If you are reading this after 11.12am, it’s likely that committed apocalypse theorists are now feeling rather silly.
With any luck, the world hasn’t ended – as some believe the Mayans predicted for today – and aliens haven’t emerged from space ships inside a French mountain to beam locals to safety.
Scientists have done their best over the past week to reassure us that the end was far from nigh, but last night a small number of survivalists and doomsday cultists prepared to take their final stands in forests and on mountain tops around the world.
The latest outpouring of apocalyptic angst mixed with fatalism and dark humour has been fuelled by internet rumours of interplanetary catastrophe and atavistic concerns that a milestone in the 5,000-year-old Mayan Long Count calendar meant 21 December 2012 would be the earth’s last.
But in some parts of the world the desire to believe the worst was proving unstoppable. In China the authorities arrested 1,000 members of an end-of-the-world cult called Almighty God which was predicting a global checkout later today. The crackdown came after weeks in which members had clashed with police across seven provinces following calls to rise up against the Communist Party.
In Russia, where a 24-hour party was being held in a Cold War-era nuclear bunker for Muscovites willing to spend $1,000 on a ticket, President Putin reassured the public that they had at least 4.5 billion years left before the sun ran out of fuel and destroyed the solar system. And even this was not a source of concern. “Why be afraid if it’s inevitable,” he told reporters.
At Bugarach in southern France, where it was rumoured that aliens would land on the “sacred mountain” to save humans from the conflagration, the local mayor urged people to stay away. But while doomsdayists heeded his pleas, the village found itself overrun by 250 journalists who had been despatched from across the world to cover the “story” at first hand. In Argentina the authorities closed off a section of the Sierras Chicas mountain range in Cordoba fearing mass suicide attempts there following a Facebook posting.
Doomsday believers had been making their way to the Turkish village of Sirince, after claims that it would be the only place to be spared. Meanwhile, Dutchman Pieter Frank van der Meer made headlines around the world after converting a former lifeboat into an “ark” for 50 friends and relatives. Yesterday he was bracing himself for the flood. “The planets are aligned that day. That is unique. On that day, energy will be released and the sun will activate. A large solar flare can cause a tsunami or a second deluge,” he said.
But although the website Slooh.com said it would be live-streaming feeds from its telescopes in the Cayman Islands and Arizona just in case, Nasa scientists said there was no need for alarm. The agency was inundated with calls as the doomsday rumour took grip and the final day approached.
It has produced a four-minute video entitled Why The World Didn’t End Yesterday which has been viewed five million times. Spokesman Dwayne Brown said among the inquiries were callers saying they had “embraced it so much” that they wanted to hurt themselves. “We’re doing all that we can do to let the world know that as far as Nasa and science goes, 21 December will be another day,” he said. Elsewhere in the United States survival stores reported a surge in the sale of gas masks, duct tape and ready-to-eat-meals.
In London the end of the world offered the opportunity to party with a series of events, including a show at the Hammersmith Apollo by comedian Robin Ince and cosmologist Professor Brian Cox. All 3,600 tickets have already sold out. Druids said they expected larger crowds than normal at the annual winter solstice event at Stonehenge.
Mexico, home to important Mayan relics, welcomed new-agers who were gathering to proclaim not the end but a “new dawn”. Experts have pointed out that the Mayas measured time in 394-year periods known as baktuns. And while the 13th baktun concludes today, archaeologists have uncovered glyphs that refer to dates far into the future.
The country’s self-styled brujo mayor, or chief soothsayer, Antonio Vazquez Alba, however, warned of mass psychosis, stampedes or even mass suicides: “The best thing is to stay at home, at work, in school, and at some point do a relaxation exercise.”