Aphrodite’s Child’s 666: Revelation Allusion

The theme of the Apocalypse is abundant in the fields of literature, film, and music. The end times pervade our modern culture as deeply as Christianity does; the human race seems to have a fascination with the end of itself, whether it be violent or passive. As I sought a topic for my Revelation allusion, I turned to the popular culture I had been immersed in. What I found was nestled away in my music collection; for this week’s blog, I chose to write about an album produced by the psychedelic/progressive art rock band Aphrodite’s Child entitled 666.

666’s cover

This controversial, nearly blasphemous album was released in 1972, only to be highly censored and banned from radio play (Vangelis Lyrics). This entire album is a musical adaptation of the Book of Revelation, with song titles such as Seven Bowls, Babylon, The Beast, The Battle of the Locusts, and Seven Trumpets. I figured I would break down two songs from the twenty-four track album.

Track four on the first cd is entitled “The Four Horsemen,” most obviously a reference to the four horsemen in Revelation 6. The lyrics mention the lamb (Jesus) opening the first four seals and the corresponding horseman to each seal.

The lyrics from the first verse, “I saw the first horse / The horseman held a bow,” references Rev 6:2 or, “And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow…”

The next verse mentions, “I saw the second horse / the horseman held his sword,” which is an obvious reference to Rev 6:4, “And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider…was given a great sword.”

The third verse’s lyrics include “I saw the third horse / The horseman had a balance,” referencing Rev 6:5, “…and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand…”

The final and fourth verse references Rev 6:8, “…and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death….given authority…with pestilence…” which the song interprets as “I saw the fourth horse / The horseman was the pest.”

The final lyrical interpretation of Revelation worth mentioning is a direct statement of each horseman in the chorus: “The leading horse is white / the second horse is red / the third one is a black / the last one is a green.” Obviously, in Revelation, each horse’s colour is listed, being white, red and black; traditionally, the final horseman, Death, is known for his pale horse, which can be translated from pale to a ghastly, sickly green.

 

Track six on the first cd, entitled “The Seventh Seal”, references the latter portion of Revelation 6, or verses 9-17. It features the lamb again (Jesus) as opening seals five, six and seven, and the consequences that correspond with each seal.

The first verse focuses on the fifth seal. The lamb opens them, and “We saw the souls / we saw the martyrs / we heard them crying / we heard them shouting / they were dressed in white / they’d been told to wait.” This first part of lyrics mentions white robed martyrs that had been told to wait even though they cried. Revelation 6:9-11 covers this imagery perfectly as it describes “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God…each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer…” as they had “cried out with a loud voice.”

The second verse describes the various physical aspects that will come with the sixth seal. It describes a black sun, a red moon, falling stars, a trembling earth, and a population seeking refuge from hunger and thirst. Revelation 6:12-17 is the basis for this imagery: “There was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth…everyone, slave and free, hid themselves…calling to the mountains and rocks…‘hide us from the…wrath of the Lamb…’”

 

The final reference to point out about Revelation that Aphrodite’s Child used for this album is the title, 666. Known as the mark of the beast, the number 666 is listed in Revelation 13:18, “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” This exact quote can be found on the interior design of the vinyl album’s sleeve. In addition, at the very bottom of the quote, in parentheses, the actual book of Revelation is cited by its alternate name: The Apocalypse of John.

Interior Sleeve

The more one listens to this album, the more one realizes how fascinating the book of Revelation truly is. Its imagery is so easily translatable to any medium, and it leaves a lasting impression upon its observer. Aphrodite’s Child did a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of Revelation, and one would not be able to understand the entirety of the album without having read Revelation first.

The Angels of Revelation

For this week’s blog, I chose a topic near to my heart. As a Catholic, growing up involved a great deal of theology, learning doctrine, dogma, and traditions and being steeped in a specific culture. One of my favourite aspects of that culture was learning about the winged, divine beings that were said to live in heaven, sometimes making special trips to Earth to guide humanity as it fell victim to evil’s pressures.

In Revelation, the word angel (or its plural form) is stated seventy-six times. With only twenty-two chapters in the entire book, the average amount of times “angel” appears in each chapter ranks at 3. So what are these creatures? What is their purpose? Do angels of a ranking system? Who are any of the angels mentioned in Revelation? I searched for these answers.

My first thought was to define an angel and state the creature’s purpose. I found that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all recognize angels as spiritual beings (Chabad.org), created from light (About.com) and considered intelligent, obedient ministers of God’s will (Catholic Online). The imagery of wings and appearing in the form of a man seems to be anthropological traits given by authors to help humankind understand angels. The word ‘angel’ comes from the Greek word ‘angelos’, meaning messenger; this also translates similarly in Hebrew, as the word for angel is ‘malak’ or messenger (Catholic Online). So these divine beings are extensions of God’s will. Throughout Revelation, God has them perform various tasks from blowing trumpets to breaking seals to guiding the speaker around in the vision to visit various scenes such as the beast rising from the sea (Rev 13:1) or the woman giving birth (Rev 12:1-6).

Each category of angel

So amongst beings of light, I knew there to be a hierarchy according to orthodox or traditional beliefs of nine orders of angels which are further divided into three ranks. Most people have heard of cherubs, archangels, and maybe seraphs, but other ranks of celestial being exist. The highest are closest to the Holy Trinity (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) and reside in the throne room of heaven; this hierarchy is comprised of the seraphim, cherubim, and the thrones. The second hierarchy is comprised of the dominions, virtues, and powers. The final and lowest hierarchy of angels are the principalities, archangels, and angels. All of the celestial orders are lumped together under the term ‘angel’ by most people (The Holy Angels). Each have their own specific tasks to do, from being the mediator between God and humanity to doling out justice or from maintaining the physical universe to teaching and guiding humanity (Angelology). In Revelation, it is obvious that certain types of angels are delegated to different tasks.

In fact, some of the angels mentioned have specific phrases which could lead to the possible identification of exactly which of the angels is being mentioned. Only one angel is mentioned by name, Michael. Michael, or the one who is like God, is considered the most powerful of all angels, the general of the heavenly army, and is to be the conqueror of Satan (Angels 101). In fact, Michael battled Lucifer during the war in heaven when he and other angels rebelled against God. In Revelation, Michael and his army will defeat Lucifer again during the end times (Angels About). In chapter 20 of Revelation, it is implied that the angel who binds Satan for a thousand years and casts him into the pit will be Michael.

the Seven Powerful Archangels in the throne room

Other angels to be noticed and whom I wanted to identify included: the angel sent to John to tell him to write Revelation, the seven angels of the churches in chapters 2 and 3, the seven angels of the trumpet, the four angels at the corners of the earth, the angel with the incense, and the angel who made John eat a scroll in chapter 10. My Catholic background gave me a head start on learning the identities of these angels. The traditional announcer of God is Gabriel, so it could be a possibility that the angel sent to John at the beginning of Revelation is Gabriel. The seven angels of the churches could be literal angels, but could also be symbolic of the church leaders that guided the Christians in that area (Bible Hub). The seven angels of the trumpets are seven angels “who stand before God” (Rev 8:2); these are seven throne room archangels. Their names are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Chamuel, Jophiel, and Raguel (Angelfocus). The four angels at the four corners of the earth are included within the throne room archangels, and are traditionally considered to be the best-known of the archangels, which are Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel (The Hebrew Cornerstone). The angel with the incense, though not named in modern translations, is said to be Raguel according to early manuscripts of Revelation that scholars have discovered (Angels About). The final angel I chose to identify was that from chapter 10. Most of the sources I found stated that this angel’s identity is actually Jesus because of the “angel’s” authority and his coming “robed in a cloud” like Jesus’ coming in Revelation 1:7 (Lamb & Lion, Bible Gateway, Ray Stedman.org, Bible Info). From context clues throughout Revelation and connections with traditional religious culture, many of the angels mentioned in the book can be identified by name.

So overall, I answered my questions. Angels are divine beings of light, extensions of God’s will, and have many purposes that serve both God and humanity, fighting evil, and spreading the light of what is good. Each angel may be ranked according to a hierarchy system, further delegating what purpose they serve. Finally, the angels of Revelation can be identified both in name and in rank. Angels, a topic deeply steeped in cultural tradition for me, are more complicated than most people would have thought.