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MAGI - ZOROASTRIANISM: THE AVESTA

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Author Topic: MAGI - ZOROASTRIANISM: THE AVESTA  (Read 3948 times)
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« on: August 22, 2007, 12:12:00 pm »






                                                          M A G I




The Magi (singular Magus, from Latin, via Greek μάγος ; Old English: Mage; from Old Persian maguš) were a tribe from ancient Media, who — prior to the conquest of the Medes by the Achaemenid Empire in 550 BC — were responsible for religious and funerary practices.

Later they accepted the Zoroastrian religion, not without changing the original message of its founder, Zarathustra (Zoroaster), to what is today known as Zurvanism, which would become the predominant form of Zoroastrianism during the Sassanid era (AD 226–650).

No traces of Zurvanism exist beyond the 10th century. The best known Magi are the "Wise Men from the East" in the Bible, whose graves Marco Polo claimed to have seen in what is today the district of Saveh, in Tehran, Iran. In English, the term may refer to a shaman, sorcerer, or wizard; it is the origin of the words magic and magician.
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« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2007, 12:17:14 pm »








                                                            Etymology




In Indo-Iranian languages

There are two different meanings of the term 'Magi': From Herodotus' Histories and from subsequent accounts of them, it is quite clear that the Magi were in fact a sacerdotal caste whose ethnic origin is never again so much as mentioned. 

In other accounts, we hear of Magi not only in Persia, Parthia, Bactria, Chorasmia, Aria, Media, and among the Sakas, but also in non-Iranian lands like Arabia, Ethiopia, and Egypt. …It is, therefore, quite likely that the sacerdotal caste of the Magi was distinct from the Median tribe of the same name.

In the texts of the Avesta, the term only appears once, as (Younger Avestan) moghu.tbiš meaning "hostile to the moghu", that is, hostile to "both the teaching of Zoroaster and the community that accepted that teaching."   This sense of the term, which the Middle Persian authors of the Zend commentaries adduce to mean 'God's gift', is clearly related to Vedic Sanskrit magha (मघा), meaning 'riches' or 'gift'. 

In its adjectival form maghavan, it appears to refer to a person enriched by the teachings of Zoroaster or one "possessed of this gospel."  The adjectival form survives as maghvand in Classical Persian, where it "seems to mean something like 'adorning'."

The other meaning, evident as Herodotus' magoi for the Median tribe, derives from Old Persian magu.

Notwithstanding the similarity to the Avestan language word, "there is no reason to suppose that the western Iranian form magu (Magus) has exactly the same meaning."   "It may be, however, that Avestan moghu and Medean magu were the same word in origin, a common Iranian term for 'member of the tribe' having developed among the Medes the special sense of 'member of the (priestly) tribe', hence a priest."

Modern Persian mobed, derived from Middle Persian magu-pati, 'lord priest', is the unequivocal term for a Zoroastrian priest of a certain rank.
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« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2007, 12:19:26 pm »








Greek use of magos

While, in Herodotus, magos refers to the priestly caste and tribe of the Medes, (1.101) said to be able to interpret dreams (7.37), it could also be used for any enchanter or wizard, and especially to charlatans or quacks (see also goetia), especially by philosophers such as Heraclitus who took a sceptical view of the art of an enchanter, and in comic literature (Lucian's Lucios or the Ass). In Hellenism, magos started to be used as an adjective, meaning "magical", as in magas techne "ars magica" (e.g. used by Philostratus).

The PIE root[citation needed] (*magh-) appears to have expressed power or ability, continued e.g. in Attic Greek mekhos (cf. mechanics) and in Germanic magan (English may), magts (English might, the expression "might and magic" thus being a figura etymologica).





English language

The plural Magi entered the English language in ca. 1200, referring to the Magi mentioned in Matthew 2:1, the singular being attested only considerably later, in the late 14th century, when it was borrowed from Old French in the meaning magician together with magic.




Arabic Language

It is speculated that the old Persian word maguš is the origin of the Arabic word majus (Arabic: مجوس ) which is used generally to describe Old Persian religions.
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« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2007, 12:21:45 pm »








                                             History in the Persian Empire



According to Herodotus i. 101, which lists the names of the six tribes or castes of the Medes, the Magi were a hereditary caste of priests. They were highly influential in Median society until the unification of the Median and Persian Empires in 550 BC, after which their power was curtailed by Cyrus the Great and by Cyrus' son Cambyses II. The Magi revolted against Cambyses and set up a rival claimant to the throne, one of their own, who took the name of Smerdis. Smerdis and his forces were defeated by the Persians under Darius I.

The Magi continued to exist in unified Persia, but their influence was limited after this and other political setbacks, and it was not until the Sassanid era (AD 226–650) that they would again achieve prominence.

The Book of Jeremiah (39:3, 39:13) gives a title rab mag "chief magus" to the head of the Magi, Nergal Sharezar (Septuagint, Vulgate and KJV mistranslate Rabmag as a separate character).

It's also believed by some Christians that the Jewish prophet Daniel was "rab mag" and entrusted a Messianic vision (to be announced in due time by a "star") to a secret sect of the Magi for its eventual fulfillment (Daniel 4:9; 5: 11).
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« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2007, 12:24:37 pm »








                                                  The Magi in India



In India there is an atv Maga, Bhojaka or Sakaldwipiya Brahmins.

Their major centers are in Rajasthan in Western India and near Gaya in Bihar. According to Bhavishya Purana and other texts, they were invited to settle in Punjab to conduct the worship of Lord Sun (Mitra or Surya in Sanskrit).

Bhavishya Purana explicitly associates them to the rituals of the (now extinct) Zurvanite brand of Zoroastrianism.

The members of the community still worship in Sun temples in India. They are also hereditary priests in several Jain temples in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Bhojakas are mentioned in the copperplates of the Kadamba dynasty (4-6th cent) as managers of Jain institutions. Images of Lord Sun in India are shown wearing a central Asian dress, complete with boots.

The term "Mihir" in India is regarded to represent the Maga influence.
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« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2007, 12:26:54 pm »







                                                          References




^ a b c d e Zaehner, Richard Charles (1956). The Teachings of the Magi. New York: MacMillan.
 
^ Zaehner, Richard Charles (1939). "{{{title}}}". BSOS IX.
 
^ Boyce, Mary (1975). A History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. I. Leiden/Köln: Brill.
 
^ Boyce, Mary (1975). A History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. I. Leiden/Köln: Brill, 10–11. 

^ Benveniste, Emil (1938). "Les Mages dans l'Acien Iran". Publications de la Société des Études Iraniennes 15. 

^ Eilers, W. (1953). "{{{title}}}". Abhandlung der Akadamie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz 2. 

^ Gershevitch, Ilya (1964). "{{{title}}}". JNES XXIII. 


From: Wikipedia
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« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2007, 12:39:25 pm »






                                                             M A G I A N S








A Magian, worshipping at
a fire altar, Sasanian period
(British Museum, London)





Magians (Old Persian Maguš): experts in Iranian religious -probably: oral- traditions, perhaps belonging to a Median tribe. They are to be distinguished from the priests.




 
Greek sources


When discussing the Magians of ancient Persia, one thing should be clear from the very start: Magians have nothing to do with magic or wizardry. The confusion, however, is understandable or -in any case- very old. In the sixth century BCE, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus directed his prophecies
against the wanderers of the night: the Magians, the Bacchantes, the Maenads and initiates. Heraclitus threatens them with tortures after death, he threatens them with fire, for what they believe to be initiations in the mysteries are in fact impious rites.
[Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 12]


Heraclitus' threats are well chosen, because, as we will see below, the Magians venerated fire and believed in rewards and punishments after death, which was a common religious idea in Iran.

 
This was the first time that the word 'Magians' was used negatively. Later authors lumped the expression together with words like 'charlatan' and 'wizard' and gave the word the usual meaning. The famous Macedonian philosopher Aristotle of Stagira (384-322), who had not spent a part of his life in Persia's western territories for nothing, felt himself forced to state explicitly 'that the Magians neither know nor practice sorcery' (The Magian, fr.36 Rose).

An older contemporary of the Macedonian philosopher, the Athenian author Xenophon (c.430-c.355), who visited the Achaemenid empire in 401, calls the Magians experts 'in everything religious' (Cyropaedia 8.3.11). He also knows that the Magians sing hymns to the rising sun and all known gods (8.1.23).

But our most important Greek source is Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c.480-c.425). In his Histories, he mentions the Magians several times, usually in connection with sacrifices.

As for ceremonial, when the Persians offer sacrifice to the deities [...], they erect no altar and kindle no fire. The libation, the flute music, the garlands, the sprinkled meal - all these things, familiar to us, they have no use for. But before a ceremony, a man sticks a spray of leaves, usually myrtle leaves, into his headdress, takes his victim to some open place and invokes the deity to whom he wishes to sacrifice.

The actual worshipper is not permitted to pray for any personal or private blessing, but only for the king and for the general good of the community. (The actual worshipper is not permitted to pray for any personal or private blessing, but only for the king and for the general good of the community, of which he is himself a part.) When he has cut up the animal and cooked it, he makes a little heap of the softest green-stuff he can find, preferably clover, and lays all the meat upon it. This done, a Magian -a member of this caste is always present at sacrifices- utters an incantation over it in a form of words which is supposed to recount the birth of the gods. Then after a short interval the worshipper removes the flesh and does what he pleases with it.



[Herodotus, Histories 1.132;
tr. Aubrey de Selincourt]
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« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2007, 12:53:09 pm »







Other instances where Herodotus mentions the Magians as sacrificers are 7.43 (libations at Troy), 7.113 (a sacrifice of white horses) and 7.191 (bloody offerings to sea gods). As we will see below, the sacrificial practice is also attested in Persian sources. Greek sources
Persian sources
History of the Magians
Magians after Alexander


 


Magian with barsom (sacred
twigs) from the Oxus treasury
(British Museum, London)


Herodotus also mentions the Magians as interpreters of omens (7.37) and dreams (1.107, 1.108, 1.120, 1.128, 7.19). Although the combination of expertise on the subjects of sacrifice and dreams/omens is not unusual in the ancient Near East, our Persian sources do not confirm that the Magians were active in the second capacity. This may, however, be due to the nature of these Persian sources: administrative texts.
Herodotus also mentions two other customs.

There is a Persian practice concerning the burial of the dead, which is not spoken of openly and is something of a mystery: it is that a male Persian is never buried until the body has been torn by a bird or a dog. I know for certain that the Magians have this custom, for they are quite open about it. The Persians in general, however, cover a body with wax and then bury it.


   The Magians not only kill anything, except dogs and men, with their own hands but make a special point in doing so; ants, snakes, animals, birds - no matter what, they kill them indiscriminately. Well, it is an ancient custom, so let them keep it.
[Herodotus, Histories 1.140;
tr. Aubrey de Sélincourt]


The existence of the burial custom can be corroborated. In later times, the Zoroastrians, the adherents of the prophet Zarathustra, exposed their dead to the vultures in large edifices called 'towers of silence'. (As we will see below, the Magians were Zoroastrians.) The killing of animals may have taken place near the fire altars, which had to remain ritually pure. 
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« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2007, 01:05:06 pm »








Persian sources





In Persepolis, the administrative capital of the Achaemenid empire, a large archive of administrative texts was found, the Persepolis fortification tablets. They can be dated in the reign of king Darius I the Great (522-486) and we learn that the Magians were as accountants and controllers involved in the administration. It was a common practice in the ancient Near East to use religious officials as admistrators as well.


In these texts, the Magians are also mentioned in their religious capacities: they were responsible for the lan-sacrifice, for which Darius allotted every month 30 liters of barley or flour, fruits and 10 liters of wine. It is the only type of sacrifice that is mentioned in connection to Persepolis.

Because the king was involved, this sacrifice must have been offered to Ahuramazda, the only god that is mentioned in Darius' texts. He was the supreme god of the Persians. In other words, the Magians -and not the priests- were responsible for the most important sacrifice in the state religion. This connection between the Magians and the cult of Ahuramazda is also suggested by the fourth-century philosopher known as pseudo-Plato, who describes the teacher of young Persian noblemen:

He teaches the science of the Magians, owing to Zarathustra, son of Ahuramazda. It is in fact the worship of the gods.

[Ps.-Plato, Alcibiades 122A]
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« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2007, 01:06:20 pm »


Fire altar (left) (from W. Hinz,
Darius und die Perser, 1976





"He teaches the science of the Magians, owing to Zarathustra, son of Ahuramazda. It is in fact the worship of the gods."



This short quote is interesting for another reason: it connects the activities of the Magians explicitly to Zoroastrianism (which is not necessarily the same as the cult of Ahuramazda). Since we are certain that Magians were involved in the state religion, the words of pseudo-Plato suggest that Zoroastrianism was the official cult of ancient Persia. This is, however, far from certain, and we should not rely too much on an author who believes that the prophet Zarathustra was the son of the god Ahuramazda.


The lan-sacrifice probably was a kind of fire sacrifice, because the Persepolis fortification tablets also call the Magians 'fire kindlers'. The Greek geographer Strabo of Amasia (64 BCE-c.23 CE) translates this as pyrethoi and is a more explicit about this ritual.

"In Cappadocia -for there the sect of the Magians, who are also called fire kindlers, is large- they have fire temples [pyrethaia], noteworthy enclosures; and in the midst of these is an altar, on which there is a large quantity of ashes and where the Magians keep the fire ever burning. And there, entering daily, they make incantations for about an hour, holding before the fire their bundle of rods and wearing round their heads high turbans of felt, which reach down their cheeks far enough to cover their lips."

[Strabo, Geography 15.3.15]



The lips were probably covered to prevent their breath to pollute the fire. How one can sing in this way, is one of the unsolved mysteries of ancient religion. From the holy book of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta, we know that the felt turban is called pâdam and the sacred twigs barsom.


Another interesting observation is that the Magians are never mentioned in connection to non-Iranian gods in the Fortification tablets. Their only activities seem to have been the lan-sacrifice to Ahuramazda on behalf of the king and sacrifices to other Persian gods. Probably, the other sacrifices were similar to those described by Herodotus.
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« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2007, 01:12:45 pm »







                                                       History of the Magians




According to Herodotus, there were already Magians at the court of Astyages, the last leader of independent Media, who was defeated by the founder of the Achaemenid empire, Cyrus the Great (550 BCE).

There is no reason not to believe this story, especially since there are two indications that the Magians were considered to be Medes. The first is a brief remark in Herodotus' Histories that the Magians were a Median tribe (1.101). If this is correct, we may assume that this tribe was comparable to the Jewish Levites, who were also involved in religious duties.

The second indication is the special status of the Median city Rhagae (modern Tehran), which was regarded by the Zoroastrians as one of Ahuramazda's special creations and was governed by a Zoroastrian leader. The Arabian geographer Yâqût ar-Rûmî (1179-1229 CE), writes about this town and identifies the Zoroastrian leader with the first among the Magians.

Ustûnâwand [near Rhagae] is said to have been in existence for more than three thousand years, and to have been the stronghold of the Masmoghân of the land during the times of paganism. This word, which designates the high priest of the Zoroastrian religion, is composed of mas, 'great', and moghân, which means 'Magian'. 

Darius and Gaumâta


These two indications, however, are not very strong and we should not put too much weight on them.

In the spring of 522 BC, a Magian with the name Gaumâta attempted a coup d'état in the Achaemenid empire. He was successful. The lawful ruler Cambyses died and for some time he was sole ruler of the empire. It is not known what caused his rebellion, and we are probably wrong to assume a religious motive behind the coup. There is simply not enough evidence to prove anything.

A relative of Cambyses, Darius (who also belonged to the Achaemenid dynasty), and six Persian noblemen killed the Magian (29 September 522). The murderer became king.

The anniversary of this day has become a red-letter day in the Persian calendar, marked by an important festival known as the Magophonia, or Killing of the Magian, during which no Magian is allowed to show himself. Every member of the caste stays indoor till the day is over.


[Herodotus, Histories 3.79;
tr. Aubrey de Sélincourt]
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« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2007, 01:18:27 pm »






Probably, it is the other way round. The murder took place during a festival during the month Bâgayâdiš, a name that was misunderstood by Herodotus (hearing Mâguyâdiš, 'killing of Magians').   
 
The evidence of the Persepolis fortification tablets and the Greek authors allows us to give a description of the role of the Magians in the next two centuries. They were usually at the royal court, were employed in the bureaucracy, brought fire sacrifices and performed other ceremonial duties, accompanied the king on his campaigns and may have been consulted as interpreters of dreams and omens. If their position and function changed, our sources are insufficient to document it.

In the winter of 331/330, the Macedonian king Alexander the Great invaded Persia, and during the next months, he put an end to reign of the Achaemenid dynasty. Our Greek sources mention Magians at Alexander's court and we may asume that they were performing the usual incantations, prayers and sacrifices. This proves that there was collaboration between at least some Magians and the conqueror.

However, it is equally certain that Alexander destroyed Zoroastrian sanctuaries, persecuted priests and destroyed religious writings. According to one source, the 'accursed Alexander' also 'slew those who went in the garments of Magians' (go here for three texts on the subject). It seems that many Zoroastrians went to Drangiana where they taught each other what they remembered of the correct rituals. The inaccessible parts of northern Media were also a refuge for the faithful, who were protected by a nobleman named Atropates.




 
 Christian representation of the
three Magi. (Museo nazionale 
della civiltà romana, Roma;
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« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2007, 01:22:17 pm »







                                                   The Magians after Alexander




The conquests of Alexander did hardly improve western knowledge of eastern religion. In Greek and Latin sources, the Magians became simply the representatives of the eastern cults par excellence, and nobody was interested in the difference between a Magian, a Brahman and a Chaldaean - they were all the same, although it was known that they were from three different countries, Persia, India and Babylonia.

But their activities seemed interchangeable, at least from the first century CE onward. Therefore, the 'wise men' mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are called Magians, although the correct term for people observing celestial omens would have been Chaldaeans, mathematicians or astrologers (Chaldaioi, mathematikoi or astrologoi).

Meanwhile, in the east, the Magians played a role of some importance in the Parthian empire (but there is hardly any information about it). In the third century, the Parthians were defeated by the Persians, who founded a second empire. The Sasanian king Ardašir conferred many privileges to the Magians, who gained great political power.

For example, they played a role in the inauguration ceremony in Ctesiphon and served as judges and tax collectors.


http://www.livius.org/maa-mam/magians/magians.html
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« Reply #13 on: August 22, 2007, 01:37:03 pm »


This picture shows the fire temple of modern Yazd. Here, the Zoroastrians venerate the sacred and eternal fire. The winged figure in the upper façade is the visual aspect of the supreme god Ahuramazda, whose nature was disclosed by the prophet Zarathustra.
This is Yazd's "Fire Temple". The intimates meet there , but nobody apart form the Grand Priest , a descendant of the Magi , reciting the Avesta , has
access to the Saint of Saints where for the past 3000 years a fire burns in a brazen vessel. The fire itself is a representation of what is good.
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« Reply #14 on: August 22, 2007, 01:39:39 pm »


The holy fire itself, which has been burning in the temple of Yazd for at least seven centuries.
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