Winter and the Moon of the New Year
Christmastide Day 11: Festival of the Three Kings
Tuesday gratefuls: Three sets in resistance work. Bridgerton. The Twelve Days of Christmas. (Yule) The darkness of the night Sky. The brilliant blue of the day Sky. Derek. Ruth, wisdom toothless. Gabe and his metal detector. Jon. Joe. Seoah. Murdoch. Gettin’ on a jetplane January 22nd. Kate. Always Kate.
This morn I met the train
Of the three great kings of the East
This morn I met the train
of the kings on the wide high road
Old carol of Provence, Matthews 205
In the Orthodox church the celebration of the incarnation, of the birth of Jesus, comes not on December 25th, but on the day after Twelfth Night, January 7th. It used to be on the Epiphany, January 6th, but since the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar, it advances due to the shifting differences between the Julian and the Gregorian.
The twelve days of Christmas ended, then, on the day of Jesus’ birth as commemorated by the Eastern church. The night before Epiphany, tonight, was the time of gift giving, following the legend of the Three Kings.
Legend? Sir Thomas Browne published his forerunner to Snopes, Pseudodoxia, or Enquiries into Vulgar and Common Errors, in 1646. (Matthews, 205) In it he points out:
A common conceit is of the three Kings…
conceived to be the wise men that travelled
unto our Savior by direction of the Star.
But although we grant they were kings, yet
we cannot be assured they were three. For the
scriptures make no mention of any number;
and the number of their presents: Gold,
Myrrh, and Frankincense, concludeth not
the number of their persons; for these were
the commodities of their Country, and such
as probably the Queen of Sheba in one
person brought unto Solomon.
We’ve needed scholars of Browne’s ilk for the last four years. And, as recently as yesterday. Just ask the Georgia Secretary of State and its top election official.
Oops. Veered off course there. Anyhow. I want to skip the numbers and the gifts, though Browne is right.
Seekers. That’s what they were. Probably Persian magi, men steeped in the esoteric secrets of astrology/astronomy, alchemy, and other sources of special knowledge. And these men, whether priests of Zoroaster, or more like magicians and alchemists, decided to leave the comfort of their home culture to go off in search of, as Matthews names them, a Child of Wonder.
No matter what they carried, or how far they came. No matter. What matters is their choice, a willingness to challenge the familiarity of their own knowledge.
Made me think. What would it take? What insight, tea leaf, smoky dream, random prophecy in a dusty scroll? What would get me out of my loft, off Shadow Mountain in search of a miracle? (No. Not the vaccine. Although…)
Maybe they were more open to the miraculous, probably were. OK. Let’s say they were. In that case miracles would not have been common, but probably not rare either. Surely there were many claims of miracles or prophecies of miracles. What was unusual enough, compelling enough about the story of an infant to be born to the East?
Could it be the same impulse that leads folks to Area 51? To the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi? To the mysticism of Tibet? Or on a gold rush to Pikes Peak, Sutter’s Mill? To a white buffalo calf?
It would have to be strong. It would have to have some credibility. It would have to have the probability, not just the possibility, of changing lives. What would bring these wise guys to their knees?
Not a star, though that could be a signpost. Not a rumor, there must have been many rumors.
I can imagine them, let’s call them three, as seekers even within the received wisdom, the orthodoxy of their learned circles. Perhaps folks who were not interested in the transmutation of lead or love potions. Whose reading of the scrolls had turned them away from certainty toward perhaps, maybe, what if?
One night while they pondered weak and weary over many a volume of forgotten lore, (thanks, Edgar), perhaps after hashish and wine, a runner had come. Breathless. Guess what I heard?
Questions asked. Astrolabes consulted. Prophecies searched.
It’s worth the risk. No, they’ll never see it. We’ll have to go ourselves. Bring back word.
Arrangements made. The journey begun. The runner now the guide. This way. Under that star.
Wow. We would all like to find that one thing. That one word or poem or book or leader. That one painting or piece of music or monastery. That one. The one. The one ring to control them all.
Here’s the reality from my perspective. No. There is no miracle child. No one word or book or ring. No one leader or lover. Oh, yes, they may have clues, hints, suggestions. But can they follow them up for you? No.
My guess? Those wise men learned that the true vision was in their willingness to embrace wonder. In their willingness to set aside the proofs of their own ways to receive significant information from a new source. In their desire to learn, to open themselves.
In otherwords it was the ancientrail, not the destination. Just as I may believe it must be for all of us.