Updated version of a post from 2011
The Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated by Christians on January 6th. It is thought to be the date upon which Jesus was visited by the Wise men, and in many non-English speaking countries (e.g. most of Africa) is regarded as the actual date that Santa Claus comes to visit (Europeans – though not those in the UK – believe he comes a month earlier on December 6th – the feast of St Nicholas). However all this is by the by as in this blog post I intend to analyse the symbolism of the feast of the Epiphany from a Qabalistic perspective.
It is widely thought that there were three Wise Men i.e. Magi, however this is a misconception – the number three only arises because of the number of gifts specified. There could in actual fact have been any number of Magi – they might for example have decided to ignore a literal reading of the constitution and quietly re-elect one on the sly! The actual wording of Matthew’s Gospel in fact seems to indicate that there were many so-called Magi living in Jerusalem – perhaps making up an actual cult or secret society.
Nevertheless, let’s examine the symbolism of the three gifts: Gold, Frankincence and Myrrh. It has been said many times in the past that they are symbols of Jesus’ ministry: Gold – because it symbolises his Kingly role; Frankincense – His Priestly role; and Myrrh – the mastery over Death. Now let’s compare this with the Tarot. Although there is a rather obvious card associated with “Death,” there is at least one less obvious one as well – “The Empress” – because in Rosicrucian terms, Daleth / Venus is “the Door” to the Tomb. The Kingly role is most obviously associated with “The Emperor” and the Priestly role with “The Hierophant.”
Now you see the pattern emerging? The three gifts represent paths leading to the sephirah Chokmah. And, in the Rosicrucian tradition, an initiate of the grade of Chokmah is called a Magus. What actually makes this most remarkable is that the name of the Rosicrucian grade of Magus pre-dates the assignment of Tarot trumps to the Tree of Life by over a hundred years or so, coming as it does from the Gold + Rosy Cross.
What we have in effect in Matthew’s Gospel is Jesus, whilst still a small child, effectively being advanced to the grade of 9=2 Magus. I say with no intended irony that it is the very model of a modern Magus ritual. Seriously though, the fact is that thereafter, “being warned in a dream they returned to their own country by another route.” In other words, these Magi were not Jews at all but foreigners – i.e. Pagans! Moreover there is at least one Gnostic gospel that claims that Jesus’ coming was foretold by “Zeredusht” (i.e. Zoroaster). What this means is that Matthew – and indeed perhaps the early Church itself – intended Jesus not just to be the Messiah of the Jews, but of the Pagans as well.
If this is true, then it represents a notion which would have proved far too radical for later and more modern Christians, if indeed they even dared to conceive it all. For example – how many times have you heard preachers trying to explain Jesus’ life by reference to the Old Testament? A lot. How many times, however, have you heard preachers trying to explain Jesus’ life by reference to Pagan scriptures in the same manner? I am keen to wager it is somewhat less. Yet the implication of Jesus being initiated as a Magus by Pagans would seem to imply, to my mind at least, that it would be appropriate to do so.
6 responses to “Jesus Christ: Pagan Messiah”
Thanks for this interesting analysis. I am a little confused however, on your final points.
It is standard Christian thought that Christ was and is the Messiah for Jew and gentile alike. This is not a radical idea at all, and is preached constantly.
The early Jesus movement grew out of Judaism and was one of many ‘reform’ Jewish sects of the era. Since all the early members were raised Jews, not pagan, they naturally referred back to the Messianic prophecies of the Jewish, not pagan scriptures. I am not sure what Messianic prophecies in pagan scriptures they could have referred to, even if they knew these scriptures. Also the Jewish (and hence Christian) approach to sacred texts was very different to the pagan approach, and so pagan religious texts were not ‘scripture’ in the same manner anyway.
The early Jesus movement also did a lot of backward looking to its parental tradition, Judaism, as a method of legitimisation. The pagan world at this time scorned innovation and valorized tradition, so the constant reference to the Jewish tradition helped legitimise the early Church in the eyes of very hostile pagan overlords.
Personally, I am unsure of the analysis of a 9=2 Magus initiation of the infant Jesus. Are we viewing scripture here as literal or metaphorical? Are we saying the real, space-time Jesus was visited by a bunch of Magi and conducted into the 9=2 Grade in the real, flesh-blood world? Or are we saying placing this as metaphorical interpretation on Matthew helps us connect with the timeless mystery of Epiphany and its spiritual blessings?
When Saint Paul visited Athens, he found the local Pagans to be so idolatrous that they resembled … well, kind of like the way modern Christian shrines like Lourdes have become tacky and commercialized. So when he got to the Areopagus, he started laying into their paganism not by quoting the Bible at them, but by quoting earlier pagan authors.
As far as I am aware this was the last time a Christian preacher of any renown tried to witness to Pagans by speaking to them in their own language and vocabulary, instead of quoting the Bible ad nauseam. To my mind, if Saint Paul can get away with saying “Zeus and Jehovah are basically one and the same, therefore pagan authors are referring to the latter when they talk about the former,” it is reasonable for Christian scholars who claim to be influenced by Paul to look to pagan writings to provide intellectual justification for their faith, instead of relying exclusively on the Bible all the time.
As regards the business of Jesus’ “9=2 grade” (it obviously would not have been called that at the time!) I say to the extent that Matthew’s Gospel is to be taken literally at all, then that is a valid interpretation thereof. I personally don’t see a conflict between literalism and metaphor in this instance.
Well, I do that sort of thing. But I am not a priest. My friends may jokingly call me a high priestess on occasion, but I think many people would consider me just an actor and not a religious authority. Still, I’m hanging out with the prostitutes and the sinners drinking and partying and talking gospel- whether Christian, pagan, or whatever. All the same thing to me. Jew, Gentile, all are one with God. Still, when I go to mass in an actual church building, they do not usually use pagan scripture. I wouldn’t say I’ve NEVER heard it there. Well, I’ve never heard it preached as gospel truth so much as compare/contrast. Though the priest I go see now is much more forward-thinking… we’ll see how he turns out.
“As far as I am aware this was the last time a Christian preacher of any renown tried to witness to Pagans by speaking to them in their own language and vocabulary, instead of quoting the Bible ad nauseam.”
Shhhhh, Alex… don’t give them any ideas…
I have to say, that is a pretty extraordinary synchronicity.
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