Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, or fear of the number "666," is surprisingly common. Related to triskaidekaphobia, or fear of the number 13, this phobia has its origins in both religious belief and superstition. In conjunction with other symptoms, this fear could be representative of magical thinking, possibly even pointing to a delusional disorder.
Some experts question whether hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia should be classified as a phobia at all. A number is not an object or situation. Most people find that the fear does not significantly impact their lives, which is a necessary component of a phobia diagnosis. Nonetheless, the fear is pervasive, and at times, has even impacted entire communities.
Origins of Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia
The number 666 appears in the Bible, in the Book of Revelation. Revelation 13:17-18, in the King James version of the Bible, states that the “number of the beast” is “six hundred threescore and six” or 666. This reference appears to be the origin of the phobia.
The contents of the Book of Revelation has been hotly debated by scholars and theologians since the time of the Book’s original writing. The events depicted are apocalyptic in nature, and many people, whether Christian or not, are at least loosely aware of their possible meanings. One popular interpretation is that the beast to which the number is attributed is the Antichrist.
As written, the events depicted in Revelation are extremely frightening. If they are viewed as a literal transcription of what is to come, as they are by some sects, it is easy to see how a serious fear or phobia could develop. This seems to be especially true for those who are questioning their own religious beliefs or transitioning out of a deeply religious upbringing.
Interestingly, some evidence shows that the number in question is not 666 at all. Some scholars believe that this was a corruption of the original text, in which the number was 616; however, this remains an unpopular view.
Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia in Pop Culture
Fear of the number 666 may be triggered in some people by its prevalence in pop culture. Many horror movies use this number as a premise. These films tend to be supernatural thrillers, playing on the association between the number and the Antichrist. Some films use doomsday scenarios, drawing on the number’s apocalyptic connotations.
Symptoms of Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia
Fear of the number 666 can manifest in many different ways, depending on the severity of the phobia. Many people refuse to live in a home that bears this street number. Former President Ronald Reagan and wife, Nancy, moved to Bel-Air, Los Angeles, following his presidency. They had the street number of their house changed from 666 to 668.
If your phobia is more severe, you may find yourself making compulsive decisions to consciously avoid having the number occur in your daily life. If a grocery total is $6.66, you may feel compelled to add or subtract an item. You may block channel 666 from your cable listings or drive around your neighborhood to change your odometer reading from 666 to 667.
It is not unusual for people with this phobia to ruminate on the number and its appearance in everyday life. You may become particularly nervous or uncomfortable if it appears frequently, drawing connections between coincidental events. In extreme cases, these thought patterns may lead to disordered or delusional thinking, but most people with this fear recognize that they are being irrational.
Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia and the Government
One of the most famous examples of how pervasive the fear of the number 666 can be, is the renaming of a famous highway in the American Southwest. U.S. Highway 666 was so-named by the American Association of State Highway Officials in 1926. Its name was selected according to official naming guidelines, as it was the sixth spur off U.S. Highway 66 (the infamous Route 66).
Over time, the New Mexico section of Highway 666 proved to be statistically dangerous. Skeptics believe that this was due to the road being improperly designed or maintained for increasing traffic loads. However, many believed that it was actually the road’s name that caused accidents and fatalities. This was magnified in public awareness. Soon Highway 666 became known as the Devil’s Highway.
In 1985, Route 66 was decertified due to the emerging interstate system, although many areas chose to pick up the historic route as a reclassified state road. Nonetheless, this opened the door for a possible name change to the now-orphaned Highway 666.
Over time, sections of the Devil’s Highway were absorbed by other road systems or removed altogether for interstate expansion. The original road was largely ignored, leading the New Mexico section of the highway to be known as one of the nation’s 20 most dangerous highways.
In 2003, the Devil’s Highway was officially renamed U.S. Highway 491. The renaming coincided with a series of road construction projects designed to improve the highway’s safety. Although many believe that the highway’s now vastly improved safety record is due to the construction and not the name change, it is worth noting that the official dedication featured a Navajo medicine man who supposedly removed the highway’s curse.
This phobia can be difficult to treat by conventional methods. The course of treatment will largely depend on the goals that the client has for therapy. Are you trying to resolve conflicted religious views? Do you simply want to stop compulsive phobia-induced behaviors? For many clients, a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and counseling with a trusted religious leader can help. Most religious leaders are not trained psychotherapists, though, so religious counseling should be undertaken only as an adjunct to professional therapy.
The fear of the number 666 is surprisingly common, although a true phobia is relatively rare. With therapy, however, there is no reason that even the most persistent phobia cannot be successfully managed.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.