The Three Magi

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The Three Wise Men at the birth of Jesus in a table-top creche or nativity scene

The Three Magi, also known as the Three Wise Men, The Three Kings, or Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, are a trio of men who travelled far to visit and pay tribute to the infant Jesus. They are popularly petitioned around Christmas time for gifts and in the New Year for luck and for household and stable protection. They are first mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, who wrote that they foresaw the birth of the Messiah in the stars and undertook a long journey from the East, coming through the deserts on camels to pay homage to the Saviour with gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold. The word "magi" links them to the priestly class of Persia and the Zoroastrian religion, and although they are popularly called "The Three Kings" and are sometimes depicted with crowns, they were not political monarchs, but priestly astrologers. They are associated with the nativity of Jesus in December, but they did not actually arrive at the scene of his birth until several days had passed. Therefore, in Northern and Eastern Europe, the Magi are particularly venerated at the feast of Epiphany or "the twelfth day of Christmas," which takes place on January 6th among Catholics and Protestants and on January 19th in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

In their role as announcers and observers of the nativity, the Wise Men feature prominently in Christian creches or nativity scenes, which are seasonal Christmas-time displays, set up either in the home or outdoors, featuring statues of the baby Jesus in a manger with the Mary and Joseph, accompanied by shepherds, domestic animals, the Three Kings, their camels, and an Angel. In Spain, Portugal, and other Mediterranean countries, The Three Kings are associated with Mid-Winter gift-giving practices, not unlike Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus in northern Europe. In some regions, children write letters to them and leave out drinks and food for them as they come on their camels to bring presents. In Europe and America, Catholic priests bless gold, frankincense, myrrh, and chalk in commemoration of their visit on the feast of Epiphany. The blessed chalk is then distributed among the parishioners to mark the New Year's date on the doors of their stables, dairy barns, chicken coops, dove cotes, and homes. The date is broken into two groups of two digits surrounding the letters C+M+B -- for instance "18+C+M+B+79" or "20+C+M+B+12". The letters C+M+B represent the names Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, although some say they also encode the Latin phrase, "Christus Mansionem Benedicat," which means "Christ bless the house." The annual marking of buildings with the initials of the Three Kings is said to bring blessings, protection, and luck to the home and the animal barns for one full uear.

The Three Magi are portrayed differently among various Christian denominations. According to some traditions, they are said to have been natives of three different regions, such as Arabia, Persia, India, or Ethiopia, and thus they may be shown with varied skin tones and costumes according to historical concepts of what astrologer-priests of those regions would have looked like. Hoodoo psychic readers, spirit workers, and root doctors who work within the Christian, Islamic, and Spiritualist traditions may petition the Three Magi for blessings, protection, and good fortune. In the African Diasporic religion religion of Voodoo, which has been syncretized with Catholic practices, the Three Magi are associated with the lwa Simbi. In the New Age ascension religions, Caspar is associated with the Ascended Master Djwhal Khul, Melchior with the Ascended Master El Morya, and Balthazar with the Ascended Master Koot Hoomi.


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