EXECUTE ORDER 666: ON FEAR OF AN EVER-CHANGING NUMBER
I was probably six or seven years old when a classmate informed me–in hushed tones, of course–that if you dial 666 on the phone you could talk to the devil.
Not being from a Bible-reading family, this was the first I’d ever heard of that special, sinister number. The kid didn’t explain what happened after you called the devil–because of course, you weren’t actually supposed to do it.
Nor was calling really the point; the point was that you COULD. Sharing this corrupting call plan was a lot like breaking out the old Ouija board, part of what folklorist Bill Ellis’ book Raising the Devil calls “mythmaking,” an exercise that “sets up a temporary anti-ideology that mirrors Christianity” but ultimately affirms rather than challenges it.
At least that’s what’s supposed to happen. Lacking my friend’s religious baggage, I was less afraid and more intrigued. The way he said those words–“the devil”–sounded not just frightened but also perversely reverential.
And why shouldn’t it? It was, after all, a religious experience.
I never did dial 666, by the way. Similarly, I never had the nerve to say “Bloody Mary” in a mirror. Since neither imaginable outcome–nothing happening or something happening–seemed positive, why borrow trouble?
I was probably in college by the time I actually bothered to read Revelation for myself:
“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads, and that no man might buy or sell save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. 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.”
Nothing scares fundies more than the idea that the devil might someday fuck up capitalism for them.
University of Birmingham New Testament scholar (and three-time nominee for the Institute For Textual Scholarship & Electronic Editing’s sexiest paleographer alive award) David Parker writes that in older texts the number is often 616, much to the consternation of Marvel Comics’ editorial department.
But 666 “looks like a more memorable number” Parker told MTV in 2005. More to the point, it’s a scarier number, although it’s hard to articulate why. Alternatively, if I dialed 616 on my old landline phone I’d just expect to get directory assistance or something. Possibly still from the devil, but who really cares?
People go to fantastic lengths to avoid association with the dreaded digits. “When leaving the White House and heading to the Los Angeles suburb, Bel-Air, Ronald Reagan changed his address from 666 St. Cloud Road to 668,” KCBD writes. This is pretty impressive given how much AIDS activists know Reagan hated acknowledging numbers.
“In 2003, New Mexico renumbered its share of U.S. Highway 666 […] into the less ominous Highway 491. Colorado and Utah followed suit,” the outlet adds. Utah didn’t really need to do any more to alienate me, but it’s generous of them to pad out the list anyway.
In 2013, LEX 18 reported that Kentucky high school runner Codie Thacker gave up a shot at the state championship because she refused to wear the 666 racing number her coach drew. A computer assigned her the number at random, but given how fundies feel about science this probably only made it more suspect.
And earlier this year, unreality non-star Anna Duggar censored her Instagram account to avoid even briefly having 666 photos posted. Being the only non-blood relative that Josh Duggar has ever wanted to fuck presumably comes with pressures we mere mortals can’t imagine, so whatever gets her through the night I guess.
Today being the sixth day of the sixth month, some fundy folks also associate the date with the number and thus with the devil. This despite the fact that 66 is not the same number as 666–this is high-grade math I know, but try to follow.
Distributors of The Omen cashed in by releasing the movie on June 6, 1976, which is also not even close to the same number. Thirty years later the remake of The Omen dropped on June 6, 2006, and that’s not the same number but when you’re marketing the 2006 Omen you’ve got to take every break you can get.
I actually had no idea this diabolical dating dismay was even a thing until Satanic Temple Indiana honcho Damien Blackmoor explained it on Black Mass Appeal last year. This despite the fact that–and again, I cannot stress this enough–two sixes are not the same figure as three sixes. I know two out of three ain’t bad for Meat Loaf, but surely god should have higher standards?
Of course it’s not surprising that the nefarious number might change to suit the occasion–616, 666, 66, who’s counting really? Because just like the mythmaking phone call, the point is just to get a reaction.
Disingenuous Anti-Satanists often accuse of us trying to shock or scare people, but in reality it’s their doctrine that’s as protean as the occasion requires. In eschatology, the End Times justify the means.
And this perhaps also explains the elasticity of other Anti-Satanist sentiments as well. We’ve all had the experience of correcting misapprehensions about Modern Satanism, only to find that the other party is just not paying attention.
Because if considerations as trivial as what day is it and what numbers mean aren’t enough to affect their behavior, what hope can we have for mere words?
This is annoying, but like much about such modern conflicts it’s also liberating. If Anti-Satanist thinking refuses to attach itself to any tangible meaning, it’s that much easier to just ignore. It’ll all be the same to them anyway.