According to Norse mythology, Ragnarok (meaning Destiny or Twilight of the Gods) will occur on February 22 – the date on which dry land will sink below the ocean waves following an epic battle between the gods and the creatures of the underworld.
It’s not all terrible news - the Vikings also believed that the Earth will then rise anew and be re-populated by the two remaining survivors.
It wouldn’t be any great surprise, though, if the predictions of the Norse warriors fail to come true: history is littered with foretellings of an apocalypse which have – thus far – proved premature.
In fact, end-of-days prognostication has been around at least as long as the early years of the Roman Empire.
Here are some of the most notable past prophecies of Armageddon that have fallen flat:
The Mayan Apocalypse
The Mayan civilisation flourished in modern-day Mexico from around AD 250 to 900, and its descendants survive to this day. They believed that time was cyclical and, according to at least some scholars and followers, that the world would end after some 5,126 years at the completion of their ‘Long Count’ calendar.
Followers gathered in the Mexican city of Merida and in Guatemala around December 21, 2012 to prepare, not for a global conflagration but for the birth of a new age of spiritualism.
This failed to materialise, but some students of the civilisation pointed out that the prediction was based on an erroneous reading of a 1300-year-old Mayan tablet.
1000 AD: The (first) Millenium Apocalypse
According to many Christian clergy of the time, the apocalypse was supposed to occur on the first day of the year 1000 AD.
Historian Charles Mackay said in 1853 that “a panic terror seized upon the weak, the credulous and the guilty … Forsaking their homes, kindred, and occupation, they crowded to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Lord”.
After the day passed without significant incident, some scholars revised their estimate to 1000 years after Christ’s death, rather than his birth.
There are plenty of other descriptions of Millennial panic, though modern historians point out that there is little evidence of it in contemporary documents. In any event, in spite of some serious geo-political upheaval at the time, the world kept turning.
John Wesley and ‘Rapture’ theories
In 1755 founder of the Methodist church John Wesley declared that, based on Revelations 12:14, ‘Christ would come’ and the world would face annihilation in 1836.
He based his assertion on the works of German theologian Johann Albrecht Bengel, which stated that Christ would return to Earth to judge the wicked and destroy the world with fire, while the righteous would ascend to heaven.
The doctrine has been espoused by many other Christian groups. Baptist minister William Miller claimed the Rapture would occur in October 1844, and when nothing happened, his followers - many of whom had given up their possessions in expectation of Christ's return - fell into a period of mourning called ‘The Great Disappointment’.
US evangelist preacher Pat Robinson predicted that the end of the world would come in 1982; he later revised the date to April 29, 2007.
When the date passed peacefully, he argued that God must have responded to people’s prayers.
Seers, Cult Leaders and Doom-mongers
It’s not only religious and spiritual groups that have had a stab at foretelling Armageddon. Infamous French soothsayer Nostradamus claimed in 1555 that in July 1999 a “king of terror” would appear in the sky.
In fairness to him, he makes no claim that the world would end at that time; in fact, he stated that his predictions would last until the year 3797, so perhaps it’s unfair to include him here.
Nevertheless, the skies remained terror-free during the specified month.
Cult leader Charles Manson claimed that his ‘family’ would survive an apocalyptic race war in 1969, after which they would mentor the victorious black community as they would “lack experience” to run the planet.
In 1997, 39 members of the US ‘Doomsday cult’ Heaven’s Gate, who believed the world was to be destroyed by the Halle-Bopp comet, committed suicide in the belief that this would transport them to an alien craft that followed the comet, thus saving them from the conflagration.
Scientists and Astrologers
In February and March 1524, the five then-known planets were expected to be in tight alignment, leading a group of London astrologers to predict a doomsday event.
German astronomer Johannes Stöffler had also foreseen a mighty flood that would swallow the world at the same time.
According to reports, thousands of Londoners left their homes near the Thames and fled to higher ground. When nothing happened, the sheepish stargazers claimed they had miscalculated – and that the end would come in 1624, not 1524.
Other men of learning have suffered from notable slip-ups when it comes to prognostication. Christopher Columbus believed the world would exist for just 7,000 years, and by his calculations that meant the end would be nigh in 1658.
Distinguished mathematician John Napier announced in 1593 that the world would end in 1688 or 1700, based on his calculations pertaining to the book of Revelations.
The ‘Millennium Bug’ theory became widely after 1984, when a book by computing specialists suggested that as computers registered dates using only the last two digits of the year, widespread system crashes would occur when 1999 (‘99’) rolled into 2000 (‘00’).
Governments and companies across the world made preparations for mass system collapse -the US was estimated to have spent over $100bn in Y2K fixes, with concerns including the potential failure of computer-controlled banking, utilities and infrastructure, leading to the possibility of global chaos.
In the event, even those nations who had not gone to great lengths to protect themselves were almost totally unaffected.
Perhaps the bug had simply chimed with society’s long-held fears and beliefs about the Millennium. As the New York Times would state a decade later, the Y2K fiasco seemed “to be less about technology than about a morbid fascination with end-of-the-world scenarios”.
Unfortunately, we may not be out of the woods entirely.
According to Orthodox Jewish interpretation of the Talmud, the Messiah will return to Earth 6,000 years after its creation, and the world will be destroyed within the following 1,000 years – putting our annihilation somewhere between the years of 2240 and 3240 AD.
Buddha said that his teachings would disappear in 5000 years – roughly the year 4600 AD – followed by the ‘degeneration of society’, while several other religious groups maintain a belief in future societal collapse, if not total destruction, based on interpretation of the sacred texts of their individual faiths.
Predictions from the realms of science suggest that we have much more time.
Professor James Kasting, a leading American geoscientist, believes that carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will one day hit a level that will make the Earth uninhabitable. The good news is we’ve got around 500 million years.
Meanwhile, it is generally accepted that the growth of the sun will lead to the planet being too hot to support life in somewhere between 1 and 5 billion years.
So no need to start selling your possessions just yet.