emerge and collide with Earth?
Perhaps you're a shifter and expect the magnetic poles to abruptly switch places --or, perhaps, the poles themselves, with the Arctic and Antarctic abruptly relocating. The latter idea has been around since the 1960s and became the plot line of a popular 1970s potboiler called "The Hab Theory."
Maybe your sympathy lies with the galactic alignment crowd, who say the solar system will align with the center of the Milky Way in such a way that the sun will erupt into megaflares that will toast the Earth, or at least its electronic grids. (Like some of the other scenarios, this one plays off the real phenomenon of coronal mass ejections, sunbursts that can disrupt man-made satellites and electronics).
Wait, there's more. A fair handful of people are anticipating the arrival of extraterrestrials, returning at last after seeding the planet with humanity a few millennia ago. The ETs are supposed to pick up catastrophe survivors atop a French mountain called Pic de Bugarach. Local officials, anticipating an invasion of kooks, if not aliens, have banned visitors to the mountain on the 21st.
Still others say the date is not apocalyptic at all, but transformative. They expect the date to usher in a new age of consciousness that will lead the world to peace.
"It verges on propaganda," Traxler said. "These ideas are pulled together from an eclectic array of sources -- some from long-standing world religions, but opportunistically, threads from other sources."
Indeed, a broad survey of the predictions reveals a genuine mishmash: a bit of Christian Rapture theology, in which true believers are privileged to escape the catastrophe of the end times; a dash of alien ancestor beliefs; a jigger of crystal-power optimism.
There is also a strain of belief from Mesoamerican culture, but it's not the Maya, said Traxler. It's the Aztecs, the people of ancient Mexico who believed in cycles of creation and destruction.
For the Maya, "the most elaborate of all the calendars, the Long Count, was to give this tremendous sweep of time as a framework in which their own lives were situated," Traxler said. People who claim it means something more, she added, "are just making it up."
Even some so-called "preppers" -- survivalists preparing shelters and food supplies for impending disaster -- have little patience with the Maya scenario. One Lehigh Valley prepper called "Mike T," reached by email through an online prepper bulletin board, called the prediction "craziness."
"Most preppers I know are professional, military or business people who understand that the financial and spending policies of the [U.S.] government are unsustainable," he wrote. "We believe that significant civil unrest is on the horizon...food shortages, massive unemployment and the most incredible and difficult times any of us has experienced in our lives."
That's scary enough without adding Planet Nibiru into the bargain.
In the past, Traxler said, apocalyptic movements tended to be localized or restricted to particular sects. These days, they can spread virus-like across the Internet and infect the world, appealing to the deep human desire to know what the future holds.
Traxler, consulting neither calendar nor crystal ball, ventured a prediction of her own.
"Don't horde Lipton Cup O' Soup," she said. "We'll all be here in January."
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