Even in the event of a no-show, one might have expected some fireworks, some apocalypse-grade hallucinations, as the credulous coaxed their fevered brains to provide what the universe had so signally failed to.
But as 11.12 am on the last day of the Long Count Mayan calendar came and went – and all the predictions of collapse, mayhem, kaboooooms and extinction disappeared down the cosmic pan – it was all a bit lame.
“Screeching gargoyles fly over the Maas river of blood!” came one excited message. But it was a lonely one, far outnumbered by those who thought it a great joke to pretend to be a solitary survivor, seeking out others. A new online dating gambit perhaps?
Over in Zhejiang Province, south of Shanghai, several wealthy Chinese were left gazing at the three-ton, radiation-proof, spherical “Atlantis pods” in which they had each sunk £500,000, wondering what to do with them now.
China, in fact, offered the ripest manifestations of Doomsday folly. The Church of Almighty God, a pseudo-Christian outfit founded in 1989 which claims that a Chinese woman is the reincarnation of Christ, succeeded in signing up thousands of new members with its end-of-the-world predictions, persuading them to give up all their worldly goods. But as the deadline came and went, Chinese authorities arrested dozens of cult members and raided its offices.
As nothing happened at 11.12 there was no catharsis, except for the hapless inhabitants of Bugarach in south-west France. In recent days they had found their population of 200 doubled by international media crews bent on filming New Agers streaming towards the village’s mountain that is supposed to contain a coven of aliens and thus to be spared come the End of Things.
But there were no streaming New Agers, the survivalists were limited and the mountain was blocked off by mounted policemen. So the TV crews had to make do with filming a few locals dressed up as extra-terrestrials, another couple who had hiked all the way from Lille wrapped in tinfoil, and a chap playing panpipes.
Once the globe had failed to do whatever people were expecting, Bugarach was able to heave a sigh of baffled relief and get back to normality.
Of course, that would be premature. Even the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, conceded that it was “inevitable” that the world would end, though he placed that event four billion years in the future, by which time somebody else will be in power. His prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, was more cautious, saying only, “I don’t believe in the end of the world. At least, not this year.”
In our Barnum and Bailey world, the Mayan Armageddon was more than anything else a brilliant if fleeting business opportunity. Every #endoftheworld Twitter entry was crowned by a tweet sponsored by Domino’s, insisting that there was still “time for a last pizza”.
Professional doom-sayers are accustomed to ducking and diving as their predictions fail, and a new bunch are already telling us to be on our guard for that freaky geo-magnetic reversal in 2016, or maybe 2020. While on Radio Four, Professor James Fox of Stanford University cautioned that, while 21 December was “one possible correlation” for the end of the Mayan calendar, Christmas Eve was another. That means three more days to bite your nails. And best still buy a turkey, just in casee.
After a couple of false Raptures, what's another non-Apocalypse?
To be wrong about the end of the world once is understandable. Twice is just embarrassing. The Californian Christian radio preacher Harold Camping saw both his doomsday scenarios fail to occur last year. The 90-year-old had claimed that God would call time on mankind’s tenure on Earth on 21 May 2011. When this did not happen he revised his forecast to 21 October.
Speaking after the second no-show from the forces of the apocalypse, he apologised to followers, who had failed to instantaneously fly up to heaven as predicted. Despite Camping’s inglorious record on previous predictions, a number of followers had given away their belongings and savings before the ‘final day’.
“We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and He will end time in His time, not ours!” said Mr Camping afterwards.
End days prophets have also included Martin Luther and Sir Isaac Newton (who based his prediction on an interpretation of scripture rather than physics) – although both men had the good sense to choose a date long after their death. Less prudent was Anabaptist Dutch tailor Jan Bockelson, who declared himself the “Messiah of the last days” in 16th-century Munster. When the end proved not to be, his genitals were nailed to the city’s gates.