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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 June 2006, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
The Nick of time
By Stephen Tomkins

Be afraid, be very afraid. It is the 6th day of the 6th month of the 6th year (ok, the 2006th year, but disregard that minor distraction) and 666 is the number of the beast. Is it a bad omen or just hype?

Significant dates have an uncanny appeal, whether they portend the apocalypse or just a big party. When it came to 1 January, 2000, it inspired hopes and fears of both.

Something similar happened on New Year's Eve 999, when a huge crowd gathered in Rome to await the end of the world, until at midnight the Pope blessed them and sent them home. Whether a smaller group of pedants turned up twelve months later is not recorded.

The date of the beast - 06/06/06 - should be irresistible then. "Let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred and sixty-six," says Revelation, the last and obscurest book of the Bible.

So what should we expect from this great and dreadful day? Plenty of marketing, for a start. The remake of The Omen is being released. In response to the US National Day of Prayer, the heavy metal band Slayer have announced a National Day of Slayer, printing 666 limited edition T-shirts to mark the occasion.

Armageddon

Local clubs and venues are celebrating in their own way. The heavy metal band Viking Skull are playing in London, with tickets priced at 6.66.

MAKING IT ADD UP
One theory is that the letters "add up", in the form of numerology called Gematria, to Nero or "Neron Caesar", written as "Nrwn Qsr" in Hebrew letters
r = 200; s = 60; q = 100; n = 50; w = 6; r = 200; n = 50
Total: 666

Among the actual Satanist community, attitudes to the big day vary. Rev. John D Allee is the founder of the First Church of Satan in Salem, America, which split from the original Church of Satan 12 years ago.

"I plan to take Lillee, my High Priestess, to the opening of The Omen movie," says the self-styled Dark Pope. "Then it's out for dinner."

The Temple of Set takes a more solemn view. This is another breakaway from the Church of Satan, claiming a history of several thousand years, and "formally incorporated in 1975 CE".

Louise Renard is a priestess and assistant to the executive director in London. "There is nothing significant about that day or that number" she says. "Unless the new Omen movie turns out to be better than expected."

Vlad the antichrist

Meanwhile, Vexen Crabtree, the Minister of the London Church of Satan, plans to go to one of the alternative clubs that are celebrating 06/06/06. "My official take on it is that 666 is really only a Christian number," he explains. "But any excuse for a party is a good one."

Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Davey-Fitzpatrick plays Damien in the new Omen
Crabtree dissociates the Church of Satan from the Temple of Set and the First Church of Satan, saying it is the only Satanist group that is "sane and worthwhile".

He says any Satanists who actually worship the Devil, rather than revering "Satan" as an abstract value, are "immature, unstable and nothing to do with us". It is perhaps reassuring for people of other religions to see that Satanists have the same controversies as everyone else.

At the other extreme, some Christians have foretold dire events. Tom Chase, a New Age Christian writer from the US, has used astrology and the Bible to calculate that the antichrist will emerge, followed by an asteroid collision and within a year or two the battle of Armageddon. The antichrist, according to Chase, is Vladimir Putin.

The majority of scholars interpret the number of the beast as a reference to the Roman emperor at the time Revelation was written - either Nero or Diocletian. They both put large numbers of Christians to death. And using the Jewish system of Gematria, where each letter is given a number, either name can be made to add up to 666 - or 616 as some early versions of the Bible had it.

Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden, conveniently, have a spooky story about 666
That has never stopped Bible readers applying it to their own times and enemies though. The Pope has been the most common choice throughout history - even among Catholics. Napoleon, Martin Luther, Hitler and Bill Gates have also had their moment in the numerological spotlight.

The book "Is George Bush The Antichrist?" was published in 2004 in the US. The answer was yes, showing all kinds of ways of doing the maths to get the president to equal 666. Ronald Wilson Reagan was also a popular contender for a while - just count the letters. He even retired to 666 St Cloud Road, Bel Air - although he took the precaution of changing the number to 668 first.

Equally afraid of the number of the beast - hexakosioihexekontahexaphobic, if you will - some expectant mothers have been asking to have their birth induced to avoid the ill-omened day, according to the Sunday Times.

It is also told how, during the recording of Iron Maiden's album The Number of the Beast, their manager had a crash with a van driven by nuns and the repair bill came to 666. The story has been repeatedly confirmed by members of the band - though as the good book says, the devil is a liar.


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