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.
Read ahead to see some of the most notorious prophets and doomsday groups in history.
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.
“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.
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.
See the full list: Notorious Doomsday Prophets and Cults
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