The end is Nigh. Very Nigh.
     A survey of millennial prophesies from the
          past and present
     Originally published in The Stranger, seattle
     subsequently published in numerous regional
The End Is Nigh. Very Nigh.
 Is It Over Yet?
Matthew Richter
This really happened:
I’m at home. It’s late. I sit on the couch and turn on the television. On the TV screen is the Seal of the President of the United States, looking regal against its Columbia blue background. A voice is saying, “…pulling together in a multi-national effort to deal with this crisis. The people of the United States and of the earth have risen to challenges in the past, and we will, with the grace of God, meet this trial successfully.” The voice doesn’t really sound like Bill Clinton’s but it does have that ring of White House authority. “We have just launched all three space shuttles, in an attempt to get a better idea of what is happening.”
A news anchor talks from behind a network anchor desk: “More reports of disappearances are pouring in from around the world. We take you now live to a press conference at NASA headquarters. If for any reason we should go off the air, please remain calm, and if you can, get yourself to higher ground.” And sure enough, just as they cut to a panel of NASA scientists, sitting at a long table, obviously baffled by the surreal changes in their world, the screen bounces once or twice, rolls, and fades to a minute of white noise.
Finally, a Pat Boone look-alike walks in front of the static, wearing a yellow golf sweater and smiling reassuringly. Nodding slowly, he says, “When the Rapture comes, many will be perplexed by the sudden and radical changes around them. Don’t be left behind.”
I looked to the cable box, and realized it was tuned to the Trinity Broadcast Network. What I had seen was basically a test of Jesus’ Emergency Broadcast System. The End, for the time being at least, had not come.
But it will.
“When you look at myths from around the world,” says Graham Hancock, author of Fingerprints of the Gods, a brilliant overview of cultural mythologies, ancient architecture, and the end of the world, “you’ll find they say very strongly and persuasively that from time to time the earth is afflicted by a grievous cataclysm, and when it does so, mankind is forced to begin again like children, with no memory of what went before.”
Cultural mythologies the world over, from Judaism to Seventh Day Adventism, from Tibetan Buddhism to Hopi spiritualism, have prophesied a cataclysmic end to the world as we know it. The Maya are counting down to the end of the Fifth Age, evangelical Christians eagerly await the Rapture, the Hopi say we are living on borrowed time at the end of the Fourth World, and the Kaogi people of the Sierra Madre jungles have stopped spinning wool and weaving cloth in light of the impending catastrophe. Prophets from Nostradamus to Edgar Cayce, channelers from Madame Blavatsky to JZ Knight, have foreseen everything from polar shifts to cataclysmic earthquakes, from the resurfacing of Atlantis to the sinking of the Americas, all in the very near future.
But only a brave few go out on a limb and pick an actual date for The End. It is these brave few in which I’m most interested here. Date-setting is an intense business, and a sure-fire way to skyrocket to fame, whether your prophesy comes true or not:
In 1990, Elizabeth Clare Prophet drew her flock close to her holy self and dug deep into the forest floor of southwestern Montana. At midnight on April 23, 1990, she and the members of her Church Universal and Triumphant sat praying and waiting in their bomb shelters, listening intently for Gabriel’s first trumpet blast, for the nuclear warheads to start flying; listening for any sign of the chaos that must have been raging overhead as the world came crashing to its end. Underground they had months’ stores of dehydrated food, barrels of fresh water, first aid kits, lots of weapons, and plenty of ammo. And they had their faith.
Four thousand people had collected at the Grand Teton Ranch to be among the saved. They quit jobs, sold homes, and bid farewell to family and friends. They were here to follow Ms. Prophet into the new age, through a nuclear holocaust and into a new, albeit radioactive, Garden of Eden.
As dawn broke on April 24 the skies over Montana were partially cloudy. An occasional bird flew by overhead. As night fell, Gabriel’s trumpet had not yet sounded and the world had not yet ended. Prophet and her followers emerged from their shelters the next morning, confused and shaken, but not defeated. Their prayers had saved the world, Ms. Prophet told her flock in an attempt to explain the failed prophesy. Undaunted, she carried on, and today she sits atop a religious empire that claims thousands of members and churches in 40 countries.
The most interesting thing about date-setting is that when a prophesy fails, the believers do not, as a rule, walk away. In fact, the failure of a prophesy is about the best thing that can happen to a prophet. Over and over again, we have seen groups whose prophesies were incontrovertibly denied (if you say the world will end on Thursday, on Friday you’ve been incontrovertibly denied). Over and over again, we have also seen these groups grow in membership, increase their prosteletyzing efforts, and become generally more popular and powerful after a failed prophesy.
Case in point: The Millerites. In 1818, William Miller was a poor New England farmer. When he announced that according to his biblical interpretation, the world would end in 1843, he unintentionally started a religion—by 1842 there were tens of thousands of Millerites, and by 1843 he was touring the country, preaching to thousands of devout followers at a time. I mean, the man had a religion named after him. But 1843 came and went, as did March 21 and October 22 of 1844, two dates Miller picked after the initial Great Disappointment. Miller died in 1849, ridiculed in the press but not forgotten by his followers. In 1860 they formed the Advent Christian Church, and today there are millions of Millerites world-wide.
Then there’s Marian Keech, a suburban housewife who announced in 1963 that the world would end in a massive flood on December 21, 1964. She had been warned by Samanda, a Guardian from the planet Clarion, a member of the Un (the universal intelligence) who communicated with Ms. Keech through a “celecoblet, something your scientists have not yet imagined” from his “avagada of light force propulsion” (space ship). As December 21 approached, more and more people were drawn to Ms. Keech. At midnight on December 20, she and her followers stood waiting in her back yard, ready to be taken up in Samanda’s shiny avagada. They stood there, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Samanda finally called on the celecoblet at 4:30 in the morning, telling the faithful that “ye have been saved—from the mouth of death ye have been delivered.” Despite the disconfirmation of the prophesy, the group lost only two members, and emerged from the experience, according to a team of sociologists studying the them, “with their faith firm, unshaken, and lasting.” Today, thirty years later, Ms. Keech is a prominent channeler and lecturer in the UFO community.
As J. Gordon Melton, a writer on contemporary American religions, points out, when a group of people buy into a prophesy and the belief system that goes along with it, the failure of the prophesy introduces a whole bunch of dissonance within the belief system. Some believers react by abandoning the system altogether. Most, however, tend to work out a way to make the failure of the prophecy fit back in with the rest of the world view—the prophesy didn’t fail, it was simply misinterpreted. The Millerites weren’t wrong, they simply miscalculated. Ms. Keech wasn’t wrong, the prophesy was a test of faith. Those who believed the Harmonic Convergence would bring about The End weren’t wrong, it was just a symbolic end. Melton pointed out that in an effort to validate their own beliefs, members of a prophetic group often actively seek out new converts. As they do, the group grows in size, influence, and power. Theoretically, by the time the year 2000 comes and goes, enough prophesies should have been disproven to make most people you know a member of one prophetic group or another.
But lying on my couch that night watching the Jesus Channel reminded me that I simply wasn’t ready. Had the world come crashing to its end that Thursday night, I’d have been caught, well, lying on my couch. When the world ends, I want to be ready. I just need to know when. I mean, I need to know exactly when. I won’t be caught off guard again.
So on May 5, 2000, I’ll be in a spaceship, orbiting around the planet with Richard Noone, “high above the whole mess.” Richard Noone (word has it he wanted to change his name to “No One” but forgot the space) tells me that the entire crust of the earth is going to slip around its liquid magma core, putting Antarctic at the equator and Florida at the Pole. On May 5, 2000, the world is going to end.
It’s called the “earth crust displacement theory,” and it’s an intriguing idea. The crust of the earth, or lithosphere, is about 30 miles thick, and rests on top of the liquid magma part of the planet, or the asthenosphere. The asthenosphere is gooey and sticky enough to keep the lithosphere in place. If it wasn’t, the crust would be spinning around the planet’s core all the time. But Charles Hapgood put forward a theory, and Albert Einstein agreed, that the crust has slipped in the past, and will slip again in the future. What will trigger this slip? The largest mass on the planet—the Antarctic ice cap.
The ice cap at the South Pole is almost three miles high and covers an area equal to the size of the United States and Canada put together. And it’s off center. Einstein said it best: “The earth’s rotation acts on this unsymmetrically deposited mass, and produces centrifugal momentum that is transmitted to the rigid crust of the earth. The constantly increasing momentum produced in this way will, when it has reached a certain point, produce a movement of the earth’s crust over the rest of the earth’s body.”
The experience would not be unfamiliar to anyone who went through it before. The Hopi did. At the end of the Second World, “The twins [who held on to the world at its poles, keeping it spinning on its axis] had hardly abandoned their stations when the earth, with no one to control it, teetered off balance, spun around crazily, then rolled over twice. Mountains plunged into seas with a great splash, seas and lakes sloshed over the land, and as the earth spun through cold and lifeless space it froze into solid ice.”
Richard Noone loves pointing out where Einstein (“a name practically synonymous with intelligence,” he tells me) agrees with him. Noone explains his version of the icecap earth-crust-displacement theory in slightly less scientific terms: “It’s like any woman can tell you about doing laundry,” he says in his huffy southern drawl. “If the clothes are off-center, it throws the machine out of kilter.
“I was looking at some of the Egyptian pyramid prophecies and found the date May 5, 2000,” he tells me, not elaborating on where or how he arrived at his date. Working from the fact that ancient Egyptian culture had a highly advanced astronomy, Noone went to an astronomer and asked if anything special was up for the prophesied date. The astronomer pointed out that a conjunction, or syzygy, of seven planets and the moon would take place at noon on the given date.
That is to say, on May 5, 2000, at noon, if you look straight up, you will see the moon, the sun, Mercury, Venus, and (if you could see through the sun) Mars, Jupiter and Saturn all clumped in a relatively small portion of the sky. The earth will be alone on one side of the solar system, with almost every other major object in the sky lined up overhead. This, according to Noone (and this is where he loses the Einstein support) will create enough gravitational force in the solar system to give the lithosphere the extra nudge it needs to start its “crust displacement,” or shift. Gravity, pulling on the icecap, combined with the centrifugal momentum of the earth’s rotation, is going to pull the ice around towards the sun, moon, and other planets.
Of course, all of this could be averted. Noone maintains that “If we’re awake to the problem, there may be a way to stop it. It’s kind of late now, but you could alter ocean currents with giant black plastic mop-heads anchored in the sea.” Short of that, he’s going into space; “Orbit would be about the only safe place.” Short of that, he’s going back to his home in the mountains of North Georgia, near a fresh-water lake. “Of course,” Noone tells me as we hang up, “you’ll find that if you talk to scientists about this, they’ll say, ‘Nothing like this could ever happen.’” You can practically see the contemptuous bile dripping off the word “scientist”—Noone has dealt with his fair share of critics.
Enter Mark Hammergren, Scientist. Mark’s at the University of Washington, in the Astronomy Department, and has problems with the May 5 date. In fact, he thinks it has “absolutely no basis in scientific fact.”
Central to all this is an understanding of how gravity works: Standing on the earth, Mark tells me, there’s one “gee” pulling us down—“gee” being the force of earth’s gravity. At a full or new moon (when the moon and sun are lined up), the moon and sun’s combined gravitational force pulling us away from the planet is measurable as 0.00026 gees. “This results in the curious fact that if you weigh yourself at noon or midnight on a new or full moon,” says Mark, “you’ll weigh a little less than at some other time—half an ounce to an ounce less for an average adult.”
On May 5, 2000, the extra gravity exerted by the line-up of the planets will be about .000000005 gees. “Alignments of some sort or other happen all the time in the solar system,” says Mark. “I fail to see how an almost immeasurably small increase in gravity can pull continents around the planet. I just don’t see how it’s going to have any effect on our planet at all…except for the sale of Noone’s book.”
 Noone and I accuse Mark of being the enemy of reason, a non-cataclysmic “scientist” stuck in the dogma of old theory; a traditionalist. Mark explains to me that on the contrary, he is “very much a cataclysmic scientist, concerned very directly with the end of the world.” Oh. He believes that giant asteroids or comets have in the past and will in the future come crashing to earth, changing forever the face of the planet. But he can’t tell me exactly when. Which means he is of no further use to me.
I hang up with Mark and turn my attention to another favorite date of millenialists the world-round: September 17, 2001, the day the world is going to end.
On September 17, 2001, I’m going to be with Moira Timms, “performing the most ancient and spiritually potent of all Egyptian rituals, Raising Ejed, at the Second Pyramid in the Gizeh Plateau, one of the main nodal acupuncture points on the global energy grid.”
The Great Pyramid at Gizeh is, indisputably, the greatest thing ever done. Sound like a sweeping overstatement? Good. The Great Pyramid is the most massive human-engineered thing on the planet. It is, along with the Sphinx, arguably the oldest human-engineered thing on the planet. It is made of roughly 2.3 million limestone things, weighing between 10 and 15 tons each. (It is only in the last 20 years that we have built cranes capable of lifting the final blocks into place.) The pyramid was built to tolerances of fractions of an inch over spans of hundreds of feet. The corridors and rooms built into the interior of the pyramid are laid out to exacting detail. The faces of the structure are oriented to within .0015 percent of true North, South, East and West. As contemporary engineers and architects who have studied the structure like to point out, construction of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh would be impossible today, even with modern surveying, carving, and construction techniques.
The Great Pyramid is also arguably the most measured and studied object on the planet, and an investigation into these measurements proves that the builders knew more about math and the size of earth than any other contemporary culture. First, the ratio of its base perimeter to twice its height is 3.14159, which Archimedes (2,000 years later) named pi. The dimensions of the central room of the pyramid demonstrate an understanding of another irrational number, phi, which, like its brother pi, wasn’t “discovered” for another two millennia. The correspondence of the structure’s measurements to the measurements of the planet are also fairly astonishing. The pyramid demonstrates that its builders had an understanding of the circumference of the earth, the precession of the equinoxes, and the distance of the earth from the sun.
Moira Timms, a New Age lecturer and author in Eugene, Oregon, is interested in another feature of the Great Pyramid (or “peer amid,” as she points out): a 6,000 pyramid-inch-long “prophetic timeline” that starts in 3999 BC and ends on September 17, 2001. She points to the research of Dave Davidson, who first published the idea of a timeline in 1925. She also argues that the pyramid prophesied the beginning of the First World War, the Great Depression, the beginning of the nuclear age, and the Harmonic Convergence of 1987. She looks forward to what September 17, 2001 has to offer—the “end of the world as we know it” isn’t necessarily an evil thing (“Interestingly,” Ms. Timms points out, “evil is live spelled backwards.”) She intends to live through the end of the pyramid timeline and enter, spiritually cleansed, into a new age of enlightenment.
On September 17, 2001, she and I will be in Egypt, raising the old Ejed, our chakras running smoothly and our karma primed for rebirth. But Moira is smart. Or just wary. She makes no promises about her prophetic date of choice. There are other interpretations of the pyramid timeline, as she points out, interpretations that yield end dates of August 20, 2011, March of 2029, and, as we have seen, May 5, 2000. The Great Pyramid of Gizeh, the first wonder of the world, the most intriguing geographic/ chronological/ spiritual marker in the world, still can’t tell me when to fill up the van and head for the hills.
I’m depressed by this, so Moira suggests another date, one that’s “written in stone,” so to speak: December 23, 2012, the day the world is going to end.
On December 23, 2012, I’ll be with Michael Coe, the man largely responsible for breaking the Maya code. We’ll be in the Yucatan, the cradle of one of the weirdest cultures the planet has produced—the Maya. Michael and I will be reading his favorite passage from the Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimín as we wait for the end: “The sky is divided and the land is raised…Then occurs the great flooding of the earth…The ending of the word, the folding of the Katun.”
December 23, 2012, is actually 4 Ahua 3 Kankin, and it is the final day of a countdown that started on 4 Ahau 8 Cumku, or August 13, 3114 BC. The 5,125 year interval is the Mayan Tonatiuh, or Fifth Sun. The Mayan calendar has been steadily counting down, for more than five millennia, to a global cataclysm that will, according to the Popul Vuh, end life on the planet as we know it.
We might want to pay attention to it—the Mayan calendar was, until we put satellites into space in 1958, the most precise way we had of charting our path through the solar system. Our calendar, the Gregorian calendar, assumes a solar year to be 365.2425 days long. The Mayan calendar assumes a solar year to be 365.2420 days long. The exact length of a solar year is, in fact, 365.2422 days, making the Maya slightly more accurate than the Europeans a few thousand years later.
The Maya also had figured out some fairly esoteric math, such as metrical calculation, place numeration, and the abstract concept of zero. And this from a culture that hadn’t invented, or at least didn’t use, the wheel. Eric Thompson, an archeologist who worked extensively in Central America, asks, “What mental quirks led the Maya to chart the heavens, yet fail to grasp the principle of the wheel; to visualize eternity, as no other semi-civilized people has ever done, yet ignore the short step from corbelled to true arch; to count in millions, yet never learn to weigh a sack of corn?”
The Maya shared a belief with hundreds of other world cultures that theirs was not the only age of humanity; that successive ages come and go, each brought to its end by some sort of global, monstrous cataclysm. The thing that held the Maya together as a culture was their preoccupation with their calendar. With time. With a finite amount of time—a little over 5,000 years. If you had asked a Quiché Maya three thousand years ago when the world would end, he would have said December 23, 2012.
Unless, of course, said Quiché Maya happened to be standing next to Herbert Spinden, who would have said the date is actually December 24, 2011. There are, truth be told, two differing interpretations of the Mayan calendar. Michael Coe believes one, and Herbert Spinden believes the other. It turns out that for a calendar that can accurately span eons, we can only read it to an accuracy of plus or minus six months.
Once again, my search for The Date has been thwarted, and I start to grasp at straws.
 I could go inland to Southern Canada to avoid the “catastrophic land changes and flooding of all coastlines” that Edgar Cayce foresaw for late 1998. If I’m lucky, I’ll also be around in 2100 when he is to reincarnate and survey the damage.
I could hide in a cave on August 18, 1999, the date Criswell predicted for The End, the day a “black rainbow will encircle the planet earth.” But Criswell (best known as the psychic narrator of Plan 9 From Outer Space) also predicted that by 1977 the English Channel would be so shallow you could walk from France to England, that humans would be living on Venus and Neptune by March of 1990, and (my favorite): “I predict paste-on bikinis for women and clamp-on bikinis for men.”
I could go to Arkansas, to an area that’s going to be thrust 2,000 feet into the air by a massive earthquake and survive the flood Dolores Cannon predicts for 2029. Or 2011. Or 2002. She’s not sure. Her interpretations of Nostradamus’ prophesies aren’t very precise. I could fall in love with Baby Jesus and wait for the Rapture, but who knows when that’s going to happen. I could try to flag down a spaceship here to evacuate the chosen on December 31, 2011, before the interdimensional archway envisioned by Star-Borne Unlimited disappears.  
At very least, I might want to get the hell away from Mt. Ranier, which, according to psychic Michael Scallion, is going to blow this summer. After the eruption, there will be massive earthquakes, sinking everything west of Bellingham into the sea. Scallion predicts quakes up and down the west coast next fall, finally establishing Phoenix, Arizona, as the US’s major Pacific seaport.
“Hell, when you’re talking about the end of the world who gives a damn exactly when it’s supposed to happen…I mean really, a year here or there doesn’t seem to make that much difference.” This voice of reason belongs to Graham Hancock, author of Fingerprints of the Gods.
History is littered with discarded millennial prophesies. In every generation since the dawn civilization there have been those who believed that they were going to see The End in their lifetimes, that they would watch the earth plunge into darkness or emerge into light. Just because we humans count in a base ten system and we’re coming up on a big old base ten millennium doesn’t mean that end-of-the-world millennialists are more likely to be right now than a thousand years ago.
But there is another, perhaps more compelling, possibility: that they are right. I find myself drawn to this possibility in the same way I find it impossible to not look at roadkill. I’m intrigued by and morbidly attracted to the idea that we will be the generation that sees the end of an age; that we stand the chance of being the next Chosen People; that the paramilitary survivalists living in compounds in Idaho, the suburbanites with bomb shelters in Issaquah, the drag queens living in basement apartments on Capitol Hill, and the stoners sitting on mountainsides on the Peninsula will be the survivors of the world cataclysm everyone’s been counting on since the beginning of our collective memory. If only we knew the date, the exact time and date, of the end then we might be among them, among the saved.
Or we’d be dead. Maybe whatever’s coming really will kill us all. Death is a major part of almost all millennialism; you can only get something clean by getting something else dirty. Date-setting is another way of measuring our mortality, of self-imposing a death sentence in order to make the time we have left somehow meaningful.
Does a date even matter?
“The world is going to end for all of us,” says Hancock. “This is one thing about which there is absolutely no doubt, and you or I or anybody else is going to face the end of the world within a certain very short number of years. This is a fact, Matthew. You’re going to die, I’m going to die. And you can count down as well as someone counting down to May 5, 2000 or December 23, 2012. You know that in 100 years you’re not going to be around. So you know that the world is going to end for you in 100 years.”
But 100 years is different from, say, three years four months and thirteen days, or 16 years eleven months and seven days. Knowing that smoking will kill me isn’t making me quit; seeing a spot on an x-ray of my lung probably would.
Date-setters fulfill a wonderful function in our pre-apocalyptic world. The thought of Richard Noone floating in space on May 6, 2000 (looking down on an un-displaced lithosphere, scratching his head and preparing his awkward Welcome Home splashdown speech) is funny. Ms. Keech, trudging back into her house at three in the morning, wondering where the heck that avagada went, becomes a tragic clown. She’s given us a good laugh. (Her  neighbor called at 3:15 to tell her that their bathroom was flooding and would she like to come over for an end-of-the-world party. She went.) And she’s made us reevaluate our mortality. With each millennial date that passes, we are living on that much more borrowed time. What we do with that time is up to us.
“What is life about?” asks Hancock. He has a way of asking big, sweeping, self-important sounding questions with a grace that makes them simple and profound. The English accent doesn’t hurt, either. “Is it simply a matter of fulfilling one individual lifetime and then dying and going to heaven or going to hell or whatever you happen to believe in? Or is there some kind of ongoing mission for humanity on the planet?
 “If you feel that there is a long-term purpose to life, then the idea of the destruction of the earth and the destruction of human life and the loss of human knowledge, and culture, with it is really horrific. But we do that now. We go around as a society wiping out and obliterating human experience. This destruction of past knowledge is something we do anyway, even without global catastrophe.”
This is a man who has spent decades of his life immersed in ancient cultures and their cataclysmic memories and prophesies. His work finds an elusive and powerful eloquence in the balance between rigorous science and mythology. He has watched as ancient cultures were all but erased from the planet, as the Great Pyramid became a tourist trap and the Maya calendar was printed on ash trays.
“We are a species which has a very large legacy of advice, intuition, warnings, and ideas, that has been passed down to us, that for some reason we choose entirely to ignore, and I think it’s irrational of us to do that. The end is nigh. Very nigh.”