Thousands of people across the world have been preparing for what they believe will be the end of the world on December 21, according to a Mayan prophecy.
The date is the apparent end of the “long count” calendar of the ancient Mayan civilisation.
Believers have gathered in Mexico near Mayan ruins, and in other supposedly spiritual places around the world.
Chinese police have arrested hundreds of members of a Christian group who apparently believe the prophecy.
Last year, experts said a new reading of the calendar revealed that it did not in fact predict the apocalypse.
Many believe the date in fact marks the start of a new era in the calendar.
However, among some the date is still being taken as heralding the end of the world.
Magical sites for the end of the world
Hundreds of spiritualists gathered in the city of Merida in Mexico, about an hour and a half from the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.
One spot thought by some to destined to escape the end of the world is the mountain of Bugarach in southern France.
One spot thought by some to destined to escape the end of the world is the mountain of Bugarach in southern France
However, those preparing for the end of the world were reported to be far outnumbered by journalists.
The Turkish town of Sirince, another site reputed to be safe from the end of the world, saw similar scenes on Thursday.
Hundreds of reporters were wandering aimlessly around the beautiful town of 570 inhabitants, the AFP news agency reported.
However, hotels around the Rtanj mountain in Serbia, a site rumored to have magical powers, were booked out for the big date.
“I do not really believe that the end of the world is coming, but it is nice to be here in case something unusual happens,” Darko, a 28-year-old designer visiting from Belgrade, told AFP.
In China, police have arrested almost 1,000 members of a Christian group which has predicted that Friday will usher in three days of darkness.
The group, called Almighty God, apparently urged its members to overthrow communism.
State media terms Almighty God an “evil cult”, the same description it applies to the banned Falun Gong group.
The belief has gained considerable popularity in China, where the film 2012 was a box office hit.
A farmer in Hebei province, Liu Qiyuan – not a follower of Almighty God – has built seven survival pods which can contain 14 people each.
The pods, made of fibreglass, float on water and can survive storms.
Liu Qiyuan told the AFP news agency: “If there really is some kind of apocalypse then you could say I’ve made a contribution to the survival of humanity.”
To calm anxieties, police in Beijing have posted an online notice telling people that “the so-called end of the world is a rumor”.
One in ten of us is said to be anxious that December 21st marks the end of the world. The Ancient Mayans predicted this doomsday, and the press is eating it up. But where are all the believers?
That the world will end in 2012 is the most widely-disseminated doomsday tale in human history, thanks to the internet, Hollywood and an ever-eager press corps.
Recent hurricanes, unrest in the Middle East, solar flares, mystery planets about to collide with us – all “proof” of what the ancient Mayans knew would come to pass on 21 December 2012.
According to a Reuters global poll, one in ten of us is feeling some anxiety about this date.
Russians have been so worried that the Minister of Emergency Situations issued a denial that the world would end.
Authorities in the village of Bugarach in the South of France have barred access to a mountain where some believe a UFO will rescue them.
And survivalists in America – many of whom use the term “prepper” – have been busy preparing for all manner of cataclysm.
In 1987, Jose Arguelles, a man who devoted much of his life to studying the Mayan Calendar, organized what was called the Harmonic Convergence, a sort of post-hippy Woodstock. It attracted tens of thousands around the globe.
The event was an attempt to “create a moment of meditation and connection to the sacred sites around the earth,” says Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 2012: The Year of the Mayan Prophecy.
It was also the beginning of what many in the loosely-defined New Age movement regard as a process in the transformation of our consciousness – a transformation that goes into full effect at the end of this year.
Daniel Pinchbeck calls 21/12/12 the “hinge point” of the emergence of a new, more enlightened age – not an ending point for all civilization.
“It is quite clear that the Mayan system envisages a new cycle of the calendar beginning on the 22 December 2012,” says Graham Hancock, author of Fingerprints of the Gods, and something of a rock star in the world of ancient mysteries enthusiasts.
He says the ancient Mayan culture was a shamanic one. Those who left us the calendar were visionaries who were providing clues to this ending of one cycle and the beginning of another.
Recent hurricanes, unrest in the Middle East, solar flares, mystery planets about to collide with us, all proof of what the ancient Mayans knew would come to pass on 21 December 2012
That is not to say that New Agers do not see catastrophic events as necessary in some way to this new birth.
In fact they tend to embrace eastern faiths and native cultures with their cyclical views of time. In these visions, the world has been and will be destroyed – to some degree – and we start anew.
Accordingly, some believe the Mayans were sending us a warning for 2012.
“We may see a lot of destruction,” says Daniel Pinchbeck. He points to Hurricane Sandy, which recently hit his home city of New York.
Many, including the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, linked that hurricane to global warming, which tends to be seen by New Agers as the main threat to our planet.
However, the New Age movement is full of optimists. Crucially, they say we have a choice in how this story ends.
“We do not have to step over the edge of the abyss into darkness and destruction,” Graham Hancock says, calling this point in time a “cusp moment.”
“It’s up to us. It’s totally up to us.”
Morandir Armson, the Australian scholar, says the belief that 2012 marks a positive shift is one also shared by UFO groups, such as the Ashtar Command and the Ground Crew. These groups have no headquarters but for internet sites.
He says they refer to themselves as “lightworkers” who believe a fleet of alien space ships hover around our solar system.
“By doing good works on earth [they believe] you can speed up the consciousness of our humanity,” says Morandir Armson.
In many ways, they emphasize the more positive aspects of the traditional Christian Apocalypse. The fire-and-brimstone part gets downplayed in favor of the glorious Kingdom to come.
Some 20% of Americans believe we are in the end times, and that they will see the return of Jesus Christ in their lifetime.
This month marks Advent in the Christian Calendar, during which Christians are encouraged to read from the Book of Revelation, the apocalyptic vision of St John the Divine.
“It’s full of gory and grotesque detail of how the wicked are going to be punished,” says Ted Harrison, author of Apocalypse When: Why We Want to Believe there Will Be No Tomorrow.
The twenty-first of December, however, is not on the biblical calendar and few, if any, believers in the traditional Book of Revelation are attached to this date.
The supposed date of the coming apocalypse, 21 December, also marks the Winter Solstice, symbolic in many cultures of the end of darkness and the renewal of the light.
It might, suggests Harrison, focus our minds on how we have been treating the planet and those on it, and how we could mend our ways.
In this respect, he says: “It might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s one hope. A remote one, but it is one hope.”
Scientists say it won’t happen, at least not on Friday, December 21, but in the event the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world is right, they have foretold a raft of bloody and catastrophic fates for us all.
Dark comets, famine, super-volcanoes, catastrophic climate change, and a plague of cancers are just some of the ends that could fulfill the prophecy.
Astrophysicist Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars, believes the most likely disaster that could pencil Doomsday into Friday’s diary is a black comet.
Such an end would match that of the dinosaurs who after walking the planet for about 165 million years – homo sapiens has been around for a mere 200,000 years – were killed off by a 10 km asteroid or comet that slammed into the planet.
Prof. Jocelyn Bell Burnell believes if the world as we know it is to end on December 21 it would have to be a dark comet that strikes.
Dark comets have little of the ice and snow that most comets have, and a lot more dust which makes it much more difficult to spot them as they speed through Space.
“Comets normally are big, dusty snowballs. A dark comet has not much snow and a lot of dust. They are much harder to get a handle on,” she said.
The collision itself, except for those near the point of impact, would be unlikely to be fatal to the world’s population but it would throw up so much dust into the atmosphere that billions of people could expect a slow death.
Huge quantities of dust would bring on an “eternal winter” in which the sun would be obscured and crops around the world would fail, leading to mass famine.
Dr. Dave Rothery, a volcanologist at the Open University, foretells a similar end but he thinks the death-bringing dust would be put into the atmosphere by a supervolcano.
More than 240 cubic miles of molten rock and debris are blasted into the sky by super-volcanoes.
Much of it would remain in the atmosphere as volcanic dust which would, just as with a massive asteroid or comet, block out the sun and cause famine.
“It would put so much ash and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere that photosynthesis may break down,” he warned.
In the event the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world is right, scientists have foretold a raft of bloody and catastrophic fates for us all
A similar, albeit less devastating, even took place in 1816 when a volcano in Indonesia erupted and put so much dust into the atmosphere that it became known as “the year of no summer”.
Other scientists asked by The Times what cataclysms could bring on the end of the world on Friday, in line with what many people believe is foretold by the ancient Mayan prophecy, included Bryan Lovell, a former president of the Geological Society.
His favorite Doomsday scenario was a vast escape of methane caused by an undersea landslide.
Methane is a greenhouse gas but it is about 20 times more powerful in warming the world than is carbon dioxide.
Dr. Bryan Lovell said a huge release of sub-sea methane deposits would accelerate man-made climate change and lead to “catastrophic climate change not too many Fridays from now”.
But it is not just scientists who are putting forward theories as to how the world will end and they range from the unlikely to the fantastical.
Among the favorites is that a rogue planet, Nibiru, which has long been inhabiting the far reaches of the solar system, beyond even Pluto, is now on a collision course with Earth.
Scientists have dismissed the theory as ridiculous not just because no one has ever managed to detect it in the outer reaches of the solar system but because if such a large object was heading this way it would have been spotted by now
Skepticism on the part of experts, however, has done little to diminish the determination of thousands of people to find a safe haven from disaster.
In France the authorities have had to bar New Age followers from travelling to Bugarach, a tiny village home to fewer than 200 people, and the “mystical mountain” where it is located.
Doomsday fanatics have identified Bugarach as a place of safety on the grounds that aliens live hidden within the mountain and are waiting for the end of the world when they will rescue humans in the area.
“I have issued an order barring anyone from climbing the mountain. And those trying to get into the village will be stopped and asked what their business is,” said Regional prefect Eric Freysselinard.
The village and the mountain will only be re-opened to outsiders two days after the end of the world is scheduled to have taken place.
The Doomsday prophecy is based on an ancient calendar from the Mayan civilization that was based in what is now Guatemala in Central America.
The calendar lasts for more than 5,000 years but comes to an end on Friday, which has prompted fears it forecasts the end of the world.
Other favorite Doomsday scenarios include a vast solar storm which will flare out from the Sun and engulf the Earth.
An alternative doom-laden theory is that a rogue black hole will swallow up the Earth, or that a quirk of galactic alignments will trigger a disastrous reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field.
Vivienne Parry, a former presenter of Tomorrow’s World, suggested a cancer that starts in foxes but can be transmitted to humans.
Dogs, she suggested, would cease to be man’s best friend and instead become man’s worst enemy because the cancer would be transmitted through them.
Foxes would bite the dogs, transmitting the cancer to them, and they would bite their human owners.
She said that were all dogs to be destroyed as soon as people realized they were passing on an untreatable cancer the end of the world for humans could be postponed.
But she suspects man’s love of his canine companions would seal his fate because putting down every dog would be too much to ask.