1704439473 Three Kings Magic is more than traditionalist purism

Three Kings: Magic is more than traditionalist purism

You don't know the tradition of the Magi in Spain well if you have never seen their majesties huddled together on a field tractor, well wrapped for the occasion in patent leather paper, while waving with one hand and trying not to fall with their hands. other. This image, which seemed unbearably kitschy to some, held pure fascination and magic across several generations. And even today, in many parts of the country, their majesties crowd into painted tractors and greet the nervous and always fascinated children. The success of a traditional fantasy like horseback riding has not so much to do with fidelity to a single model of representation (crowned men on camels in bright robes), or even to fidelity to the memory of that representation that we saw in our childhood. Rather, it truly rests on what we hope to feel, on the ability to create an atmosphere of fascination and magic that accompanies the feeling that anything is possible as we wait for our gifts. And this is achieved in many different ways.

In recent years, we have debated heatedly about how a successful revival of the Magi tradition is influenced by issues such as the presence of magic queens, the fashion trends their majesties must follow, whether live animals are appropriate or not, or what Baltasar is can be influenced, what it should look like and what political implications that particular face has. Many of these questions have been discussed in terms of the “authenticity” of the tradition, understood as fidelity to a supposedly shared model of representation, but this model was never such. The first historical depictions of the Magi mentioned by Matthew in his Gospel show three white men on foot, wearing leggings and knee-length skirts, short capes, and caps instead of crowns or turbans. They are depicted this way because in Europe this was considered a recognizably “oriental” style of clothing. If the kings at that time had been painted with long cloaks with an ermine and a crown or a black baltasar with a turban (elements that we now consider to be the quintessence of tradition), the people of that time would have considered it absurd that the portal of Bethlehem was made by one Visited by desert nomads and some European kings. What is a satisfactory story in our society today would be enormous nonsense to our ancestors.

The final transformation of these Zoroastrian priests from Persia (that is what the word “magician” means in the Bible) into the Magi of the European tradition occurred during the Renaissance. This was a time of many cultural, political and religious changes and much resistance to these changes, as seems to be the case even today. Renaissance painters made the veneration of the Magi a fashionable theme and began experimenting with their depiction. Although some iconographic elements were older, the representation of the Magi as kings with European crowns was consolidated in combination with orientalizing details that gave a certain image of exotic luxury, the cloaks became longer and the theme of the three ages was deepened: the white one represented Beard senescence, the brown man in the Middle Ages and the beardless king would represent youth. The differentiated skin color and its interpretation as different ethnic origins were later consolidated with colonial expansion from the 16th century until they formed the contemporary narrative. But what about the tractors?

King Baltasar through the streets of Granada during the 2023 Epiphany Parade.King Baltasar through the streets of Granada during the 2023 Epiphany Parade.Fermín Rodríguez

Popular culture underwent a radical change with industrialization and capitalism, which also affected one of their favorite expressions: riding. Although today we imagine the scene of the Magi as an oriental fantasy reminiscent of a family past of certain elegance, since at least the 19th century the parades have become a peculiar exhibition of technology and advertising. Motor vehicles were installed there early on, which over time replaced horses, mules and donkeys. And they wouldn't just drive tractors or cars. At various times in the 1950s and 1960s, Their Majesties rode motorcycles, promoted the Vespa, and were accompanied by bullfighters and bellhops dressed as robots.

On other occasions, they waved from the blades of huge, decorated excavators, from motorboats, or from helicopters, depending on the location and who was funding the affair. Since the space race was a prominent theme in society in the 1960s and 1970s, the parades also featured space rockets, while the Kings were escorted by astronauts. These cute astronauts, mixed with scooters, bullfighters and excavators, effectively aroused the fascination of young and old people with technology and a promising future for the country, an emotion that ultimately coincides with the original scene of worship in which some Persian magicians look at one Jews bet child who was just born but would later change history.

The restoration of magic, illusion and optimism is no longer possible today as it was back then nor as it was in the last century. The things that move us are different. Nowadays there are many movie characters and the emotional and magical success of the parades is not related to traditionalism (which is a fantasy in itself) but to the presence of characters from Hollywood, video games and even drag queens and other current fantasies that are in In that moment, they have the ability to recreate a surreal and wondrous night, transporting children's minds to a fascinating and promising magical world, like the one that space rockets made of painted cardboard and aluminum foil evoked for me. The traditions that survive are the ones that are changed.

An elephant at the Epiphany parade in Madrid in 1990. An elephant at the Epiphany parade in Madrid in 1990. Uly Martín

One day the parades will be led by people whose gender will peacefully no longer play a role in the magic of childhood illusion. Of course, we don't expect their faces to be as they are now to be believable, and perhaps in the future it could become realistic that there were twelve again, as in the early days of the tradition, instead of three as they are now . Maybe their majesties will become artificial intelligences so we can fully experience the fascination of the magic of the future, and maybe they won't even be anthropomorphic. They will drive up in vehicles not yet invented and represent the values ​​of a society different from the current one, whatever those may be. Those of us living now may find it ridiculous, but those living it in their time will enjoy their own sense of tradition and their own fascination with the miracle.

Monica Cornejo Valle She is a researcher in the field of anthropology of religions.

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