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.”
The Chaldean Magi: A Library of Ancient Sources Wisemen of the East
Bangkok has a wide array of spiritual services for sale. Want to pump up your rack with “natural breast enlargement” courtesy of a chest-slapping shamaness? Can do. Interested in dropping $2000 on an illegal doll that houses an aborted fetus who predicts lottery numbers? Bangkok has you covered.
In a society that loves the occult, Ace of Cups is the lone “witchcraft cafe” where you can grab a plate of fettuccine while having your fortune told.
Ace of Cups shares a design ethos with the bookstore in The Craft. Streamers and dried herbs hang from a candelabra chandelier and the walls are dotted with astrological charts and graphs. The wifi password is “witch,” and the cats lounging on the spiral staircase are called Yule and Hobgoblin. The cafe is a favorite of Thai 20-somethings, all clad in black and wearing crystals. They sit around reading tarot, throwing the I-Ching, or studying quietly.
Two chalkboard menus hang over the pastry case: One lists cakes, pastas, and sodas that correspond to your astrological sign. The other catalogs more sinister offerings, like exorcism and curse-lifting. Spells start at 350 baht (about $10).
In the loft, there are amulets, stones, and candles for sale. A fake bookshelf hides an unfinished staircase that leads to the top floor, where an altar is set up to perform spiritual cleansings and love spells.
Intrigued by what magic might be purchased alongside a mochacchino, VICE spoke with cafe owners Wine Kongsorn and Nat Maitreemit about Wicca, exorcisms, and their unlikely business model.
VICE: Why did you decide to open a witchcraft cafe?
Wine Kongsorn: For a long time, the community of Wiccans had no place to get together in Bangkok. We needed a place to meet and perform rituals. We thought a cafe would be perfect to create community but it took us five or six years to make it happen.
How did you guys meet each other?
Kongsorn: We were in the same coven. The circle of Wiccans in Bangkok is small and we have both been interested or involved for more than ten years in the religion and witchcraft.
How did you get into witchcraft?
In my family, we have a long tradition with Eastern witchcraft. But, for me, it was like solving a math problem. I always felt like there was something missing and I didn’t have all the information. For me, witchcraft is the same as working through an equation. If you do it right, you will get the right answer. So, I started to broaden the range of witchcraft I studied. That included the Western style, which became my preferred method. My family is supportive of me and the cafe, but they’re conservative.
Yes. In Thailand, the Thai of witchcraft is acceptable, it’s been around since before anyone can remember. It’s like traditional medicine. They really don’t understand what we do here, though.
What is Thai witchcraft like?
Nat Maitreemit: It’s based on the animist belief that everything has a spirit. It relies on the power of nature, trees, forests, plants, animals, and the dead. It’s primitive. Eastern witchcraft almost always focuses on ghosts; either asking for their help or removing their resistance. There is a strong belief that ghosts play a large role in our day-to-day life and that a witch needs to figure out what spirits have come to help and which to hurt.
How do people find the cafe?
Most people find us through our Facebook group, Thailand Wicca. They join because they have an interest, or they read about it in anime… or because they saw Harry Potter. We have to kick a lot of people out of the Facebook group who think it’s all Harry Potter shit. They think they’ll be able to come in here and throw fire from their hands or something.
What percentage of people come here knowing what they’re looking for?
Sixty percent come in for the craft and 40 percent just open the door and want to take a look and get a cup of tea. A lot of people hear about us, come in, and want a spell, but we need to have a little discussion first. I can’t perform a spell that’s against my morals or ethics, like money or lottery spells. That’s messing with destiny. If we were to make you super-lucky, or give you something that doesn’t belong to you, the universe would take payback in some way.
I’d like to get an exorcism today. Can I do that?
Kongsorn: Are you possessed?
I might be.
That’s not a good idea. That’s a bit like going to the hospital when you aren’t sick and asking for an operation just to see what it’s like. How about a sacred geometry spell instead? That would be good for balancing you.
You told me in a Facebook message that I could get an exorcism.
Maitreemit: You can, if you need one. All spells and all people are slightly different. We need to make a diagnosis when we meet you, to get a feel for your energy and what’s gone wrong.
What is the exorcism spell like?
It’s a ritual, not a spell. We have several ways to draw an evil spirit out. We start with sound therapy like tuning forks and singing bowls and move on to using fire. Once the spirit is out, we have to do protection spells. It takes a long time and is really complicated. We don’t get too many requests for the stronger spells, like curse-lifting or exorcism. It’s not that they don’t happen—they do! But when Thai people feel that they are haunted, they go to the temple and ask the Buddhist monks for help.
How do you diagnose if someone is cursed or possessed?
One of the first questions we ask is: “Where have you been?” and then “Do you have any enemies?” If they really have a curse on them, we have to figure out where the curse came from and why. We can do this by intuition, sensing the spirits or asking questions. Sometimes, nature can just curse a person. But if we can figure it out, we can reverse it or cleanse them.
Kongsorn: Some people curse themselves through negative self-hypnosis. They think they are haunted or cursed, but they’ve just talked themselves into it, it’s the opposite of an affirmation. We had a client, a girl that thought someone had cursed her and given her cancer. I gave her a spirit cleansing and reassured her in a way that a doctor couldn’t. But she was actually just making herself sick with negative feelings.
What’s your most popular spell?
Maitreemit: Divination with tarot cards. People want to know their future and what’s going to happen to them. The second most popular is a love spell. People come in and they are hurting, they’ve been through a breakup or just don’t want to be alone.
Get an Espresso and an Exorcism at Bangkok’s Premiere Witchcraft Cafe