End Times Prophecies — Prophets, Cults, Key Events
Global cultures abound with predictions of apocalyptic, end-of-the-world events.
Throughout history royals, and commoners alike have sought out guides that can predict the future, offer insights, and direct them along the right path. Whether they were making decisions about going to war, getting married, or wondering if the annual harvest will bear fruit—fortune tellers, mystics, oracles, seers and prophets, have been called upon across different cultures and civilizations. To this day people across the globe use the services of tarot readers, astrologers, shamans and palm readers to gain divine knowledge, and to reveal their destiny.
There are many references to the use of divination in ancient civilizations. One of the earliest accounts was the Prophecy of Neferti, written during the Middle Egyptian period (about 2025–1700 BCE). References to ancient celestial omens and astrology have also been found in Babylonian and potentially Sumerian texts. In Ancient Greece, the most famous oracle was that of Apollo at Delphi. The medium was a woman over the age of 50, known as the Pythia, who was used to forecast political actions and the outcomes of wars. Divine prophecy is also referenced in Aztec culture. In China the I Ching, or the Book of Changes, was written as a divination manual and contains a discussion of the divinatory system used by wizards during the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BCE).
The number of prophets that have predicted the end of the world are numerous. Nostradamus and Baba Vanga have been the subject of many documentaries, books and studies. The following selection reflects the variety of lesser-known prophets that have emerged over the centuries.
Ursula Southeil (1488–1561), commonly referred to as Mother Shipton, was a British prophet, also accused of being a witch. Her predictions supposedly foretold many events including the Great Fire of London and the death of Thomas Wolsey – the right-hand man to King Henry VIII. In 1862, long after Mother Shipton’s death, a book was published by the author Charles Hindley. The book stated that she had predicted that the world would come to an end in 1881. However, an investigation that year led to this theory being debunked with a potential motivation being to boost Hindley’s book sales.
Mary Bateman, also referred to as the Yorkshire Witch, used one of her chickens ‘The Prophet Hen of Leeds’, to make doomsday predictions. The hen reportedly laid eggs inscribed with words that referred to the second coming of Christ. She was found to be a fraud, using vinegar to etch into the eggs, before popping them back into the hen so witnesses could observe the freshly laid eggs – at a price.
Johannes Stöffler, a German mathematician and astronomer, predicted that on February 20, 1524, a great worldwide flood of enormous proportion would eradicate life on Earth, akin to that of Noah’s vision. Word spread across Europe and inspired Count von Iggleheim to build a three-story vessel on the Rhine. Unfortunately, with much anticipation, crowds gathered hoping to be saved. It is believed that when light rain started a riot ensued, which resulted in the Count being stoned to death.
Judgement Day, Doomsday, Ragnarok, Armageddon, The End of Times, The Day of Reckoning – these are just a few names for the apocalyptic event, each originating from a different culture, religion, myth, legend, or cult. Most ancient civilizations and religions have some sort of story connected to the total destruction of humanity. Some apocalyptic predictions are tied to specific events, often originating from interpretations of celestial occurrences or dates significant to certain religious or historical calendars.
For more than 2000 years Halley’s Comet has been seen from Earth. The comet makes its journey around the sun, returning every 76 years. It was last observed in 1986, which means it is due to return in 2061. In the past sightings of comets and other celestial apparitions have had meanings attributed to them such as messages or omens from the gods.
The comet has been documented by civilizations throughout history through texts and art. The 87 BCE passing of Halley, inspired the Armenian King Tigranes to go into battle against the Romans, with coins from the era placing the comet upon his crown. In England, in 1066, stonemasons working on Crowland Abbey viewed the passing and a carving of the comet was placed high on a wall. The same passing inspired its inclusion in the Bayeux Tapestry, which documented the Norman conquest of England. The 1301 passing was thought to have inspired Florentine painter Giotto di Bondone, to paint the star of Bethlehem in his Scrovegni Chapel fresco.
In 1910, astronomers at the Yerkes Observatory in the United States, used the technique of spectroscopy to analyze the composition of Halley’s Comet. The astronomers discovered the presence of a colorless and highly toxic gas called cyanogen, in the comet’s tail. This discovery stirred hysteria among Americans and Europeans, with many people believing that when the comet returned later that year it would discharge dangerous gasses from its tail, poisoning all life on Earth. Sales boomed in masks, oxygen supplies and ‘comet pills’ which were marketed as offering protection against the dangerous gasses.
Doomsday prophecies have been connected to many different religions and sects. The second coming of Christ has been a common, recurring thread in apocalyptic scenarios.
Montanism was a movement founded by the prophet Montanus that arose in the 2nd century. The story goes that upon converting to Christianity, he arrived in Ardabau, a small village in Phrygia (modern day Turkey) in around 156 CE. It was said that he proceeded to fall into a trance and prophesy under the influence of the Spirit. His influence grew as did his followers. They held the belief that the second coming of Christ was imminent and the end of the world was approaching.
Baptist preacher William Miller proclaimed that Christ would return between 1843–1844 and this event would result in Earth being engulfed in flames. Around 100,000 of his followers fled to a mountain site to await the end. When Christ didn’t show any sign of his arrival Miller pushed the date back a few times.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian offshoot with around 8.7 million followers around the world, prophesied that 1914 would mark the end.
American Christian radio host Harold Camping dated Christ’s return and Judgment Day to happen in 1994, which was pushed back to 1995, and further back to 2011. He passed away in 2013 without seeing his predictions realized.
Another astronomical occurrence that has inspired doomsday prophecies is focused around planetary alignments.
In 1919, Albert F. Porta claimed that the alignment of the planets would cause a dangerous sunspot to form and cause disasters all over the world on December 17 of the same year. He claimed to be a noted sunspot scientist, a meteorologist and an astronomer, whilst writing for a variety of newspapers in the US. These credentials were self-appointed and he had no support from the scientific community.
In 1982, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto lined up. As with previous occurrences, the run up to this celestial event sparked doomsday theories that the gravitational pull would cause solar flares and earthquakes to occur, particularly along California’s San Andreas fault, wreaking havoc.
Another theory connected to the planets is the incoming Planet X, Nibiru or Planet 9. The belief that a previously hidden planet is either on a crash-cause with Earth, or it will at least come close enough in orbit that it will cause immense damage. In fact, astronomers at Caltech do believe that there could be another planet out there that is having an effect on the planets within our solar system.
In the run up to the year 2000, fears mounted that there would be a technological melt down as our systems may not recognize 00 to mean 2000 but instead 1900 or 0000. The potential ‘bug’ was considered a threat to both the software and hardware in power plants, banks, transportations, nuclear sites, government offices and national security systems. If these systems were compromised it could have had devastating consequences. The crisis was averted by changing the date to a four-digit number.
Finally, the most publicized doomsday theory of recent times was in 2012 and the ending of the Mayan calendar. On December 21, 2012, the Mayan calendar, which was started in 3114 BCE, reached the end of a 5126-year-old cycle. Speculation ahead of the calendar’s end date grew, with many believing that the Maya must have known about an impending astronomical disaster in 2012.
In 1996, two scholars – Brown University’s Stephen Houston and University of Texas at Austin’s David Stuart – made a translation of glyphs that they believed indicated that a Mayan god would descend at the end of the cycle. They later changed this theory but not before further panic was added. Disaster movies such as 2012 also fed into the conspiracy theory that an elite sect of humanity would be saved from an oncoming cataclysmic event, leaving the rest to perish.
However, instead of marking the end of times, the calendar was in fact signaling the end of an old cycle and the beginning of a new one.
Doomsday cults are a special type of horrifying religious group that have particularly devastating beliefs. Many of their groups are led by charismatic cult leaders that wield great power and influence over the members with terrifying consequences. These are some of the most tragic events connected to cults in recent times.
Cult leader Jim Jones predicted that the world would be destroyed as a result of nuclear fallout on July 15, 1967. When this date passed and the apocalypse hadn’t occurred, the leader directed his followers to a site in Guyana that would become known as ‘Jonestown’ and the new home of People’s Temple. On November 18, 1978, more than 900 members committed suicide there. Although the motive may not have been an approaching doomsday, it was certainly featured within the history of Jones’s teachings.
Cult leader Shoko Asahara preached a different type of doomsday prophecy to the members of his group Aum Shinrikyo. He convinced them that the world was about to face World War Three and humanity would be wiped out – apart from Aum members. During the morning rush hour in Tokyo, on March 20, 1995, members of the cult left five bags of liquid nerve agent on busy trains. Victims were quickly struck down with symptoms of choking, vomiting, being blinded and paralyzed. At least 5800 members of the public were injured and 13 killed.
Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles convinced members of their Heaven’s Gate cult that the only way to evacuate Earth and ascend to heaven or the ‘Next Level’ would be if they committed suicide. They believed that the Hale–Bopp comet was a sign that a UFO was coming to take them away and transform them into immortal extraterrestrial beings. On March 26, 1997, police found 39 members of the group dead.
In recent news, over 300 followers of the cult Good News International Church, led by Paul Mackenzie, have been found dead in Nairobi, Kenya. More than 600 people are still reported missing. Mackenzie has been accused of ordering his followers to starve themselves and their children to death. This was to ensure they will go to heaven before the end of the world occurs. Mackenzie has so far spared himself the luxury of heaven and is alive in police custody.
In various periods of time certain stresses on communities, societies and civilizations have caused an increase in fear and uptake on apocalyptic thoughts. These ideas have been reflected within popular culture, especially through art and movies.
Throughout history artists have created terrifying visions of doomsday including: John Martin and his many apocalyptic paintings including one titled The Great Day of His Wrath (1851–3), Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment (1536–1541) and Gustave Dore’s Vision of Valley of Dry Bones (1886).
During the Cold War, the prospect of a nuclear fallout was reflected in TV shows such as Threads in the UK. Advances in the ability to see space in more detail and observe a growing number of objects that could collide with Earth equaling a dinosaur scale wipe out, alongside an increase in the severity of natural disasters due to climate change has caused a boom in the disaster movie genre including titles such as: Armageddon, The Core, Don’t Look Up, Melancholia, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. Population booms, shortages of resources, pandemics, political instability, pollution, disparities in society and the development of AI are other triggers that could probably correlate to the phenomenon.
‘Preppers’ went into hyperdrive in the run up to 2012 and the survivalist market has continued to grow (especially in the wake of the pandemic). According to an analysis made in 2020 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the US, more than 20 million Americans were actively planning for an emergency. People are willing to pay a lot of money to safeguard their futures, investing in survival food packs, bunkers, super trucks, specialist tools, air purifiers, protective clothing, weapons and medical packs.
The next end of the world predictors to watch out for include: Heinz von Foerster, who predicted in an article back in 1960 in the publication Science, that overpopulation would cause the end of humanity in 2026. The same year has also been marked by the Messiah Foundation International, a spiritual organization that believes an asteroid will collide with Earth, and Christian fundamentalist Kent Hovind predicts 2028 to be the year of the Rapture.
Good luck out there!