You’d be surprised at how many people throughout history have predicted that the world would end. What’s more, people constantly buy into it. It seems that were so preoccupied with when the world will end that we completely forget to enjoy living in general.
The predictions themselves tend to vary from religious Armageddon to a huge unavoidable catastrophe, ending all life as we know it. While some are interesting enough to keep us entertained, others are just ridiculous to the point of us questioning what kind of desperation someone has to feel to buy into it.
Fear is a key factor in many of these cases, and fear leads people to do terrible things to both themselves and others around them. Cults have always had close ties to certain doomsday prophecies with some madman barking out nonsense, all the while being in a position of power among those being exploited and manipulated.
These are 10 of the biggest apocalypse scares in history.
10 Heaven’s Gate – 1997
The Heaven’s Gate Cult was formed in the 1970s and was led by founder Marshall Applewhite. In late March of 1997 Applewhite taped himself speaking of a large scale mass suicide. The group believed that an alien spacecraft was trailing behind Comet Hale-Bopp and that once they were dead, the UFO would take their souls to a “level of existence above human”. The group carried out the plan in a rented mansion where over the course of three days Applewhite as well as 38 of his followers took their own lives.
9 The Prophet Hen of Leeds – 1806
While most "end of the world" prophecies come from individual “prophets” or certain religious groups, this particular doomsday scare was the result of some strange eggs. Sometime in 1806, villagers in the city of Leeds found a hen laying eggs with the words “Christ is coming” written across them. This caused considerable panic throughout the area, and attracted visitors from all over, all in hopes of seeing the prophet hen. But obviously the world didn’t end in 1806. A woman named Mary Bateman was later found to have conducted the hoax by using a sort of corrosive ink to write on the eggs and then re-inserted them into the hen. Bateman, who was also known as the “Yorkshire Witch”, was hung three years later, after being charged with murder.
8 Aum Shinrikyo World War III – 1995
The Aum Shinrikyo cult was founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984. In 1992 Asahara declared himself to be “Christ” and claimed he could take on the sins of the world. Asahara believed that the world would end in 1997 as a result of a Third World War instigated by the United States. All humanity would succumb to nuclear Armageddon, save for those who joined Aum. On March 20th, 1995 the doomsday cult released large amounts of sarin gas into the Tokyo subway, killing 13 people while injuring 50 others and causing temporary vision problems for close to 1,000 others. As police had been cracking down on the cult for suspected illegal activities, it is presumed that Asahara had ordered the attack in the hopes of diverting attention away from the cult and its followers. Two years later the world still stood as Asahara’s nuclear Armageddon never came to fruition and the Aum Shinrikyo group – without their leader – reformed under the name Aleph in 2000.
7 Large Hadron Collider Scare – 2009-2012
The Large Hadron Collider is basically a particle collider that has the ability to send hydrogen particles crashing into one another. It was created in the hopes of discovering new elements as well as shedding light on the creation of the universe. While this all sounds well and good the Large Hardron Collider also has the potential to create black holes large enough to engulf the planet. The fear of the possibility of the creation of black holes first came to light in 2008 when a lawsuit was filed in a US court to stop operations of the Large Hadron Collider. The lawsuit never succeeded and though the possibility of black holes forming was acknowledged, it was said that they’d only last a few seconds before disappearing. The experiment went on from 2009 to 2012 without swallowing the world whole.
6 Harold Camping’s Rapture – May 21st, 2011
You know the saying “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”? Well that pretty much describes Harold Camping’s 2011 end times prediction. The Christian radio broadcaster had previously predicted the end of days being September 6th, 1994. Camping’s 2011 prediction was met with much ridicule from atheist organizations, and denial from other Christian organizations. Camping predicted that the rapture would hit the world at 6 pm, but when everything picked up as usual on May 22nd Camping changed his prediction to October 21st of that same year – calling May 21st a “spiritual” day of judgement – before backing out of his October 21st predictions a few days before.
5 The Great Disappointment – October 22nd, 1844
William Miller was a Baptist preacher and founder of the Millerites, a religious group that followed Miller’s teachings and belief that the second coming of Jesus Christ would occur in the year 1844. The group was founded sometime in 1833 when Miller first shared his belief in the second coming of Christ. What is sometimes referred to as the “Great Disappointment”, October 22nd passed normally, much to the dismay of many Millerites, who had given up most of their material possessions in anticipation of the event. Many Millerites had to deal with violence towards both themselves and their places of worship after the failed prediction had passed. Miller himself awaited Christ’s return until his death in 1849.
4 Nostradamus’ Armageddon – August 1999
Nostradamus was a French apothecary and author famous for his many prophecies which earned him widespread recognition. Though famous for them, not all of Nostradamus’ prophecies came true. Take for example his prediction for 1999. Nostradamus predicted that in the seventh month of the year 1999, a great king of terror would fall from the sky. Many of those who followed Nostradamus’ predictions believed it was his depiction of what would be Armageddon. But like many other end of the world prophecies, Nostradamus’ never came true.
3 Y2K – January 1st, 2000
It’d be almost impossible to imagine a fully functioning modern society without any computers. The thought leading up to January 1st, 2001 was that computers would wipe out all of modern society. The eventual doomsday theory stemmed from the problem of computers not being able to differentiate between the 1900 and 2000 dates. Somewhere along the line people got all worked up about nuclear disasters and world wide blackouts (though the former sounds much worse than the latter). This then prompted people to begin preparations for survival after the end of the world; we're talking bunkers, guns, stocking up on non-perishables, the works. However, the world didn’t end in the year 2000. There were some computers glitches, but other than that it was just another failed doomsday scare.
2 Halley’s Comet – April 10th, 1910
Halley’s Comet is visible to us earthlings once every 75 or so years. The comet itself is quite a spectacle but in 1910 there were those who feared that it would destroy humanity. The comet's tail is made up of something called cyanogen, a toxic gas. This led to widespread fear that the toxin would enter the earth’s atmosphere killing all life on the planet. What followed was a wide increase in sales of gas masks, “anti-comet pills” and “anti-comet umbrellas”. Most astronomers did point out that the gas would have no harmful effects on the inhabitants of earth once the comet passed and they turned out to be right. Or maybe it was all those “anti-comet pills”.
1 Mayan Apocalypse – December 21st, 2012
This one got a lot of spotlight a couple years back, with a feature length movie and countless books all trying to get a little slice of the newest "end of the world" phenomenon. This all came from how some people interpreted the Mayan Calendar which is divided into cycles lasting around 5,125 years. Since one of the cycles ended on December 21st, 2012 people started pumping out the doomsday theories. Some thought that the earth's magnetic poles would reverse, reversing the planet's rotation as well. Others thought that a planet called Nibiru, Planet X or Eris, or a huge meteor would hit the earth killing us all. December 21st came and went, and the only really terrible thing about it was the aforementioned movie.