The end may be near, but exactly how near is the sticky question. As millennium fever swept the globe, party planners and doomsdayers alike were fixated on the year 2000. Meanwhile, Judgement Day sticklers have been obsessing over the fact that there never was a “year zero,” and therefore A.D. 1 plus two millennia equals 2001. But pinpointing Armageddon isn’t quite that simple. When it comes to end times, there are as many proposed dates as there are fates (Rapture or Tribulation? Fire or Flood? Demons or Pleiadeans?).
However, in the wake of past doomsday embarrassments (the world didn’t end in the year 1000, and the hoopla over the 1987 Harmonic Convergence turned out to be the spiritual equivalent of 8-track tape), few latter-day prophets are willing to stick their necks out and name a drop deadline. “What the prophets try to do is make predictions and leave the fulfillment vague,” explains Stephen D. O’Leary, a millennial scholar at the University of Southern California. The most successful millennial prophets remain “strategically ambiguous,” he says. He prophets who do get specific tend to be the more marginal ones.”
It’s no surprise that the Internet, a haven for marginal oracles of all strips, is home to millenarians who are bold enough to set a date. In fact, the Internet has assumed an important role on the end-times stage. “The Internet will be to the twenty-first century what the printing press was to the sixteenth,” says medieval historian Richard Landes of Boston University, who, with O’Leary, cofounded the Center for Millennial Studies. Just as the printing press made apocalyptic tracts available to the public five hundred years ago, the Internet disgorges a vast literature of alternative doomsday scenarios.
“The Internet has increased the amount and the kind of information people have at their disposal to construct millenial scenarios,” says O’Leary. “It also gives people a chance to try out different interpretations and prophecies in electronic discussion groups.” In effect, he says, “the Internet provides a kind of social reinforcement,” a public-address system for “people who might otherwise be relegated to the fringes as crackpots.”
Well, in the lottery of multiple Armageddons, today’s crackpot may turn out to be tomorrow’s messianic seer. So how can the rest of us plan for the ultimate end and/or final beginning? The handy guide to doomsday chronologies is a good place to start, and a good place to determine if any of these are in fact true:
July 1999(Nostradamus): This end date arrives in the summer of 1999 (just in time for that Prince song). Everybody’s favorite sixteenth-century doomsayer was uncharacteristically specific when he prophesied that “in the year of 1999 and seven months will come a great king of terror from the skies….” Rather than interpreting that to mean Stephen King skydiving, latter-day pessimists are thinking nuclear missile strike. And the pessimists’ tent is big enough for everyone: Everyone banking on the end of the world wants a piece of nuclear Nostradamus – New Agers, psychics, fundamentalist Christians, and Tom Clancy fans alike.August 18, 1999 (Criswell): Ed Wood’s favorite phony TV psychic was brazen enough to narrow down Armageddon to the precise day: “If you and I meet each other on the street that fateful day, August 18, 1999, and we chat about what we will do on the morrow, we will open our mouths to speak, and no words will come out, for we have no future…. You and I will suddenly run out of time!” Of course, Criswell never explained exactly how the world would end, only that future generations will wonder “what on earth was meant by the words ‘Henry Ford’ or ‘Hollywood.’” But how accurate was Criswell? Well, his record speaks for itself: “Meteor destroys London [in] 1988″; “I predict embalming by radar, where the body is turned to indestructable stone”; “I predict that by 1980 you will be able to lift your own face in your own home for only $5.00.”
1999 (Edgar Cayce): The “sleeping prophet” pinpointed 1999 as the year of the Armageddon, to be followed by the New Age and the Second Coming of Christ. In between, we can expect a number of Hollywood comet/meteor movie-style special effects: A shift in the earth’s axis leading to melting polar caps and the sinking of England and Japan. Also, the destruction of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York by earthquakes and floods, making it difficult for big-city swells to continue to sneer at small-town America; on the plus side, Atlantis will rise up from the depths of the ocean, opening an entirely new real estate market; and as if that weren’t enough, Christ will initiate a “New Age of Peace.” Of course, Cayce’s loose time line will allow Armageddon to slip until 2001 or 2002, if absolutely necessary.
2000ish (Jack Van Impe): The perpetually grinning televangelist is, well, impish when it comes to naming dates: He won’t do it. He does, however, offer an “Overview of Major Future Events” somewhat more convoluted than a Thomas Pynchon novel: The Antichrist takes center stage during the seven-year tribulation, followed by sundry judgments, “War in Heaven,” and the “battle of Armageddon” (neatly illustrated on Van Impe’s Internet web site as a horde of marauding Huns), the Second Coming, more judgments, and a thousand years of peace with “Satan Bound,” a period that closes with “Satan Loosed,” again, kind of like the surprise return of Freddy Kruger at the very end of those slasher movies, after you think he’s already been killed. It’s all very confusing (did I enter the millennium in a mortal body, or do I need to trade up for resurrection?) which undoubtedly helps Van Impe sell those twenty dollar explanatory videos.
May 5, 2000 (Richard W. Noone): The author of the book 5/5/2000: Ice – The Ultimate Disaster, is refreshingly specific: “On May 5 of the year 2000, Mercury, Venus, Mars Jupiter and Saturn will be aligned with the earth for the first time in 6,000 years. On that day the ice buildup at the South Pole will upset the earth’s axis, sending trillions of tons of ice in the water sweeping over the surface of our planet.” Though the book jacket claims that “astonishing evidence points to worldwide disaster in our lifetime,” said evidence turns out to be culled mostly from the works of fringe scientists such as Emanuel Velikofsky, making It likely that 5/5/2000‘s major event will be El Torrito’s Cinco de Mayo happy hour.
2000 or 2007 or 2048 (Hal Lindsey): The bestselling author of our day (more sales than Stephen King) is bearish when it comes to setting the big date. In his earlier books (including The Late, Great Planet Earth), however, the modern bard of Christian Apocalypse did let a few numbers loose: Armageddon in the year 2000 and the Second Coming of Christ in 2007 (forty years after the reunification of Jerusalem). However, Lindsey has also cited 2048 (see Bede below) as a possible drop deadline.
2001 (Uranus Society): Per interstellar thought messages received by Southern California UFO disciples, a “Pleiadean starship will land on a rising portion of Atlantis in the area of the Bermuda Triangle…in the year 2001!” At that point, Earth will become the final world to join “an alignment of 33 planets,” forming an “Interplanetary Confederation for the Spiritual Renaissance of Humankind on Earth!” Though our Pleiadean “Space Brothers” are wise to tie their arrival to the classic Stanley Kubrick film, the previous E.T.A. for ET of 1985 (when neither starships nor star children showed up) proved that Unarians aren’t averse to issuing a cosmic raincheck.
2003 (Kalki Avatar): According to the Hindu calendar, the Sree Vishiva Karma Veera Narayana Murthy, avatar of Krishna, will arrive in 2003 to establish the reihn of dharma (Righteousness). “He will rule over the universe for a period of 108 years, and return to His abode, Vaikunta. Preceding that, the world will be full of calamities and situations will be changing every instant.” For example, from 1999 to 2003, we can expect a “rain of blood in towns, villages and forests. Poor quality coins will be used as currencies. The males of goat and ox will sport mammary organs, and will be milked. Blood will flow from the limbs of elephants and horses….Many incurable diseases will be present. A man will have ten women after him, which will result in extreme behaviour in human beings.”
December 21, 2012 (Mayan Calendar): Turns out the “Harmonic Convergence” of 1987 wasn’t a bust, after all; it opened a transitional period of cosmic change that will culminate on the day of the winter solstice in the year 2012. So forecasts Jose Arguelles, the New Age visionary who organized the harmonic festivities of a decade ago. Arguelles is not alone in pinpointing 2012 as the date of the looming end-time. A convergence of New Age thinkers has arrived at the same fateful date, based on the Mayan “Long Count” calendar, a kind of mystical Daytimer which measures a “Great Cycle” of 5,125 years and which runs out of refill pages on – mark your calendar – December 21, 2012. Most Mayan calendar counters expect major “earth changes” of the cataclysmic, rising-Atlantis, sinking – Los Angeles variety. Because the Mayans synchronized their calendar to the skies, spectacular astrological alignments are expected in 2012. Per Arguelles, the year 2012 will transport humankind from the “third dimension” to the “fourth dimension,” a new galactic state of consciousness. Other Mayan calendar countdowns peg the New Age apocalypse to December 22, 2012.
2058 (Bede the Venerable): The eighth-century theologian calculated that Jesus was born 3,942 years after the creation of the world, which means that the six thousand-year millennial week will end in 2058. So far no one has decided to champion Bede. Alas, latter-day millenarians seem uninterested in his old-school dating.
2076 (Year of the Haj): 2076 is the year 1500, according to the Muslim calendar, which has led several Sufi sects to declare 2076 as the end day. My prediction: American Tricentennial hype will probably overshadow the Muslim eschaton.
2240 (Jewish Calendar): The year 2240 is the year 6000, according to the Jews. If by then the other doomsday scenarios haven’t swept us into either the dustbin of history of a state of cosmological harmony, nothing is going to knock us off our self-satisfied perch. Except maybe the Klingons.