Looking beyond December 21

December 20, 2012, University of Manchester

(Phys.org)—If the apocalyptic interpreters of the ancient Mayan prophecy are to be believed, Christmas is cancelled, England will never win the World Cup and we'll never have to pay tax again. Though there's no evidence that the doomsday-mongers will be proved right on 21 December says Dr Andrew Crome, religious historian from The University of Manchester, we still need to understand where they're coming from.

"The Mayan 'prophecy' is linked to the end of the Mayan Long-count calendar cycle of 5,126 years, which began in 3,114 B.C. and concludes on December 21 2012. An inscription in Mexico, suggests that Bolon Yokte - a mysterious god associated with war and the underworld - will descend from the sky on the equivalent of December 21 2012.

"It was in the 1970s that New Age groups, UFO watchers and conspiracy theorists, began to argue that the Mayan prophecy mapped out a cataclysmic end to humanity, even though there is no mention of this in traditional Mayan beliefs. Some Christians have also picked up these ideas.

"Though many people, me included, pay little credence to this view, it is nevertheless important to understand why they hold these beliefs and how we should respond to them.

"To help us do that, we can use the work of psychologist Leon Festinger, who studied a 1950s group which also believed the world would end in a great flood on, strangely enough, December 21, 1954.

"Festinger's book When Prophecy Fails accounts for the of disconfirmed expectations. To onlookers, the prophecy failed, but to the group themselves,it did not.

"When William Miller and his Adventists' prediction that 'Jesus Christ will come again to this earth' failed to materialise in October 1844, the "failed" prophecy was interpreted spiritually, and led some of his followers to form the Seventh Day Adventist church.

"Like the groups predicting an end to the world this year, these groups' were too well developed for them abandon their beliefs, so they merely reinterpreted their prophecies to survive.

"Likewise, when we have safely made it to 22 December, many of those people predicting the end of the world as we know it will argue we have entered a new age of consciousness.

"Or conversely, a natural disaster, a war or any other calamity, they will say, proves their predictions. For the group, their prophecies are therefore practically unfalsifiable.

"It's quite easy to ridicule and dismiss their beliefs. But by doing that, we merely serve to reinforce them – and that can sometimes even lead to tragedy. For example, the US government's response to the Branch Davidian apocalyptic group in Waco in 1993 served to fulfil the group's own prophecies that they would be violently attacked.

"Sometimes, elements of these group's critiques on issues such as the exploitation of workers and third world poverty might even have some relevance to the mainstream.

"So when, as I fully expect, we make it to next year after all, let's make it our resolution to take a constructive approach to these groups the next time a prophecy comes around."

Explore further: Rutgers expert says Mayans never forecast Dec 21st apocalypse

Related Stories

Maya demand an end to doomsday myth

October 25, 2012

Guatemala's Mayan people accused the government and tour groups on Wednesday of perpetuating the myth that their calendar foresees the imminent end of the world for monetary gain.

Mexico acknowledges 2nd Mayan reference to 2012

November 25, 2011

Mexico's archaeology institute downplays theories that the ancient Mayas predicted some sort of apocalypse would occur in 2012, but on Thursday it acknowledged that a second reference to the date exists on a carved fragment ...

Why the World didn't end yesterday

December 18, 2012

NASA is so sure the world won't come to an end on Dec. 21, 2012, they have already released this news item for the day after.

NASA on crusade to debunk 2012 apocalypse myths

November 9, 2009

The world is not coming to an end on December 21, 2012, the US space agency insisted Monday in a rare campaign to dispel widespread rumors fueled by the Internet and a new Hollywood movie.

Recommended for you

Archaeologists find ancient necropolis in Egypt

February 24, 2018

Egypt's Antiquities Ministry announced on Saturday the discovery of an ancient necropolis near the Nile Valley city of Minya, south of Cairo, the latest discovery in an area known to house ancient catacombs from the Pharaonic ...

A statistical look at the probability of future major wars

February 22, 2018

Aaron Clauset, an assistant professor and computer scientist at the University of Colorado, has taken a calculating look at the likelihood of a major war breaking out in the near future. In an article published on the open ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 20, 2012
It's really hard to reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into. But simply accepting the willful ignorance of others is not going to help us survive, either.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.