The Day of the Beast and His Brand

“He proceeds to put some secret mark upon himself with the point of a needle, as the sign of the Beast or Antichrist, in which mark there is great potency.” 

Richard Cumberland, The Observer (1785)

Some opponents of the covid vaccine are equating the jab with the apocalyptic “mark of the Beast,” and some vaccine proponents are lending plausibility to this theory by demanding that only the vaccinated be allowed to “buy and sell.”  This theory is, however, embarrassed by the fact that scripture tells us that the “mark of the Beast” will be received on the right hand or forehead, and that the mark will be “the name of the Beast or the number of its name” (Rev. 13:17-18).

My view is that the right hand is a symbol of a man’s works, as it was when Christ observed that amputation of this member is preferable to eternal damnation.  The forehead I take to symbolize a man’s faith, and the mark on his forehead to be the mark (St. John says “name”) of the god or gods to which he bows.  The true mark is impressed on the mind that has its seat behind his forehead, but the forehead is also a billboard for outward signs.  Consider the zabiba or “prayer bump” of a devout Muslim, or the tilak of a devout Hindu.  Many Christians, of course, mark the forehead with oil, ashes, and the sign of the cross.  Thus, Tertullian wrote in in the first century:

“In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross.”*

A man who is marked on both his right hand and forehead is, therefore, a man who serves his god in the works his of his right hand and the faith of his mind.  He has faith in the promises of his god, and he conducts himself accordingly.

I think it may be significant that the Beast is satisfied with less thoroughgoing votaries and is equally pleased with those who say that they believe his promises and those who only act like they do.  But however complete and thoroughgoing it may be, the “mark of the Beast” is an outward sign of submission to the Beast.  It is the bestial equivalent of the rites with which the ancient Israelites attested their submission to God.

“This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips” (Exodus 13:9).

* * * * *

In my epigraph, Richard Cumberland notes that most old authors agree that a witch receives a stigma when she enters Satan’s service (and so does a masculine sorcerer).  The word stigma literally means a mark made by a sharp or smoldering stick.  This so-called “witch’s mark” is therefore the brand or earmark with which Satan marks his cattle; but it is also the token with which a witch proves that she is entitled to the promises of her god.

You must recall that a witch receives her “witch’s mark” when she binds herself to Satan in a compact.  In this compact, Satan promises the witch magical power and puts a lesser demon in her service.  Her “witch’s mark” is, in a sense, the receipt or IOU with which she proves to this “familiar” that she has paid for, and is entitled to, his diabolical services.  If a witch undertakes extraordinary magic, her “witch’s mark” shows that she has paid for, and is entitled to, the supplemental service of what amount to demonic temp workers.

The old witch hunters believed that the flesh of a “witch’s mark” was preternaturally dead and was therefore cold to the touch and insensitive to pain.  This is why we often compare very cold weather to the frigid dug or pap of a witch.  It is why a “witch’s tit” is often said to be a dry and shriveled thing.  The breasts of a natural woman signify life because they figure so largely in acts of generation and nurture.  The breasts of a witch, on the other hand . . .

Well, let us consider the witch Geraldine in Coleridge’s poem Christabel (1800).  Geraldine appears voluptuous and lovely, but her true witchy nature sometimes breaks through, like a terrible vision, and apalls Christabel.

“Again she saw that bosom old,
Again she saw that bosom cold”

The old, cold bosom of Geraldine is, as Cumberland says, a “secret mark,” and so is normally concealed under her silken robe and witchery.  A witch does not wear her “witch’s mark” on her forehead.

Or rather she does not do so until the day of the Beast arrives.

* * * * *

To carry the mark of one’s god on one’s forehead is to carry it openly, boldly, and for all to see.  This is why diffident Christians (such as I) find excuses to postpone the imposition of ashes until the very end of Ash Wednesday.  Unlike Geraldine’s cold and withered bosom, a man cannot hide the mark of his god behind a silken robe and witchery when that mark is graven on his forehead.

From this I surmise that St. John’s “mark of the Beast” is really just a witch’s mark worn with pride!

When Geraldine first disrobes before Christabel and the illusion of her witchery fails, Geraldine says to Christabel:

“Thou knowest tonight, and wilt know tomorrow,
This mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow.”

If Geraldine were living in the day of the Beast, when men and women openly profess and practice worship of the Beast, she might say this instead:

“Thou wilt knowest tomorrow, and know tonight,
This mark of my pride, seal of my delight.”

To wear the mark of the Beast on one’s right hand and forehead is to openly profess one’s faith in the Beast, and to openly act accordingly.  On the day of the Beast, the women will boast that no babes will ever suckle at their breasts, and the men will grow lusty when they leer at those “bosoms cold.”

* * * * *

In the day of the Beast (which may be today), a Christian will be tempted to try a crafty “juggling of faith with idolatry.” The phrase is from Tertullian, who was writing in the first century and explaining how hard it is to avoid idolatry when one is surrounded by idolaters.  This is because it is very hard not to tacitly concede their “truth.”  Going along with their idolatrous untruths avoids trouble, and this makes it seem like the kind, the decent, perhaps even the Christian thing to do.

Tertullian asks us to imagine that a Christian has performed an act of charity to a heathen, and that the grateful heathen has therefore blessed the Christian in the name of his, the heathen’s, god.  Churlish as it may seem, Tertullian tells us that the Christian must expressly, perhaps angrily, refuse that blessing.  To receive it is to tacitly concede the heathen’s “truth.”  It is to allow that there might be such a god, and therefore that such a blessing might possibly be given.

If you allow the votary of a strange god to bless you in the name of his god, your acquiescence marks you as a casual votary of his god.  Thus, Tertullian tells us:

“To be blessed in the name of the gods of the Heathen is to be cursed in God’s name.”**

What is true of the gods of the Heathen must surely be true of the Beast, so to be blessed (rather than cursed) by beastly votaries of the Beast is to become a votary of the Beast and to wear his mark.

“All disowning is idolatry, even as all idolatry is disowning.”**

Bowing to an idol is idolatry, and to do so is to disown God and be disowned by God.  When you bow to the Beast, you rise with his mark on your forehead.  But Tertullian tells us that refusing to bow to the Beast is not enough, since we wear his mark whenever we do not wear the mark of the Lord on our right hand and forehead.

Therefore, in the slang of today, “going grey” is not an option because the road to heaven does not lead through “strategic ambiguity.”

If a Christian “keeps his mouth shut” when the Beast is praised, that Christian by his muteness “disowns” God and joins in that praise of the Beast.  If you are hoping that the beastly ones will mistakenly think you are one of them, Tertullian has this shocking thing to say.

In the eyes of God, trying to pass as beastly is itself a mark of the Beast.

“It is the fault of cowardice, when another bindeth thee by his own gods, through an oath or any other form of testimony, and thou, lest thou be discovered, remainest silent.”**

* * * * *

How does another bindeth me by his own (false) gods?  Most obviously he does this by inviting me to participate in worship of those gods, even if only as a “gesture of respect.”  In the case of modern beastliness, he does this by inviting me to celebrate beastly things that I ought to abhor.  Most of us have the good sense to refuse this snare of open idolatry, but Tertullian tells us it is not enough to retreat into “respectful silence” because respectful silence is, to put it bluntly, respectful.

When it comes to false gods, and more especially to the Beast, we are required to be loudly disrespectful, since those who do not “disown” the Beast are owned by the Beast, and those who are owned by the Beast will most certainly wear his brand.

*) Tertullian “Of the Crown” (c. 100 A.D.)
**) Tertullian “Of Idolatry” (c. 100 A.D.)

9 thoughts on “The Day of the Beast and His Brand

  1. Unfortunately a rather timely post . . . though your timing of the irascible Latin is off by about a century.

    I grew up hearing “cold as a witch’s tit,” and I never knew the origin . . . though I understood the obvious contrast to motherhood. I think of my favorite Pink Floyd song “Wish You Were Here” — what a terrible deal.

    About a heathen’s blessing — contra the fathers but secundum the Inklings — perhaps the gods, at least as the good aspects of them in the myths shine through, play for the home team. Recently, I was talking with a RC priest friend who has provided support for exorcists (logistically, not in battle/surgery) about Hindu deities, and I expressed this favorable opinion of paganism. He disagreed mightily; the fathers knew paganism up close and personal (not like the Highlanders or the Apache in romanticized stories long after they ceased to be threats) — and they knew that they were demons. I don’t know. Theoretically, I’m a dove with foreign gods. When I witness heathenism up close, though, I tend toward the hawks. (In particular, we discussed this article: https://www.ncronline.org/news/soul-seeing/postmodern-catholic-divinity-student-lets-go-moment-grace . . . I’d like to know how other readers react.)

    • Like most of the things I write, the “witch’s tit” explanation is an educated guess. That’s frankly all such things can ever be since the origins of a saying are forgotten before anyone recognizes it as a saying. My fanatical interest in the names of geographical features runs up against the same problem all the time. I’m presently moping at the dead end of an inquiry into a local stream called Still Creek, with equally plausible arguments that it was named for a distillery, stagnancy, and a man with the surname Still.

      Like you I have a romantic weakness for the enchanted world of Paganism, but I am in everyday life relieved to be free of a need to propitiate the genius loci of every puddle and bush. I “like” the line in the linked article where Blumberg says fear of covid prevented his visiting The Hindu temple. Not fear of demonic possession? Of course demonic possession is what he got, and he naturally called it “grace.” I got serious about religion (well, relatively serious) when I stopped thinking that grace was like a bong hit from God.

    • I meant to add this quote which has been sitting in the hopper of possible Orthosphere epigraphs.

      “East of Suez, some hold, the direct control of Providence ceases; Man being there handed over to the Gods and Devils of Asia . . .” Rudyard Kipling, Mine Own People (1891)

    • Interesting comment Joseph A.

      As far as foreign gods, I think some like the Aztec gods were demons. On the other hand, based on Dante’s treatment of Classical mythology in the Divine Comedy, he must not have thought that it was all demonic. I think the demons are master co-opters. Some people like to point to various gruesome forms of magic among the pagans as evidence that the whole thing was demonic. However, since classical paganism was completely decentralized, I would say they indicate, rather, that demons can hijack many things.

      Probably, those practices came about from people wanting to do something which they knew was bad or where they wanted something enough that they were willing to do something horrible to obtain it. If that situations occurs and people look towards the preternatural for assistance, demons will take that as an invitation.

      As far as the article, I would hope what happened was just an overactive imagination, or overly dramatic writing, or the author wanted an “experience”, so he hypnotized himself into a false one.

  2. @JMS – This strikes me as a truly inspired utterance – thank you very much!

    Aside; I suspect that a bow to the beast is more likely, nowadays, to be self-justified in terms of being ‘nice’ – than something to do with respect.

    • I think the word “respect” has come to mean nice, since it now normally means to simulate a good opinion of people who don’t deserve it. In the case of religions, we are enjoined to “respect” an alien religion not because it has good qualities, but because to do otherwise would somehow hurt the feelings of its votaries. The corruption of the idea of respect is deplorable because getting respect right is a large part of a good and healthy culture. It is hard to have hope for a culture if its heroes are thugs, degenerates and libertines.

  3. Thank you for a very interesting article, and timely for me, as I work with a large number of Indians and happened to read it the morning of Diwali.

    The final section regarding giving credence to other’s gods has tied me in knots. I agree that it is dangerous to respect others religious beliefs as if all are valid, because no other religious belief can be valid or true in a Christian worldview. We would not lend respect to an intentional liar, and one who is simply misguided should be led to the actual truth.

    My boss brought in some food from his Diwali celebrations to share with the office. As I understand it, this food is prepared for the gods and offered to them, and is then eaten afterwards. I have been avoiding it for this reason, though I am tempted to try some of it. That got me to thinking whether I am in fact giving credence or respect to the Hindu pantheon by abstaining, by treating the food as something other than simply food. My boss’s intention is not for us to participate in his religious ceremony, but merely to dispose of leftovers.

    I would be interested to hear what others think the appropriate course of action is in such a scenario.

    • I don’t know what I would do if presented with tempting Diwali leftovers, but I have certainly pondered why St. Paul and St. John say Christian freedom does not extend to eating food sacrificed to idols. Revelations 2:20 gives us food for thought. St. Paul suggests that relaxation on this point will lead to a general softening of “conscience,” and I’ll venture to guess he means that it leads to universalism. Christians must retain a certain disgust at all rival religions.

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