Are you afraid of the number 666? If you were issued an automobile license plate or a telephone number that included a string of three sixes would you ask for a different number? Do you think the number 666 is inherently evil? Do you believe any number can in and of itself be evil?
The issue of FATE magazine that you are holding in your hands right at this moment is issue number 666. The 666th word in this article is "dead." Does this make you just a little bit nervous?
If it does, you are not alone. There is a name for your condition - "Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia" - the fear of the number 666.
Everyone has at least one or two superstitions that we feel somehow comfortably obliged to observe. My father was a geologist and a high-degree Freemason. He was for the most part a very logical and scientific man. Still, he was oddly superstitious about little things like spilling salt and walking under ladders.
For a lot of people the number 666 is particularly terrifying. After all, it's the devil's number, isn't it? For the better part of 2,000 years many in the Western world have certainly thought so. What is it about these three digits that makes so many of us uncomfortable?
The Revelation of St. John
The dreaded number makes its first and only appearance in the last book of the New Testament, the Revelation of Saint John the Divine (often mistakenly called Revelations) - a book that for centuries has been interpreted by theologians as a document prophesying the terrible events that will take place at the end of the world.
Early Church fathers decided that John, the author of the Revelation, was the same John who wrote the Gospel According to John (the last of the Four Gospels). Modern experts from a wide range of religious and non-religious persuasions agree this is probably not the case. The style of the Greek writing and other obvious differences suggest the two books were penned by different individuals.
Currently, many Bible students are reassessing other theories concerning the Book of the Revelation - exactly when it was written and what it was originally trying to communicate. There is now a growing consensus among scholars that what John was actually describing (in veiled imagery understandable to his contemporary audience) was not the millennial end of the world, but an expose' of the all-too earthly details of the horrendous holocaust at the hands of the Romans that ended the second Jewish revolt in a.d. 72. This event destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple and dispersed the Jews.
For our purposes it really doesn't matter. The fact remains that the book has become a permanent fixture in the cultural consciousness of Western civilization. So let's look for a moment at what tradition informs us about John, the man Jesus called his "beloved disciple."
After the crucifixion John was arrested and banished to the tiny isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, a place renowned in the ancient world for two things: its barren isolation and the fact that the powerful hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria grew there in abundance. We will never know for certain whether or not John (knowingly or unknowingly) was influenced by the magic mushroom. He does, however, take care to tell the reader that he was "...in the Spirit on the Lord's day" when the vision began, and few can deny his book does indeed read like a classic shamanistic or psychedelic experience.
The vision is peopled with an awesome array of strange and terrible characters: seven angels; four horsemen; a lamb; a lion; an eagle; a dragon; locusts with tails like scorpions and heads like long-haired women; a woman clothed with the sun, with a moon under her feet; the archangel Michael; Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations; and of course the Antichrist. There are wars and plagues and what sounds suspiciously like an asteroid collision with the earth. Lots of people die, and the good dead people are rewarded while the bad dead people are made to wish they were deader. It's written in such a way to make you feel pretty darned worried, even if you're confident you'll be one of the good dead people.
In chapter 13 we meet two beasts, one from out of the sea and the other from out of the earth. The first beast has seven heads and ten horns, and looks like a leopard with the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion. To this beast is given power and authority from a great fiery dragon - the serpent called the "Devil and Satan" (a character who was introduced to us in a preceding chapter). The second beast comes out of the earth and has two horns like a lamb, and speaks like a dragon. This beast is identified by a numeric code in the last verse of chapter 13:
"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man: and his number is Six hundred threescore and six."
This second beast performs all sorts of miracles that confuse most everyone about just exactly who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this whole messy affair. The book is so cryptic that it is open to almost infinite interpretations. It is not at all clear whether or not this Beast 666 is the Antichrist, or the Antichrist's friend, or exactly what. It is all very frightening and bewildering, and biblical scholars and theologians have debated for centuries over just who's who and what it all might mean.
The Second Beast
One thing seems clear, at least on the surface: the second beast (Number 666) is somehow in cahoots with the dark forces that work their mischief to bring about the end-time events. The idea that has tantalized people for 2,000 years is the thought that this key player in the end-of-the-world drama is not some invisible angel or spiritual abstraction but a flesh-and-blood man - a man we might be able to identify by his number.
How can a number represent a man? The obvious answer is numerology - but what system of numerology - Hebrew? Greek? Latin? Aramaic? English? Nobody really knows.
John's book was written in Greek by a Jew who spoke Aramaic (the language spoken by Jesus and his disciples), and he lived in a Roman-occupied world. Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Aramaic are all written in alphabets whose letters also represent numbers. It's anybody's guess which - if any - of the languages should be used to count the number of the beast.
The earliest Christians (who believed the world was going to end immediately) used Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew numerology to finger as 666 the wicked Roman emperor Nero (whose monstrous reign parallels the horrors of John's vision), and many ancient and modern experts agree.
But, since the apocalypse didn't happen in the first century (at least not in the way predicted in the Revelation), people have been eagerly looking forward to the end of the world, seeking out individuals they don't like and trying to make their names add up to 666. Likely candidates have been Martin Luther, Henry VIII, Robespierre, Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington (and his alleged Illuminati double, Adam Weishaupt), Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, Prince Charles, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Clinton, Osama Bin Laden, and both George Bushes - and, oh, I almost forgot, all the Popes.
Anyone Can Be 666
It takes some doing, but given enough time (and armed with the numerological tricks of the Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, and English alphabets), you can make anyone's name add up to 666. But there is one thing that all these accused beasts have in common: none of them actually came right out and confessed to the world that they were the "Beast 666."
There was, however, one man in the not-too-distant past who proudly claimed the title. His name was Aleister Crowley, and during his lifetime the newspapers called him "the Wickedest Man in the World."
Chances are if you have heard anything about Aleister Crowley it probably wasn't very good. During his lifetime and for many years after his death his reputation has been that of perfectly nasty man - a black magician. Admittedly, for Victorian England he was a pretty wild character. If he were alive today, however, I'm afraid he would not be considered very frightening at all. In fact, in the last few years several excellent and very well-researched biographies of Crowley have been published that have dispelled many untrue rumors and false accusations, including some very compelling (and remarkably un-evil) reasons why he would claim the title of the Beast 666.
World's Wickedest Man
Paradoxes define the life and careers of Edward Alexander (Aleister) Crowley (1875 - 1947). He was a very strange man who often behaved like a cad and a scounÂ*drel. Notorious as he was, however, he was never charged with, arrested for, or convicted of any crime whatsoever. Apparently his greatest "crime" was that of poor judgment. He believed that any publicity was good publicity and he happily cultivated a public reputation for being a black magician. He thought everyone would get the joke. Unfortunately, few people during his lifetime got the joke or appreciated his genius.
Be that is it may, he led quite a life. Among other distinctions, he was a world-class mountaineer, chess master, painter, poet, sportsman, novelist, literary critic, and theatrical producer. As ghostwriter for Evangeline Adams, he introduced astrology to the modern world by writing the two most popular books on the subject ever penned, Astrology: Your Place in the Sun (1927) and Astrology: Your Place Among the Stars (1930).
One of the most astonishing roles Crowley played on the stage of world events was that of secret agent. At a moment in history when the United States was seriously considering entering World War I on Germany's side, Crowley, working undercover for British Intelligence, secured a job writing for an English-language German propaganda newspaper in New York. There he wrote a series of outrageous and insanely inflammatory editorials that hailed Kaiser Wilhelm as the new Jesus Christ, advocated unrestricted submarine warfare against all of the world's civilian shipping, and boasted that it was God's will that Germany rule the world.
These wild statements did not reflect Germany's foreign policy, but the citizens of the United States did not know that. In short order Crowley's editorials were being quoted by U.S. senators and congressmen who used them as evidence that Germany was a nation gone mad. The U.S. finally joined the conflict on England's side largely due to Crowley's ingenious disinformation campaign.
At the request of his friend, naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond 007), Crowley provided Winston Churchill with valuable insights into the superstitious mindset of the leaders of Hitler's Third Reich during the Second World War. He suggested that Churchill exploit the Nazis' magical paranoia by being photographed as much as possible giving the two-fingered "V for Victory" gesture - a powerful symbol of destruction and annihilation that, according to magical tradition, is capable of defeating the perverted solar energies represented by the Nazi swastika.
Crowley's adventures and achieveÂ*ments, more than any dozen men of ambition and genius could hope to garner in a lifetime, are dwarfed by his monumental exploits of spiritual self-discovery. His visionary and mystical writings and his efforts to bring together the spiritual systems of East and West make him one of the most fascinating cultural and religious figures of the 20th century.