Tag: Magi

The Feast of the Epiphany

Sunday, 6 January, 2019

“How Real Is The Meaning?” That was the question posed by Walter Russell Mead some years ago in a meditation on the Feast of the Epiphany. Taking as his starting point the Biblical account of the Three Kings who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Bethlehem, Mead went on a long journey into a meaning that’s centered on this question: How much of the Christmas story is “real” and how much of both this story — and ultimately the entire record of the Scriptures — is historically accurate? It’s all very apt for today’s Feast of the Epiphany. Mead’s conclusion:

“The wise men who followed the star were led to the center of all things. They did not understand the difference between astronomy and astrology as well as we do, but they used what they knew to get to where they needed to be.

It was enough for them, and people today can still do the same thing. We can follow the light we have to the center of all things, to a place that both shepherds and scholars can find, and when we arrive, like both the shepherds and the wise men, we will find that it has what we need.”

Painting: The Adoration of the Magi is an early work by Hieronymus Bosch. The painting was thoroughly investigated by The Bosch Research and Conservation Project and an analysis revealed a palette consisting of the typical pigments employed in the Renaissance period, such as azurite, lead-tin yellow, carmine and gold leaf.

The Magi


The Magi for the Epiphany

Saturday, 6 January, 2018 1 Comment

Something unexpected took place in Bethlehem and the otherworldly magi, who “appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky”, are doing their best to comprehend the incomprehensible. It’s a long way from Bethlehem to Bloomsbury, but that was where William Butler Yeats was living in 1914 when he wrote The Magi. In a mere eight lines, he follows the journey of the three wise men with “ancient faces” that resemble “rain-beaten stones”, who are forever watching and waiting, “all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more” the thing that will satisfy their search for meaning.

Is Yeats saying that the world has yet to discover the meaning of Christ’s brief time on earth? Is it so that we cannot be fulfilled until “the uncontrollable mystery” is decrypted? Today, the quest for the secret of “the uncontrollable mystery” is increasingly fervent. Anthony Levandowski, for example, is the “Dean” of a brand new Silicon Valley religion called Way of the Future that worships artificial intelligence.

The Magi

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

William Butler Yeats

Yeats uses a series of “s”-sounding words — stones, stiff, still, silver, side by side, unsatisfied — to paint a picture of the mysterious Magi, who wear “stiff, painted clothes” and “helms of silver”. His use of alliteration and repetition underpins the characteristics of the “unsatisfied ones”. On this Feast of the Epiphany, let us hope that they, and all of us, find some satisfaction this year.

The Sacred Heart Lamp


The lamb and the wolf on 8 December

Friday, 8 December, 2017 0 Comments

The increasingly oppressive commercial Christmas begins on 1 October and then bludgeons consumers into submission with an incessant drumbeat of shopping commands and mawkish carols all the way until midnight on 24 December. The Christmas of the faithful, on the other hand, starts on the first Sunday of Advent and ends on 6 January, the feast day that commemorates the visit of the Magi.

But there is another date, and it’s to be found in the calendar of popular piety: 8 December. Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and it once marked the point when Christmas began in earnest. For my mother, the 8th of December was a serious shopping day and many essential “messages” were purchased in “Town” in preparation for the festivities.

Note: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was officially defined as an article of the Catholic Faith by Pope Pius IX in 1854, and the dogma professes that Christ’s Mother was exempt from original sin from the moment of her conception. Traditional belief in the Immaculate Conception long preceded its formal definition, however, which is evident in this 16th century Spanish villancico:

Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank protects it.
God kept our lamb
From the wolf.
The rabid wolf
Wanted to bite her
But Almighty God knew
How to defend her.
Riu, riu, chiu

The lamb there is a stand-in for the Mother of Christ while the wolf is the devil. The words “riu, riu, chiu” are meant to evoke the call of the nightingale — a bird whose call has traditionally served as a muse to poets down the ages.


A cold coming we had of it

Friday, 6 January, 2017 0 Comments

Was it the birth of a new world (Christianity) or the death of an old one (polytheism) that caused his crisis in belief? The speaker in The Journey Of The Magi says that since returning home following their visit to see the infant Christ, he and his companions have felt uneasy among their compatriots, who now seem to be “an alien people clutching their gods” (in contrast to the believers in the newly arrived Jesus, who worship one god only).

T. S. Eliot converted to Christianity in 1927, the same year he wrote Journey of the Magi in a single day, one Sunday morning. “I had been thinking about it in church,” Eliot told his wife Valerie years later, “and when I got home I opened a half-bottle of Booth’s Gin, poured myself a drink, and began to write. By lunchtime, the poem, and the half-bottle of gin, were both finished.” This is for the Feast of the Epiphany.

The Journey Of The Magi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T. S. Eliot (26 September 1888 — 4 January 1965)

A cold coming


Epiphany poem and painting

Wednesday, 6 January, 2016 0 Comments

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.

The Journey Of The Magi by T S Eliot

It has been said that Eliot’s imagery in The Journey Of The Magi is similar to that used by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Balthasar, Caspar and Melchior speak and act in a mystical world where their frankincense, gold and myrrh are both real and mysterious. Sometime around 1475, Hieronymus Bosch attempted to capture this in The Adoration of the Magi, which is displayed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Magi


Yeats2015

Sunday, 4 January, 2015 0 Comments

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” — William Butler Yeats. To mark the 150 years since the birth of W.B. Yeats on 13 June 1865, a year-long event titled Yeats2015 will take place across the world. We’re kicking it off here with that group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The poem is filled with symbolism and imagery relating to the never-ending human quest for solace.

The Magi

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

W.B. Yeats (1865 — 1939)


Meditation upon the Feast of the Epiphany

Friday, 6 January, 2012

“How Real Is The Meaning?” That’s the question posed by Walter Russell Mead in his Yule Blog 2011-12 post, which appeared on three days ago. Taking as his starting point the Biblical account of the Three Kings who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Bethlehem, Mead takes us on a long journey into […]

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