Magi: A Babel of Pagan Practices

If you have watched any of the three installments in the series Magi you may or may not have noticed how the whole thing is a mishmash of religious and literary references. The manga adopts the flavor of a Babylonian creation story where a will-less Chaos is tamed by, instead of Marduk, the Biblical King Solomon who harnesses a Buddhic/Kharmic-like power of the cosmos and fate called the Rukh to save humanity and construct a new world. Three of the series’ central characters — Alibaba, Aladdin, and Sinbad — are co-opted from the frame-stories of Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights. There are enough story connections to make your head spin if you try making too much sense of them. I mean, look at all these hyperlinks! But the one literary text that is perhaps most relevant to Magi is The Lesser Key of Solomon, an actual, real-life grimoire and occultic text which (in the spirit of stories referencing other stories) hijacks certain biblical elements for its own.

The Lesser Key is an alleged record of Solomon, the world’s wisest and most knowledgeable king, and his accomplishments in the study and mastery of demonology (Spoiler Alert: it is no such thing). Magi plays as fast and loose with the The Lesser Key of Solomon as it does with all of the other narratives it adopts in service of its own story, but that’s still enough interaction to raise some eyebrows, especially among us Christian fans. What Gospel benefit can we hope to gain from a series that seems like one big gumbo of pagan beliefs and pages from a demonic spell-book? Answering that question will require us to dig into the mechanics of the story to see how it all ticks. 

Magi’s story picks up at a time when massive and foreboding towers have sprouted up mysteriously in established countries. Magi are those persons appointed in each age by the spirit of King Solomon to lead candidates for a country’s kingship to its designated tower for testing. The djinn who controls the tower tests and tries the entrants in various ways to identify who is worthy of their allegiance and their demonic power. Djinns attach themselves to a vessel on the successful candidate’s person, and the power they provide their masters is directly proportional to the level of magoi within that master. Magoi is this Buddhic energy tied to a person’s life force; therefore, “Supplying magoi is the same as reducing your own life” (Adventures of Sinbad 1.11 “A New Visitor”). And when the vessel user wants to access a djinn’s power to full effect, they perform a “Djinn Equip” by calling upon their djinn to “dwell in [their] body” and become one with them (Magi: the Kingdom of Magic 1.2 “Departure”).

To make its ties to The Lesser Key even more obvious, Magi uses the text’s names for the various djinns (demons), some of which will assuredly sound familiar to those of you who read the Bible: Amon, Baal, Belial, and Astaroth (nominally associated with the pagan Asherah and Ishtar). The Lesser Key takes the Biblical person of Solomon and makes of him a mythical hero, a master and subjugator of demons. But, the opposite is true. The Bible tells us that Solomon was taken in by the idols and gods of his many wives and that the repercussions of his idolatries lasted 215 years until the time of King Hezekiah and the reforms of King Josiah 380 years later. Furthermore, the Bible makes clear that Solomon’s success as a king rested solely upon God’s providence and mercy toward Solomon’s sin, not upon some “power of Hell” or any “scheme of man,” as the hymn says. As Christians, we need to be honest about what’s going on in Magi: the series uses an occultic book of witchcraft as a playbook, attributes to Solomon a positive alliance with demons, and paints those demons as a legitimate source of power upon which a person can call through demon possession to harness that power for good.

Now, this is not the point where I want you to feel bad if you liked Magi. I liked Magi and still don’t think its a terrible show for all of the things I’ve said about it. The benefit of Magi is not in its positivizing of an occultic text or demons and human possession by them, but in how the series can’t help but play by the conventional Biblical standard despite those very pagan-like qualities. Yes it paints demons and their possession in a positive light, but it also can’t help but paint them in the way that the Bible paints them, as leeches. Demons in Magi make promises of power but require your life as currency; the inverse of saving grace which gives life and life abundant through the laying down of its own (John 10:7-18). Demons seem to have authority of their own, but they actually have only so much as is given to them, and certainly not supreme authority because they all recognize the authority of the Magi Aladdin (Matt. 8:28-34Acts 19:11-17 ). But there is another biblical understanding of demons which the series seems to have stumbled into as well.

In Daniel Strange’s book, Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions, he summarizes his thesis this way:

From the presupposition of an epistemologically authoritative biblical revelation, non-Christian religions are sovereignly directed, variegated and dynamic, collective human idolatrous responses to divine revelation, behind which stand deceiving demonic forces. Being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ. (98)

Translated out of academic theolog-ese and into a more common parlance, Strange is saying that, because the Bible is true, we can know that (1.) pagan religions are lies; (2.) diverting worship away from the God who deserves our praise and toward a lie is the same sin committed by and peddled to our desires by demons; (3.) God is still in control and any truth found within pagan religions finds its fulfillment not in the lie of that false faith but in the person of Christ Jesus.

Strange then points to the event at Babel as the origin point of these various pagan religions. Babel was an attempt to do the logically impossible and erase the divide between created humanity and its Creator (just like the original sin in Eden). Strange makes the case with Herman Bavinck that the various cultures and their religions which were born out of the event at Babel are a continuation of rebellious humanity’s attempt at blurring the Creator/creature distinction by creating ethnic-specific worship of animals, inanimate objects, and even abstract states of being in lieu of no longer being able to unite together as one people under a common language (133). He then zooms in on the Mesopotamian ziggurat culture following the Babel incident as an example of guilt suppression within pagan culture, claiming that the tradition of tower building is an attempt to reframe the Tower of Babel as a divine creation event instead of a landmark of human depravity (134).

These two sections from Strange’s book describe exactly what is going on with The Lesser Key of Solomon and with the narrative of Magi by proxy. Both decontextualize parts of the Bible and then cut and paste them in with false religions and pagan practices. Magi takes things like demons, demonic possession, and even Babel references of its own (i.e. the concept of tower capturing) and then proceeds to twist them to look like good things, similar to the Mesopotamian twisting of Babel into a celebratory event. AND YET, with all of this being said, I think Magi still manages to tell a good and engaging story that tackles some surprisingly complex themes for a fantasy shounen. How does Magi succeed in doing this? One thing you can bank on, when Magi wants to pull at your heartstrings by appealing to something objectively true and good and beautiful, it can’t help but align itself with orthodox Judeo-Christianity. This is what Daniel Strange means when he says that false religions and stories which paint bad things as good things, like Magi, are “antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview” (98).

I will give more specific examples of how Magi manages to tell a story that testifies to the truth of the Christian worldview when I revisit this series in a second post. But I needed to say at the outset that just because Magi suffers from this inverted understanding of demons and where true power comes from doesn’t mean it can’t tell a good story in spite of those things. I would argue that the series’ pastiche of religions actually cripples itself with narrative contradictions by pulling the various faiths out of their familiar contexts and then mashing them together with other exclusive faiths. But there are also some truly good parts of the show and, as Daniel Strange points out, any truth, goodness, or beauty that can be found in the series are instances of subversive goodness in imitation of Christ.

If you want to watch Magi in all of its installments, it’ll prove a bit inconvenient. At the moment, Crunchyroll and Hulu both stream Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic and Magi: The Kingdom of Magic, but Magi: Adventures of Sinbad is a Netflix exclusive and only accessible through their services. Netflix used to carry the other two installments as well, but they recently let their license to stream expire as they are wont to do. Those of you familiar with Netflix are already experienced in such heartbreak, I’m sure.


– BtT Management

9 thoughts on “Magi: A Babel of Pagan Practices

  1. Yeah, but this seems to be making a fundamental mistake in and of itself concerning religion. First off, djinn doesn’t refer to a demon in the language that the word is used in. It’s what Islam happens to call its angels. It’s pretty easy to parse this point when you realize that the Qur’an calls Iblis or Shaytan (Satan), angels, demons, and seemingly random unaffiliated spirits all “jinn.” So “jinn” means “spirit being” in Arabian folklore and culture.

    Now, the culture that is inheriting this word are the Japanese, and their religion is one-third Shinto. So they view unaffiliated gods known as kami as making up the natural world, and more mischievous lesser spirits called yokai as making up other aspects of the world. So minus the very clear references to Middle Eastern myth and folklore the show is making, it’s basically just using “djinn” in the same way you’d use a fairy as a power-up in a video game. 😛 This is the same sort of thing you see in Neon Genesis Evangelion, which repeatedly uses Christian imagery and folklore to signify….absolutely nothing. It just looks cool. And similar rules apply here. The show’s writers no more view what they’re writing as “the truth” than do you. It just makes fantastic background for a universe.

    Now *should they do this?* Well no, for the same reason that the PS3 game Asura’s Wrath might be offensive to an actual Hindu. They literally have no conceptual idea of what kind of lore they are playing with. (Heck, if the game El Shaddai is proof of anything, it’s that even if you know *exactly* what you are talking about you might twist it to suit your own ends). But they did do it, so here we are.

    “Translated out of academic theologese and into a more common parlance, Strange is saying that, because the Bible is true, we can know that (1.) pagan religions are lies; (2.) diverting worship away from the God who deserves our praise and toward a lie is the same sin committed by and peddled to our desires by demons; (3.) God is still in control and any truth found within pagan religions finds its fulfillment not in the lie of that false faith but in the person of Christ Jesus.”

    Presupposing that the base of your argument is true (which is exactly what I do here on BTT), then yes. This is basically right. All truths there are do at least relate to Biblical truths. But it’s important to point something else out.

    Most pagans and non-Christians believe what they do for an exceedingly complicated series of reasons, and some of them are actually because the person has found a truth that is *antithetical* to Christ Jesus, but nonetheless emotionally and morally salient to the events of that person’s life. What rings as true and real to them, so to speak.

    A big part of why I believe what I do is that I think immortality cheapens Life. If you have forever, if you are Eternal, than every action you take carries none of the importance our actions do here on Earth. And that goes for us if we become immortal as well. Part of the reason that the relationships we have matter, and the choices we make have relevance, is that we have a finite amount of time to devote to anything. So much of that Meaning that we invested will fade once we have the ability to make any commitment, pursue any form of worship of God that He likes, paint any picture, develop any skill. Having eternity means the gravity of choosing an action in this finite life is lost.

    And unfortunately, off I go lapsing into quasi Luminas-specific worshipful poetry XD: The feeling of watching the Sun set on you both as you cling together, and that moment matters more than all the glory and all the grandeur and all the perfection in all the world. “He knows his time is short” is a promise as much as a curse, because He chose to come here now, in the brief millisecond that you are alive in His eyes.

    My point being, if you can get past the strange way I’m conveying it (I swear to God I’d be a Christian poet in another life, if someone else had come to me in my darkest moment and saved my life) is this: Be careful what you’re saying there, because you can’t know why people think what they think and feel what they feel.


    1. Thanks for commenting, Luminas. I know that the transliteral meaning of the word djinn isn’t demon in the most exact sense, but what I was referring to is the show’s identification of them as demons. Magi borrows/steals its djinn names from the Lesser Key of Solomon, in which the possessors of those names are demons. So, what I’m trying to say is that I’m not trying to force a square peg into a round hole here; I’m just pointing out connections the show has already made on its own. However, because this article is meant to propose a case study for a biblical theology of religions, we could go so far as to say that the very idea of a “djinn” as you have defined it is not in conflict with the idea of demons.

      I think you actually made a pretty good case for what I mean in your comment: you compared the series’ use of djinns to faeries. We might impulsively think of Tinkerbell at the word faerie, but that is a highly sanitized Disney version of faeries compared to their Scottish progenitors which often engaged in child stealing, bride stealing, murder, drowning, and transactions with the citizens of Hell ( On this point I think you and I may actually be in agreement because Daniel Strange in the book I referenced is arguing that the catastrophic sin at Babel was an event later sanitized by the cultures involved, just like faeries were sanitized by Disney.

      I hope you don’t think I was suggesting that the writers for Magi were out to push Pro-Demon propaganda which they whole-heartedly believe because I certainly am not saying that. I fully believe with you that the writers probably got a hold of parts of the Lesser Key which intrigued them and then tossed a bunch of related and identifiable literary references from that geographical region into the narrative blender. However, what I am saying is that while it may not have intended to paint demons in a positive light in any sincere way, by using source material that certainly WAS trying to paint demons positively (The Lesser Key), Magi ended up taking on and resembling that source’s traits of sin sanitization. That’s what the article was meant to point out.

      As to your last three paragraphs, I can’t say I understand what you mean with enough certainty to respond. However, I can say that I think you misunderstand the difference between the words “immortal” and “eternal.” You have used them here as synonyms when they are two distinct things. Eternal refers to a being (God) who has always existed and will always exist because He transcends time itself. Immortal, on the other hand, refers to something which is undying but which is not necessarily eternal. For instance, humans are creatures with immortal souls but, because we are “creatures” and were necessarily “created” at a specific point in time, we are not eternal like God who is uncreated.


  2. Did my crazy rant post? Let me know; It’s getting up there in page length. Short version:

    (1). At a certain point, does something ever become so sanitized compared to the original that it’s basically harmless? Tinkerbell and Disney Fairies are…really good examples of this, compared to the much more blatant Magi.

    (2). Does Magi’s description of how demons work actually correspond to the Bible’s description of demons? The Bible describes demons as liars, not leeches. Magi’s description is much more similar to old notions of equivalent exchange than anything the Bible says. Then again, the book is weirdly inconsistent in telling us whether or not occult magic actually *does* anything. Why tell us not to do something, say it doesn’t work anyway, and then later describe a guy as being possessed by demons?

    (3). To a pretty significant extent, I worship the conflict between good and evil *itself.* The holy war gives my life Meaning and purpose. Which means that a peaceful immortal life worshiping God would never actually be Paradise to me. Paradise is being right on the battlefield with the person I worship. That’s why I’m not a Christian, even though I basically inferred that much of Christianity was true. The other reason is because by becoming immortal at the End of Days, we end up eventually giving up a lot of what makes us human. A lot of why our choices matter is because we can only make so many of them. If we had forever to be anything a human could be, worship God in any way any human ever has, could any of us really be individuals anymore? Could we form relationships?


    1. Which is to say that sometimes people find Truths in their pagan religions, things that give their lives Meaning, that aren’t Biblical Truths at all. Mine relate back to the Bible, but most people’s probably don’t.


    2. 1.) That’s the question I intended to answer with my article. I’m arguing that, whatever Magi is trying to do with its story, the way it has set up that story shares some things in common with a biblical theodicy. As for harmlessness, that tends to come down to intent. I could mistakenly use a 12th century Medieval torture rack as a dining room table, then proceed to serve delicious meals, create family-building situations, and raise my kids to be upstanding adults around what I’ve classified a “table,” but my intended use or purposeful sanitization of a thing so that it is harmless does not change the thing’s history or the purpose for which it was created. That’s all I’m saying about Magi: I’m pointing out how its source material (The Lesser Key) is opposed to the biblical understanding of God, and then I’m pointing out how that doesn’t disqualify the series from occasionally describing its world in a way which manages to reflect truths from the biblical worldview.

      2.) To answer your question, yes, Magi’s description of how demons work does correspond to the Bible’s description of demons. I gave a defense for this in the article and would point you back there. As to a defense of demons as “leeches” as well as liars, I would point you to the book of Job. This is what I had in mind, since Satan’s power over Job is entirely dependent upon God’s allowance. In the book of Matthew, during the event regarding the Gadarene possession, the demons who were exerting what they believed to be their rightful authority over a gentile region recognized that their authority was superseded by Jesus’ authority as God. And even though its not a biblical citation but an inference from the scripture, I know that C.S. Lewis notes somewhere how the very nature of evil is unoriginal, requiring the existence of a good that it can twist to unnatural purposes (e.g. gluttony is a misuse of God’s creation of food, adultery is a misuse of God’s creation of sex, etc.). Hence, “leeches.”
      To your second point, I don’t believe the Bible is inconsistent on whether magic does anything. We could talk about how God used the necromantic practices of the Medium of En-dor to prophesy over Saul, God’s use of the rogue, mercenary prophet Balaam to accomplish His will, or how Moses’ confrontation with Pharoah’s magicians is literally the precursor to all modern conceptions of a wizard duel. But, whether or not magic is a real thing, we can say for certain that sorcery is a pursuit of control and power for oneself that seeks to draw upon some form of providence other than God which doesn’t exist, therefore making the action a blasphemy against God. In that sense it’s the same as the original sin in Eden and further proof of man’s attempts to erase the Creator-creature distinction. On those grounds alone, it makes sense that God would command against it regardless of whether or not it actually works.

      3.) And finally, I’m not really sure what to make of your final paragraph. It seems to me that you believe in a kind of religious dualism that hints of Norse mythological sentiments among a variety of religions you’ve adopted, and which dances concerningly close to the edge of moral relativism. This article was never meant to tell you not to believe those things (though given the opportunity to do so, I seriously discourage it), but was a case study in the application of a strictly biblical theology. It makes sense that what I’ve written would not accommodate your personal and pluralistic views because I based my thesis exclusively on the Christian worldview which explicitly denies the equality of other religions. Perhaps the best solution would be for you to read Daniel Strange’s book for yourself. It seems to me that it might be the kind of thing you would enjoy if you like having long, complex conversations like this.
      Thanks again for the engagement.


      1. Actually that sounds fun! : D I might just check out his book for myself. So, then, the Bible is more or less consistent in saying that “Yes, magic does *do* something, but you definitely shouldn’t do it. It’s trying to take power into your own hands rather than relying on God’s authority to act for you. The results, assuming it even works as intended, are inherently reprehensible.” Thanks for clearing that up!

        As for what in the world I was saying with #3, what I was trying to point out is that works of fiction that reference a mishmash of Biblical truths and pagan religion aren’t *only* emotionally salient so far as they reflect Biblical truth. People have reasons for finding works like Magi to be “True” (that is, the work reflects what they believe is True) that have next to nothing to do with the Bible. Basically, I’m refuting Strange’s point here, which you connect to Magi and (infer) a connection to all pagan religion: “God is still in control and any truth found within pagan religions finds its fulfillment not in the lie of that false faith but in the person of Christ Jesus.”

        Then again, this might just be a case where strict Christian theology and I disagree on the inherent premise (that there *is* something you can point to that’s “objectively true and good and beautiful” from the perspective of all humans). Christians use the word “Truth” in a lot of different contexts, and to mean a lot of different things than just “whether something is literally, objectively true or false,” although they usually mean that too.

        “One thing you can bank on, when Magi wants to pull at your heartstrings by appealing to something objectively true and good and beautiful, it can’t help but align itself with orthodox Judeo-Christianity. This is what Daniel Strange means when he says that false religions and stories which paint bad things as good things, like Magi, are “antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview” (98).”

        I don’t believe that it’s necessarily possible for any show to appeal to something “objectively true and good and beautiful,” because I’m not sure that all humans agree that anything is “objectively true and good and beautiful.” The things that I believe are beautiful and glorious and sacred would probably disturb you if I were blunt about it, and it is (to a certain extent) mutual. People are a lot more alien to one another than anyone wants to admit. Even in a morally absolutist universe, there will be people like me, who love and worship evil things to the same degree and with the same intensity that people love good things, and who are consciously aware of this. But that tends to go against Christian theology a fair bit too much to discuss at great length here on BTT of all places. XD


        1. So I guess I’m done. I’ve already gone on too long as it is; I need to leave room for everyone else. : ] Anyway, great post! It made me think about the Biblical references in Magi in quite a bit more depth.


        2. Hey, Luminas. You said you were signing off after that last comment so I don’t know if you’ll see this, but I wanted to clarify some final things about the Biblical position based on what you said and also for anyone who happens to read these comments. Inevitably, this is going to come off as though I am trying to get the last word, but that’s not the case. It’s simply that I didn’t want for this exchange to end with the biblical view left misunderstood by you or anyone else. I figured one last go at it couldn’t hurt.

          Your summary of the biblical view of magic did not get it or how I was describing it entirely correct, which is most likely due to a failure in my explanation. The Bible, through the specific events that I mentioned, is saying that in so far as the practice of magic “works” it is entirely dependent upon the will of God. The Bible does not say explicitly whether or not the Medium of En-dor was successful in any of her previous attempts at necromancy or whether Balaam ever uttered true prophecies prior to the moment God chose both of these people to facilitate His will. However, it would follow from scripture that if Satan himself has to ask permission before harming Job (and then not without constraints decreed by God), we can safely assume that a mere human trying to speak with departed souls or predict the future will only have as much success as God allows. This is part of what it means to believe in the sovereignty of God.

          The second thing I wanted to clear up is that it isn’t so much that “magic” is inherently reprehensible as it is that we as human beings are inherently reprehensible. At the root of magic is an attempt to exert dominion over nature, which is the kind of thing God advocates when He commands humans to have dominion over nature in Genesis 1:26-28. You’ll also notice that God ordains for numerous people, including Jesus, to exert dominion over nature through what might look like “magic” in the modern sense, but which we call miracles instead due to the fact that they are accomplished through God’s authority. But therein lies the problem and the reason why intent is so important. Instead of subduing the earth and having dominion over it, knowing appreciating the fact that it is God who gave/gives us that authority (an act which the Bible calls worship), we grab greedily at that authority believing that if we can capture it we will become God. Scripture defines magic as any attempt to harness some numinous power that you believe exists in creation or yourself and beyond God’s authority so that you can do what you like, believing that you have achieved a level of authority independent of God.

          In this way, the practice of magic is similar to idolatry which is a sin not because God is afraid that a carved piece of wood or stone might grant a pagan worshiper its power, but because the very idea that a created thing, animate or inanimate, could possess, bestow, or exert any kind of power independent of God is ludicrously impossible to the point of being blasphemous. Both of us have thrown around the word “truth” several times, but the thing that makes sorcery, divination, magic, or idol worship a sin is the fact that all of these things are predicated on a lie.

          The final point regarding this exchange we’ve had on “truth,” is that we continue to talk past each other because we aren’t talking about the same thing. I believe that the standard for “goodness, truth, and beauty” revolves around the character of God because the Christian worldview is Theocentric. But because you by your own admission don’t believe in a standard which can be appealed to for determinations of right and wrong, you’re upholding the kind of moral relativism I suspected and warned against:

          I don’t believe that it’s necessarily possible for any show to appeal to something “objectively true and good and beautiful,” because I’m not sure that all humans agree that anything is “objectively true and good and beautiful.”

          If human opinion is our standard, and that standard means that what one person thinks is good another person thinks is evil, and we posit that neither of those opinions is wrong but both are right, then good and evil are words without objective meaning and it’s pointless for us to use them. It’s fine for you to try refuting Strange’s claim from your perspective that other people might find truth in ways which “have next to nothing to do with the Bible,” but I’m trying to tell you that moral relativism based on the standard of human taste offers no support for your perspective. Making your claim will require a different standard. Your “love and worship [of] evil things” does not worry me so much as your indifference to the fact that your worldview is groundless. I happen to have a bad habit of loving evil things too; I call it sin. But between us, I’m the only one whose worldview allows him to identify things as evil according to a standard. The most your worldview allows you to say is that you think I have poor taste.

          This dilemma is the reason I thought it was necessary to clarify why I think the biblical position is important, even at the risk of seeming obnoxious. And you’re right that BtT isn’t the best platform for this kind of discussion. If you see this comment, you can respond in kind but I will leave it at that.


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