As everyone knows by now, the world is coming to an end in about a month. The Mayans say so. People everywhere are looking for a viable escape plan. Many believe that a mountain in France, Pic de Bugarach, where UFOs have been sighted, is really a kind of dome covering a huge flying saucer hangar that will open up on Doomsday to reveal a giant spaceship that will take all its passengers to another world. The French government is concerned that legions of idiots will converge on the mountain and create difficulties before dying of hunger, thirst, accident, or suicide; so the area will be closed off.This is not the first time that the world has ended and believers have sought the high ground — in fact, this has been a fairly common event over the centuries. One such doomsday was prophesized in Chicago in 1954 by Dorothy Martin who was receiving messages from an alien being named Sananda. Most of humanity was to be wiped out by a huge flood on December 21 and those who would be saved needed to build a special altar on a mountain top where a flying saucer would land and carry them away. A group of believers formed around Martin and the mountain idea was abandoned. The altar became Martin’s sun porch where the group would wait for the saucers to carry them away. Among the people joining the group were students of a sociologist named Leon Festinger. These were not believers, these were skeptics who wanted to study the group’s dynamics when the great deluge did not materialize.
Festinger published his findings as When Prophecy Fails and it is regarded as a classic by social scientists. The members of the Chicago group have their names changed — Dorothy Martin became Marian Keech, for example — and the locale was shifted to an imaginary city in Michigan.
Many of the group are from a nearby college. Some are students and some employed by the school. The other members have disparate backgrounds. One, called Bob Eastman in the book, has led a “rough” life after leaving the military and sounds somewhat like the Joaquin Phoenix character in The Master. The group appears to do him some good — he gives up alcohol and tobacco and settles down a bit; he has direction and purpose. What the group members have in common is a desire to find a spiritual path for themselves. They called themselves “Seekers”.
Festinger thought that the dissonance of having their beliefs shown to be false — at least in terms of the prophecy — might lead to several possible outcomes. One of these would be a shift to trying to convince others to join them. Festinger references similar groups throughout history and very specifically mentions Christianity. At any rate, the group of seekers had been very cautious about bringing in new members and rigorously examined anyone wanting to join. But when the alien spaceships did not arrive, the group members began attempting to convert others to their beliefs. Dorothy Martin went on to found a group called the Association of Sananda which is still active today.It is easy enough to laugh at the delusions of people seeking spiritual comfort but the book avoids that. Certainly there is some pathos:
The Armstrongs’ son, who had never believed firmly but who was committed to the ideology by his parents’ actions, awoke on the morning of the 21st to listen to the news and then returned to bed where he remained, face to the wall and uncommunicative for almost the rest of the day.
So the lesson is, after December 21 there will be a host of people trying to convince you that the Mayan prophecy was the real deal, just misinterpreted. They will have groups and texts and websites. Before you react to them remember this: December 21 is when the sun dies. Thus it has been for millennia and humans have often felt called upon to assist the solar rebirth — sometimes with human sacrifice. UFOs are a far more genial form of delusion and I don’t want to mock them too much for fear that seekers will find a darker path.