Magi [plural of Old Persian magus a wise man from the verbal root meh great; cf Sanskrit maha; cf Avestan mogaha, Latin plural magus, Greek magos, Persian mogh, Pahlavi maga] An hereditary priesthood or sacerdotal caste in Media and Persia. Zoroaster, himself a member of the Society of the Magi, divides the initiates into three degrees according to their level of enlightenment: the highest were referred to as Khvateush (those enlightened with their own inner light or self-enlightened); the second were called Varezenem (those who practice); and the third, Airyamna (friends or Aryans). The ancient Parsis may be divided into three degrees of Magi: the Herbods or novitiates; the Mobeds or masters; and the Destur Mobeds or perfect masters — the "Dester Mobeds being identical with the Hierophants of the mysteries, as practised in Greece and Egypt" (TG 197).

Pliny mentions three schools of Magi: one founded at an unknown antiquity; a second established by Osthanes and Zoroaster; and a third by Moses and Jambres. "And all the knowledge possessed by these different schools, whether Magian, Egyptian, or Jewish, was derived from India, or rather from both sides of the Himalayas" (IU 2:361). According to Shahrestani (12th-century Islamic scholar) the Magi are divided into three sects: Gaeomarethians (Kayumarthians), Zarvanian (Zurvanian), and Zoroastrians. They all share the common belief that in this manifested universe the dualism of light and darkness is at work and that the final victory of the light is the day of resurrection.

Porphyry refers to the Magi as the learned men among the Persians who are in the service of the deity (Abst 4:16), while Philo Judaeus describes them as the most wonderful inquirers into the hidden mysteries of nature: holy men who set themselves apart from everything else on this earth, "contemplated the divine virtues and understood the divine nature of the gods and spirits, the more clearly; and so, initiated others into the same mysteries, which consist in one holding an uninterrupted intercourse with these invisible beings during life" (IU 1:94-5). It is likely that the use of the name and the order survived in times when their true dignity was no longer apparent.

In the Bible Magi is translated "wise men." The term has also become familiar through the story of the three wise men who came to the infant Jesus bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Magic, Magician [from Persian magus a wise man, great; cf magi] The great art; a knowledge of the mysteries of nature and the power to apply them. In its true sense it is gupta-vidya (divine knowledge), the aim of those who tread the path of wisdom; but in ages of decline its chief secrets are withdrawn from public access, and what remains passes through transformations and gradually degenerates.

"The ancients believed in the power of man by magic practices to command the services of the gods: which gods, are in truth, but the occult powers or potencies of Nature, personified by the learned priests themselves, in which they reverenced only the attributes of the one unknown and nameless Principle. As Proclus the Platonist ably puts it: 'Ancient priests, when they considered that there is a certain alliance and sympathy in natural things to each other, and of things manifest to occult powers, and discovered that all things subsist in all, fabricated a sacred science from this mutual sympathy and similarity. . . . and applied for occult purposes, both celestial and terrene natures, by means of which, through a certain similitude, they deduced divine virtues into this inferior abode.' Magic is the science of communicating with and directing supernal, supramundane Potencies, as well as of commanding those of the lower spheres; a practical knowledge of the hidden mysteries of nature known to only the few, because they are so difficult to acquire, without falling into sins against nature" (TG 197).

White magic or theurgy is knowledge used for impersonal and beneficent purposes, the bringing into human life of the pattern and powers of nature as these exist on the spiritual planes. Black magic or goetia is knowledge used for selfishly personal or evil purposes. Natural magic is the knowledge and employment of the natural powers, forces, and substances of nature — practically what today is called science. If the knowledge gained through the study of natural science is distorted in its use to selfish or ignoble ends, it becomes de facto black magic. While a hard and fast distinction may not be applicable to all cults of magic, where the student or practitioner has not yet made a conscious choice between the two paths, yet in the end he must choose the one or the other. For nature's forces must be controlled, either by a pure or an impure will, if the practicer is not to fall victim to them. The motive and use that a person makes of his faculties and will are the deciding factors as to whether the magic is beneficent or maleficent. Any selfish, self-seeking, or selfishly restricted use of nature's laws or powers is against the impersonality and universality of nature: "The smallest attempt to use one's abnormal powers for the gratification of self makes of these powers sorcery or Black Magic" (Key 346).

In theosophical writings, advanced students of occultism who have acquired some knowledge and use of spiritual powers but misuse them for selfish purposes are called black magicians, Brothers of the Shadow, followers of the left-hand path, or sometimes dugpas. In their highest class they are adepts in spiritual evil. Whenever the forces of nature are used for selfish purposes, such misuse by anyone marks such person as a black magician, whether conscious or unconscious. Those who follow the pathway of self-renunciation, self-sacrifice, self-conquest, and an expansion of the heart, mind, and consciousness in love and service for all that lives are called white magicians or Sons of Light.