from the Reformation through the 19th century
Page 2 of 3
1665 CE - One would assume that the people of London had quite enough to deal with that year (what with the re-emergence of the Plague and all) without having to listen to the frenzied End Times shriekings of Quaker Solomon Eccles. Yet, there he was, tramping about town ranting to anyone who'd listen that the Black Death was merely the opening salvo in God's planned final assault on the sinful. Like there's nothing people covered in big, sore, running boils would rather hear than, "Guess what, mate? Now, it's really gonna get narsty!" Bad luck for Sol, the plague started to abate and left a few people feeling chipper enough to shut him up and toss his behind in jail.
1666 CE - Okay, you just had to know this was going to be a problem year. I mean, just look at those last three digits! The number of the Beast printed out plainly in black and white. (or, depending on your browser, a light and mellow yellow on black) And talk about your signs and portents: Bloody civil war in England, followed by a bout of the Plague and topped off by the Great London Fire. People must have been collapsing to their knees in the streets and crying for mercy to Almighty God every few steps or so. They must have been quailing in terror at the very sight of a calendar displaying the demonic date... Weren't they?
Actually, no. Oh, true, there were a few stray flakes roaming about here and there, babbling on about that year's Satanic numerals. But none of them got much of a following. Apparently, most people were just too busy with the day to day business of surviving to get all wound up over some esoteric arithmetic. Oddly enough, the big apocalyptic magilla that year was taking place off in the Ottoman Empire amongst the members of the Jewish community. It seems a Kabbala-happy Jewish mystic named Shabbetai Tzevi had been running around convincing a distressing number of people that he was the Messiah and that he had come to lead the Chosen People back unto Israel while (get this) "riding on the back of a giant lion with a seven-headed dragon in its jaws". Mighty impressive, really. Especially when you consider that most people's cats never bring home anything more exciting than a dead squirrel.
For several years, the Shab-man went from town to town ranting about destiny, miracles-to-come and his advent to full-fledged Messiahood, all of which was to occur in 1648... No, make that 1665... No, on second thought, that's 1666. Now, logic, you may have noticed, has nothing to do with movements of this kind. So, despite having never, ever produced a single promised miracle, or even a mono-headed dragon, Shabbetai acquired an enormous and rabidly loyal following from all over the Middle East and many parts of Europe.
Emboldened by his success, he led a mighty contingent of "His People" to Constantinople where he proceeded to act like a complete nudnik. He was constantly threatening and kvetching and making demands on the Sultan that got more mashugah every day. The Sultan merely responded by having him kidnapped and brought to his palace where he made Tzevi an offer he couldn't refuse: Convert to Islam and accept a cushy palace job with an obscenely huge salary or have his head lopped off. Surprisingly practical as messianic fruitcakes go, Tzevi opted for keeping his kopella, forgetting all this messiah mishagas and switching brands.
1689 CE - Down in the south of France, the Huguenots were revolting. (No, don't even go there...) Calling themselves the Camisards, they rose up against the oppression they'd suffered under Louis XIV. One sort of wonders why they bothered, since they considered their suffering to be absolutely essential as divine preparation for the coming millennium. Under the circumstances, you'd think they'd have thanked Louis for doing them such a favor... sent him a nice gift basket or something... In any case, one of the better-known Camisards, a fellow named Pierre Jurieu made an ominous prediction for Judgment Day falling on this year. Well, while it wasn't the best of times, it wasn't the worst of times, either.
1673 CE - Deacon William Aspinwall of New England's General Court predicted that the world would meet its well-deserved demise no later than 1673. Typical politician, to renege on a campaign promise.
1694 CE - Anglican rector John Mason took time out from any useful occupation to weave together bits and pieces of apocalyptic nonsense by Bishop Ussher and Johann Alsted. All this time was wasted so he could predict the millennium would begin this year. When that didn't pan out, little Johnny began to weave together bits and pieces from the funny voices in his head and began making all sorts of strange predictions. One of the most popular was the prediction that he wouldn't die. It turned out to be such a crowd-pleaser that even after he did go belly-up, his followers insisted that he'd be popping back, all smiles, in three days time. Eventually, they just stopped counting.
Also in 1694 CE - German prophet Johann Jacob Zimmerman got the idea that the End would be arriving this year and that the big moment's ground zero was located in the untamed wilds of America. Germantown, PA, to be specific. In a typical display of poor planning that so many prophets are given to, Jo up and died before he could lead his band of merry followers to the Promised Land. It fell to Johannes Kelpius, a mystic of the University of Altdorf with a special fondness for hermetical cave-dwelling, to take up the reigns of terminal tour guide. The cult he led was made up entirely of men. So, naturally, they decided to call themselves "The Society of Women In The Wilderness". They spent the bulk of their time praying, meditating, practicing alchemy and peering longingly through a primitive telescope set on their communal cabin's rooftop looking for signs of the imminent Endrunde. When the expected arrival time came and went, the "Women" disbanded in disappointment and went back home to Germany... Likely, in part, to work out some sensitive gender issues.
1697 CE - Puritan preacher Cotton Mather, a perfect example of what too much religion can do to an otherwise healthy brain, determined that all the prerequisites had been met for Jesus' big Homecoming. A gala event he insisted would be scheduled for this year. One hopes he didn't invest too much on the tux and corsage.
1700 CE - When politics and religion meet, the results are almost always disastrous. Sometimes they can also be pretty funny. And occasionally they can be both. One example of Option 3 took place in England in the last half of the seventeenth century not long after King Charles I and his head went their separate ways. A group of Puritan extremists calling themselves The Fifth Monarchy Men (for Biblical reasons too obscure to bother going into) very nearly wrested control of Parliament in an effort to turn the country into an anti-intellectual, neo-medieval, theocratic hell-hole that any modern Fundamentalist would be proud of. Their ultimate aim was to destroy every known secular institution and civil law and replace them all with Biblical variations. All of which they were certain would please "King Jesus" no end when he returned in 1700 to rule his earthly roost.
Few in number though they were, they managed to place themselves in enough key positions to do some serious damage and even got the House Of Commons to publish a loony declaration of their favorite coming apocalypse. After a brief promising start, however, they quickly wore out their welcome. Eventually, even Oliver Cromwell stopped taking their calls and the "saints" (as they modestly dubbed themselves) of the FMM found themselves shoo'ed off to the political margins. Pretty soon, they had nothing better to do than hold sour grapes meetings in hinterland locations where they plotted out the details of King Jesus' coronation ceremony and the bloody overthrow of Satan's MPs.
During one of these vengeful hyperbole-fests, fifty soldiers marched in and quite matter-of-factly arrested the formerly formidable "saints" who, rather than bloodily overthrowing so much as a step stool, were reduced to howling things like, "Lord! Appear now or never for confounding of these, thine and our enemies!!!" as the soldiers (inexplicably unimpeded by any Divine materialization) dragged them out the door, their wives helpfully cheering, "Hold on, ye sons of Syon!" from the sidelines. For the next couple of years, pitiful little clusters of Fifth Monarchists popped up here and there threatening violent overthrow of the wicked government, only to get slapped down good and hard for their troubles. In the end, forty of them were killed in a skirmish with soldiers and their last leader, a certain Thomas Venner, made sure to make the standard psychotic's announcement that he was Christ just before being publicly hanged.
1704 CE - The term "Renaissance Man" has its limits and Cardinal Nicholas de Cusa exemplified them. A scholar, mathematician, astronomer, botanist, philosopher, cartographer, author and supporter of the arts, Nicky was also a theologian and a hard-line promoter of the most conservative Catholic doctrine. He was also a big-time End Times fan and even without the Vatican to back him on it, was certain enough about his own calculations to publicly announce that the millennium was scheduled to arrive in 1704, sharp. As he, himself died in 1464, he was never in any danger of having to publicly own up to the schedule change.
1716 CE - Having been stood up back in '97, Cotton Mather set his newest date for the Second Coming for this year... and was left to be a wallflower once again.
May 19, 1719 CE - Jakob Bernoulli (yes, that Bernoulli - of the Bernoulli Numbers system) predicted apocalyptic results from the return of a comet that had been spied back in 1680. Not only was the apocalypse a no-show, so was the comet.
1736 CE - Assuming the third time had to be the charm, Cotton Mather set his eyes on this date as Christ's Comeback. Fortunately for Cotton, he died eight years before he could have his heart broken, again.
October 13, 1736 CE - You'd think Londoners would have learned by now not to get all bent every time some nutter predicts a Great Flood, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong. Newton's successor at Cambridge U, the theologian and math wiz, William Whiston let loose with an aquatic apocalypse warning and before you could say, "Willy's blowing it out his ark" the Thames filled up with boatloads of goggle-eyed nincompoops staring vainly at the sky.
1757 CE - Emanuel Swedenborg, who might have ended up as one of the great contributors to the field of science had he not been a mid-life victim of brain-in-a-blender religious fanaticism, started holding what would become a life-long series of deeply meaningless conversations with God and the angels. It was during one of these heart-to-hearts, that the seraphs 'fessed up how the world would be coming to a glorious, Technicolor End in the year 1757. Manny, who didn't have to be asked twice to publish his opinions on anything of a heavenly-drenched nature, promptly set quill to paper to spread the news. A lesser ego might not have weathered the crushing disappointment of having the world not come to its appointed end, but Manny proved to be a mystic with moxey to spare. Undaunted, he went on to spend the rest of his life dribbling sweet, spiritual nothings into tome after tome. He even inspired his own posthumous (though not apocalyptic, that I'm aware of) cult, which ooohs and ahhs over his blitherings even to this very day.
April 6, 1761 CE - In Englishman William Bell's considered opinion, his many years of experience as a soldier of the crown, scholar of the Bible and wighead of the first water gave him all the background he needed to be a top-flight seismologist. He put these skills together brilliantly by deducing that, since twenty-eight days had elapsed between the earthquake of February 8 and a second earthquake on March 8, in exactly twenty-eight days more, the entire world would be shaken, not stirred to its sinful, rubble-strewn doom. To Bell's mind, the date for the apocalypse was clearly April 5. To the minds of a few others, he was clearly four days late. Still, once again, crowds of Londoners on the seriously low end of the learning curve scampered out of town and onto boats to await the End. When April 5 gave way to April 6 without so much as a 1.3 shimmy on the Richter scale, the unamused (and possibly seasick) citizenry marched back into town, pitched Bell's keister into the Bedlam nuthatch and threw away the key.
1792 CE - An offshoot of the pacifist Quaker sect, the Shakers can be credited with having produced many an interesting invention: The circular saw, the screw propeller, the common clothes pin, some excellent furniture and Ann Lee, a.k.a. Mother Ann, a.k.a. The Earthly Incarnation Of The Female Aspect Of Christ. Mama Lee was quite convinced, as were her many followers, that her very existence in the world ushered in the millennium. A detail the New England authorities showed little appreciation for when they slapped her in jail for treason. She was eventually released and even showed what a good sport she was about it by touring the countryside "miracle" curing the sick. Oddly, she didn't have much luck with miracles on her own behalf and died at the age of forty-eight, eight years shy of the world's supposed end.
1795 CE - Richard Brothers was what the English politely refer to as "an eccentric"... and what they more accurately refer to as "a flaming loony-bird". Ricky was another one of those folks who stand as living proof that you need never be truly alone so long as you have enough voices in your head. One of those voices was, naturally, God and Ricky could not have been happier when "God" told him that the millennium was a'comin' and that he, personally, had been tabbed to lead the ten lost tribes back to Israel! Of course, God also wanted him to be crowned king of England! Must have been quite a tough choice for ol' Rick: Lead the lost tribes...? ...Wear the crown...? ...Lead the lost tribes...? ...Wear the crown...? Decisions, decisions... It turned out to be the authorities who made up his mind for him when they tossed him into local loony-bin where he whiled away the rest of his days planning his New Jerusalem and scribbling out prophecies in crayon with his toes.
1800 CE - The French Revolution inspired quite a number of things: Like the Reign of Terror, for instance. It also inspired the Catholic prophetess Suzette Labrousse to announced that le millénium would be arriving precisely on this year... The British, the Austrians, the Swiss and the Spanish would likely have disagreed.
1801 CE - The late astrologer Pierre Turrel's third guess. Hmnn... well, this was the year Ceres, the largest asteroid in our solar system was discovered and as everyone knows, asteroids are a favorite mode de la mort of the Armageddon-hypers. And at 440 miles around, if Ceres ever did go flying in our general direction, it would definitely be au revoir cruel world for all concerned. So,... ohhh, what the hey,... I'm gonna be nice and call this one a foul ball.
1805 CE - Way back when Cromwell was Lord Protectoring it over England, Presbyterian Puritan Christopher Love came to the conclusion that a world-wide earthquake would spell doom for the unsaved by 1805. Not exactly a party animal was Chris. In fact, he spent the bulk of his time giving seething fire and brimstone sermons and writing light and breezy treatises like, "A True Map of Man's Miserable Estate by Nature". It was perhaps this aura of cock-eyed optimism he radiated that finally drew the attention of the ax-happy authorities and in 1651 he was arrested for treason, tried, convicted and severed from both this vale of sorrows and his head.
1809 CE - Forget your astrological signs, forget your four horsemen of the apocalypse, forget your divine visions, your inner voices and your heavenly portents of doom. Mary Bateman, fortune-teller extraordinaire, had something that outshined them all; Mary Bateman had... a magic chicken. Yes, that's right; a magic chicken. The magicalness of said chicken lay (if you'll excuse the expression) in its propensity for popping out prophetic eggs. One of which came with the message that the world's timer was just about ready to go off. Naturally, it created quite a stir and the public made a mad scramble to beat a path to her door. The excitement was short-lived, however, as a hard-boiled skeptic who'd smelled something rotten about the story, decided to make an unannounced visit and caught Mary in the act of trying to stuff an egg up th- ...um,... well,... let's just say she was giving the bird... the bird. Mary accused the intruder of poaching on her territory, but to no avail. The scam had been cracked wide open and she and her prophetic poultry were out of the Doomsday business for good. Yet, all was not lost, as Mary still had her regular old fortune-telling gig to help her keep her sunny side up. That is, until she was hanged for poisoning a rich client. Pity... And just as she was coming out of her shell, too...
1814 CE - Oh, somewhere in the mists of Time our Doomsday waits, y'know.
England, 1814 CE - Joanna Southcott had a face that only a Savior could love. So, maybe it was all about over-compensation. A damaged ego in an uncaring world, thwarted ambition in a class-stratified culture, the cry of a tortured psyche in a... oh, what the hell, the woman was a walking fruitcake factory.
Convinced at an early age that she was a prophetess, an exorcist, God's little magic Band-Aid and... oh, yes... Jesus Christ's wife, Joanna made quite a name for herself in England of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries. Her prophetic act, in which she'd make important-sounding pronouncements accompanied by dramatic fits, were hugely popular and her nagging of public officials and churchmen to heed her warnings always got lots of press. Her main message was pure millennialist, of course. The End was always something just around the corner... vaguely... and only she had the inside skinny on when and how and most importantly, who and where.
Ever heard the expression "a ticket to paradise"? Well, guess what? Joanie gets the credit for it. One of her better scams was the selling of special stamped certificates (at a mere 21 shillings a piece) that enabled the holder to receive one guaranteed salvation from the Lord! Space limited to 144,000. Non-refundable, non-transferable. Payment must be received on or before death. Employees and immediate family of God not eligible. Offer expires after Rapture.
Unfortunately for Joanna, when one of her salvation tickets was found clutched tightly in the lifeless hand of an executed murderess, their market value dropped to an unrecoverable low. Still, all was not lost. Joanna yet had her health, her gift of prophecy and her baby. Yes, that's right, although Joah... excuse me, Mrs. Christ was 65 years old and still a virgin, she was happy to announce to all and sundry that she was with child. And not just any child, either; with Messiah mark II, who she planned to name Shiloh... or maybe Tiffany, if it was a girl.
Anyroad, the local papers made merciless fun of the whole thing, but the faithful ponied up in droves to buy the new Mom bucketloads of baby gifts. After months and months went by with no sign of the divine bundle of joy, even the most faithful began to doubt. Joanna herself continued to insist that she was pregnant... or, possibly, dying. The latter proved to be the correct prophecy when, with her health failing precipitously, she expired on December 27th 1814. An autopsy later showed (insert gasps of surprise, here) no signs of pregnancy, whatever.
But wait! There's more! Just prior to her death, Joanna handed over a sealed box to her closest disciples claiming it contained nothing less than the prophecy for the millennium foretold in the Apocalypse of St. John, plus the secret to world peace! The hitch was, it could not be opened until the world was in crisis. Even then, the opening could not take place unless it was attended by twenty-four bishops of the Church of England. Which was kind of a round-about way of saying, "never". In 1927, the psychical researcher Harry Price took a surreptitious look-see into the mystery chest and found nothing in the way of prophecies, but rather, what appeared to be Joanna's last practical joke. The contents comprised of a horse pistol, a dice box, a purse, several books, a lottery ticket and a night cap. Her devoted followers denied that any such things had been found, or even that the box had been opened. The box continues to remain, wrapped and ready, in the possession of The Panacea Society, a group formed of eternally optimistic Southcottians who continue to marvel over her "wisdom" even to the present day.
October 14, 1820 CE - Speaking of those Southcottians, one of Joanna's disciples, John Turner took over leadership of the group in Bradford after her death. Unlike his mentor, John was sorely lacking in the sparkle and pizzazz department. The only claim to fame he had was his professed prophetic abilities. So, when his big prophecy for the End Of The World fizzled, so did his position as Southcottian head honcho.
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