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.