I do not know if fabulous beasts reward inspection but have decided to try. This is intended as the first of a series of essays dealing with the monsters of myth, legend, and allegory as well as those actually hiding under my bed trying to reach me with their slender white fishy fingers. Since the latter are easily foiled by declaring one's blankets magical before nodding off, I shall deal with the former. Let's examine the Beast --or Beasts-- of Revelations and see how that goes.
In the New Testament, from Revelations 11 through 17, there was a spate of monster sightings on the island of Patmos. Saint John the Apostle was there and he took notes. His account details the most alarming creatures emerging from the earth, sea and sky, but most attention is given to the one pictured in the tapestry below:
[fig. 1: Tapestry]
The picture shows a seven-headed creature ridden by a woman. Some say the number 666 was printed on her forehead but the tapestry omits it --conflicting accounts. Possibly, some witnessed spit-curls and took them for numbers.
But St. John was a keen observer and saw it somewhere. He made a note of it, reproduced in fig.3 on a scrap of ancient parchment. Unfortunately it is in poor shape. Sometimes one jots something important on a matchbook then runs it through the wash because one --not me, of course-- forgets to check one's pockets. It produces a distinctive damage pattern:
Some believe the number conforms to magical systems of calculations, such as Thelema, and points to things incomprehensible to the sober essayist. I agree. Others identify it with the 666th letter of the alphabet. Since I come from a time when there were only 26 letters, I shall reserve comment. Theologians, however, identify the rider as a harlot because she is drinking from a big goblet and acting all sexy. From this and other clues, they endorse St. John's opinion that she represents adulterated governments in apostasy, powers that have deserted their good principles and defy God's commandments.
There is, incidentally, another interpretation, not necessarily or intentionally in conflict with any aforementioned. The number, 666, especially if painted on cardboard and taped to the rider's back, indicates a rodeo and distinguishes this contestant from all the other harlots riding monsters. It also means, assuming there were not more entries, that about 50 of these things occupied every square mile of Patmos, which is only 13 square miles. Clearly an infestation of Biblical proportions.