Sunday, January 08, 2023

Phillip Clark on the Magi as Archetypes of “Witchy Faith”

Over at Medium, my friend Phillip Clark has an insightful (dare I say spell-binding) article that invites us to embrace the magic of Epiphany by considering the Magi (commonly referred to as the “three wise men”) as archetypes of “witchy faith.” Following are excerpts.


Scripture depicts the “wise men” as being “Magi” from the East, the word magi being derived from the Greek word magos – referring to Persian priests who practiced astrology as adherants of Zoroastrianism (one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions). The English word for magic is poignantly connected to the Magi. While contemporary biblical scholars regard Matthew’s arduous journey of the Magi to Bethlehem as being more poetic than factual, magi existed as historical figures who predicted celestial movements and utilized the zodiac to predict future events. According to astronomer Michael Molnar, the Star of Bethlehem referenced in Matthew may not have been a visible star at all, but an intricate horoscope detailing a unique alignment of the planet Jupiter.

Ironically, Christianity has perceived astrology, magic, or anything pertaining to the occult as overtly evil. The prohibition against witchcraft from Exodus, “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18) fueled centuries of violent persecutions against those either alleged or discovered practicing witchcraft. Approximately 40,000 people were executed – often burned at the stake – for being aligned with witchcraft between 1550 and 1750.

Pew Research statistics reveal that an estimated 1.5 million Americans identify as either Pagan or Wiccan – despite the infamous legacy of the Salem Witch Trials. Many are drawn to witchcraft because of its subjective nature and the absence of harmful doctrines, hierarchies, or institutions that limit the possibilities of spiritual exploration.

. . . [My own exploration of] magic and witchcraft . . . has only enhanced my Catholic faith. Catholic ritual has comforted me through many of life’s harrowing moments – joy, death, grief, adversity and uncertainty. Although I have learned to read much of the Bible metaphorically – viewing its compilation through the lens of politics, empire, and patriarchy – and reject the groans of a crumbling hierarchy seeking to define sexual morality, while protecting sexual predators, the notions of bonding with saintly family members, communal meals of bread and wine conveying ineffable grace, and the transformative love embodied by an itinerant first century prophet executed by the state – keep me going.

My sacramental approach to the world, cultivated by Catholicism, has been deepened by practicing withcraft, particularly exploring tarot. Just as water, wine, oil, bread, and incense are spiritually reconfigured by the rites of the church, so are paper, herbs, cards, plants, clothing, or stones transformed by practicing witches. Doing so extends the mantle of priesthood as a healing ministry, beyond ordination, open to all who discern a calling, particularly women. A friend, who is a longtime practicing witch, attended Sunday Mass at my parish, and aptly noted that, “This is just a giant spell.” Indeed, a spell celebrated communally, on a weekly basis. Learning how the Catholic Church appropriated many practices and traditions from paganism – including Holy Communion, the Winter Solstice, and goddess worship – has strengthened my resolve to enhance my faith with magic.

. . . After visiting and leaving their gifts with the child Jesus, the Magi in Matthew’s gospel return to their homelands. However, after meeting with King Herod, scripture states, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:12). With that, the Magi quietly fade from the Christmas story.

Dreams can often be one of the clearest ways of listening to the subconcious. Just as the Magi discerned an alternative route – one that was divinely inspired – to complete their pilgrimage, so it seems many are pondering and actively undertaking non-traditional avenues in undertaking their spiritual journeys. Perhaps the Magi have remained such popular motifs throughout the centuries because they serve as silent avatars, reminding us that magic can only expand, rather than destroy faith. Whether we read it literally or poetically, the central act of Christmas, the Incarnation, is magical – divinity manifesting through our shared humanity.

To read in its entirety Phillip Clark's article, “Embracing Magic on Epiphany – The Magi as Archetypes of Witchy Faith,” click here.

Related Off-site Links:
Epiphany: Mystery in the StarsIn Search of a New Eden (January 5, 2020).
Queer Epiphany: Three Kings or Three Queens? – Kittredge Cherry (Q Spirit, January 5, 2023).

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
What We Can Learn From the Story of the Magi
We Three . . . Queens
Our Story Too
The Feast of the Epiphany
An Epiphany Blessing
The Magi and Our Journey to Christ
Wakey Wakey
A Story of Searching and Discovery
The Onward Call
Tarot: A Compass for Journeying Toward the Truth of Who We Are
“This Spring, May We Renew the World”
Beltane: A Time of Hope and Renewal
Imbolc: Festival of Light
Mystical Participation
Cosmic Connection
Beloved and Antlered
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Biophilia, the God Pan, and a Baboon Named Scott
The Devil We (Think We) Know
Advent: A “ChristoPagan” Perspective
Gabriel Fauré’s “ChristoPagan” Requiem
A Day to Celebrate the Survival of the Old Ways
Autumnal (and Rather Pagan) Thoughts on the Making of “All Things New”
At Hallowtide, Pagan Thoughts on Restoring Our World and Our Souls
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son
The Pagan Roots of All Saints Day
The God from the House of Bread: A Bridge Between Christianity and Paganism – Part I | II | III | IV

Image: “Three Wise Men” (1900) by Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874-1951).

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