December 21, 2012 -- the end date in the ancient Mayan calendar. Will it bring the Apocalypse? However you choose to characterize THE END, recent tsunamis, earthquakes, and revolutions certainly make the notion of impending global calamity seem feasible. But this isn't the first time society has entertained end-times speculation.
Click ahead to see some of the most notorious prophets and doomsday groups in history.
By Jennifer Leigh Parker
Posted 5 April 2011
The ancient Mayan civilization – once an empire whose sphere of influence stretched from Central Mexico to Guatemala – is widely known for its advanced calendaring system. Originating as far back as the 5th century B.C.E., the calendar ends on December 21st, 2012. The mystery-shrouded meaning of this date has served as fodder for doomsday prophets worldwide.
But before you run out wearing your cardboard sign necklace, note that the collapse of ancient Mayan civilization was reportedly self-inflicted. According to Mayan scholars, non-productive members of society such as the aristocracy and priesthood exhausted their resources. Yet millions of people today trust them with an end of the world prediction. If they were prophetic, wouldn’t they have foreseen the implosion of their own society, and worked to avoid it?
While Dec. 21, 2012 is the last date on the Mayan calendar, no mention of catastrophe was ever mentioned by the Maya. Whether or not you believe in doomsday 2012, Mayan history does warn against ignoring signs our own demise.
The astrological consultant Nostradamus was most famous for his book Les Propheties, published in 1555. The book, still in print today, contained collections of cryptic prophecies called quatrains. An example:
Century I Quatrain 46
“Very near Auch, Lectoure and Mirande
a great fire will fall from the sky for three nights.
The cause will appear both stupefying and marvellous;
shortly afterwards there will be an earthquake.”
Interpret him as you will -- followers of Nostradamus believe his quatrains predicted major historical events, such as the French Revolution, the atomic bomb, the rise of Hitler and even 9/11. Note that credit given to the “seer” has only ever been in hindsight, and that no one has been able to interpret Les Propheties specifically enough to identify any event in advance. As for the end of the world, 2012 is not in the cards. Nostradamus predicted it to be the year 3786 or 3797, depending on which expert you believe.
An American Baptist preacher, Miller is credited as the founder of Adventism (heir to the Jehovah’s Witnesses). Miller prophesied The End in 1844, based on Bible passage Daniel 8:14: "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." This image is of a Millerite prophetic time chart from 1843, about the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.
Assuming ‘cleansing’ meant a purifying apocalypse, Miller predicted its occurrence during ‘Advent,’ or Christ’s Second Coming. For Miller, the apocalypse would entail a great fire in which saints would be resurrected and all evil would be annihilated.
In his conferences on the Advent, Miller wrote: "I was thus brought to the solemn conclusion, that in about 25 years from that time 1818 all the affairs of our present state would be wound up.” His final prediction settled on 1844.
Needless to say, the dissolution of his followers on the “the 10th day of the seventh month of the present year, 1844,” is now referred to as “The Great Disappointment.”
Also known as the “mad messiah,” Jones was founder and leader of the “People’s Temple.” In 1965, Jones claimed that the world would be engulfed in a nuclear war on July 15, 1967. When that didn’t happen, Jones went about establishing his communist commune in “Jonestown” in Guyana. The isolated jungle land leased by Jones from the Guyanese government was used as the location of the People’s Temple.
Jones is notorious for the November 18, 1978 mass murder of more than 900 Temple members there. Recorded on audiotape, the cult leader convinced members to commit “revolutionary suicide” by ingesting cyanide poisoning in protest against capitalism. The incident was the single greatest loss of American life in a non-natural disaster until Sept. 11, 2001. Jones died alongside temple members of a self-inflicted gun wound.
The Waco Branch Davidians based their faith on apocalypticism. The actions of this religious sect were predicated on the notion that they lived in the final times according to the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible. David Koresh claimed himself their final prophet. The Davidian movement went up in flames during a siege in Waco, Texas, in 1993.
Leader Koresh named the group’s headquarters “Ranch Apocalypse.” His followers lived with him waiting for the apocalypse, but instead met a fiery end fighting the FBI. During the siege, 76 Branch Davidians, including Koresh, died barricaded in their building when it caught fire.
Heaven’s Gate followers believed in UFOs and impending doom, for which the only escape was to voluntarily “turn against the next level” by committing suicide. The leaders of the group, Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, convinced members that their “evacuation” plan would be a fast-approaching UFO which would act as their mode of transport to beyond.
Text of the Applewhite/Nettles mantra reads: “Since this is the close of the Age, the battle in the Heavens with their servants on Earth will be the means of that closing and the spading under of the plants (including the humans) of this civilization.”
Apparently they aimed to avoid a “spading.” The 39 members of the group died wearing arm patches that read: “Heaven’s Gate Away Team,” after having spent $10,000 on alien abduction insurance.
“Aum” was a Japanese religious movement founded by Shoko Asahara. His 1984 doomsday prophecy described a final conflict culminating in a nuclear "Armageddon", borrowing again the term from the Book of Revelation. According to Robert Jay Lifton, author of “Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism,” Asahara predicted Armageddon would occur in 1997, and that humanity would end, except (surprise!) for the elite few who joined Aum.
Founder Shoko Asahara was convicted of masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. According to the Japan Times, the subway nerve gas attack killed 12 people and injured some 5,500. For this crime, among others, Asahara was sentenced to death. His appeal against the sentence was unsuccessful, and he is currently awaiting execution.
Somewhat outside the realm of religious prophets are survivalists, who are convinced doom is certain, imminent, and that they must be prepared. Dominating the survivalist underground blogosphere as editor of www.survivalblog.com is James Rawles, who also wrote "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It" — presumably holed up on a remote farm in what he calls the “hinter boonies.”
Rawles’ version of impending doom involves a vaguely defined socio-economic collapse caused initially by a power grid failure. “[The power grid] is the real linchpin of society. It fuels our economy, and controls all automatic-ordering systems. Without it, our economy would just shut down. In winter, you’d see a mass out-migration from cities as refugees flood the countryside.”
So, how do survivalists prepare? Rawles says any “prepper worth his salt” has a self-sufficient retreat replete with stored firewood or coal, with years worth of food stores. The serious ones have their own gardens and livestock. “It’s important to be well-armed, and take advanced medical training.”
Yet for Rawles and his followers, preparing for the worst is a lifestyle. He adds, proudly: “Just today I was out in my barn getting ready for the delivery of a new dairy cow.”