Inmates in a women’s prison near the Chinese border are said to have experienced a “collective mass psychosis” so intense that their wardens summoned a priest to calm them. In a factory town east of Moscow, panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, kerosene, sugar and candles. A huge Mayan-style archway is being built — out of ice — on Karl Marx Street in Chelyabinsk in the south.
For those not schooled in New Age prophecy, there are rumors the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, when a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count in the Mayan calendar supposedly comes to a close. Russia, a nation with a penchant for mystical thinking, has taken notice.
In France, the authorities plan to bar access to Bugarach mountain in the south to keep out a flood of visitors who believe it is a sacred place that will protect a lucky few from the end of the world. The patriarch of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church recently issued a statement assuring the faithful that “doomsday is sure to come,” but that it will be provoked by the moral decline of mankind, not the “so-called parade of planets or the end of the Mayan calendar.”In Panicky Russia, It’s Official: End of World Is Not Near (NYTimes)
More common are reports about panicky buying. In Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Buryatiya region, citizens have reportedly been hoarding food and candles to survive a period without light, following instructions from a Tibetan monk called the Oracle of Shambhala, who has been described on some Russian television broadcasts. A similar account appeared in a local newspaper in the factory town of Omutninsk, about 700 miles east of Moscow.
... Maria Eismont, a columnist for the newspaper Vedomosti, argued that the government’s recent embrace of archaic religious conservatism set the stage for apocalyptic thinking. At the blasphemy trial against the punk protest band Pussy Riot last summer, she noted, the young band members were sentenced in part on the basis of writings by Orthodox clerics from the seventh and fourth centuries.
“It would be unfair to consider Omutninsk a unique site of flourishing mysticism,” she wrote. “If Cossacks in operatic costumes march in downtown Moscow, and the State Duma is quite seriously considering introducing punishment for the violation of believers’ feelings, then why shouldn’t people living in a depressed town a thousand kilometers from Moscow not buy matches out of a fear of cosmic flares?”
As the first three weeks of December melt away, Russians will approach the deadline with their characteristic mordant humor. An entrepreneur in the Siberian city of Tomsk, for example, has sold several thousand gag emergency kits, a cleverly packaged $29 parcel including sprats, vodka, buckwheat, matches, candles, a string and a piece of soap.
The motto on the package offers a classic Russian commentary on the end of the world: “It can’t be worse.”
It's easy to dismiss such things as mass psychosis, but what they really are, I think, is harbingers. I think the underlying cause is a deep dissatisfaction with the whole enterprise of modern civilization. Simply put, it's not working for more and more people. The United States, Russia, China, The European Union, The Middle East - all of the world's major areas are in turmoil, and the pattern we've come to believe would last forever no longer seems to be giving us any meaning. This emptiness, this dismissal of our fundamental humanity, emerges in unexpected and irrational ways, such as the circumstances described above. I don't think these people really believe the world is going to end soon; I think they are in mental turmoil caused by society falling apart around them, and this is how their subconscious expresses this dissatisfaction. The fact that such thinking is common in Russia, a place where religion was suppressed for so long and that has gone through such a dramatic fall from grace is also telling. See also the United States' retreat into religious fundamentalism.
It's been said of depression that it's a natural response to something deeply wrong in a person's life that needs to change, but the inability to make that change is what causes the depression. I think that's also true at the level of whole societies, and that these moments of insanity are the outward expressions. These kinds of things always emerge on the cusp of periods of great change - history is replete with such periods. At a time when the underpinnings of mass-market industrial consumer society seems to have flown up a cul-de-sac, cognitive dissonance sets in and forces the human brain to develop new modes of thinking. Often these come out piecemeal, irrational, not fully formed, and generations pass before such ideas reshape society into something quite different. In my more lucid moments, I wonder if we're on the verge of a new axial age, and what will emerge on the other side.