A Library of Ancient Sources
Wisemen of the East
Made famous by the account of the New Testament, by which the were said to have followed a start to the birth of the Christian Messiah, the Magi were priests of the Persian empire, who were renowned throughout antiquity for their knowledge of magic, astrology and alchemy. Thus, our own word for magic refers to the occult arts of the Magi
In truth, though, the Magi known to the Greek and Roman world, were not the same as the official priests of the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, said to be founded by Zoroaster. For, when we compare the ideas that were attributed to the Magi by ancient writers, we find that they differed widely from what we know of the mainstream version of the religion, as found in its sacred scriptures, the Avesta.
Rather, it would appear that the Greeks had come into contact, not with priests of Zoroastrianism, but the notorious Magussaeans of Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. These Magussaeans were Persian emigres that found their way to the region after it had come under Persian domination. Speaking the language of Aramaic, rather than Palahvi, they were unable to read their own scriptures in their original tongue, and thereby deviated from the faith.
Basically, the cult of the Magussaeans was a combination of heretical Zoroastrianism and Babylonian astrology. When Cyrus the Great conquered the great city of Babylon in the sixth century BC, the Magi came into contact with the teachings of the city's astrologers, known as Chaldeans. According to Diodorus of Sicily, a Greek historian of 80 to 20 BC, and author of a universal history, Bibliotheca historica:
...being assigned to the service of the gods they spend their entire life in study, their greatest renown being in the field of astrology. But they occupy themselves largely with soothsaying as well, making predictions about future events, and in some cases by purifications, in others by sacrifices, and in others by some other charms they attempt to effect the averting of evil things and the fulfillment of the good. They are also skilled in the soothsaying by the flight of birds, and they give out interpretations of both dreams and portents. They also show marked ability in making divinations from the observations of the entrails of animals, deeming that in this branch they are eminently successful.
Though astrology has often been regarded as representing an ancient form of knowledge devised by the Babylonians, scholars have now determined that its development was impossible, before the eighth century BC, due to the absence of a reliable system of chronology, and that, more properly, astrology was a product of the sixth century BC. This transformation, according to Bartel van der Waerden, was the result of the influence of Zoroastrianism, with its doctrine that the human soul originated in the stars.
In addition, the sixth century BC is also known in Jewish history as the Exile, when their entire population was located in the city, having been removed to there by Nebuchadnezzar, at the beginning of the century, after he had destroyed Jerusalem. Having become substantial citizens, with some achieving minor administrative posts, it is possible the Jews also contributed to this development. In fact, in the Book of Daniel, Chapter 2:48, Daniel is made chief of the "wise men" of Babylon, that is of the Magi or Chaldeans. In any case, scholars have certainly recognized that the later teachings referred to collectively as the esoteric Kabbalah, seem to have been a combination of Magian and Chaldean lore.
Astrology was not a component of mainstream Zoroastrianism, and those who incorporated its concepts into their version of the faith seem to have been regarded as heretical. As Edwin Yamauchi describes, "the relationship of the Magi to Zoroaster and his teachings is a complex and controversial issue." Ever since the early days of the Persian Empire, there had existed an antagonism with the proponents of true Zoroastrianism and the Magi. And, according the French Assyriologist Lenormant, "to their influence are to be ascribed nearly all the changes which, towards the end of the Achaemenid dynasty, corrupted deeply the Zoroastrian faith, so that it passed into idolatry."
It is believed that Zoroaster was a monotheist but that it was the Magi who had sought to re-introduce the paganism of their ancient Iranian heritage. According to Herodotus, the Persians had learned the worship of "Mitra" from the Babylonians. Mitra, or Mithra was an ancient Iranian deity, which the Magi assimilated to Bel, the chief god of the Babylonians. Bel, or Marduk, was a species of dying god worshipped throughout the ancient Middle East. Every year, corresponding to our Easter, his death and resurrection was celebrated, believed to symbolize the fertility cycle of nature. He was a god recognized as the Sun, and often symbolized by the bull, but also as a ram or a goat.
In imitation of the Babylonian triad of Bel, Shamash, and the goddess Ishtar, Mithras was recognized as one of three chief deities, along with Ahura Mazda and Anahita, as the Sun, Moon and Venus. The Persians also worshipped the "four elements". Therefore, according to Strabo Greek geographer of the first century AD:
Now the Persians do not erect statues or altars, but offer sacrifice on a high place, regarding the heavens as Zeus [Ahura-Mazda]; and they also worship Helios [the Sun], who they call Mithras, and Selene [Anahita or the Moon] and Aphrodite, and fire and earth and winds and water [the four elements]
As he was believed to descend there in winter, this dying god was also associated with the Underworld. It was through him that sorcerers were required to consult in order to confer with the departed spirits that dwelt there. Thus, the Magi acquired their renown as necromancers, or the power of summoning of evil spirits. Demon worship was thoroughly forbidden in orthodox Zoroastrianism. This would mean that the Magi known to the west were those condemned in numerous instances in Zoroastrian texts as a "daeva" or demon worshipping sect of the faith. Therefore, in Lucian,, when one of his characters wishes descend to underworld, he describes: as I was puzzling over these matters, it occurred to me to go to Babylon and ask one of the Magi, Zoroaster's disciples and successors. I had heard that they could open the gates of the underworld with certain spells and rites and conduct and bring back up safely whomever they wished.
Judging by the fourth century BC accounts of Eudemus of Rhodes, a pupil of Aristotle, and Greek historianTheopompus, these Magussaeans were adherents of the Zurvanite heresy. Borrowing from the conceptions of the Chaldeans, Zurvan Akaran, or Boundless Time or Fate, was seen as the father of twin sons, Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, the evil spirit. These two battle each other for twelve thousand years, divided into four cycles of three thousand years, with each millennium governed by a sign of the Zodiac.
During the first three thousand, ruled by Aries, Taurus and Gemini, Ahura Mazda created light, patterned after the celestial light. The second three, Cancer, Leo and Virgo, is the period of the creation of life in the material world: vegetation, fire, the primeval bull, and Gayomart, the primordial man. In the third period, Ahriman, who has been imprisoned in darkness, is revived by the Whore, and renews his assault on Ahura Mazda and his creation.
Prior to the end, Ahura Mazda now brings about the resurrection, and from the corpse of the Bull the land is fertilized, and from the Primordial Man, known as Gayomart, he creates the ancestors of mankind. The earth then become filled with evil until the coming of Zoroaster, whose advent begins the final period to last until the Day of Judgment, with the coming of the saviour, when a flood of molten metal shall burn the wicked, while the righteous will pass unharmed, and good and evil are finally separated from one another.
Persian emperor Cyrus, had attacked Croesus, king of Lydia In 546 BC, defeated him, and annexed Asia Minor to his realm, followed by the gradual conquest of the small Greek city-states along the coast. Cyrus' son Cambyses, added Egypt in 525 BC, and after him, in 522, Darius came to power and set about consolidating and strengthening the Persian empire. From 521 to 484 BC, Darius expanded the empire further with conquests in India, central Asia and European Thrace.
With Cyrus came the settlement of many Medes and Persians accompanied by their Magi. The fact that the Greeks knew of Zoroaster and of the Magi is enough assure us of some degree of contact. The first among the Greeks to actually mention Zoroaster by name was Xanthus of Lydia, in the fifth century BC. Empedocles left an unfinished poem on the Persian wars, in which it was suspected that he spoke of Zoroaster, and Herodotus spoke of the Magi as a tribe of the Medes, though without mentioning Zoroaster. In the fifth century BC,Ctesias, makes Zoroaster a king of Bactria surrounded by Magi. Theopompus,, in the fourth century BC, spoke of the relation of Ahura Mazda and Ahriman in the Zurvanite context. Finally, in the fourth century BC, Dinon, the historian of Persia, connected Zoroaster etymologically with the stars, showing that already from an early date Zoroaster was erroneously connected with astrology.
As a result, all the early ideas of the pre-Socratic philosophers would suggest that they had come into contact with Magi in Asia Minor. Thus we find among them the recurring presence of the typical Magian or Chaldean doctrines of dualism, pantheism, astralism, the four elements and the belief in reincarnation. The influence of the Magi on Greek philosophy has been proposed by some the twentieth century's foremost scholars. In Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient, M. L. West has suggested that the introduction of Persian and Babylonian beliefs into Greece was attributable to Magi fleeing west from Cyrus' annexation of Media. In Alien Wisdom : The Limits of Hellenization, Arnoldo Momigliano affirms:
Those who have maintained that Pherecydes of Syros, Anaximander, Heraclitus and even Empedocles derived some of their doctrines from Persia have not always been aware that the political situation was favourable to such contacts. But this cannot be said of Professor M. L. West, the latest supporter of the Iranian origins of Greek philosophy. He certainly knows that if there was a time in which the Magi could export their theories to a Greek world ready to listen, it was the second half of the sixth century BC. It is undeniably tempting to explain certain features of early Greek philosophy by Iranian influences. The sudden elevation of Time to a primeval god in Pherecydes, the identification of Fire with Justice in Heraclitus, Anaximander's astronomy placing the stars nearer to the Earth than the moon, these and other ideas immediately call to mind theories which we have been taught to consider Zoroastrian, or at any rate Persian, or at least Oriental.
According to Pliny, it was Osthanes, a supposed disciple of Zoroaster, known as the "prince of the Magi", said to have accompanied Xerxes on his campaign against Greece, who "was chiefly responsible for stirring up among the Greeks not merely an appetite but a mad obsession for this art." It is said that Osthanes became the teacher of Democritus, born in 460 BC. Democritus apparently also visited Babylon and summed up the results of his investigations in a Chaldean Treatise, and On the Sacred Writings of Those in Babylon. As a result of his visit to Persia, he wrote Mageia.
Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the sixth century BC, equated the rites of the Bacchants with those of the Magi, and commented: if it were for Dionysus that they hold processions and sing hymns to the shameful parts [phalli], it would be a most shameless act; but Hades and Dionysus are the same, in whose honor they go mad and celebrate the Bacchic rites, and of the Nightwalkers, Magi, Bacchoi, Lenai, and the initiated, all these people he threatens with what happens after death: for the secret rites practiced among humans are celebrated in an unholy manner. A papyrus from Derveni, near Thessalonika, belonging to the fourth century BC, we read about "incantations" of the Magoi that are able to placate daimones who could bring disorder... Therefore, theMagoi perform this sacrifice as if they would pay an amend, and initiates of Dionysus, first sacrifice to the Eumenides, like the magoi.
According to the Orphic Theogonies, Kronos, or Time, is described as a serpent having heads growing upon him of a bull and a lion, and in the middle the face of a god; and he has also wings upon his shoulders, and is called ageless Time, and Herakles the same. In Orpheus and Greek Religion, Guthrie remarked that, the depicting of ageless Time himself in this form shows correspondences with Oriental, and in particular with Persian religion, which are too detailed and exact to be passed over.
The female worshippers of Dionysus, called Maenads, were supposed to re-enact the a myth of the tearing and eating of Dionysus, by whipping themselves into a frenzy, and tearing a live bull to pieces with their bare hands and teeth, for the animal in some sense was an incarnation of the god. Similarly, Nigosian, in The Zoroastrian Faith, has pointed out that according to a Zoroastrian text, titled the Yasna, Yima was the instructor of the bull-sacrifice, condemned by Zoroaster, which were nocturnal and orgiastic rites, accompanied with shouts of joy, and combined with the haoma, an intoxicating drink prepared from the sacred plant of Zoroastrianism.
The Orphics worshipped Phanes, a beautiful figure with wings on his shoulders, four eyes and the heads of various animals, is born from an egg. Similarly, according to Plutarch, the twenty-four gods created by Ahura Mazda were placed in an egg, but those created by Ahriman pierced their way through it and made their way inside, and hence evil is now combined with the good. Zeus swallows Phanes, taking all that exits within himself, a myth that gave rise to the dualism typical of the Orphics, whereby the soul of man is seen as created by the true god, while matter is created by the evil god.
Though Orphic dualism did not borrow the simple dualism of Zoroastrianism, being an opposition between a Good and Evil god, it may have been elaborated from Zurvanism. Theodore bar Konai and Eznik, Zurvan says to Ahriman, "I have made Ormazd to rule above thee," meaning, as Zaehner has shown, that Ahriman rules the material world, while Ormazd is appointed over the world of spirit. Likewise, according to the Orphic Theogony, Phanes made the world in its primeval state, but Zeus swallowed Phanes and then produced the world known to humanity. Thus, Phanes was interpreted as the creator of the spiritual realm, while Zeus gave rise to the cosmos of matter.
According to Apuleius, Pythagoras was captured by Cambyses during his invasion of the country, and taken back to Babylon along with other prisoners. In Babylon, maintains Porphyry Pythagoras was taught by Zaratas, a disciple of Zoroaster, and initiated into the highest esoteric mysteries of the Zoroastrians. Aristoxenus, friend and pupil of Aristotle, who came originally from Pythagorean circles, had also maintained that Pythagoras had been a student of Zaratas.
According to Iamblichus, Pythagoras traveled to Phoenici, where he conversed with the prophets who wer descendants of Moschus, or Moses, the physiologist, and with many others, as well as with the local hierophants. OF his ideas, maintained Hermippus, a Greek writer who lived about 200 BC, Pythagoras practiced and taught these in imitation of the beliefs of the Jews and the Thracians, which he had appropriated to himself. Josephus also believed in Pythagoras' affinity for Jewish ideas: Now it is plain that he did not only know our doctrines, but ws in very great measure a follower and admirer of them. For it is very truly affirmed of this Pythagoras, that he took a great many of hte laws of the Jews into his own philosophy.
Pythagoras propounded a doctrine known as the Music of the Spheres, whereby the distances and speeds of the planets' orbits were thought to create a musical harmony that was inaudible to humans. The doctrine, which presupposed that the distances between the planetary spheres have the ratios of simple whole numbers, was originally Babylonian a theory. Iamblichus explained that it was in Babylon that Pythagoras learned mathematics, music, and all other sciences. According to Philo of Alexandria:
The Chaldeans appear beyond all other men to have devoted themselves to the study of astronomy and of genealogies; adapting things on earth to things sublime, and also adapting things of heaven to things on earth, and like people who, availing themselves of the principles of music, exhibit a most perfect symphony as existing in the universe by the common union and sympathy of the parts for another, which through separated as to place, are not disunited in regard of kindred.
Scholars have not been able to account for the provenance of the belief of reincarnation among the Greeks. Herodotus maintained that the belief was adopted from the Egyptians, but no such doctrine is found among them. Some have thought to suggest a transmission from India, but it is improbable, as the belief in reincarnation emerged there quite late. Though reincarnation is not found in orthodox Zoroastrianism, it would have been an important tenet of the Magussaeans, for as Porphyry reported, the Magi divided themselves into three classes, "of which the uppermost and the most wise do not eat nor kill any living creature and persevere in the old abstinence from flesh," the second do not consume wild game, nor domestic animals, and even the third only of certain species, because all three classes believe in metempsychosis.
According to Momigliano, it was Plato who made Persian wisdom thoroughly fashionable, though the exact place of Plato in the story is ambiguous and paradoxical. A fragment of Aristotle's Peri philosophias associated Plato's teaching with the dualism of the Magi. In the Laws he suggests the necessity of two souls to govern the universe: that which does good, and that which has the opposite capacity, an idea which Prof. Werner Jaeger regards as ultimately Zoroastrian. Plato's philosophy further incorporates an Orphic dualism, evident in a number of his dialogues, including the Timaeus, Phaedo, Gorgias and Cratylus. He defines a divine part and a mortal part of the human soul, the mortal part being attributed to the "titanic nature" within man.
The man considered most responsible for introducing Magian tenets to Plato was one of his friends, an Ionian mathematician and astronomer, Eudoxus of Cnidus, who seems to have acted as head of the Academy during Plato's absence. Eudoxus is said to have traveled to Babylon and Egypt, studying at Heliopolis, where he learned the priestly wisom and astronomy. According to Pliny, Eudoxus wished magic to be recognized as the most noble and useful of the schools of philosophy.
The great exposition of Magian thought in the Greek language is the Timaeus, where Plato treated the common Magian themes of Time, triads, pantheism, astrology, and the four elements. Similar ideas were expounded in the Epinomis, and though it may not have been his work, we should expect that he at least would not have denied the origin of his new-found religion, which the author acknowledges as belonging originally to the Egyptians and the Syrians, from when the knowledge has reached to all countries, including our own, after having been tested by thousands of years and time without end.
Most common to the tales or motifs borrowed from the Magi were those dealing with visits to the Underworld. Plato concluded his Republic with such an account, known as the myth of Er. Colotes, a philosopher of the third century BC, accused Plato of plagiarism, maintaining that he substituted Er's name for that of Zoroaster.Clement of Alexandria and Proclus quote from a work entitled On Nature, attributed to Zoroaster in which he is equated with Er. Quoting the opening of the work, Clement mentions:
Zoroaster, then, writes: "These things I wrote, I Zoroaster, the son of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth: having died in battle, and been in Hades, I learned them of the gods." This Zoroaster, Plato says, having been placed on the funeral pyre, rose again to life in twelve days. He alludes perchance to the resurrection, or perchance to the fact that the path for souls to ascension lies through the twelve signs of the zodiac; and he himself says, that the descending pathway to birth is the same. In the same way we are to understand the twelve labours of Hercules, after which the soul obtains release from this entire world.
Greek interest in Oriental teachings during the Alexandrian period resulted in the production of a curious set of pseudoepigraphical works, written in Greek, and attributed to Zoroaster, his disciple Osthanes, and to his patron Hystaspes. However, as Bidez and Cumont have sought to demonstrate, in The Hellenized Magi, these documents held nothing of orthodox Zoroastrian content, but reflected the magical and astrological notions of the Magussaeans. Momigliano described that, these "new-fangled speculations gained prestige from the Academic and Peripatetic admiration for the wisdom of Zoroaster and, no doubt, mixed Platonic ideas with those alleged to be Oriental." Though no such works survive, ancient authors make mention of a number of them. Celsus maintained that "Zoroaster and Pythagoras formulated their doctrines in books" which were conserved until his time, while the scholiast of the Alcibiades affirms that Zoroaster left philosophical writings. The Clementine Recognitions assert that books of magic under the title of Zoroaster circulated in large number. Proclus, a Greek philosopher of the fourth century AD, knew of four books on Nature by Zoroaster dedicated to King Cyrus. Hermippus, who lived about 200 BC, wrote a book on the Magi and believed in the Oriental origins of Greek thought. According to Pliny, he "commented upon two million verses left by Zoroaster, besides completing indexes to his several works." Pliny also knew of a work ascribed to Osthanes, and Philo of Byblos, refers to a work attributed to him titled Octateuch. Christian writers Justin and Lactantius quoted a prophecy under the name of Hystaspes, the protector and first convert of Zoroaster, sometimes identified as the father of Darius.
At the beginning of the Hellenistic Age, Greek philosophy at this time was divided into fairly definite schools, of which the most important were the Cynics, Sceptics, Epicureans and the Stoics. Of these, the most influential was that of the Stoics. The Stoics adopted a pantheistic philosophy, believing that all reality is animated by a rational principle that was at the same time both the law of the universe and of the human soul, calling it either Logos, Zeus, or even God. Like the Magi, they equated it with fire. Essentially, the Stoics appropriated their pantheistic and fatalistic view of the universe from the Chaldeans, of whom Philo of Alexandria mentioned:
These men, then, imagined that this world which we behold was the only world in the existing universe, and was either God himself, or else that it contained within itself God, that is, the soul of the universe. Then, having erected fate and necessity into gods, they filled human life with excessive impiety, teaching men that with the exception of those things which are apparent there is no other cause whatever of anything, but that it is the periodical revolutions of the sun, and moon, and other stars, which distribute good and evil to all existing beings.
The Stoics believed that the divine "fire," or God, generated the universe, and at the end of the Great Year, took it back into itself through a great conflagration. Eventually the Fire would die down to Air, and finally to a Watery condition in which the seed for the next cycle of would be. This cycle repeats itself eternally. The idea of recurring conflagrations was attributed by Nigidius Figulus, prominent Roman philosopher and astrologer of the first century BC, to the Magi, and the notion that the world would be destroyed by fire is found in theBundahishn. It may have been from the Magussaeans that Heraclitus learned the same doctrine. Also, in theRepublic, Plato made use of the Babylonian Sar, where it appears as the numerical equivalent of the period between global catastrophes outlined in the Timaeus, when the stars and seven planets are aligned with each other exactly as they were at the Creation.
Dio Chrysostom recorded a hymn sung by the Magi of Asia Minor on account of its resemblance to the Stoic theory of conflagrations. In the hymn, which Dio claimed was sung by Zoroaster and the children of the Magi who learned it from him, Zeus is portrayed as the perfect and original driver of the most perfect chariot, drawn by four horses representing the four elements. The hymn ends at the moment that the Divine Fire, having absorbed all the substance of the universe, prepared for a new creation.
In the early part of the twentieth century, Franz Cumont, who founded the study of Mithraism, considered the Mysteries of Mithras to have evolved from the Magussaeans of Asia Minor. However, believing they have refuted his hypothesis of a Zoroastrian origin of the cult, modern scholars of the subject tend towards the opinion that it was entirely a Roman creation. However, according to Plutarch mysteries dedicated to Mithras were practiced by pirates of Cilicia in the early first century BC, who "offered strange sacrifices of their own at Olympus, where they celebrated secret rites or mysteries, among which were those of Mithras. These Mithraic rites, first celebrated by the pirates, are still celebrated today." Similarly, Lactantius Placidus, tells us that the Mithraic cult passed from the Persians to the Phrygians, and from them to the Romans.
However, on the authority of Bardasenes, a Syrian Christian of the late first and early second century AD, the Magussaeans, wherever they were found, observed "the laws of their forefathers, and the initiatory rites of their mysteries." Though we have no information as to the exact nature of these mysteries, we should presume that they were dedicated to Mithras, and like many of the other cults of the Roman period, would have been largely influenced by a combination of Magian and Chaldean doctrines.
The longest tractate in the Nag Hammadi find is Zostrianos. The Gnostics attacked by Plotinus also possessed apocrypha attributed to Zoroaster, as did certain Gnostics, the disciples of Prodicus, mentioned by Clement of Alexandria. According to the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions and Homilies, a Gnostic doctrine fought by the apostle Peter, supposed Zoroaster to have been sent to combat the invading influence of evil demons in the world, and through his triumph over them, to bring in a golden age. The government of the world was thought to have been divided by two Aeons, one identified with the god of the Old Testament, a vengeful demon, the other with the Christ, the god of light.
According to Numenius, thought to have been the main influence behind the thought of Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism, to explore the nature of God, Numenius insisted, one had to look back beyond the wisdom of Plato, or even of Pythagoras, to everything that the Brahmins, the Jews, the Magi and the Egyptians have established. In the Life of Plotinus, Porphyry reported of his teacher that:
At twenty-seven he was caught by a passion for philosophy. He was directed to the most highly-reputed professors to be found at Alexandria; but he used to come home from their lectures saddened and discouraged. A friend to whom he opened his heart divined his temperamental craving and suggested Ammonius, whom he had not yet tried. Plotinus went, heard a lecture, and exclaimed to his comrade, "This was the man I was looking for!" From that day he followed Ammonius continuously, and under his guidance made such progress in philosophy that he became eager to investigate that practiced among the Persians and that perfected by the Indians.
Neoplatonists regarded the Chaldean Oracles, a work attributed to Zoroaster, that combined Platonic elements with Persian or Babylonian creeds, as a sacred text, sometimes, even above Plato himself. Proclus would have withdrawn all books from circulation except the Timaeus and the Chaldean Oracles, to prevent them from harming the uneducated. Referring to the Chaldean Oracles, the emperor Julian mentions the following, in what is generally regarded as one of his few allusions to the doctrine of the Mithraic Mysteries, And if I should also touch on the secret teachings of the Mysteries in which the Chaldean, divinely frenzied, celebrated the God of the Seven Rays, that god through whom he lifts up the souls of men, I should be saying what is unintelligible, yea wholly unintelligible to the common herd, but familiar to the happy theurgists.
Zoroaster, explained Zosimus of Panopolis, of the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century AD, and probably the most important of the Alexandrian alchemists, agreed with Hermes that men could raise themselves above Fate, but he took the way of magic, while Hermes, on the other hand, took the way of philosophy. The founder of the alchemical art was thought to have been Osthanes, to whom several works on the nature of plants and minerals were ascribed. One of the first alchemical works, written by a certain Bolos of Mendes in the second century BC, was attributed to Democritus, the reputed student of Osthanes.
Upon closer examination of the fundamental beliefs of these major mystical schools, it becomes apparent that, though they appear outwardly eclectic, their underlying theology was essentially the same. All were founded on a ritual of death and rebirth, the belief in a divine triad, Orphic dualism, pantheism, magic, astrology, and the belief in reincarnation. The one element which cannot be traced back to the Magi though is the doctrine of the ascent through the seven planets to union with the divine. This component may have been a later addition, and may have its origins in Merkabah mysticism.
Essentially, Merkabah mysticism is a method of astral magic, identical to that of the Mysteries of Mithras, that so pervaded Hellenistic mysticism, a similarity that may be the result of Roman soldiers coming into contact with Jewish mystical doctrines during their invasion of Palestine. Having first been sent to the Euphrates in 63 BC to fight the Parthians, from 67 to 70 AD, the Fifteenth Apollonian Legion took part in suppressing the uprising of the Jews in Palestine, when 97,000 Jews, according to Josephus, were taken captive. This legion accompanied Titus to Alexandria, where they were probably reinforced by recruits from Cappadocia in Asia Minor. It seems to have been a curious mix of these several elements, after the Legion had been transported to Germany, that erected the first temple dedicated to Mithras on the Danube.
According to Kaufman Kohler, in an article on Merkabah mysticism in the Jewish Encyclopedia, in light of evidence and the Mithras Liturgy, the rites of Mithraism "bear such a striking resemblance to those by means of which the Merkabah-riders approached the Deity that there can scarcely be any doubt as to the Mithraic origin of the latter." In Merkabah, the mystic ascends through the seven planets through the aid of a mediator god named Metratron, the equivalent of Enoch. This Metratron is the archetypal man that became a common doctrine of not only Philo of Alexandria but of Gnosticism as well.
The doctrine of the Primordial Man, was known to the Zoroastrians as Gayomart, or as Anthropos to the Chaldeans, who, according to the Christian Father Hippolytus, "say that this Adam is the man whom alone earth brought forth. And that he lay inanimate, unmoved, (and) still as a statue; being an image of him who is above, who is celebrated as the man Adam, having been begotten by many powers, concerning whom individually is an enlarged discussion." Similarly, according to Plutarch, Zoroaster:
...declared that among all the things perceptible to the senses, Ahura Mazda may best be compared to light, and Ahriman, conversely, to darkness and ignorance, and midway between the two is Mithras; for this reason the Persians give to Mithras the name of Mediator.
Merkabah-riders sought to have a vision like that described in the first chapter of Ezekial, of God upon his chariot. Supporting the chariot, were four "creatures", each with a human body, two sets of wings and cloven feet like that of a calf. Each creature had four faces, of a man, lion, ox and eagle, understood esoterically to represent the four seasons and elements. Not only is this image redolent of Kronos of the Orphics, it is also similar to the Leontocephalus of Mithraism, depicted standing on a globe, on which there are two circles intersecting each other, which Celsus explained, is a symbol of the two orbits in heaven, the one being that of the fixed stars and the other that assigned to the planets.
A number of ancient Jewish historians had equated Zoroaster with Ezekial, an identification which seems to have been replicated in the Mithraic mysteries. In the pseudepigraphic writings attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, the convert of St. Paul, reference is made to a miracle by which the day was lengthened three-fold, and said to have occured in the time of Ezekiel. He is purported to have claimed, Accordingly of this the sacred records of the Persians make special mention, and to the present day the Magians celebrate the memorial rites of the triple Mithras. Similarly, Cosmas Indicopleustes, claimed that, it is reported that to the present time the Persians keep the festival of Mithras, that is of the Sun, in memory of the miracle of the time of Ezekiel.
According to Zosimus, the alchemical process is the Mithraic Mystery, the incommunicable Mystery. Thus we are able to understand the Mithraic system as explained by Celsus. Converting lead into gold, implied the purification of the soul by removing successive levels of impurity, beginning with lead, which, according to the Mithraic system described by Celsus, is the first gate, the planet Saturn, then ascending through the six other planets, culminating in the Sun, symbolized by gold.