As Dec. 21 comes closer, it is no longer a question of when the world will end; it has become a question of how the world will end.

By Matias Grotewold, ’13, and Davey Strahm, ’13

The Mayan man donned his grass skirt, sipped his herbal tea and focused on the circular stone calendar at his feet. Half a world away, an Egyptian pharaoh consulted his priests about the imminent rise of the dead. Nostradamus stroked his beard and sought the council of the prophecies. Everything pointed towards one finale: an apocalyptic end to the human race.

Dec. 21, 2012 marks the date of the Mayan apocalypse prediction; thousands of years ago these high priests with their grass skirts and herbal teas had already determined that the class of 2013 and any after would never graduate.

Throughout history, countless religions and ancient civilizations have shared their concern for the end of the world, justifying their predictions through the Bible, the stars and planetary alignments. Apocalyptic dates pass as fast as the prophecies are made; from the Rapture —a term found in Christian theology that refers to the rising of the dead—to the Mayan apocalypse, the predictions are recalculated as they come and go.

Biblical Prophesies

Biblical works include many instances of apocalyptic scenarios and Armageddon. The Rapture, first predicted to occur in 1844 and most lately in October 2011, hypothetically consists of the “dead in Christ [rising],” to quote the Bible’s 1 Thessalonians. When a May 21, 2011 prediction of the Rapture proved inaccurate, Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping claimed that an invisible “spiritual judgement had taken place” and he changed the prediction to Oct. 21, 2011. Needless to say, the dead did not rise and life continued without any conflict.

Biblical verses Isaiah 42:14 and 15 read God “will lay waste to the mountains and hills” in the apocalypse. Using figures provided in the biblical work, the Book of Daniel, the renowned astronomer and philosopher Isaac Newton predicted that the apocalypse could happen no later than 2060. “It may end later,” Newton said, “but I see no reason for its ending sooner.”

According to the Book of Revelations, the last book of the New Testament that has a large focus on the final events of the world, there are Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. As their name describes, these Horsemen will mark the coming of the apocalypse. Although the Book of Revelations only names one of the Horsemen, Death, the others are traditionally named War, Famine and Pestilence. A video of the attack on the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt, shows what to some theorists appears to be one of the horsemen rising from a haze of gas. While the “horseman” is barely distinguishable from the haze of gas that surrounds and shapes it, many believers of the Four Horsemen theory claim that this is the appearance of one of the four, and that the apocalypse is approaching.

Ancient Prophesies

Other ancient predictions stem from Egyptian and Mayan sources. According to interpretations of Mayan calendars, an “end date” occurs this Dec. 21. The Mayan Dec. 21 apocalypse date is among the most publicized theories, in part due to the 2009 science-fiction disaster film 2012.

Around the world, people take action in response to the Mayan prediction. The town of Bugarach, France, located on a mountain in the Pyrenees, has drawn thousands of people in the belief the mountain has magical powers and is inhabited by extraterrestrials. According to The Huffington Post, as of April of this year, over 20,000 people had staked out areas near the summit. Many of the people believe that on Dec. 21 the human civilization will end and extraterrestrials inhabiting the mountain will emerge to take those on the mountain to safety.

Locals, including the mayor, are scornful of the people flocking to the town.

According to The New York Times Jan. 30, 2011 article “For End of the World, a French Peak Holds Allure,” by Maia de la Baume, Mayor Jean-Pierre Delord said he does not want to see Bugarach become a safe haven for “apocalypse believers and lunatics.”

Rather unfortunately for the thousands who have taken action in response to the apocalyptic predictions stemming from the Mayan tablets, researchers cited by the History Channel, including Mayan scholar Sven Gronemeyer of La Trobe University in Australia, concluded that the Mayan apocalyptic predictions were, in fact, never predicted. Dec. 21 simply marks the start of a new “Long Count,” or about 5,126 years, a measure created by the Mayans to establish chronologies or relate to events separated by many years.

The predictions stem from hieroglyphs found on a 1,300-year-old stone tablet at an archeological site in Mexico. The actual glyphs prophesize an event involving Bolon Yokte, the Mayan god of creation and war, visiting the Earth. According to many Mayan scholars, this date simply marks a new calendar cycle as opposed to an apocalyptic event.

Thousands of miles away, the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead is the oldest known religious document, recording events that occurred as far back as 15,000 B.C.E. The document is a composition of hymns, prayers, and rituals that are performed in order to guide a soul along the path to Osiris, or the modern day equivalent to heaven. In the Book of the Dead a series of events said to have occurred in 9792 B.C.E. are described as a world-wide catastrophe. These events were said to have been caused by the planet Venus moving into the path of the Orion Constellation.

This planetary movement caused a widespread panic among Egyptian astronomers, who have been regarded as astrological masters by astronomy experts for centuries. The Egyptian astronomers used the stars and the planets to make predictions on events to come. They prophesied that the movement of the planet Venus into the star Orion’s path would occur again in the year 2012: the apocalypse.

According to the records kept in the Book of the Dead, the sun rose on a new horizon which caused for two sunsets and two sunrises, which can only occur in the event of a shift in the Earth’s poles.

Many researchers have done studies on this date and while there is no physical evidence of a polar shift having taken place, astrologists have noted that the positions of Orion and Venus are identical to their locations in 9792 B.C.E.

In the event of a polar shift the Earth’s magnetic iron core would alter, causing the Earth’s rotations to be put in reverse. When this happens the outer crust of the planet would break off from the inner layers, causing it to tilt in one direction. A translation of The Book of the Dead describes this as “instead of looking up at the sky, it would seem like the sky is falling down.”

Some astronomers have linked this to theories of the lost civilization Atlantis, saying that had such an event occurred, a world-wide flood might have accompanied it, causing the city to be buried under the sea.

Science devotees who foresee an apocalypse are more inclined towards theories such as those of the polar shift or side-effects of climate change as the catalysts for the demise of civilization.

Nostradamus’ Prophesies

Perhaps the most vague of the predictions of the end of the world are those of Nostradamus, a French seer who lived during the early 1500s. Accredited by believers with having predicted Hitler’s rise to power followed by the Second World War, the assassination of JFK and the Sept. 11 attacks, believers seem convinced that an apocalyptic end to the world must be found somewhere in his writings. For example, many point to passages that prophesy a planet colliding with the Earth or a meteor impact as allusions to the 2012 apocalypse date. However, the writings are characterized by vague wording and a lack of specific time frames, and at no point is Dec. 21 or 2012 mentioned.

Many scientists and researchers skeptical of Nostradamus’ prophetic powers are quick to point out that Nostradamus’ predictions are only brought to light after the event predicted has occurred. An example of this is the Sept. 11 attacks. In 1997, Brock University history graduate Neil Marshall wrote an article titled “A Critical Analysis of Nostradamus,” where he wrote a passage “predicting” the attacks. The passage was written in a style similar to that which Nostradamus used, causing many to believe that it in fact was a passage written by Nostradamus. Because of the vague language and unclear subject, the passage was accredited by many with having predicted the attacks, although the language could have applied to a myriad of events and dates. The point of the article was that, with sufficiently vague language and broad predictions, Nostradamus’ passages could be interpreted to point towards a variety of tragic outcomes.

In spite of social experiments such as this one and a lack of concrete evidence in Nostradamus’ writings, his followers and believers are convinced that predictions about the apocalypse exist.

The Zombie Apocalypse

Although some predictions, such as the those from the Mayans and Egyptians, have their roots in mythology and theology, others are based on pop culture, such as a “zombie apocalypse.” In response to the general fascination with these flesh-eaters, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) outlined actions that should be taken to prepare for a zombie apocalypse. The majority of the preparatory steps provided, such as having clean water, a food supply and a meeting place in case of emergency, apply to any type of natural disaster, whether apocalyptic or not.

Natural Disasters and Acts of Terror

The zombie apocalypse seems to be a lingering worry, propelled by TV series and movies such as The Walking Dead, Zombieland and Dawn of the Dead. However, much more prevalent is the threat of natural disasters or even, to the horror of pacifists and optimists, destruction of the world by human acts.

Events such as the attack on the World Trade Centers, the war on terror and nuclear armaments are often cited as signs of the impending apocalypse. Obviously, a nuclear apocalypse has been a nightmare for citizens and politicians alike since the first nuclear weapons entered the testing phase, but now, with an aggressive Iran stretching nuclear diplomacy limits, the possibility of nuclear warfare is rapidly approaching. As Israeli Prime Minister outlined in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 27, Iran is 90 percent finished creating a nuclear weapon and, according to many sources, ready to use them once they are available.

Apocalyptic Probabilities

For some, it seems doomsday looms around every corner. Whether by zombies, an act of terror or natural causes, the end seems near.

According to statistician Carl Haub in Washington D.C., the number of living people has not yet and never will outnumber the dead. Moreover, zombie lore asserts the undead can constantly add to their ranks through bites. And UA might prove a tasty treat, as over 95 percent of students said the community has not properly prepared students for an apocalyptic scenario, according to a voluntary Arlingtonian survey of over 150 students.

But a zombie apocalyse may not be humankind’s biggest threat. CDC spokesman David Daigle said, “CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead.”

Disregarding the zombie threat, researchers do not believe that anything out of the ordinary will occur on Dec. 21, and over 90 percent of students agree. According to a January 2012 article from the official NASA website, were another planet or enormous meteor to be hurling through outerspace toward Earth, astronomists are positive that the threat already would have been discovered. Scientists also assert that the poles are due to switch roughly every 400,000 years; however, this would not affect life on Earth.

As for the Mayan, Egyptian and Christian predictions, researchers find little conclusive proof of the liklihood of such events. On the other hand, to disregard the impact of climate change could be foolhardy. Although the changes would, according to articles in National Geographic and Scientific American from 2007 and 2012, respectively, cause widespread flooding, stronger storms and coastal cities would soon find themselves underwater.

Dec. 21 likely will go by without an apocalypse. To the Mayans, the morning of Dec. 22 would be as significant as Jan. 1 is to Americans; it is the start of a new year, a new cycle. The world will continue. A new date will be set for an apocalypse. Believers will commit themselves in preparation for the end, and once that date passes, it will all happen again. Until one day, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, the world really does end.