Gifts of the Magi
By Elsa-Brita Titchenell
Though all human beings are composed of roughly the same ingredients, every one of us is unique in the way we combine them. No human quality is entirely alien to anyone; each of us is a composite, a whirlpool of flowing forces, attracted and held in shape by a magnet we call our self. The parts are supplied by the world we live in and we exchange them constantly. Builded of the stuff of stars, we are hosts to all the forces in the universe, recipients of the gifts of all the Magi.
Apparently the writers of the Christian and other gospels also knew and took into account that human nature shares in all the properties of life and consciousness that govern the solar system. The planets were held to exert influences according to the characters of their ruling powers. We still call personssaturnine or jovial who express what were believed to be the qualities of Saturn or Jove (Jupiter); a mercurial individual is one who partakes of the disposition and versatility of Mercury (Hermes), the divine messenger; some people have a sunny disposition; some practice martial arts; some have been called lunatic. Such planetary epithets reflect a human assessment of the characteristics of celestial deities and of their influence on our own nature.
The Wise Men and their distinctive gifts are very much in keeping with the allegorical meaning of the Christian mystery tale. Luke speaks of three shepherds coming to see the babe -- shepherd being a word used for a religious teacher. The only other gospel to mention the visitation is Matthew, who calls them Wise Men who came from the east, guided by a brilliant star, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In Persia a magus was a wise man, one who possessed special knowledge, and only later the term acquired the connotation our word "magician" has today. The bright star has never been identified. The year of its alleged appearance is unknown, there being no historic record of Jesus of Nazareth.
The biblical tale implies that the three Wise Men (later called kings) were human hierophants and that each represented a planetary deity or divine influence indicated by his name and gift, but nothing so pragmatic as three actual personages visiting the birthplace of a child. Rather is it entirely plausible that our world was undergoing a cyclically recurring event, a confluence of forces emitted by three of the "beneficent powers," as celestial influences are called in the Norse myths, and that these were symbolized by the Magi (cf. The Esoteric Tradition by G. de Purucker, p. 1105 et seq).
As the spheres of the solar system pursue their respective courses, there is infinite variety in their relative positions and relationships. Certain juxtapositions are frequent, others recur at rare intervals. Impulses of thought, sympathy, energies of every range of substance and consciousness in various combinations flow through the spheres, amplified or hindered by the conditions they encounter. The planets were thought of as "crystalline spheres" of influence surrounding the solar center, and their physical globes as the bodies of their divinities. At every season of the year some impulses are transmitted while a fuller tide of universal power swells to its peak only once in a precessional cycle of the earth -- a span of 25,920 years, known also as a Platonic year. A month of that year has elapsed since the events allegorized by Matthew, a period that has been called a messianic cycle.
Astrophysical research now confirms that a magnetic field permeates and surrounds not only every organism on earth but also the sun and planets in space, and that plumes of magnetic plasma containing the visible globes, pushed outward by the solar wind to immense distances, even cross their neighbors' orbits. The entire system is bathed in the sun's own vital sheath of magnetism, which serves as a common ground to unite each planetary sphere with all the others, the whole forming a living organism round a pulsating sun.
At the winter solstice the universal currents favor a penetration by human consciousness into spheres of life we call divine and, concurrently, a descent may take place into the human arena of a spiritual force from higher worlds: the gods too "descend into hell" to gain experience in their underworld -- our world -- thereby bringing light and inspiration to terrestrial humanity; at such a time a human candidate is being tested, every soul-fiber yielding its separate life to bear together the burden of divinity. When the mystic "birth" is successful, it brings about a new and nobler trend in human thinking, introduced by the one whose whole character has been trained and refined until it is translucent to the godlike radiance. Such a human being may traverse in consciousness the spheres otherwise traveled more or less unconsciously in sleep and death and, becoming illumined, endure an epiphany in due season. Two weeks after the solstice the Wise Men give, each one, his distinctive quality to the initiate, the soul who had undergone the mystic birth of his higher self at the year's darkest hour, when the solar light had withdrawn from the northern hemisphere. Our earth is then speeding most rapidly along its orbit to a rendezvous with the sun at perihelion, which is also the time of the epiphany -- the closest encounter of the year with the solar splendor.
The star that led the Magi is transparently allegorical. Certainly a major astronomical event such as a supernova explosion or a comet of unusual brilliance would not have passed unrecorded by Chaldean, Chinese, and Indian astronomers, so there must be another explanation. One that has been proposed is an alignment of planets, a syzygy: a conjunction of two or more of the superior planets (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) could conceivably give the appearance of a very bright star in the night sky. The names ascribed to the three Wise Men point to another possibility more likely to be associated with the "virgin birth" of a savior or avatar. This is an alignment of Mercury and Venus with the sun, moon, and earth -- a periodic event marking a critical juncture in human evolution. What makes this a particularly interesting possibility is that when Venus and Mercury are between the earth and the sun, the side of the earth facing them is facing the sun: it is broad daylight and the planets cannot be seen. The new moon too, unless it eclipses the sun, is invisible. Only initiates, Magi, would have been aware of the event and of its significance for the coming messianic cycle.
When an avataric influence makes itself felt through the agency of a human being whose purity and strength have brought him to the point of enlightenment, it is god-power which is being transmitted from the divine intelligences embodied in the celestial universe. Having traversed the crystalline spheres of life surrounding the divine center of our solar system and at each station divested itself of its respective properties, the initiant -- now empty, naked consciousness -- penetrates the precincts of the sacred sun, Returning, it receives from each world its appropriate gift: the gold of incorruptibility born in the crucible of the soul; the aromatic frankincense released by the testing fires; and myrrh -- the willing return to spheres of sorrow. So the "newborn" reenters the sphere of earth, effulgent with solar radiance the cycle consummated, the vessel broken, the light unconfined.
(From Sunrise magazine, December 1983/January 1984. Copyright © 1984 by Theosophical University Press)