Only the End of the World Again
I don’t think there’s much point in reiterating the genesis of this post; if you’re reading Killing the Buddha, I’m guessing that you’re exposed to the same media universe as the rest of us, and you’re aware that a significant portion of the population believes a significant portion of the population believes the world is set to end today.
Although the meme started with the ancient Mayans, whose calendar states that today marks the end of a unit of time called a b’ak’tun, it has somehow evolved to include all the favorite sawhorses of eschatological conspiracy theory. I will bet you five dollars that right now, the History Channel has some creaky pseudo-academic connecting the dots between Chichen-Itza, Nostradamus, and the Knights Templar playing on a 24-hour loop.
I have been annoyed by this for months. Not so much by the wacky New Age theories, really – Pagans and New Agers have lived cheek by jowl for decades, and while I find the 2012 business ridiculous, it’s ridiculous in an endearing sort of way. I’m more annoyed by the stream of snarky news stories devoted to proving the world will not end—as though non-believers needed convincing—and the fact that I haven’t been able to search for “Mayan” on the Internet in months. (Look, pseudo-Mayans live on the Isle of Dread. My D&D campaign requires absolute historical accuracy, damn it.)
Perhaps, once we wake up on the 22nd and find the world still intact, we will move on from this apocalyptic mindset—but I doubt it.
According to a recent Reuters Poll, about 15% of people surveyed across the world believe the world will end within their lifetimes. (That includes nearly 22% of Americans.) While I have an instinctive distrust of polls like this, I think it says something about humanity that this keeps coming up—that some of us keep buying into the end of the world, and that more of us keep smirking at those poor deluded fools even as we obsess over the delusion ourselves. Mostly it’s human vanity, I think: it’s hard to resist the glamour of Gotterdammerung. The final generation becomes the apex of human development; history literally ends with us. You cannot be blamed for being forgotten if there’s no one around who could have remembered.
In a few weeks, once the disappointment of having survived yet again fades, we’ll find some new ancient sign to clamp onto, some other reason to anticipate extinction. In my short lifetime, we’ve made it through plenty—nobody seemed to expect we’d make it through the year 2000, and just last year, Harold Camping failed us too (as memorably reported on this website by D.T. Lawrence and Ted Cox.) And that’s not even taking into account the ever-present threat of the Rapture.
Meanwhile, December 21st has another, more important significance to me—it’s Yule, one of the Wiccan holidays I celebrate. At the Winter Solstice, the longest night, we gather to mourn the dead sun god in ritual, every year like every other. As always we stand, a circle of candles against the endless cold of the midwinter night, hoping that the sun will come back to us this time.
It’s hard for me to get too excited. It’s only the end of the world again.
(The title to this post is stolen outright from a short story by Neil Gaiman, with compliments.)
Eric Scott was raised by the Saint Louis coven Pleiades, a Wiccan family based in the Alexandrian tradition. His fiction and memoir explore the joys and doubts of being a second-generation pagan in the modern world. He recently completed his MFA at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ashé! Journal, Killing the Buddha, Kerouac's Dog, and Witches & Pagans. In his spare time, he draws elaborate metaphysical diagrams on his bedroom wall and sings for a Taoist glam rock band.