Priests of ancient Persia and cultivators of the wisdom of Zoroaster
(or Zarathustra) (possibly 1500 B.C.E.). They were instituted
by Cyrus when he founded the new Persian empire and
are supposed to have been of the Median race.
The German scholar K. W. F. von Schlegel stated in his Lectures
on the Philosophy of History (2 vols., 1829) ‘‘They were not
so much a hereditary sacerdotal caste as an order or association,
divided into various and successive ranks and grades, such
as existed in the mysteries—the grade of apprenticeship—that
of mastership—that of perfect mastership.’’ In short, they were
a theosophical college; and either its professors were indifferently
‘‘magi,’’ or magicians, and ‘‘wise men’’ or they were distinguished
into two classes by those names.
Their name, pronounced ‘‘Mogh’’ by later Persians, and
‘‘Magh’’ by the ancients, signified ‘‘wise,’’ which was the interpretation
of it given by the Greek and Roman writers. Stobaeus
expressly called the science of the magi, the ‘‘service of the
gods,’’ as did Plato. According to Joseph Ennemoser in his
book The History of Magic (1847), ‘‘Magiusiah, Madschusie’’ signified
the office and knowledge of the priest, who was called
‘‘Mag, Magius, Magiusi,’’ and afterward magi and ‘‘Magician.’’
The philosopher J. J. Brucker maintained that the primitive
meaning of the word was ‘‘fire worshiper’’ and ‘‘worship of the
light,’’ an erroneous opinion. In modern Persian, the word is
‘‘Mog’’; ‘‘Mogbed’’ signifies high priest. The high priest of the
Parsees at Surat was called ‘‘Mobed.’’ Others derive the word
from ‘‘Megh,’’ ‘‘Meh-ab’’ signifying something that is great and
noble; Zoroaster’s disciples were called ‘‘Meghestom.’’
Eusèbe Salverte, author of Des sciences occulte (1829), stated
that these Mobeds were named in the Pehivi dialect ‘‘Magoi.’’
They were divided into three classes those who abstained from
all animal food; those who never ate of the flesh of any tame
animals; and those who made no scruple to eat any kind of
meat. A belief in the transmigration of the soul was the foundation
of this abstinence.
They professed the science of divination and for that purpose
met together and consulted in their temples. They professed
to make truth the great object of their study, for that
alone, they said, can make man like God ‘‘whose body resembles
light, as his soul or spirit resembles truth.’’
They condemned all images and those who said that the
gods were male and female; they had neither temples nor altars,
but worshiped the sky, as a representative of the deity, on
the tops of mountains; they also sacrificed to the sun, moon,
earth, fire, water, and winds, said Herodotus, meaning no
doubt that they adored the heavenly bodies and the elements.
This was probably before the time of Zoroaster, when the religion
of Persia seems to have resembled that of ancient India.
Their hymns in praise of the Most High exceeded (according
to Dio Chrysostom) the sublimity of anything in Homer or Hesiod.
They exposed their dead bodies to wild beasts.
Schlegel maintained that it was an open question ‘‘whether
the old Persian doctrine and wisdom or tradition of light did
not undergo material alterations in the hand of its Median restorer,
Zoroaster, or whether this doctrine was preserved in all
its purity by the order of the magi.’’ He then remarked that on
them devolved the important trust of the monarch’s education,
which must necessarily have given them great weight and influence
in the state. They were in high credit at the ‘‘Persian
gates’’ (the Oriental name given to the capital of the empire,
and the abode of the prince) and they took the most active part
in all the factions that encompassed the throne, or that were
formed in the vicinity of the court.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Magi
In Greece, and even in Egypt, the sacerdotal fraternities
and associations of the initiated, formed by the mysteries, had
in general an indirect, although not unimportant, influence on
affairs of state, but in the Persian monarchy they acquired a
complete political ascendency. Religion, philosophy, and the
sciences were all in their hands. They were the universal physicians
who healed the sick in body and in spirit, and, in strict
consistency with that character, ministered to the state, which
is only the individual in a larger sense. The three grades of the
magi alluded to were called the ‘‘disciples,’’ the ‘‘professed,’’
and the ‘‘masters.’’
They were originally from Bactria, where they governed a
little state by laws of their own choice, and by their incorporation
in the Persian empire, they greatly promoted the consolidation
of the conquests of Cyrus.
Their decline dates from the reign of Darius Hystaspes,
about 500 B.C.E., by whom they were fiercely persecuted. This
produced an emigration that extended from Cappadocia to
India, but they were still of so much consideration at a later period
as to provoke the jealousy of Alexander the Great.

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