In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men (Gk. MAGOS, meaning “magicians”) from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.—Matthew 2:1-3, NRSV
And it happened, when the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea at the time of King Herod, the magicians arrived from the East in Jerusalem, as Zoroaster had predicted. And they had offerings with them, gold, frankincense and myrrh, so they worshipped him and offered their offerings. —The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Savior
Every since Matthew told the story of the birth of Jesus, Christianity has been surrounded by magic…and we’ve been afraid to talk about it ever since! The magicians, who offered the tools of their trade to baby Jesus, became “kings” as their legend developed. No longer were they spell casters and dream interpreters! Eventually they had crowns and ruled kingdoms. But I believe both Matthew and the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy are very clear, magicians appeared at the birth of Jesus. Why they were drawn to visit Jesus will forever remain a mystery, but they were definitely there.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, most people will be surprised to know that magic has been practiced by Christians since the very beginning. The word itself, MAGEIA, was a foreign word to the Greek speakers who lived during the time of Jesus. (The English word Magi comes from the Greek word MAGOS which means “magician.”) Magic was a word that had lots of negative connotations attached to it, so early Christian practitioners called it “theurgy” or “divine work” instead. They used amulets and spells for protection, defense and healing, but they stopped short of calling it magic.
Hmmm, sounds like magic to me! I’m currently reading a fascinating book edited by Marvin W. Mayer and Richard Smith, entitled Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power. It contains exactly what you think it does: spells that were cast by Christians from the 1st through the 6th century. It even has a story of magical advice that was given by Christ himself.
Now, I know most Christians would flip over this info but for those of us who are interested in the ties between Pagan and Christian spirituality, it is most interesting indeed. While it’s clear that magic was not practiced by the majority of Christian believers there have always been some who integrated magic into their Christian beliefs and saw no contradiction with this whatsoever. Most of the spells in the book deal with things such as healing, love, prosperity, protection during pregnancy, and protection against evil spirits. This is definitely familiar territory for modern Wiccans!
The magical work the early Christians performed parallels the magical work that was also being done by Pagans of old. Not surprisingly, the Church outlawed these practices. Therefore, many “magicians” had to go into hiding for fear of being arrested and even killed. (Hmmm…now where have we heard THAT before?) Thankfully, some of these old writings were hidden and eventually discovered in places such as the Nag Hammadi Codexes. Now they have been translated into English so that we can ponder a subject that has been virtually silent for two thousand years.
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