Tuesday, 1 January 2013

2012 apocalypse: A brief history of end of times

Happy New Year! And perhaps I also ought to say congratulations on surviving the Mayan Apocalypse. Less than a month ago the world flew into a frenzy as thousands of belief groups started counting down the days, then hours, then minutes until the world would end. The theory of the end of the world was based on the Mayan calendar which began in a year corresponding to 3114BC, and moves in 394 year periods known as Baktuns. December 21st 2012 marked the end of the 13th Batyun, and myth of the end of the world is based on this and an erroneous reading of a Mayan tablet carved 1,3000 years ago. Archaeologists and Maya experts said the text refers to the start of a new era, however many people still misinterpreted this.

The 2012 doomsday prophecy credited to the Mayans dates back to the 1970s. New-age followers of Mayanism began to speculate that a cataclysmic event would take place when the calendar ended on the 13th baktun. Boston University Professor William Saturno has pointed out that the Mayan calendar does not end as it is cyclical, and that some calendars mark out "17 Baktuns", which gives us at least another 2,000 years.

However this is not the first time the world has got itself into a panic over a dubious doomsday prediction. As early as 634 BC, Romans feared their city would be destroyed after 120 years because 12 eagles had flown over Romulus.

Bishop Martin of Tours announced in 375 AD that the Antichrist was born and the world would end by 400 AD. Pope Sylvester II predicted 1000 AD would be the end of days. It did not happen, so in 1284 AD Pope Innocent III announced the world would end 666 years after the rise of Islam.

In 1524 a group of astrologers in London predicted floods would strike the city as a sign of the start of the end time. 20,000 people abandoned their homes and set up camp in Hampstead and the north Downs. The prior of St Bartholomew even stocked piled provisions, but it failed even to rain.

Martin Luther claimed the end would happen in 1600, London's flood was predicted to return in 1624, and in 1657 the Fifth Monarchy Men attempted to take over parliament, believing a final apocalyptic battle was imminent in 1666. The Great Fire of London, September 2 proved another source of worry for the residents of London, as the 1600s marked high times for religious superstition and 666 was the biblical “mark of the beast”. After all, 100,000 people had just died in the plague of 1665. Panic about the end of days reached a crescendo when, on September 2, 1666, a bakery in Pudding Lane caught fire and the inferno quickly spread. It burned for three days and destroyed more than 13,000 buildings. But, in spite of the wide-scale destruction and hell-like appearance of the fire, only 10 people died. It is also believed to have had the beneficial effect of preventing future plagues – by wiping out the disease-harbouring rats.

Londoners were taken in again in 1761 when a huge earthquake was predicted by William Bell, who was later thrown into Bedlam.

Christian groups repeatedly announced the imminent return of Christ - which would mark the end of days - during the 20th century. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ predicted the Second Coming was to happen on August 1914, and then again in 1941, 1975 and 1984, and again with the millennium in 1999.

In 1910 many people believed the arrival of Halley's comet would bring the end of the world on 18 May. In 1997 the Heaven's Gate cult claimed the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet marked the end of the world and that suicide was the only way to "evacuate". 38 people died.

In October of the same year a prediction by an Irish priest that, 6,000 years after creation, the world was due to end, failed to happen.

Y2K, January 1, 2000; The Year 2000 was supposed to mark the moment that Britain’s 19th century anti-technology Luddites would be vindicated and our reliance on machines would come back to haunt us. With the passing of 1999, it was feared that computers would be unable to move from a two-digit date (97, 98, 99 etc) and all manner of chaos would ensue. It was predicted that planes would fall out of the sky, trains stop running, microwaves blow up and, perhaps most importantly, banks would fail. Businesses spent billions updating software and systems to avoid the apparent peril of the “Millennium Bug”.

The Second Big Bang, November 23, 2009 - when the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland was completed in 2008, some groups feared the “doomsday machine” could trigger an all-consuming black hole. Once fully switched on it recreated the Big Bang particle collisions that created life, however some worried a black hole might emerge and swallow our planet up in a twentieth of a second. Eight seconds later, the moon would disappear - and eight short minutes after that, the Sun would be ripped apart, followed by the rest of the solar system. Someone even sued the organisation behind the LHC, CERN.

Last year Harold Camping, the 89-year-old leader of Family Radio Worldwide, claimed judgment day would happen on 21 May 2011. A number of his followers left their jobs in anticipation, despite Camping's previous predictions passing without incident.

So, as you can see the 2012 apocalypse we just 'survived' is neither the first nor last or many other predictions to the end of the world. Anyway, to end on a light note, I hope you all have a fantastic 2013 and a great New Year.