For example, they played a role in the inauguration ceremony in Ctesiphon and served as councils, advisors, mediators, judges, scholars and even advocates in the Empire.


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