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.

The Divination Phenomenon

A painting of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat with various animals and people around it. The ark is a large wooden boat with a house-like structure on top. The background shows mountains and a cloudy sky. The painting is in a realistic style and a muted color palette. The image depicts a biblical scene of the great flood.
Noah’s Ark on the Mount Ararat by Simon de Myle, 1570, Wikimedia Commons

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.

Mother Shipton

Half-length portrait of Mother Shipton, facing left but looking to the right, with arms folded under her apron. She's adorned with a broad white collar and wears a large black hat over a cap. A small demon, her familiar, crouches on her left arm, its hand gently placed under her chin.
Mother Shipton, after Sir William Ouseley, 1804, The British Museum

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.

The Prophet Hen of Leeds

Full-length portrait of Mary Bateman, known as the Yorkshire Witch, seated to the left on a chair. In her right hand, she holds an oval object inscribed with “Crist is comin”. A table beside her displays a bottle marked “M. Bateman's / Balm & Gileard.”, an inkwell, quill pens, and a paper with”'W Rwvvi”. She is dressed in a bonnet, an apron over her dress, and a patterned scarf.
Mary Bateman commonly known by the appellation of the Yorkshire Witch, 1798, The British Museum

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

An illustration of a mathematician and astronomer Johannes Stöffler (Ioannes Stoflerus), holding a scroll and a book. The figure is wearing a robe and a hat. The image has text in Latin that identifies the figure as Johannes Stöffler, a 15th century German mathematician and astronomer. The image is in black and white and has a vintage style.
Johannes Stöffler (Ioannes Stoflerus), 1630, Wikimedia Commons

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.

The End of the World Approaches

A painting of a dramatic landscape with a fiery red sky and dark, rocky cliffs. The sky is a deep red with a bright orange glow in the center. The cliffs are dark and jagged. The bottom of the painting is a dark abyss with figures falling into it.
The Great Day of His Wrath by John Martin, 1851, Wikimedia Commons

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.

Halley’s Comet

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.

A photo of a Halley comet streaking across a starry night sky. The comet has a bright white head and a glowing tail. The background is a deep purple with many small white stars scattered throughout. The image is taken from a perspective that makes the comet appear large and close to the viewer.
Comet Halley as it appeared in 1986, NASA

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.

An image of the medieval Bayeux Tapestry tapestry made of beige fabric with colorful thread embroidery. The tapestry depicts men standing on a platform with a castle in the background. The men are looking at the Halley comet in the sky flying over a castle . The castle is red and white with blue flags on top.
11th century depiction from the Bayeux Tapestry illustrating the Battle of Hastings with Halley’s comet streaking across the sky, Wikimedia Commons

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. 

The Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the Apocalypse

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.

A painting of a man in a suit standing in a field with pumpkins on top of a hill. He is looking towards Jesus Christ in a purple robe standing in front of a golden gate in the sky. The sky is filled with dark clouds. The man is walking through a field of corn stalks and pumpkins. The background is a landscape of rolling hills and a village in the distance.
The Millerites anticipated Jesus’ appearance in the clouds in 1844

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.

Planetary Alignments 

Another astronomical occurrence that has inspired doomsday prophecies is focused around planetary alignments.

A black and white image of a newspaper clipping from the early 20th century. The headline reads “Tremendous World Catastrophe to Happen on Dec. 17?” The subheading reads “Professor Porta Insists That the Peculiar Grouping of the Planets Next Month Will Produce a Gigantic Sun Spot Which Will Explode the Earth’s Volcanoes, Shake Us with Earthquakes and Bury Us with Floods, but the Government Scientists Explain Why All This Is Not Likely to Happen.” The image shows a diagram of the solar system with the planets and the sun. The planets are labeled with their names and the sun is labeled “The Sun”. The diagram shows lines connecting the planets and the sun, indicating the “peculiar grouping” mentioned in the subheading. The image is faded and has some creases and tears, indicating its age.
Albert F. Porta prediction of disaster on December 17, 1919

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.

A photo realistic image of a blue planet in outer space. The planet is a deep blue color with a few white spots on it. The planet is surrounded by a black background with stars and galaxies. The planet is in the center of the image and is the main focus. The planet is slightly tilted to the right. The image is a 3D rendering of a planet in outer space.
Artist’s concept of a hypothetical planet (Planet X, Nibiru or Planet 9) orbiting far from the Sun, Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

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.

Y2K and the Millennium Bug

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.

An image of a magazine cover for Time magazine. The cover is dated January 18, 1999. The cover features a woman in a white dress with her arms outstretched, standing in the middle of a busy street. The woman is holding a sign that reads “The End of the World?!” in red letters. The background of the cover is a chaotic scene of cars and buildings, with the words “Panic Dont Panic” written in red letters. The cover also has text that reads “Y2K insanity! Apocalypse Now! Will computers melt down? Will society? A guide to MILLENNIUM MADNESS”. The image conveys a sense of fear and hysteria about the year 2000.
The End of the World, Jan. 18, 1999 issue, Time Magazine

The Mayan Calendar and 2012

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.

A photo of an ancient Mayan calendar stone. The stone is circular in shape and has intricate carvings on it. The center of the stone has a face with a tongue sticking out. The outer ring of the stone has various symbols and figures carved into it. The stone is a brownish color and appears to be made of a type of rock or clay. The background is black, which makes the stone stand out.
Mayan Calendar (Stone of the Sun), Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City, Wikimedia Commons

Doomsday Cults

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.

People’s Temple, 1978

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.

People’s Temple cult leader Jim Jones wearing sunglasses and a clerical collar. In the bottom right corner of the image is a logo of People’s Temple represented by a yellow star in a circle on a black background.
People’s Temple cult leader Jim Jones with a logo of People’s Temple, Wikimedia Commons

Aum Shinrikyo, 1995

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.

A photo of the cult leader Shoko Asahara with long black hair and beard after his arrest in 1995 with a logo of Aum in the top right corner.
Cult leader Shoko Asahara after his arrest in 1995, top right: logo of Aum

Heaven’s Gate, 1997

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.

A black and white photo of the two co-founders of Heaven’s Gate. Marshall Applewhite on the left is standing and Bonnie Nettles on the right is sitting. Marshall Applewhite is wearing a dark jacket and Bonnie Nettles is wearing a light-colored coat. There is a telephone on the desk in front of them. In the top right corner is a Heaven’s Gate logo. The logo has the word “Heaven’s” written in blue and the letter A is inside of a keyhole lock and is also part of the work “gate”.
Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, the two co-founders of Heaven’s Gate with Heaven’s Gate logo, 1974

Good News International Church, 2023 

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.

Paul Mackenzie looking at the viewer through green bars as he is being held in custody. At the bottom of the image the logo of the cult Good News International Church reads “Servant P.N. Mackenzie with End-Time Messages”.
Controversial preacher Paul Mackenzie of the cult Good News International Church was sentenced to life in prison

A Disaster Fetish

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).

An image of an oil painting by the artist John Martin titled “The Great Day of His Wrath”. The painting is a landscape with a dramatic sky and a dark foreground. The sky is filled with white and gray clouds, and the sun is shining through the clouds. The foreground is a dark landscape with a river running through it. The painting is a representation of the biblical end of the world, with the sky filled with angels and the earth being destroyed. The painting is in the romanticism style and was created in 1851-1853. The painting is currently located in the Tate Gallery in London, UK.
The Last Judgment by John Martin, 1853, Tate

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.

The End is Nigh

‘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.

A collage of three images of a bunker apartment complex. The first image is an exterior shot of the missile silo bunker. It is a concrete structure with a sloping roof and a circular logo. The missile silo is built into a hill and has grass growing on the roof. The second image is an interior shot of the kitchen. It has wooden cabinets and a large island with a sink and a cooktop. There are stainless steel appliances and a kitchen counter with chairs. The third image is an interior shot of a prepping storage with survival food in cans. It has black metal racks for storing the food cans. The floor is made of stone tiles.
Nuclear missile silo in Kansas transformed to luxury bunker apartments, Survival Condo

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!