The Real Omen
Extracted from In the Belly of the Beast by Sevak Gulbekian
The Incarnation of Evil
The notion of ‘antichrist’ – a being who is the antithesis of Christ – is well established in popular culture. The 1970s film trilogy The Omen, about the orphan Damien Thorn who is capable of the utmost evil, probably did more than anything else to introduce the concept into the public mind. Although marketed today as an ‘all time great’, to the modern eye the Omen films appear naïve and relatively tame – even comic. But their theme is as enduring as it is archetypal. A young boy loses his mother and father in mysterious and strange circumstances and is adopted by his wealthy uncle. Slowly, he eliminates all who stand in his way as he establishes a powerful position in corporate business. He is perceived as a creative thinker and an attractive, charismatic individual. But he embodies Satan himself, and his goal is the pinnacle of earthly power: the Presidency of the United States. In the final film of the trilogy he is eventually deposed, but only after he has deceived a large portion of humanity.
The earliest echoes of this tale are to be found in the Bible itself. Although the word ‘antichrist’ is only used by John in his epistles to the faithful,1 the apostle Paul refers to ‘that man of sin … the son of perdition’, who will put himself in place of God, ‘shewing that he is God … with all power and signs and lying wonders’.2 Paul’s brief account bears all the keynotes of the evil one.
Biblical scholars argue about the origin of the idea of ‘antichrist’, some believing that it derives from the Old Testament, principally the book of Daniel, while others claim that Paul received original inspiration. Whatever the origin of Paul’s passage, Christ himself refers to the idea of evil masquerading as good when he speaks of the arising of ‘false Christs and false prophets’ who would show great signs and wonders with the potential to ‘deceive the very elect’.3 But perhaps the most famous references to such an evil entity are to be found in St John’s visionary book, Revelation. Although this section of the Bible is written in quite a different style – pictorial and symbolic as opposed to realistic – it also tells of a ‘beast’ who deceives humanity through miracles and wonders. Here, the evil being forces all people to receive a mark on their right hand or forehead without which they can neither buy nor sell.4
Many fundamentalist Christian tracts take all the above references and create a composite narrative out of them. In particular, much is often made of the above reference from Revelation in relation to a possible future in which the world’s population would have micro-chips inserted into their skin. Without such a ‘mark of the Beast’, it is said, nobody will be able to ‘buy nor sell’. But whether the beast of the book of Revelation is the same entity as the antichrist figure in the other references given above is questionable. Nevertheless, the often enigmatic language of the Bible leaves plenty of room for continuing conjecture, controversy and lively debate.
One literary depiction of the concept of antichrist which has not received nearly as much attention as the references in the Bible is to be found in the work of the 19th century Russian philosopher and poet Vladimir Solovyov. Contained within his book War, Progress and the End of History is a truly remarkable ‘Short story of the Antichrist’.5 This concise tale is set in contemporary times, with the following scenario. A ‘Pan-Mongolian’ movement has resulted in the Japanese leading a unified Eastern Asia, comprising Japan, Korea, China and Indochina. Creating a colossal army, the Pan-Mongolians march across Russia, Eastern Europe, and into Germany, France and England. Here they create a great empire which lasts for half a century until it is eventually deposed by a unified Europe. This painful colonial experience causes the European nations to create a United States of Europe.
It is into this context that a great man is born. By the age of 33, many recognize him as a ‘superman’: spiritually brilliant, a great thinker, a genius of exceptional beauty and nobility of character, a philanthropist, ascetic, etc. Although he believes in God, Solovyov tells us that the great man truly ‘loved only himself’. He respects the Christ of the Gospels, but in reality he believes that he has a more important mission.
One night, the great man is contemplating the nature of Jesus Christ, when he feels great fear followed by a burning envy, and eventually an intense hatred of him. In a fit of madness he attempts to take his own life, but is saved by a supernatural force which speaks to him in his desperation. This force incorporates itself into the very being of the great man, and thus is he possessed by the antichrist himself. The great man is now changed, and displays a supernatural, inspired brilliance that surpasses even his previous state. With this newfound genius he writes a great work, The Open Way to Universal Peace and Prosperity, which is soon translated and published in all the major languages of the world. The book, which is received with great acclaim, appears to answer all the main questions people have, and is accepted as ‘the revelation of the complete truth’.
Eventually, he is elected lifetime president of the United States of Europe, and finally ‘Emperor’. Very soon, all the nations of the world voluntarily come under his dominion, and he begins a great reign of peace. Indeed, in the very first year of his reign he promises and manages to establish peace around the world. In the second year he promises and again delivers universal prosperity, with all the world’s social and economic problems solved. In his third year, understanding that people want amusement in addition to peace and prosperity, he appoints a mysterious magician from the East, Apollonius, who – as the Emperor’s constant companion – gives the nations of the world ‘the possibility of never-ending enjoyment of most diverse and extraordinary miracles’.
Finally, having resolved all other major problems, the Emperor seeks to address the religious question. Beginning with Christianity, he calls a great congress of all its representatives, consisting principally of the Catholic, Protestant (Evangelical) and Orthodox churches. In an immense temple created in Jerusalem for the unification of all religions, the antichrist attempts to impose his will on the Christian representatives by asking them to accept him as their ‘sole protector and patron’. Many of the gathered Christians are enticed by his entreaties and temptations, and only a small band from each of the major confessions hold out against him. Two of their leaders are eventually killed by lightening after they recognize and proclaim the Emperor to be the antichrist. The remaining small group of dissenters are sent away from the city. In contrast, the other groups of various Christians denominations cement their relationship with their new leader by accepting his magician Apollonius as their common pope.
The story ends with a great apocalyptic battle followed by an enormous earthquake and the eruption of a great volcano which swallows up the great Emperor and his forces. The antichrist is defeated, principally – one assumes – because he has been recognized by at least a small group of people.
Solovyov’s story is significant for many reasons. For one, he creates an epic narrative out of the biblical prophecies which is far more convincing and insightful than Hollywood’s Omen trilogy. Solovyov, a mystic and devout Christian himself, clearly takes these prophecies seriously, and attempts to show how such a scenario could actually develop on earth in modern times. But more than that, his ‘Short Story of the Antichrist’ is instructive because of its treatment of evil itself. Solovyov shows us that the presence of evil in the world is a far more complex phenomenon than we are accustomed to believe. He challenges our very perception of evil by demonstrating how easily it can appear to be ‘good’. As one of his characters observes, ‘all that glitters is not gold’.
Solovyov’s tale is particularly relevant to the modern day (and the theme of this book) in that it offers a schooling for ways of perceiving the world and interpreting contemporary events. Do we always distinguish between glitter and gold? Solovyov’s story challenges us to ask ourselves sincerely whether, amidst the fog of media hype and digitally-bedazzling technology, we would be awake to the manipulations of such a ‘great man’ today.
This chapter’s final link to the theme of antichrist comes from the work of Rudolf Steiner, who also spoke on the incarnation of evil, in this case a being he referred to as ‘Ahriman’. For Steiner, Ahriman was synonymous with the biblical Satan (although distinct from Lucifer) and represents materialism. His task is to convince human beings that soul and spirit do not exist. In contrast to Lucifer who is a majestic, ethereal being, Ahriman seeks to harden, densify and materialize human nature; to turn us away from any conception of metaphysical dimensions. Ahriman, Steiner claimed, would incarnate in a human body in the near future. However, while Steiner described Ahriman as an entity who opposed Christ, he did not see him as ‘the Antichrist’ as such. His picture of Ahriman is closer to St Paul’s ‘son of perdition’ referred to earlier.
It is important to note that, as we have seen, Steiner was not a mere interpreter of biblical texts, nor a theoretician or hypothesizer. Rather, when speaking on spiritual matters, he was gleaning his knowledge directly from spiritual sources. Using a highly developed clairvoyance and advanced methods of verification, Steiner was purporting to convey highly accurate information. At the same time, he did not ask for anybody to believe what he said, but to treat it as spiritual-scientific research: to be thought about, meditated upon, and where possible compared with other sources. The following material is therefore presented not as dogma, but as a relevant investigation into the theme.
It is interesting to note that in a lecture career spanning some 6,000 lectures, Steiner spoke only six times about the earthly incarnation of Ahriman.6 From his various statements, it is clear that – according to him – this incarnation would take place in the West, probably in an English-speaking country, and in the near future. Steiner rarely spoke in a prophetic mode, which probably explains why he did not give specific indications of time and place for Ahriman’s incarnation. He would also have been conscious of the dynamics of spiritual events, and the fact that an occurrence of such import was liable to be affected by human free will and how it manifested on earth.
What he was very specific about, however, were the conditions that would allow the being of Ahriman to carry out his mission. For one, Steiner spoke about the human intellect becoming ‘very inventive in the realm of physical life’ though which ‘it will be possible for there to be a human individuality of a kind in which Ahriman will be able to be incorporated.’ As commentator Hans Peter van Manen points out, this reference can bring to mind modern fertilization techniques as well as the more recently developed technology of genetic engineering; the implication being that such methods could create a physical body into which Ahriman could successfully incarnate.7
Other trends and symptoms which would signal the coming of Ahriman’s incarnation include the prevalence of the modern scientific, mechanical conception of the universe; the tendency to view social life and society solely from the economic point of view; the acceptance of the principle of nationality as the solution to the problems of humanity; the popularity of the system of party politics; the spread of fundamentalist and simplistic evangelical interpretations of Christianity (in particular the emphasis on Jesus as a ‘simple man’ of good ethics as opposed to the principle of the cosmic Christ); and the spread of a purely intellectual cultural life. As all of these phenomena can be observed in modern life, one could expect that, from Steiner’s point of view, the incarnation of the being of Ahriman is immanent.
Finally, one should note that Steiner was not suggesting that human beings should attempt to avert such an event, or even agitate against it in an external way. This incarnation is meant to happen, and could be for the good of human evolution. The critical thing for Steiner was that people should recognize Ahriman for what he is. In other words he should be unmasked; and in this respect one can think of Solovyov’s tale. Under such conditions, Ahriman’s incarnation would have positive results. Only if Ahriman were to go unrecognized would this event be wholly calamitous for earthly and human development.
1 I John 2: 18-22.
2 II Thessalonians 2: 3-10.
3 Matthew 24: 24. See also Mark 13: 6 and 22; Luke 21:8; and John 5:43.
4 Revelation 13.
5 Vladimir Solovyov, War, Progress and the End of History, Lindisfarne Press, New York, 1990.
6 I am grateful to Hans Peter van Manen for his excellent summary of Steiner’s remarks in his essay ‘when did Rudolf Steiner Expect the Incarnation of Ahriman?’. See The Future is Now, edited by S.E. Gulbekian, Temple Lodge Publishing, London, 1999.
7 Ibid., page 229 (also for the quote from Steiner).
Extracted from In the Belly of the Beast by Sevak Gulbekian
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Last updated 18/03/2004