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The Magi Journeying

The Magi Journeying (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christmas – we can look at this holiday in a couple of ways; the secular, materialistic way that has become so prevalent and it seems so relevant in today’s American society, or on the path of which Christmas is based by its very spelling. The word Christ is very powerful, the basis of the Christian religion and the head of all who follow those principles. We misuse the name of Christ many times without giving it much thought, and we misuse the meaning of the holiday (really, holy day) when we go off the mark of what it really means.To some the “holidays”, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, seem to herald the time of breaking out the sales circulars, the decorations, the ads at the grocery stores, department stores, big box stores, any kind of commercial exchange venue.

We want to imitate the first bearers of the gifts that were given to the baby Jesus (later that head of all Christians), the wise men/ magi/ kings who made an amazing journey to see that young child who would be king. But we go to excess in the way we struggle to find “the right thing”, or get just the right wrapping paper, or find the right card, or be seen at the right store at just the time of day when “all our friends” will be there and know we are showing off our status and our wish to pick over the shelves to get that item before anyone else does… even to the point of losing friends.Let us take a closer look at that special event in history, an event that is painted, talked about, re-enacted every year as it has been for centuries in Christmas stories all over the world. There is more to this story than meets the eye of the artist, the bard, or the poet. In this is something for everyone.


The journey of these three wise men, sage kings as recorded in the many works about them, began perhaps two years earlier. According to them, a star was seen in the east and they followed it in order to worship him whom it symbolized. In the Book of Matthew, in chapter 2, the details are brief but enough to give us  knowledge that something special had happened and those men had set out to find out exactly what was going on. In the lore, the star meant that someone of importance, a governor, a king, had been born, and they were come to worship. They gathered their provisions and personnel and set out.

The paintings record this small group as a diverse gathering of rulers, with the time and wealth to make such a journey. Their lands must have been at peace in order for them to leave those lands and make their way to Jerusalem in order to recognize another king, and a baby at that, but then rulers in the Bible were very young times, and there is a fine painting of a maharajah, part of the exhibit at the Field Museum, when Raj Singh was only eleven. No matter who they were or what they looked like, theirs was a common mission and their goal was to find the new king. Through obstacles, harsh conditions, and maybe with some doubt in their minds, they made the journey and found the Child.

What they followed has been described many ways, as a comet, a conjunction, a supernova, and maybe even by some as a gamma ray burst (now that would really have been something to see the light of, as they are extremely energetic and that energy must travel billions of light years). For a light to last two years the event would have to be a very powerful burst of light indeed. Whatever it was, the kings followed it diligently until they came to the place over which the star paused and the light shone upon it. At that time, with reverence and dignity, the kings, surely tired from their travels, presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, no doubt in containers as precious as their contents.

Gold of course is well -known in its symbolism, for its purity, brilliance, endurance and many uses. It probably was the element used in the containers for all the gifts. Frankincense is a precious, fragrant gum resin from a tree known for its healing purposes and use in rituals. Myrrh is an oleoresin, an expensive spice, with uses in perfume, used also in preparation for burials in the times of Jesus. The benefits of all three of these gifts were well known, for medicinal and healing properties, to reduce swelling and inflammation and the like. Either these kings already knew of the benefits of these gifts or they were very well advised by their courtiers as to what might be suitable for gifts. They listened to the right people, and now their intelligence is rooted in history.

c. 1432-1436

c. 1432-1436 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What they carried with them was wisdom. They prepared carefully for that long journey. Being kings they were surely greatly guarded and appointed as kings should be. They were true to the traditions of their ancestors and their sages, who studied deeply the ancient texts to ascertain this event. They prepared carefully for this event by gathering the facts, preparing provisions, making sure the quality of their gifts, making ready their travling parties, and their animals, and setting out. Being such a long journey they had to be careful in their way so that they would make it safely and carry out their mission.Now perhaps you could see a king dressed in the manner they are accustomed to when in their native lands, maybe in dark, rich, jeweled robes and turbans and golden headdresses, maybe in garments wrapped around and fastened with brooches and pins fine with jewels and metals, maybe a combination of these regalia. But these would not be practical for a long, dusty, difficult journey over hills, deserts, river passes and mountains. And not wanting to attract too much of the wrong attention, they probably dressed rather plainly, with nothing overly glittering or heavy to burden them or their beasts of burden.

Wearing a crown means something special. A crown is a symbol of great authority, worn only by a select few in positions of amazing and incredible power. Crowns are made so that the wearer stands out; the turban ornaments worn by the maharajahs of India were meant to do the same thing, sparkle and move and shimmer so that the wearer would be known for his authority and the right to mete out power, delegation, and dicates. In the ancient lore of some religious traditions, the crown chakra is where the higher powers of the intellect reside and from which these powers spring to light the world and all who know the bearers of these faculties, brilliant facets, and wondrous principles of learning and achievement.

One of these kings may well have been from the region of the world we now know as India, but the point is that three powerful men came together for this wondrous journey to find another king and give him adoration and royal presents, the best they had to offer. Paintings show them in deep and humble admiration of the newborn king as he is held or is in the manger in the presence of his parents, Mary and Joseph, as they open their gifts. The area must have been filled with sparkle and light, and with a fragrance almost overwhemling, as of an Old Testament temple during times of high worship on special occasions.

It is truly a great moment in world history, something everyone can appreciate for the qualities that go way beyond the event itself.

English: Adoration of the Wise Men by Murillo

English: Adoration of the Wise Men by Murillo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

RESOURCES CITED1. King James Bible online. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Matthew-Chapter-2/.2. A Modern Herbal: Frankincense.  http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/f/franki31.html.

3. Why Did the Magy Bring Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh? Online article at http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/.

4. What is Myrrh? http://christianity.about.com/od/glossary/a/Myrrh.htm.

** Something to do: See the Splendor of the Maharajahs at the Field Museum in Chicago. Having done so I can assure you it will leave you dazzled and speechless.

Divi Logan, Nashville and Chicago, 2012.