Sunday, December 30, 2012

The End of the End

As 2012 putters out with the world still intact, I think it is worth looking back at a previous End that failed to materialize to see how the survivors dealt with their ongoing existence. I’ll leave out the purely religious Ends since these raise issues beyond the eschatological. The Heaven’s Gate cult might qualify since the members planned to escape by joining the aliens on the passing Hale-Bopp comet on March 26 1997 – which is sort-of nonreligious – but, since there were no survivors among the comet-boarders, they didn’t have much to say.

There was a strangely similar bunch of folks more than 40 years earlier, however, who did survive a predicted End. The group’s pronouncements fascinated psychologist Leon Festinger when he first heard them, so a few of his researchers infiltrated the group and provided him with the details he later used in his classic book When Prophecy Fails. The group leader, Marian Keech, had experimented with “automatic writing.” This technique involves writing without letting your conscious mind guide your hand; it is used by some spiritualists to receive otherworldly information and was used by WB Yeats to inform A Vision, his peculiar prose work on occult matters. Keech, however, didn’t receive messages from spirits; her revelations came from living beings on the planet Clarion. They warned her of a great flood that would strike the world on December 21, 1954, but said they would arrive in a flying saucer and save her followers at midnight. There was a catch: no metal objects allowed. The members removed all watches and jewelry, snipped zippers off their clothes and cut the metal eyelets out of their shoes. Festinger describes the scene as they waited eagerly for the saucer on the evening of the 20th.

Midnight came and went without a flood or a flying saucer. Not one to despair, Keech received another message from Clarion and jotted it down with automatic writing. Her little group had “spread so much light” that the End was canceled, she announced, so there was no need to evacuate. She and her followers had saved us. The group began a media campaign to spread the word about what they had accomplished. Only two of her (legitimate) members were disappointed enough to leave the group. Keech continued to channel messages from aliens until her death in Arizona in 1992.

This was an admirable solution to the problem faced by Keech.  Surely someone out there today is insisting he or she (and followers) appeased the Mayan gods and thereby saved us all from destruction on the 21st just past. Perhaps they did. At the very least, they deserve their own reality TV show for it.

The Saucers Aren’t Always So Benevolent

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