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People gather around a sacred fire at the Mayan archeological site of Iximche during a ceremony marking the end of the 13th Oxlajuj B’aktun in Tecpan, Guatemala, on Dec. 21, 2012.
I can imagine there might be some who are disappointed the world and human society continues to persist despite the direst Mayan predictions. The last few remaining months before Dec. 21, 2012 were supposed to be marked with earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, floods, blizzards, droughts, famines, epidemics, war, nuclear disasters and general ecological collapse.
It’s amazing to think anyone could believe the world would come to an ignoble end on Dec. 21, 2012 on the word of some poorly translated, uninformed gossip from a long-dead empire. I spent most of 2012 explaining to people that though the world, and the universe in which it finds itself, has a definitive expiration date, Dec. 21, 2012 wasn’t it—regardless of what the Mayans would have us believe. In actuality, the Mayan calendar doesn’t predict the end of the world. Their calendar simply ends just as all of ours do with the month of December. But just because our 1989 desk calendars’ ended with December, it didn’t mean there wouldn’t be a January, 1990.
The Mayans used two calendars, both of which had major astronomical and mathematical errors inherent in them. Actually, they didn’t create their calendar system. Rather they stole it from the Olmecs—the people whom the Mayans slaughtered when they took over their crushed empire.
Contrary to what New Agers would have us believe, the ancient Mayans weren’t wise, healthy, enlightened people with “magic psychic powers” that could control the elements and the natural world around them.
In reality, the Mayans were a failed empire with a failed economy which, like their Aztec neighbors, practiced wide-scale slavery, human sacrifice, infanticide and cannibalism (ritual and otherwise.) They were also responsible for massive deforestation in their Central American empire which caused widespread ecological collapse which in turn caused famines and epidemics that quickened their collapse. They couldn’t be as wise as modern pagans claim if they so efficiently wiped themselves out having stolen their empire from its previous owners by force of arms.
Coincidently, though the Mayan Empire is defunct lo these many years, (their classic period lasted from AD 250-900) the Maya are still with us very much like how Romans remain in Italy’s capital though their empire has also gone the way of the dinosaurs. When the Maya are approached about their ancestors’ prediction of the 2012 Apocalypse, they shrug and admit ignorance. In a sense, this modern obsession with the “true knowledge” of the Mayas’ ancient writings, is a pretentious, modernist version of noblesse oblige colonialism. “Poor Third World folk don’t understand but we, the liberal, educated and enlightened people of Western, 21st century, First World countries, do.”
The Maya weren’t the first people to predict the end of the world. Many offered possible dates including the Egyptians, Sumerians, Hopi, Aztecs, Incans, Hindus and others. Nostradamus predicted a great comet, Nibiru, would impact the Mediterranean Sea in 1999. Edward Cayce, that old goat, assured his followers the world would end in 1999. He also insisted the Earth’s axis would tilt in the 1950s and the western portion of America would be utterly destroyed along with most of Japan, that China would convert to Christianity by the 1970s and the lost city of Atlantis would rise to the surface of the ocean in the 1980s. Hindus and their New Age supporters describe the age in which we find ourselves as “Kali Yuga” (Hindi: “dark age”) in which humanity is scheduled to be wiped away, coincidently, in December, 2012.
Many Europeans were convinced of a second Great Flood taking place in the year AD 1524 which was also a no-show. Yet others believed the world was to end in AD 1666 simply because of the last three digits was a numerological reference to Satan. The fact that the Great Fire of London occurred in that same year didn’t help assuage their fears.
Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians would point to the Bible to support their claims of imminent disaster despite the fact that the Bible says nothing about the world ending in the year 2000. Added to their error is the obvious fact that since there was no Year “0,” the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s birth took place in AD 2001. Further, scholars will point to the fact that Jesus wasn’t born in AD 1 but rather in 6 BC thus, as of Jan. 1, AD 2013, we will be enjoying the 2019th anniversary of Christ’s birth. If the Mayans were correct in their estimations, the world would have ended six years ago…so much for the wisdom of ancient “mystic” astrologers.
Modern alarmists have added to the plethora of populist, science-fiction, space-based death threats to the Earth including polar (magnetic) shifts, gamma ray bursts from nearby stars, solar flares blasts from our own sun, wandering black holes, meteorite impacts or rampaging planets careening into us. Charlatans and madmen have made hundreds of thousands of predictions of the end of the world and they have all been proven, without exception, absolutely wrong by virtue of the fact that I’m writing this article and you, kind reader, are reading it.
It might be said that my sense of assurance is after the fact—this is flatly untrue. I had predicted the world wouldn’t end on Dec. 21 but, like a “reverse” Cassandra, doomed to always bring good news which would never be believed, no one convinced of the 2012 Doomsday accepted my prediction. It might be argued that I couldn’t be certain the 2012 prediction was false. This is, again, flatly untrue. There have been many hundreds of thousands of dire warnings which similarly failed to materialize over the past few millennia as is evidenced, again, by the fact that you, kind reader, are reading this article. Doesn’t anyone recall the 1950s end-of-the-world scenario involving a Soviet/communist takeover of the Free World? How about the 1960s warning about planetary ecological collapse? Most people have forgotten about the 1970s “overdue” ice age due to the Global Cooling Theory which was supposed to seal the earth’s fate. The proposed invasion of killer “Africanized” bees was supposed to have taken over the entire world by the year 2000…or so the fearmongers in the 1970s assured us. The 1970s also produced apocalyptic theories involving Comet Kohoutek (C/1973 E1). David Berg, founder of the Children of God cult, claimed Kohoutek’s appearance signaled a colossal doomsday would occur in January, 1974. It didn’t.
The appearance of the Hale-Bopp Comet (C/1995 O1) was a signal for the Heaven’s Gate cult to schedule a mass suicide for their adherents in March, 1997. This was done in anticipation of being “beamed up” a la Star Trek to a spaceship supposedly tailing the comet in order to escape the inevitable destruction of our planet. Nancy Lieder, a UFO enthusiast and famed con artist, claimed aliens had implanted a communication chip in her brain when she was a child and is in constant contact with them. She insisted the world would end in May, 2003 with the arrival of Hale-Bopp Comet. It didn’t. Then Lieder changed her mind saying the world would end in December, 2012. She’s two for two.
The Bible Student Movement made multiple mistakes over a protracted period of time continually frustrated that God wouldn’t comply with their faulty predictions. Jeanne Dixon insisted the world would end on Feb. 4, 1962. She later revised the Earth’s expiration date to be “sometime between 2020-2037.” Jim “Kool-Aid” Jones claimed the world would end sometime between 1967-1969. Charles Manson engineered the Tate-LaBianca murders in an attempt to instigate a race war in 1969 which would precipitate the end of the world. John Gribbin and Stephen Plagermann, co-authors of The Jupiter Effect, assured us that a rare alignment of the planets from Mercury to Jupiter would destroy our planet on March 10, 1982. Louis Farrakhan and Saddam Hussein both predicted the First Gulf War in 1991 would instigate Armageddon. “Psychic” Sheldon Nidle predicted the world would end with the arrival of 16 million space ships backed up by a host of angels riding shotgun on Dec. 17, 1996. Radio evangelist Harold Camping made five incorrect predictions including May 21, 2011 and later, Oct. 21, 2011. By last count, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists have, together, produced 70 failed attempts at predicting when the world was to end. This is despite the fact that Christ Himself admits even He doesn’t know when the world will end:
Most people simply have a short memory for failed end-of-the-world prophesies and fall into the error of presuming that if everyone’s talking about it, it must be true. One would think most people would recall the fearsome warnings of global thermonuclear war in the 1980s—but they don’t. Oddly, no one remembers the 1990s and the thousands of millennialist apocalypse warnings or the Year 2000 Y2K bug which was supposed to bring down airplanes in midflight and set off thousands of nuclear missiles which mistakenly “thought” it was AD 1900. None of those things ultimately happened including in African and Asian nations that couldn’t spend the tens of billions of dollars we did to make their computers “Y2K compliant.” A few years ago, people rallied angrily against the Bern Super Collider saying that it “might” create a micro black hole which would suck us all into oblivion. And now, of course, talk of global warming, drowning polar bears and shrinking glaciers is all the rage. That is, until the next supposed horror horrifies us. Every time there’s a planetary alignment, which generally happens a few times a decade, someone ignorant of basic astronomy starts yelling about the end of the world. Conspiracy theories always follow the same predictable pattern: 1) a great supra-governmental conspiracy involving millions of elected officials and scientists around the world, including our nation’s enemies, who have managed somehow to maintain a secret without anyone finding out; 2) millions have been imprisoned, exiled and/or killed by power-mad officials anxious to make sure the general public is kept happily-oblivious to the “truth” and 3) oddly, despite the obvious danger this knowledge represents, the teller of this conspiracy tale has managed to keep a low enough profile to remain under the government’s radar and spreads word of this hard-fought secret with obvious and oblivious impunity.
The same pattern of ideas is repeated to explain a host of other conspiratorial mysteries such as the existence of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, UFO abductions, yeti, chupacabra, “mind-control” machines, time travel, psionics, crashed interstellar alien spacecraft, the City of Atlantis, the Continent of Mu and many, many other forms of general twaddle. These theories are mostly pseudo science incongruously and clumsily interlaced with an ill-fitting pseudo mysticism and held together with a specious pseudologic all of which have apparently been found to be false again and again. Part of the attraction is the exoticism inherent in it—the false satisfaction that comes with saying “I-know-something-you-don’t.” It’s supposedly “ancient wisdom.” It’s both titillating and intoxicating to believe in something that no credible, sane and sober scientist would ever publically admit to. To be “smarter” than the smartest people in our society, even if only falsely. But there’s no wisdom in what you believe if it’s constantly shown to be false, you need to constantly “rethink and recalculate” your ideas or if your ideas have produced no positive effect on humanity.
And with each new cockamamie prediction or exoticism comes armies of charlatans and tartuffes looking for cash cows to milk. They will write shameless, incomprehensible potboilers promising to reveal great, untold secrets whispered to them by angels, prophets, space aliens, dead Aztec shaman ghosts, unicorns and the occasional crystal skull. Everyone admits the world will end at some time either because of rapid expansion of the sun in 5 billion years or because of a massive collision with the Andromeda Galaxy in 4 billion years or Cosmic Heat Death in a googolplex (10100) years but, at this point, one would think the educated, adult population of the Western World would be a bit more “circumspect” in what they chose to believe. This interest in wild and exotic pseudo science and pseudo mysticism supposedly replete with ancient wisdom and dire warnings never ends well—they’re an hysterical substitute for religion and are symptomatic of a pagan emptiness towards the vast and basically uncontrollable forces of nature in a post-Christian culture. Such is the empty spiritual poverty of modernism and a defeat for rational thought—a pathology of reason if you will.
It’s odd in the extreme that those who make extraordinary claims do not, in the words of Marcello Truzzi, the Father of the Modern Zetetic movement, offer extraordinary proof of those extraordinary claims. They inevitably become furious when questioned as to their pronouncements and beliefs. They demand obsequious nattering and worship rather than logic and facts. Like many modern movements, they’ve produced precious few philanthropists, saints, heroes, altruists, peacemakers and scholars. Considering how highly they think of themselves, it’s odd they’ve confused themselves into thinking they’ve done so much to benefit humanity. If they can actually turn lead into gold, I’d like to witness it. I’m eager to see their cures for cancer, AIDS and mental illness. If they can fly, with or without the assistance of a broom, I’m curious to know why no one has stepped forward to demonstrate their awesome powers.
This frenetic and harried exoticism speaks volumes of the tremendous spiritual need present in all humans. It speaks of the need for humans to be connected to something greater than themselves.
Angelo Stagnaro is an author, journalist and a stage magician who has served as editor in chief of the online magicians’ monthly electronic magazine Smoke & Mirrors.