The Apocalypse: Greatest Hits by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Every time I hear someone talk about how the Mayans predicted the end of the world in 2012, I feel like hitting them on the back of the head with a textbook on Prehispanic cultures. If you know anything about the Mayan calendaric system you’d instantly realize that the doomsday date is a whole lot of baloney wrapped in dollar-store mysticism (nevermind that many ‘mystic’ website mistakenly display pictures of the Aztec calendar stone, because two entirely different cultures can be rolled into one, like a bloated mess of a burrito). Or as, Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies put it in an interview with USA Today, “it is a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”

People have been predicting the end of the world since, well … pretty much forever. You may remember the Y2K predictions, when Skynet was going to take over the world and your toaster would try to murder you, or the planetary alignment of 1982, when the gravitational force of this alignment was supposed to blow up Earth. Oh, and Haley’s comet was going to rain brimstone and fire upon us.

However, my favorite prediction of the apocalypse  happened in the 19th century, when William Miller scheduled the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t just your kooky grandma babbling about the apocalypse, lots of people were digging this (some estimates put Millerites at 500,000).

In the 1840s, “the Miller excitement” was pinpointed as a cause for insanity. Samuel B. Woodward, superintendent of the Worcester State Lunatic Hospital, noted in 1843 that nearly 7 percent of all admissions during the previous year could be attributed to Millerism.

Millerism turns even more interesting when you see what happened after the Great Disappointment, when the dreaded (or longed for) end of the world failed to materialize. Reactions ranged from people being and quitting the movement, to true-believers refusing to accept that they were wrong. The Millerites  divided and came to form new religious groups.

Although Miller’s influence is still present in a few of today’s religious groups, the image of the  apocalypse intoning preacher is not used as often as you’d expect in fantastic fiction.

There’s one novel that borrows the period-setting, Fitcher’s Bride by Gregory Frost, which is set in 1843 and retells “Bluebeard” with a preacher in the title role, but I’m hard pressed to name other novels which used the Millerites, or a Millerite-like experience, as an important element in the narrative.

Short-story wise, “Ghost Technology From The Sun” (originally published in PostScripts) by Paul Jessup, gives us the kind of eerie, apocalyptic preacher story I’d like to see more of. Why? Because it is fascinating when you consider how apocalypse fads rise and fall, and rise again. And people still get suckered in. Even when popular culture makes such blatant mistakes as substituting an Aztec sun stone for a Mayan calendar.

It’s powerful stuff, certainly powerful enough to drive more than one dark and chilling tale.

3 comments to The Apocalypse: Greatest Hits by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

  • Ah, the Millerites. How I love them and their modern day cohorts.

    “Excuse me, time to done my purity cloak and climb the mountain to await the return. Or maybe I got the math wrong. Again.”

  • For my own part, I’m pretty much in favor of anything that involves Stewart hitting people other than me.

    MK

  • The specific Mayan 2012 Diary prophecy says that will this might be twelve weeks that a 5 thousand twelve months globe cycle stops – and it has for numerous many years appear to be related to stop from the globe, and several this refers back to the date written in the