Thaumaturgy is a word from Greek. Since the Greek Hermeticists are responsible for drawing together the strands of magical lore from the ancient Near East, we naturally revert to their terminology when speaking of such matters. “Magic” is another Greek word which originally referred to the Magi of Persia. The singular form is Magus which is still used as a general term for a professional magical person.
In this Christmas season, we naturally observe the visit of the three Magi to Jesus. In the Bible this occurred when he was about three years old but the myth has transformed over time and the image of the “three kings” standing by the manger with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are thoroughly esta blished today. The shift from Magi to kings is probably one of those sidesteps away from the whole idea of magic. In a religion that condemns magic and witchcraft and considers any magic to be “black magic,” onemight find it difficult to explain three Magi visiting the Lord. But there they are: three thaumaturges. And clearly astronomers by the fact that they were “following yonder star.”
Of course it may be that there was a fantastic comet and this was taken to fortell a miraculous event, but when the story suggests that the magi were following the star to find Bethlehem, I suspect that the story origianally referred to them studying the stars astrologically. They may well have seen a configuration in the day and hour of the birth of the Savior — the one who was to become Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef. (How much confusion would have been avoided if the Germans had not become the chief Biblical scholars and used their letter J as the sound for yud in Hebrew, thus carrying over a phonetic mistake when the words entered English with its completely different use of “J”)
Anyway, Magi were reputedly Persian “priests” but the word “priest” carries a lot of Catholic connotations that were not a part of the ancient world. Persian, Babylonian, Chaldean, Egyptian “priests” were professional thaumaturgists. They might have offered prayers and supplications, as Catholic priests and Protestant ministers do. They might have preached. It is less likely that they tended to their “flock” or parish. As temple officials, priests in these cultures were authorities of the state, authorized thaumaturgists. (It’s a sad fact, but the plural of thaumaturge seems to have morphed into thaumaturgist, the simple “thaumaturges” apparently giving too weak a sound at its end; anyway it parallels “scientist” nicely.)
The story of the Wise Men (I think they were druids, actually) serves to show us just how important this new Son of God was. Foreign magicians recognized the miracle of his birth and presumably knew immediately that he was divine, even before seeing him. Some astrological chart that must’ve been! That, at any rate, is the Christian spin on the matter. The more objective seeker of truth might wonder if there isn’t much more to the story. It is possible the episode was just made up. (It is possible the whole Bible was made up.) Still, one wonders if it was not made up in whole cloth, who were those Wise Men (Wizards) and what did they think was going on.
Christians are typically led to believe that the “miracle” of Jesus’s birth was that he was born of a Virgin. What they don’t know, unless they study classics in college, is that there were demigods running around the Near East for a thousand years or more before Christ. In fact demigods are probably only a little younger than the gods themselves. And they were conceived by “virgins” all the time. (“Virgin” incidentally, in the original languages of the gospels means simply “a young woman.” And in much queerer ways. The gospels are distinctly coy about the method. it just happened. No need for a shower of gold or Yaweh turning himself into a swan, as Zeus did in the old days. But that’s just because the public had gone squeemish about discussing female sexuality and the act of giving birth.
Every birth is a miracle, and an act of magic — that is, in this case Theurgy rather than Thaumaturgy. Theurgy is the same as other forms of magic but the agent in the act is a god, not a human being. Now, the act of conception and the act of birth are considered entirely the acts of humans by modern biologists, but there is still something unexplainable in the successful creation of a new baby. In that small, inexplicable gap is the Divine. It’s like Dark Matter. It’s in the emptiness.
Thaumaturgy then is divided into three principal divisions, and I like to think of these as corresponding to the three Wise Men. Three wizards walk into a stable, and the first one says, magic is about transforming things. The second wizard says, “I think magic is about discovering knowledge and finding out the great secrets of the cosmos.” The third wizard looks at the other two and says, “You’re both wrong. Magic is about altering circumstances and probabilities to make it possible for the unreal to become real.” Then the bartender says…
Well, these are the three divisions they were talking about: Transformations, Informations, and Circumstanciations. Those elegant terms are the one’s my spirit-guides have given me for the three types of magic. They are more elegant in the original Elvish.
Continued next week….