It's high time we started thinking about printing some end-of- the-world T-shirts

"The transformation of humankind is upon us, and there is nothing more urgent for humanity, I would most strongly suggest, than to listen to the message that is set before you here. It is impossible to overstate that urgency. The Earth and all the life she supports are in the process of changes of an incomprehensible magnitude. Nothing and no one will be the same again." (David Icke, looking ahead to the millennium.)

Or on the other hand:

"The site at Greenwich will provide an exhibition which will be the time and the place when Britain shows the world what we can achieve. It can embrace the whole nation in a shared vision. This could become a milestone in our national history." (Virginia Bottomley, looking ahead to the millennium.)

Two paths: which the way?

The fundamental difficulty with current attempts to mark the bi-millennium is that the date itself marks nothing. It is not an anniversary. It is not a milestone in any history. It is a blank punctuation point.

Jesus Christ, for example, is uninvolved. His birth is generally reckoned to be 4BC, which means, oddly enough, that its 2000th anniversary falls this very year, though I don't think anyone is making much of that. As for AD1, it is almost a historical void. Check the records and you will find no event worth major commemoration that year.

We have only a calendar, based on the supposed birth of Jesus, established five centuries later by a Scythian monk called Dionysius Exiguus. He is, in a way, one of the most decisive figures in world history - though it's hard to say just what his achievement was. He picked a date, and it caught on. But he might have picked another and it would have made no difference.

The planned celebrations, though, don't even anniversarise that founding date - as certain pedants have protested. Since Exiguus's calendar starts with year one, its 2000th anniversary occurs in 2001. Choosing the year 2000 reflects only the charm of large, round numbers. The millennium, as proposed, signifies nothing whatsoever to anyone involved. Naturally people start getting desperate, and try to make it - of all things - a celebration of nationhood. We clearly need help.

We must turn to Icke, and those like Icke. There's only one group of people to whom the millennium signifies something definite and momentous: millennarians. Among occultists, astrologers and seers, the date is of extraordinary importance. These people have the "shared vision" that the rest of us lack. They alone have anything to say about it. They, not the Millennium Commission, should be running the show.

It is their beliefs, in fact, that are secretly setting the whole agenda. Behind every public speaker who mouths the phrase "as the millennium approaches", as if something meaningful were about to occur, there lurks a body of ancient esoteric knowledge (widely available in bookshops).

Centuries before the current preparations, the year 2000 has been singled out. You can do it in several ways. There is a venerable notion that the world was created in 4000 BC, and that it would only last 7,000 years; deduct the thousand-year period during which, Revelations says, Christ will come to reign on Earth before the Last Judgement - the Millennium, properly so called - and you arrive at 2000 as the time when things start happening.

Or take the astrological concept of the Great Year, an enormous timespan lasting some 28,000 years, subdivided into Great Months, each about 2,000 years long. One of these began around the year one, and another begins roughly now: this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius. More menacingly, the turn of the Great Year is the subject of Yeats's poem "The Second Coming". Measurements of the Great Pyramid produce similar conclusions. On none of these points has the Millennium Commission made so much as a murmur.

Millennial prophecy is divided on whether it's armageddon or perpetual peace that's just round the corner; often both, but armageddon takes priority. Nostradamus is usually obscure, but on one date he is very precise: "In the year 1999 and seven months / The Great King of Terror will come from the sky." Other things that may be imminently expected, say seers, include the tilting of the earth's axis through 90 degrees, earthquakes everywhere, and the resurfacing of Atlantis.

Admittedly, there is not much that the Millennium Commission can do about any of this. But they will at least be needing some sort of mascot for the occasion. They can turn to Yeats: "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Surely one can imagine "Ruffy" becoming a popular emblem, something on the lines of Barcelona's "Cobi" or Italia 90's "Dribbly" - T-shirts, banners, holograms, finger-puppets - always instantly recognisable from his insouciant slouch. On the other hand, if Nostradamus knew his business, we may be spared the bother.

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