|The magi: men in meggings|
There are otherwise sensible people who fear that next Friday Dec 21 will bring the end of the world, as forecast by the Mayan 'Great Calendar'. All I can say is to repeat what was said after the collapse of the USSR: 'when people cease to believe in something, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything'. Interestingly, the Russian word for a magician is 'fokusnik' which comes from quite another root, nothing to do with astronomy. It refers to the technique whereby an entertainer diverts the audience's attention to perform his tricks.
Wikipedia entry for 'magi':
Magi ( //; Latin plural of magus; Ancient Greek: μάγος magos; Old Persian: maguš, Persian: مُغ mogh; English singular magian, mage, magus, magusian, magusaean) is a term, used since at least the 4th century BC, to denote followers of Zoroaster, or rather, followers of what the Hellenistic world associated Zoroaster with, which was – in the main – the ability to read the stars, and manipulate the fate that the stars foretold. The meaning prior to the Hellenistic period is uncertain.
Pervasive throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Asia until late antiquity and beyond, Greek mágos, "Magian" or "magician," was influenced by (and eventually displaced) Greek goēs(γόης), the older word for a practitioner of magic, to include astrology, alchemy and other forms of esoteric knowledge. This association was in turn the product of the Hellenistic fascination for (Pseudo-)Zoroaster, who was perceived by the Greeks to be the "Chaldean" "founder" of the Magi and "inventor" of both astrology and magic. Among the skeptical thinkers of the period, the term 'magian' acquired a negative connotation and was associated with tricksters and conjurers. This pejorative meaning survives in the words "magic" and "magician".
In English, the term "magi" is most commonly used in reference to the Gospel of Matthew's "wise men from the East", or "three wise men", though the number three does not actually appear in Matthew's account. The plural "magi" entered the English language from Latin around 1200, in reference to the Biblical magi of Matthew 2:1. The singular appears considerably later, in the late 14th century, when it was borrowed from Old French in the meaning magician together with magic.