(My apologies for posting a day late. It was quite a day yesterday and blogging had to be postponed a day.)
Earlier this week I had the privilege of volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages (tenthousandvillages.ca), a fairtrade store, helping staff decorate Christmas trees. While I like keeping things seasonal and not starting anything — even Christmas — too early, I understand the wisdom of this particular store decorating early. Many of its customers are people who share the store’s international connections and who, if they are going to send gifts early, need to plan ahead.
Likewise, this year, me. There are only ten days until Seeker of Stars is released into the wild, so I’m thinking a bit more Christmas than I usually do on November 1st. But not Santa Claus and snow Christmas. Hot desert Christmas. Astronomers. Treachery. Trust. While Seeker of Stars is a “Christmas book”, it’s also one that isn’t only a seasonal book.
But it is a book about we three kings: the magi.
To be one of the magi meant that you had knowledge not commonly known to most people. Magi were men who advised the king of a country. They were scholars of a wide variety of knowledge, and were also used as ambassadors. Their learning included a blend of what we now call astronomy and astrology, among other subjects, such as time keeping, tides, stars, medicine, alchemy, and religion.
All these subjects were studied in order to give the king an edge. Some of the magi specialized in healing or natural sciences, but being able to interpret omens was an important part of their function.
Astronomy was practised by use of water clocks and measuring sticks, with careful records being kept and compared for hundreds of years. Deviations in regular patterns were understood as signaling an omen, a sign from the heavens.
Where the magi of the Christmas story were from is a matter of conjecture. The three leading candidates are Arabia, Babylon, or Persia. The early Christian church apparently believed the magi were from Persia, or modern day Iraq. Some of the biblical prophecies of a Messiah said that kings would come from Sheba (Arabia) bearing gold. Many today believe that the magi were from Babylon whose astronomers were unmatched in the ancient world; many exiled Jews remained living in Babylon, which lends further credibility to this theory. Interestingly there is no record of ancient beliefs that the magi were from Babylon.
In my book, I keep the mystery of the magi’s origin open. Names were chosen from a variety of eastern cultures. I break with Christmas card tradition by playing with the numbers of the magi. In the Bible, there are three gifts, but the number of magi is never stated.