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Forecasting the Apocalypse

“Some say the world will end in fire / some say in ice.”—Robert Frost

“There will come a season,” the Buddha warns in a Pali canon sermon, “when after hundreds of thousands of years rains will cease.” Six new suns will appear, evaporating all water until, finally, “the earth will blaze with fire until it becomes one mass of flame.”

When this era comes to an end, as a Hindu Purana composed around the sixth century explains, the world will be set ablaze by a strengthening sun, then drowned by hundreds of years of torrential rain.

According to the Book of Revelation, after the breaking of the seventh seal, an angel will hurl a censer filled with fire down to the earth, causing “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a severe earthquake.”

“In the end,” says the Egyptian demiurge Atum in a thirteenth-century bc Book of the Dead, “I will destroy everything that I have created. The earth will become again part of the Primeval Ocean, like the abyss of waters in their original state.”

Several ancient Taoist texts predict that a flood will result in “eighty thousand drowned people” roaming the land as vengeful ghosts. “What can be done?” asks one early fifth-century scripture. “The people are to be pitied.”

A sixteenth-century manuscript of Aztec myths explains that the world has ended four times, after the deaths of previous suns. “This fifth sun” will come to the same end, and “the earth shall move, there shall be famine, then we shall perish.”

Prior to Ragnarok, the world-destroying battle of the gods in Norse mythology, will be a three-year Great Winter, and then the sun will be devoured by a monstrous wolf. “There are wind ages, wolf ages,” predicts a thirteenth-century Icelandic poem, “ere the world falls dead.”

One of three cataclysms described in Hopi mythology begins with the earth being knocked off its rotational axis. “Mountains plunged into seas with a great splash, seas and lakes sloshed over the land. And as the world spun through cold and lifeless space, it froze into solid ice.”