The Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated today on January 6th in many Christian traditions, marks the climax of the Christian season. It commemorates the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. This day marks the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the Gentiles and emphasizes the manifestation of Christ’s divinity to the world. In some cultures, it’s also known as Three Kings’ Day or Little Christmas and is celebrated with various customs and traditions.
Who were Magi?
The Magi, also known as the Three Wise Men or Three Kings, were prominent figures in the Christian Bible’s Gospel of Matthew.
The term “Magi” finds its roots in the ancient Persian word “magupati” or “magus” (مغ), referring to a priestly caste skilled in astrology, interpretation of dreams, and other mystical arts. These individuals were highly revered in ancient Persia and surrounding regions for their wisdom and knowledge of the heavens. Over time, the term “Magi” became synonymous with learned men or wise ones.
The earliest mention of the word “magus” is in the Bisotun inscription of Dariush I the Great (522 BCE). According to Herodotus (1.101), Magi were one of the six Median tribes and formed the hereditary priestly clan. He adds that they occupied an influential position at the Median court as dream interpreters and soothsayers (1.107). However, not only in Media, but also in Persia and Elamite regions of Iran, priests of ancient local cults were known as Magi.
Behistun Inscription - On a cliff at Mount Behistun in the Kermanshah Province of Iran
In Elamite documents from Persepolis, the Magi are referred to as recipients of rations of barely and wine or grain-handler. From at least the time of Darius I onwards, the Magi were the official priests of the Achaemenid kings and played an important role at the royal court and enjoyed a great influence. In their role as the official priests, they appear not only in Persepolis itself but also throughout all of southwestern Iran. The name of one of them goes back to the Zoroastrian term yazata (deity), while another magus by the name Irdazana bears the title pirramasda, which might mean “outstanding memorizer”!
Xenophon, in his Cyropaedia (Education of Cyrus) and other books, provides reliable information about the Magi. He writes that they were priests at the court of the Persian kings, who put in their hands the ceremonies of libations, incantations, and sacrifices. The kings also followed their instructions in religious matters. Besides, the Magi were not only expert performers of worship rites but also tutors and teachers of the sons of the Persian kings and took part in the coronation ceremonies of each new king. It is known from Curtius Rufus that Persian soldiers carried the sacred flame on silver altars in front of the troops, and the Magi proceeded behind them, singing ancient hymns (Historiae 3.3.9). It is also the Magi were designated to guard the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae, and they sacrificed a horse there monthly.
Tomb of Cyrus the Great - Pasargadae, an archaeological site in the Fars Province of Iran
Images of the Magi are attested also on seal impressions on several clay tablets from Persepolis. These seals show two persons, under Ahura Mazdā’s emblem in the form of the sun-disk, holding a mortar and pestle before a fire altar. Under Xerxes the influence and role of the Magi was strengthened even further. They ministered to the altars of fire, performed cultic libations, offered blood sacrifices, and used the haoma juice for ritual purposes.
According to Greek historians, the Magi were disciples and followers of Zoroaster. However, some assume that it is highly unlikely that the Magi were followers of Zoroaster from the beginning and contend that they became Zoroastrians much later. The teaching of Zoroaster and the religion of the Magi became known to the Greeks and Romans mainly during the Hellenistic period and later. An integral part of the activities of the Magi was comprised of their ritual functions connected with astrology and magic.
Magi, Three Wise Men & New Born Jesus
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi hailed from the East, following a celestial phenomenon – a guiding star that led them to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Their precise homeland remains a subject of speculation, with theories suggesting regions like Persia or even further eastern territories.
Their names are not mentioned in the Bible, and their identities remain a topic of historical and theological debate. Tradition refers to them as Melchior, Caspar (or Gaspar), and Balthazar, but these names are not found in biblical texts. Their names are also found as Hormizad, Azergad, and Pirouzdad in some Syriac scriptures.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi observed an extraordinary celestial event, a star signaling the birth of the King of the Jews. Intrigued by this celestial phenomenon, they journeyed to Jerusalem, seeking the newborn King, asking, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Their inquiries stirred King Herod and all of Jerusalem. Herod consulted with religious leaders who referenced Micah’s prophecy, pinpointing Bethlehem as the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah. Guided by the star, the Magi resumed their journey and found the infant Jesus with Mary, his mother. Overwhelmed with joy, they presented precious gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – as offerings to honor and pay homage to the newborn King before returning to their homeland via a different route, evading Herod’s nefarious intentions to locate and harm the child.
The Gift of the Magi: Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh
The gifts the Magi presented—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—hold symbolic significance. Gold symbolizes kingship and wealth, acknowledging Jesus as the King of Kings. Frankincense, a precious incense, represents divinity and signifies Jesus’ priestly role. Myrrh, often used in embalming, foreshadows Jesus’ sacrificial death, highlighting his mortality.
These offerings also reflect the Magi’s recognition of Jesus’ importance and their desire to honor him through symbolic and valuable gifts, portraying their acknowledgment of his royal, divine, and sacrificial destiny.
Frankincense & Myrrh: Therapeutic Benefits
In 2019, Cao et al. conducted a study evaluating the therapeutic benefits of two resins, frankincense and myrrh and also their synergistic effects. The focus of their study is a multi-target, poly-pharmacology trial and they didn’t isolate any specific compound for the study of the treatment of chronic diseases.
Based on Liao et al. (2022) the main bioactive substances of frankincense are Bas whose main pharmacological effects are anti-inflammatory and anticancer, among which AKBA and KBA have the strongest anticancer activity and are expected to become candidates for anticancer drugs. The main bioactive substances of myrrh are sesquiterpenes and GS, and its main pharmacological action is anticancer. Their study concludes that the pharmacological properties of the combination are magically synergistic, including synergistic anti-inflammatory activity, synergistic anticancer, synergistic analgesic, synergistic antibacterial, and synergistic blood-activating effects.
Frankincense and myrrh are also studied as a treatment for cerebrovascular diseases (CBVDs), including ischemic stroke. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has accumulated rich experience in the treatment of stroke. TCM believes that blood stasis blocking the brain collaterals is the main pathology of stroke. Therefore, medicines that promote blood circulation and remove blood stasis are commonly used to treat stroke, dissipate blood stasis, unblock blood vessels and regenerate new blood. Frankincense and myrrh is a classic medicine duo that promotes blood circulation and removes stasis and, therefore has been studied for the prevention and treatment of stroke.
From Left to Right: A Jiroft Civilization Cup in Gold Color, Myrrh (from Rio Branco, Brazil) and Frankincense. Magi Ancestral Supplements formulations Mang, Stard and Haurvatat
These two resins have been used in aromatherapy for their calming and relaxing effects. Inhaling their scents is reported to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. They also have been used to enhance meditation and spiritual experiences. Nemu (2019) relates the tranquilizing, anti-depressant, and anxiolytic effect of Boswellia carterii, which he believes to be similar to frankincense, to GABA-receptor modulation.
As Cao et al. show, frankincense and myrrh have numerous alkaloids and terpenoids and more dedicated research is needed to explore the psychoactive effects of these two resins.
Magi Ancestral Supplements do not contain any alkaloids or terpenoids from Frankincense or Myrrh resins. Magi formulations are inspired by the neurophysiological effect and subjective experiences of ancient Haoma, the elixir of truth, used by the Magi for spiritual insights, deeper meditations and otherworldly journeys.
Cao, Bo, Xi-Chuan Wei, Xiao-Rong Xu, Hai-Zhu Zhang, Chuan-Hong Luo, Bi Feng, Run-Chun Xu et al. “Seeing the unseen of the combination of two natural resins, frankincense and myrrh: Changes in chemical constituents and pharmacological activities.” Molecules 24, no. 17 (2019): 3076.
Liao, Yucheng, Jingwen Wang, Chao Guo, Min Bai, Bowei Ju, Zheng Ran, Junping Hu, Jianhua Yang, Aidong Wen, and Yi Ding. “Combination of Systems Pharmacology and Experimental Evaluation to Explore the Mechanism of Synergistic Action of Frankincense-Myrrh in the Treatment of Cerebrovascular Diseases.” Frontiers in Pharmacology 12 (2022): 796224.
Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, London, 1979.
Dannaway, Frederick R. “Strange fires, weird smokes and psychoactive combustibles: Entheogens and incense in ancient traditions.” Journal of psychoactive drugs 42, no. 4 (2010): 485-497