Apocalyptic Traditions, Part 1 of 2
…The long sufferings of God are not for ever there is a Judgment...
William Blake, Jerusalem
welcome to the end times!That is, welcome to the end of the Second Millennium of the Christian Era. Congratulations for surviving thus far, now nearly two decades after drawing the curtain on humanity’s latest (or, maybe, final?) 1,000-year cycle, as reckoned by the Gregorian calendar.
What cycle is that? To many, it’s simply the end of an extended count of years, though the number seems curiously significant as human benchmarks go. (An ominous, if pointedly apropos example: the Thousand Year Reich proclaimed by Hitler.) To others, it’s something more profound: a momentous, epochal ending — literally in terms of time; figuratively in terms of something… more. Something fated.
To some, in fact, predestined: an apocalyptical ending.
Apocalypse. For most secularly educated moderns, the word holds one utterly clear meaning: the ultimate cataclysm of legend — absolute devastation of Earth; obliteration of humankind; annihilation. Words or concepts colloquially considered synonyms or adjuncts are Armageddon, primarily, perhaps Ragnarök or Kali yuga or Koyaanisqatsi for the readers among us, “doomsday” in common Nuclear Age parlance, and Judgment Day or The Second Coming for the more conventionally Biblical.
We all have our understanding of apocalypse, probably our fear or contempt or disregard for it as well. But we can’t deny that the concept is compellingly tenacious, durable, even entertaining to judge by its regular media-movie-millennialist bandying about these (end?!) days. Frankly, apocalypse holds a fundamental — maybe decisive — place not only in Western culture, where it persists conceptually as our ultimate, inevitable doom, but also in Eastern and many aboriginal cultures. From the final fate of Siegfried’s bride Kriemhild in the German Nibelungenlied to the portentous coming of Wasichu in Lakota legend to the final dissolution of mahapralaya in Hindu doctrine, humanity seems a pessimistic devotee of its own ill fate (or a mature realist observing natural cyclic laws, depending on your philosophical bent).
No surprise, then, that all the words passed around in the name of mortal comeuppance continually cross paths. But though they float together in our popular fantasies and fears, and though they hint at shared myths, none of the others contain the specific revelatory aspect of that seminal word: apocalypse.
And note how the words continue floating together: apocalypse as revelatory. Revelatory precisely in the sense of the so-called Book of Revelations, chief text of a body of Judeo-Christian writing called both apocalyptic and apocryphal. But not so much in the common sense of revealing the future, prophesying our end, as in its original sense of revealing what has been hidden: removing the veil from long dormant or forgotten truths, from the Greek apokalyptein (to reveal, or uncover) via apo [off, away from] + kalyptein (to conceal, or cover). An aside: what does it mean that many dictionaries refer readers to the entry for “hell” for further etymological notes?
In the definition of apocalypse as the revealing of truth we find much of the momentum and significance of the apocalyptic works of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic continuum, and of other traditions. For all suggest prophetic visions, but almost all to the end of reclaiming former grace or punishing sin through rediscovery of essential truths necessarily catalytic, even revolutionary. Which is to say, reïncarnating paradigms and traditions in workable new systems. In theory. A theory of evolution.
How the peoples of the world share this theory — some in distinctly more cataclysmic guise than others — is the point of this informal survey, which is just that: a condensed primer, a brief introduction to the subject, not an authoritative resource.
the architects of apocalypse
caesar : The Ides of March have come. | spurinna : Yes, Caesar, but not gone.
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
All systems, organic or crafted, have their seminal moment, their elaboration and establishment, generally followed by calcification or doctrinaire codification, then decay or compromise of principle, struggle to retain influence, then often sordid decline. Western culture represents this (in the plane of physics) as the law of entropy. Hinduism records it as laya, or the law of dissolution. That we most readily see this played out on micröcosmic levels does not preclude its operation on a macröcosmic one.
Apocalyptic writings in some respects have been studies of such process elaborated into predictive models. In other words, patterns or laws deduced by ancient observers were recorded, generally in metaphorical language, as spiritual truth. Those who understood the deeper “mysteries” underlying the metaphorical records furthered the study of human nature and history and developed what might be called laws of operation for interpreting past actions, present circumstances, and future probabilities. These have been encoded in several ways, some spiritual/religious, some physical/scientific, some moral/ethical or philosophical. When they have been posited with an air of divine certainty (divination, as it were), they become prophecies and apocalyptic visions.
In this way, we can view seers, the architects of apocalypse, as a select group of sophisticated modellers (and many pure cranks) predicting the past — that is, applying observed historical patterns and circumstances surrounding them to the present and future. Because the system is mysterious, with its practitioners as a rule adopting obscurantist metaphors and phrasing, and because it amounts, apparently, to pure speculation (being provable only over time), the art of prophecy as such is seldom considered scientific, though it suggests itself as a variety of formal operations to achieve finite results: astrology, tarot, palmistry and other popular forms of divination being ready examples (albeit of larger systems reduced to a function of forecast).
The social engineers at work in the scriptural writings apprehended some sense of these archetypal natural and historical patterns — reportedly most often through sheer “divine inspiration.” But having posited the likelihood of repetition (cyclical recurrence), they sought to catalog the conditions — the signs, if you will — of distinct periods within the pattern.
Thus, the Anti-Christ (to take a proximate example), predicted in specificity and in generality, becomes a macröcosmic metaphor or template easily projectable onto micröcosmic reality, and a touchstone for interpreting current events. And for predicting or, indeed, fomenting future events.
Like cartographers of the stars and globe, the apocalyptic writers mapped dynamics of human nature and society, captured their amorphous but essential, distinguishable shape, and — in a code of metaphors — recorded their observations. Some of these recordings are called Scripture. The extrapolation of this unscientific art gave us our apocalyptic literature.
books of revelation
Where is there an end of it, the soundless wailing,
The silent withering of autumn flowers…
The prayer of the bone on the beach, the unprayable
Prayer at the calamitous annunciation?
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (The Dry Salvages, II)
While cultures across the globe indulge in such stories, the Judeo-Christian system particularly embraces them. As Paul Johnson observes in The History of the Jews (1987), “The idea of a final judgment fitted neatly into the whole Judaic concept of the rule of law. It was because they taught this doctrine together with a rationalized approach to observing the Law, which made salvation feasible, that the Pharisees attracted such a following, especially among the pious poor, who knew from bitter experience the small likelihood of happiness this side of death.”
The notion of divine destructive justice is a global commonplace, but it arose among Jewish ideologues in reaction to continual occupation of their homelands by conqueror nation-states such as Macedonia and Rome. By the time of the latter’s dominion, Hebraic culture faced critical social, political, and cultural crises, as does any people subjected to external rule or assimilation.
Isaiah, as represented in the Old Testament, sowed apocalyptic seeds of dissent, but true revolutionary fervor springs full blown in The Book of Daniel — a fevered response, partaking of wild dreams and visions, to tyrannical Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes, who inspired revolt in the 2nd century B.C.E. by attempting to introduce the Zeus cult into Jerusalem.
As described by Johnson, Daniel “uses historical examples to…whip up hatred against pagan imperialism in general and Greek rule in particular, and it predicts the end of empire and the emergence of God’s kingdom, possibly under a heroic liberator, a Son of Man. The book vibrates with xenophobia and invitations to martyrdom.” Which, clearly, was its point: incitement to riot — in fact, to holy war: apocalypse as revolution.
Daniel and subsequent apocalyptics, Johnson suggests, “reflect the belief that the time was speedily coming when the forces of good would be confronted by the forces of evil. There would be the greatest showdown the world had ever seen in which the very cosmos itself would become embroiled. The powers of darkness would be destroyed and the sons of light would receive victory at the hands of God.”
A relatively early work, Daniel found its way into the Judaic canon, and found support and reïnforcement in the subsequent writings of Enoch.
A fanatic prophet, Enoch is portrayed as a wise man informed by angels of “the secrets of Heaven and the natural order,” which knowledge ordained him as a priest responsible for the divine records of the Day of Judgment, which he describes in Jude 14-15: “Behold the Lord came with his holy myriads [angels] to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness.”
Actually a composite written between the 3rd century B.C.E. and the 1st century, Enoch contains five books that form the basis for much of later Christian apocalyptic tradition. (New Testament prophecy and The Revelation to John are discussed in Part Two: Signs of the End Times, “The Last Days”).
Among the events recorded in Enoch are the prophet’s visions of a coming judgment through which a Chosen One — “Son of Man and light to the nations” — would inherit the Earth and rule humans and angels.
Enoch’s two central visions recall God’s earlier deluge, and present a history of the world from Adam to the Maccabees that ultimately ushers in a Messianic Kingdom (that is, the return of the Davidic monarchy). Enoch foretold that 70 angels set as guardians over the nations would be punished for exceeding their authority, and cast aside in the name of a new Jerusalem ruled by a savior king. The timeframe for these events remains unclear, but Enoch divides history into 10 unequal parts, counting seven as past, with three to come: Triumph of the Righteous, Banishment of Evil, Creation of An Age Without End.
Enoch fulfills his destiny in Revelation 11:3-13, which describes his battle alongside the prophet Elijah against the Anti-Christ. Though slain, they are raised to life again.
The works of Daniel and Enoch, over the centuries universalized from their specific conflicts, comprise not merely prediction, but a theory of history, according to Russell: “predicting the past’s replay as the future.”
Daniel and Enoch “broke up history into pre-determined periods or epochs” allowing them “to recognize more precisely the course of events and, more importantly, to identity the end of the process and the coming of God’s promised kingdom.”
A process that bears some resemblance to the Hindu system of cosmic cycles or yugas. Though rather arcane and somewhat contradictory in particulars of length, the cycles are four (of about 5,000 years each, according to mystic H.P. Blavatsky), each followed by its laya, or dissolution by natural catastrophe: Satya (or Krita) yuga, the longest period, An Age of Truth likened to the interval from morning to noon, when enlightenment and truth reign supreme; Treta yuga, the afternoon, in which kshatriya or sovereignty rules, men seeking rewards for their rituals and talents; Dvapara yuga, the evening, in which demons such as spiritual unconsciousness and hatred come into being; and Kali yuga, a Dark or Iron Age, equivalent to the blackest part of night, during which “true worship and sacrifice cease, and base or sudra consciousness is prominent,” according to Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami in Dancing with Siva (1993): “Calamities, disease, fatigue, and faults such as anger and fear prevail.”
The current Kali yuga reportedly began at midnight on February 18, 3102 B.C.E.. Since by certain measures the Kali yuga (shortest of the four cycles) lasts 432,000 years, the current “dark age” has apparently just begun. But some modern Hindu astrologers claim that Kali — the black-skinned retributive patron goddess of the age — began her destructive dance in the early 1980s c.e., and suggested that her finale must come between 2000 and 2012. Or, you know, a bit later.
As the Puranas, or Hindu folk mythology, state, “dharma [truth an quest for truth] becomes very weak in the Kali age, and people commit sin in mind, speech, and action… Quarrels, plague, fatal diseases, famines, drought, and calamities appear… People become poorer in vigor and luster. They are wicked, full of anger, sinful, false, and avaricious. Bad ambitions, bad dealings, and bad earnings excite fear…”
A round of four yugas comprises a mahayuga, which ends in the calamitous mahalaya, or dissolution by flood and fire. After 36,000 complete cycles, mahapralaya sets in, the total dissolution, which claims even Brahma, the Supreme Creator, source of the world, which grows as he dreams from his belly. With his demise, all time, form, and space fall into dormancy within Siva, who alone directs eventual rebirth.
The prophetic systems of Hebrew and Hindu are not alone in their similarity. Not only do world cultures from Persia to Polynesia consistently reveal like notions of cyclic pattern and ultimate dissolution, but all major traditions resolve at apparently the same historical point: the conclusion of what Christians know as the Second Millennium.
John Hogue draws parallels in The Millennium Book of Prophecy (1994): “The Persian Mythraic calendar of 5,000-year-cycles sets the time for the forces of god and evil to battle it out once and for all at the close of this century. The last Celtic Druid 500-year cycle ends around 2000… The Cabalistic Hermetic schools, which once formed an occult underground throughout Christian Europe, predict doomsday at the end of their grand calendar of 7,000 years — that is, 2000; the Tibetans call it quits after fourteen incarnations of their patron saint Chenrezi as the Dalai Lama, their spiritual-political ruler.” (Tension Gyatso, the current and fourteenth Dalai Lama, dwells in exile from China-conquered Tibet, and has reportedly considered holding elections for his successor, a move that would break the spiritual succession and, apparently, fulfill Tibetan doomsday prophecy.)
China’s systematic attack on Tibet’s venerable spirituality seems itself a fulfillment of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha’s view of dharmic procession: the metaphorical Wheel of Dharma generates momentum toward truth; every 2,500 years, a new buddha, or enlightened master, must renew the wheel’s spinning motion. Gautama Buddha quartered this cycle into 500-year intervals of successively diminishing spiritual progress. Following this view, Hogue’s description of the current cycle begins with the Buddha himself (around 500 B.C.E.), receive an ample if arguably lesser push with the much-debated advent of Christ (to 500 C.E.), enjoys only a moderate boost with the founding of Islam (500-700 C.E.), a still weaker push with the adoption of Christianity in Europe and Buddhism throughout Asia (1000 C.E.), and a slight forward pressure with the founding of Protestantism and Sikhism (c1500 C.E.). Writes Hogue, “The momentum of truth will grind to a halt by 2000.”
Egyptian calculations may also conclude with our 20th century. Many esoterica-minded archeologists now embrace intriguing evidence that the Great Pyramid of Giza not only embodies ancient Egyptian astrological reckoning but serves as a precise timeline of human history, from the beginning of the Adamic Age (the ascent of homo sapiens to an end in September 2001. By, you know, current interpretive calculations.
These disparate deadlines correspond (approximately) through more than common coincidence — they represent cosmic co-incidence, for they collectively pinpoint the completion of what modern Western astrology calls the Great Cosmic Year. Hogue again (writing at the turn to our current century): “This is the time it takes the Sun to retrograde through all 12 tropical constellations of the Zodiac — 25,9770 years. It takes the sun 2,160 years to back-pedal one cosmic month through each constellation … the time it takes one constellation to ascend over the skies in a precession of equinoxes. Each of these ‘months’ forms a human era, or epoch, where history’s positive and negative potentials are given astrological exposition. … This current Cosmic Month, better known as the Piscean Age, is divided into four cosmic weeks of roughly 500 years. The Sun takes 72 years to retrograde one degree. The cosmic day has a feminine (night) ad masculine (day), each of 36 years. At present we are in the late afternoon of the masculine phase, where our actions will bring karmic reactions at the onset of the night phase in 2008. At that time, haunt could experience a spiritual rebirth or destroy itself.”
How we doing? Timing, always so fluid. Yet ever working.
Elaborating the astrological analogy and adding other correspondences, Hogue writes, “The 1990s pinpoint the final millisecond before the cosmic hour is up. Berosus, the great Chaldean astronomer of the second century B.C.E., set his alarm for the year 25,872. His priestly doubles in 4th Dynasty Egypt measure the final tic of their sidereal digital by computing the sum of the crossed diagonals of the Great Pyramid, giving us the total of 25,826.6 pyramid inches. This means end-time could happen any time between the year 2000 and September 2001!”
Or after. Still breathing? That fluidity of timing, in its constant motion and variable choices.
According to Hogue, Berosus calculated that the completion of the current sidereal precession of the equinoxes in 2001 assures that “all terrestrial life and limb is consumed by the during during a planetary alignment in July of that year. The fire will be followed by a great flood in October when , by his calculation, the same pants are conjoined in Capricorn.”
Are we safe? The only “consuming fire” that I remember from September 2001 was … the eleventh.
As for floods: weren’t there tsunamis that year? And, with increasing intensity, every year since?
No greater astronomers ever existed than the Mayans, equal to their Chaldean contemporaries and greater (though somewhat less architecturally ambitious) than the Egyptians.
The Mayan Calendar contained in the so-called Dresden Codex records movements of celestial bodies as a method of calculating vast cosmic cycles of 34,000 years. Uncannily accurate astral observers, the Mayans could reportedly pinpoint and differentiate specifically any of the 12.5 million days within that vast cycle. These masters of chronology set creation (whether of the world or of the current epoch remains unclear) at 13 or 16 August 3112 B.C.E., “according to,” writes Dr. Edwin C. Krupp in Echoes of the Ancient Skies, “the most widely accepted correlation of Old World and New World history.” That date falls a little more than nine years from the Hindu commencement of the current yuga.
Like Hindus, Mayans believed in a cyclical order of Nature, and similarly described that cycle i four ages. But Mayans — and their Toltec, Aztec, and Inca successors — lived in such fear of a cosmic collapse that they ritually performed human sacrifice in propitiation of their gods.
According to Mayan legend, the creation hinged upon a defeat of chaos and establishment of order. But the victory was tenuous, chaos lurking beneath space and time for an opportunity to again contest existence (imagery echoed in Christian and Nordic apocalyptic visions). Their great messianic god Quetzalcoatl (by some accounts a great ruler, shaman, and seer elevated through legendary reputation) is quoted in Mayan lore as saying, “We have to expect a day when the balance of nature will be lost.”
Shades of environmental degradation, drought, tempests, rising tides from melting ice.
That balance, Mayan tradition holds, has anciently been lost at least three times, each civilizational age or “Sun” ending in the cataclysm that defines the epoch: Water Sun (the time of the universal Great Deluge), Earthquake Sun (when, as reported in Alexander’s Latin American Mythology, “the earth was rent and mountains fell down”), and Hurricane Sun (ended in a cosmic tempest “when the ocean fell on the continent and a hurricane swept over the earth,” according to the Manuscript Torana, which attributes the disaster to the god Hurakan).
Shades of the South Asian tsunami (Christmas 2004) or, closer to home, Hurricane Katrina (R.I.P. Old New Orleans 2005).
The first two Mayan cataclysms were apparently accompanied by devastating plagues: “They were called ‘the sudden death’ for it was said so swift and mortal was the pest, that the buzzards and other foul birds dwelt in the houses of the cities, and ate the bodies of their former owners,” wrote Daniel G. Brinton in The Myths of the New World.
Brinton affirms that the Mayan’s third world ended in a tumultuous hurricane fed by winds from the four cardinal points, followed by a flood “swallowing all things in its mountainous surges.”
The Mayan mythos has survived largely because of a Father Lizana, curé of Itzamal, who preserved important writings and oral tales of the vanished people. As reported in Histoire de Nuestra Señora de Itzamal (a lost book cited in Philip Brasser’s Sources de l’histoire primitive du Mexique), the father found that “this nation had a tradition that the world would end, and, probably like the Greeks and Aztecs, they supposed the gods would perish with it.”
“At the close of the ages, it hath been decreed,” Lizana claimed to quote the Mayan legend, “shall perish and vanish each weak god of men; and the world shall be purged with a ravening fire. Happy the man in that terrible day, who bewails with contrition the sins of his life, and meets without flinching the fiery ordeal.” (We have no means of supposing how much, if at all, Father Lizana filtered the Mayan myths through his own devout Christianity.)
Fiery ordeal? Shadows of nuclear holocaust blanch in the glare of a rapidly warming planet.
The last page of the Dresden Codex holds one large illustration: the destruction of the world as a vast serpent stretches across the sky, belching forth torrents of rain or fire.
Significantly, while most apocalyptic testimonies foretell a cataclysm of fire, nearly all religious traditions tell of an earlier catastrophe by water — Noah has many colleagues!
Among which are heroes of Pawnee and Lakota (Sioux) legend. The tribes share a belief that after the primordial flood, the Creator determined to help his surviving children by sitting a great buffalo in the north as a levy against another deluge. The story continues that the buffalo loses one hair every year, and soon the world will flood again.
The Book of the Hopi, as revealed to Frank Waters by Oswald White Bear Fredericks, tells of the end by deluge of Tokpa, the second world created for humans by Sötukknang, Lord of the Universe: “Everything [the people] needed was on this Second World, but they wanted more…” Disputes and wars soon broke out among the several peoples, “between villages,” and only “a few people in every village…sang the song of their creation.” Though “the wicked people” laughed at these faithful, Sötukknang didn’t forget them, providing shelter underground against a cleansing of the world: “Mountains plunged int seas…seas and lakes sloshed over the land…” (The Hopi record that the first world of humans ended in a holocaust of ice.)
From The First Book of Moses — that is, Genesis (6:11-9:17) — to the Mayan Popul Vuh to the Epic of Gilgamesh and ancient records of Egypt, Babylon (the story of Utnapishtim), Sumer (the story of Ziusudra), Assyria, Greece, the Urals, India (the Rig Veda legend of Manu), China (the tale of Fo-Hi, “who alone of all the country was saved”), Polynesia (the Hawaiian myth of Nu-u, the Fijian story of Rokova and Rokola), the Aztec Codex Chimalpopoca (the tale of Nota and Nena), and several Native American tribes, traditions around the world recount the Great Deluge in which respective gods punished rampant world sin. Drawing parallels between tantalizing threads of this universal story, some interpreters tie the great early civilizations (Maya, Egypt) back to Atlantis, a legendary peak of human endeavor (and hubris) many consider more fact than fancy, whose destruction consigned humanity and the world to a cataclysm of waves.
This proposition, an echo of prophetic practice itself, chills in its suggestion that the dilemmas and indiscretions of our Modern Age may be far from unique, but in fact are replay — a cyclic return to lessons we have faced before. Of course, this supports our hypothesis that prophets did not so much suffer wild-eyed visions of the future but rather modeled historical patterns and cast its cycles. But more on that later, in Part Two: Signs of the End Times.
Brinton claims that such “fearful forebodings” of former flood and future fire “have cast their dark shadow on every literature.”
“The expectation of the end of the world is a natural complement to the belief in periodical destructions of our globe,” he wrote. “As at certain times past the equipoise of nature was lost, and the elements breaking the chain of laws that bound them ran riot over the universe, involving all life in one mad havoc and desolation, so in the future we have to expect that day of doom, where the ocean shall obey no shore…or the fire, now chafing in volcanic craters…will leap forth…wrapping all things in a winding sheet of flame, and melting the very elements with fervid heat.”
Keep this image in mind. Later in this study we’ll trade “elements” for demons and giants.
But Brinton himself echoes the Jewish Platonist philosopher Philo Judaeus, who a century after Christ pondered Earth’s fate in On the Eternity of the World: “And what does natural history tell us?” he asks. “Destructions of things on Earth, destructions not of all at one but of a very large number, are attributed by it to two principal causes, the tremendous onslaughts of fire and water. These two visitations, we are told, descend in turns after very long cycles of years. When the agent is the conflagration, a stream of heaven-sent fire pours out from above and spreads over many places and overruns great regions of the inhabited Earth.”
Indeed, ample evidence — our increasing knowledge of Earth as celestial body, as well as mythological and scriptural testament — suggests these cataclysms as natural events, evolutionary changes in the character of our planet. Perhaps the most tantalizing of such accounts are tales of the stars periodically, and dramatically, changing position, indicating rotational and axis shifts, as captured in Chinese astrology: “The signs of the Chinese zodiac have the stage peculiarity of proceeding in a retrograde direction, that is, against the course of the sun,” writes H.S. Bellamy in Moons, Myths, and Man. “The Chinese say that it is only since a new order of things had come about that the stars move fro east to west.”
Just as with tales of the watery deluge, world traditions about with legends of the stars and sun reversing course. The contemporary significance of such planetary reforms will be discussed in Part Two: Signs of the End Times, “The Last Days.”
Like the Mayans before them, the Aztecs performed human sacrifice against the advent of chaos, though on a much more limited scale.
The Aztecs recognized five ages, ours apparently the last. The first age, called 4-Jaguar from its glyphic inscription, was ruled by the god Tezcatlipoca, and people were the prey of wild jaguars. The second age, 4-Wind, was ruled by the wind god Hecatl (an early form of the great Quetzalcóatl), who swept the world away in a massive hurricane. The third age, 4-Rain, was ruled by Tlaloc, and was destroyed in a downpour of celestial fire. (The Annals of Cuauhtitlán claim the sky “rained not water but fire and red-hot stones.”) The fourth age, 4-Water, ended in the great deluge, brought on by the ruling goddess of rain and water Chalchiutlicue (or Coatilicue). Our fifth age, represented by a face some consider the sun diety Tonatiuh and some consider the Earthlord Tlaltecuhtli, is said to end in earthquake.
(Ominously, many seismologists report a significant and progressive increase in earthquake activity as we pass the threshold of the old into the new century — though this may reflect greater monitoring and more sophisticated equipment as much as anything else. Nonetheless, statistics show that the 1980s saw more seismic and volcanic eruptions than in the 80 years previous. Psychic Edgar Cayce claimed repeatedly that a series of severe natural disasters beginning in the ’80s and intensifying in the ’90s would climax with a cataclysmic shifting of Earth’s axis before 1998. (Timing, like distance, hard to gauge.) Many other seers, from Berosus and Nostradamus to Ruth Montgomery, have claimed the word’s axis would shift at the turn of the Millennium, commending the New Age of Aquarius. (See further discussion in Part Two: Signs of the End Times.)
The length between the beginning of the Aztec’s first cycle and the end of the fifth is variously claimed as 15,228 years, 2,316 years, or 1,404 years, “owing to the equivocal meaning of the numerical signs expressing it in the picture writings,” per Krupp.
What is certain is that every 52 years the Aztecs performed Xiuhmolpilli, a ritual of “Bundling the Years.” Priests of Tenochtitlán gathered atop Cerozo de la Estrella, the Hill of the Star they called Uixachtecatl, to rekindle the life of their people. The climax of four 13-year cycles, the New Fire Ceremony (which has great cosmological significance for all MesoAmerican peoples) comprised making fire and taking life.
“On the last night of each cycle of 52 years, the Aztecs extinguished every fire, and proceeded in solemn procession, to some sacred spot,” wrote Brinton. “Then the priests with awe and trembling, sought to kindle a new fire by friction. Momentous was the endeavor, for did it fail, their fathers had taught them on the morrow no sun would rise, and darkness, death, and the waters would descend forever on this beautiful world.”
A different doom for the Aztec world was envisioned by the great unifying leader Montezuma II in 1507. Traveling to Tlillancalmecatl (“the place of heavenly learning”), the king sought revelation regarding a series of evil omens: famine, eclipse, earthquake, and “the cold light of a comet bathing [in light] the capital for several months” — an omen of imminent doom. According to Hogue, “Occultists placed before him an ash-colored crane. While in trance, Montezuma peered at a vision reflected in the mirror-like crest of the bird’s head and saw the firmament beset by flaming torches. The flames melted into a vision of massed invaders astride large deer. (No Aztec had ever seen horses.) At the same time, Pranazin, Montezuma’s sister, feel in a death-like faint. On recovering her senses, she described a vision of great ships from the east, crowded with alien men in strange attire, with metal casques atop their bearded heads.” Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes viciously attacked the Aztec empire 13 years later, ushering in five centuries of oppressive white hegemony in the Americas.
koyaanisqatsi: life out of balance
We have met the enemy, and he is us!
Walt Kelly, Pogo
As related in 1985 by Hopi Elder Thomas Banyacya, “Our people told us how there were two bothers, the older white, the younger red. They were given a stone tablet with a sign of a circle, to help them remember the Great Spirit and to guide them. The tablet was broken in half. Each brother took half of the stone tablet. The older brother took his people to another land were he would develop the power of reason, to invent and create things. The younger brother would stay here, where he would protect the land and develop the spiritual power.
“The older brother was to come back to his younger brother and they would combine material and spiritual powers to make a paradise,” Banyacya said. “The younger brother would teach the older about religion, the older would teach the younger abut technology.
“But there was a warning: if the white brother returns having changed the sign from a circle to a cross, then beware! Because the sign will mean that he has gone wrong.”
Martin Gashweseoma, the Hopi Elder who protects the sacred stone tablets recording Hopi prophecy, says of this tale (in Sandy Johnson and Dan Budnick’s The Book of Elders), “Our elders taught us that people would come to this continent in search of the Creator… In our prophecies there are two brothers, a dark-skinned younger brother and a light-skinned elder, whom we call the ‘White Brother.’ Together they will decide how the purification will be accomplished.
“The two brothers,” said Gashweseoma, “were with us when we first came to this continent. When their father passed away, the elder brother went out in the direction of the sunrise, and the younger brother stayed here. They had agreed the elder brother would go, but he would not stay away too long. He would return when people would travel on a road built in the air. At that time we would know that the earth had been corrupted to the point that it must be purified.
“We’ve come to that point now,” he added. “Everything has been corrupted. Because we’re out of balance; we don’t obey the laws… It’s too late now for gradual voluntary correction… We pray to the Creator and tell him it’s not what we want, but we feel there’s no choice.”
Wangewaha, the great Abnakis chief, is said to have rested beneath a fir tree and dreamed of the Mother Spirit greeting a visiting queen of fair complexion. Claiming herself a sister, this queen accepted hospitality by taking all the richest offerings. When at last the land was depleted and the once regal Mother Spirit went seeking from her sister a simple meal, the visitor, now ruler, replied with contempt and scorn.
The Brule Sioux tell of “The Coming of Wasichu,” in which Iktome the Spider Man, a trickster and bringer of bad news, traveled from village to village and tribe to tribe telling of a new generation coming, a new nation making its way to the tribal lands, who would be a trickster like Iktome, but a liar and deceiver as well.
Warned by the Pankeshka Hokshi Unpapi, or shell people of the sea, Iktome told his brothers and sisters of Hu-hanska-ska, the White Spider, Daddy-Longlegs-Man, coming across the waters, coming to steal all the four directions of the world: “Not wise but very clever, Long-White-Bone Man will wherever he steps leave a track of lies.”
Iktome visited all his brothers, making 79 trips around the land, visiting the Mahpiya-To Blue Clouds (Arapaho) and the Lakota (Sioux), telling them, “Hu-hanska-ska is traveling slowly, going slowly from the west toward the south and east, eating up the nations on his way, devouring the whole earth.”
To the Kangi-Wichasha (Crow) he said, “Hu-hanska-ska eats up grass and trees, and brings a new faith to replace your old ways.”
The tribes did not welcome his news.
To the Shoshone and Pawnee, and the Blackfoot and Cheyenne, Iktome said, “Here comes a man without grandparents, bringing new illness and worries and sickness. He brings hate, prejudice, and pitilessness. He will lie and his lies will never end. He will devise a dark, black hoop and with it encircle the world.”
The tribes did not welcome this unlooked-for visitor, and told Iktome so.
“Maybe a time will come when you can break his dark hoop,” he said. “Maybe you can change this man and make him better, giving him earth wisdom, making him listen to what the trees and grass tell him.
“You shall know him as washi-manu — steal-all. Or better, by the name of fat-taker, wasichu, because he will take the fat of the land. He will eat up everything, at least for a time.”
And it was not so very long before a fair-skinned man with pale hair and pale eyes appeared all in black riding a creature none had ever known. He offered hot clear water to the peoples, and “the sickness that covered his skin leapt onto the women and children.”
Such presentiments are common to many cultures displaced or fearing encroachment. But some cultures, such as the Norse, carry their doom as a cultural tradition, an inherent part of their heroic lore.
The story of Ragnarök (rök or “judgment” + ragna or “of the gods” in Old Norse), The Day of the Last Great Battle on Vigrid Plain — otherwise known as Die Götterdamerung, The Twilight of the Gods — can be found in both the Volsupa (Poetic Edda) and Gylfaginning (Prose Edda). Harrowing in itself, the story strongly echoes the Judeo-Christian apocalypse, with its own final battle between good and evil in the desolate valley of Armageddon. And with metaphors that relate to those of the Biblical cataclysm — and to modern assessments of, for instance, nuclear war — the Norse saga presents a fitting place to end this first part, as it anticipates Part Two’s discussion of the conditions for apocalypse (tell-tale signs and omens), the content of the Last Days, and an analysis of the foretold aftermath.
die götterdamerung: the twilight of the gods
The end of the world is night — yet men are cruel,
and listen not to the doom that is coming.
Now follows the Age of Northern Winds…
from the Gylfaginning, or Prose Edda
Baldur, god of light, pride of the gods, lay slain in treachery. There were shadows over Asgard, and in Jotunheim the Giants stirred and muttered rancorous threats. In Midgard, men turned toward the evil ways deceiver Loki had taught them, and wickedness grew, and greed and pride also.
Othin, who some call Wotan, and others Odin, now thoughtful and afraid made way to consult with Haid, called in Asgard Vola the Sibyl, personification of the World Mother, “destiny articulate.”
She told him: “There shall come the Fimbul Winter, after man’s evil has reached its height. For brother shall slay brother, and son shall not spare father, and honor shall be dead among men.
“In that awful Winter snow shall drive from all quarters. Frost shall break, the winds shall be keen, and the sun give no heat. And for three years shall that Fimbul Winter last.”
Brothers shall fight and fell each other,
And sister’s sons shall kinship stain;
Hard is it on earth, with mighty whoredom;
Ax-time, sword-time, shields are sundered,
Wind-time, wolf-time, ere the world falls;
Nor ever shall men each other spare.
Vola told him: “The red rooster Fialar crows in the land of Giants, Jotunheim. The Golden Comb cock crows in Valhalla. In Hells, a rust-red bird screeches, and Garm at the entrance to the underworld sets to his baneful baying.
“Then all bonds are loosed: the Fenris Wolf breaks free; the sea gushes over the land as Jormungand the world-enveloping Midgard Serpent rises from his cosmic sea, swims ashore, blows venom over sea and air: terrible he is as he takes his place beside the Wolf Fenris.
“Then the sky splits open and the Sons of Muspell come in fire: Surtur, god of war, leads them with his flaming sword, casts fire across the world. And when they ride over Bifrost, the bridge between heaven and earth breaks behind them and falls in pieces to the human’s home. Loki also wins free, and comes at last to the Field of Vigrid.
“Poor Midgard trembles, crags and trees torn asunder, sea gushing forth and flooding. Monsters chained at the beginning of the world will break free, and Fenris Wolf laughing fire from his eyes.
“Watchman of the gods, Heimdall, will blow the shrieking Giallar Horn. Its notes sound clear and shrill throughout all the worlds: today the Day of Ragnarok.
“All will do battle. The World Ash Yggdrasil will tremble. And nothing then will be without fear in heaven or in earth.”
The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea.
The hot stars down from heaven are whirled;
Fierce grows the steam and the life-feeding flame,
Till fire leaps high about heaven itself.