Prophesy: Religious and otherwise

Another technical meaning of revelation is the unveiling of a momentous event or events to occur in the future. It is in this sense that the term is used in the Christian Book of Revelation. Here it is declared that there will come a time when people of evil nature "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone…" But it also assures us that God will wipe away all tears from the eyes of the good, and that "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain…." This very unhappy prospect for the evil ones as well as the hope of eventually finding ourselves in a better world, both have their echoes in other religions as well. Thus, there is a prophesy in the Hindu tradition by which Vishnu will appear as the stupendous Kalki, riding a mammoth white horse, effulgent as a comet in our vicinity. With his sword and axe and a roaring rumble he will put an end to the world filled with sin and evil, and re-establish a reign of order and righteousness.

Some vaticinations express matters of only parochial concerns. Thus, the so-called Christian Legend, apparently originating from a certain Jacob of Serugh, declared that "The Huns shall go forth and conquer the countries of the Romans and of the Persians, and shall cast arrows ......, and shall return and enter their won land. Also, ….. at the conclusion of eight hundred and twenty six years, the Huns shall go forth by the narrow way which goes forth opposite Halôrâs, where the Tigris goes forth like the stream which turns a mill, and they shall take captives the nations, and shall cut off the roads, and shall make the earth tremble by their going forth. And again I have …. prophesied that it shall come to pass, at the conclusion of nine hundred and forty years,.... the world shall come to an end by the command of God the ruler of creation…."

The an­cient notion that the world would be periodically con­sumed by an all-gulping deluge, only to be reborn fresh and fertile once again has persisted. In the medieval world, the Arab mathematician Al-Battan computed the time of the origin of the world in terms of celestial configurations and made the prediction that it will all come to an abrupt end when planetary conjunctions next occurred in the constellation of Pisces. But this date was way into the distant future, and no one was really concerned.

Again, in the year 992, when Good Friday and the Day of our Lady coincided, astrologers were let loose to interpret this simultaneous occurrence in terms of global disasters. It happened that the volcano Vesuvius erupted soon thereafter, there occurred an epidemic, and then there were the Huns and the Normans rampaging all over Europe. It was not difficult to see in all of these forebodings of the imminent ultimate catastrophe; all the more so, since the round number year of 1000 A.D. was fast approaching. Perhaps because imagi­nation is given free rein in this case, news of events yet to happen often has greater impact on the masses than of things that have already occurred, unless the latter can be used to incite people to something exciting. And so, panic struck whole townships in Europe, crowds thronged to places of worship, communal prayers became more than a habit, and a terrified population genuflected with more terror than hope. But no one was surprised when the fateful year came and went away without any noticeable effect on the large scale features of planetary life. The sun and the moon rose and set; seasons changed, flowers blossomed in spring, birds chirped in peaceful indifference, and feudal lords held their sway over the serfs. World and man were here to stay.

Predictions of natural disasters are often based on astrology. Thus, for example, in 1179 an astrologer by the name of John of Toledo predicted on the basis of his data that within the next seven years the planets would all align themselves with the constellation Libra. From this he concluded, or rather stated categorically, that the earth would experience some of the most devastating earthquakes which would crush sinning humankind un­derground. Once again the dismal news of a future event spread far and wide, and the panic-stricken reactions were no less intense than two centuries earlier. Underground shelters were dug up, days of repentance and atonement were declared, palaces closed their doors tight, and people fasted and prayed. One might argue that all this proved to be very effective, for even though the planetary conjunction did occur in 1186, no major catastrophe marred the normal course of life in Europe or beyond.

In 1524, according to expert astrological insights again, the world was going to be sub­merged in a massive deluge. There is reason to believe that this dire prediction did not come to pass either. But it did cause its share of panic, pandemonium, and consequent prayer. That the awesome flooding did not occur has not prevented others from making or believing in similar disasters time and time again [23].

Blaming planets for terrestrial mishaps is not the prerogative of astrology. A modern book entitled The Jupiter Effect, co-authored by a Ph.D. in astrophysics, predicted with that there would be a most devastating earthquake in Los Angeles in 1982: this, because all the nine planets would align themselves on the same side of the sun, and the combined gravitation of all these celestial bodies would spell disaster on the crust on the Californian coast. The author wrote in the tone of a real scientist: "The unusual alignment due to occur in the early 1980's will affect the sun. This in turn shakes up the planet earth. But we realized while studying the repercussions in the area of earthquakes that the link works through the atmosphere. What we are really talking about is an effect of the sun on the circulation of the atmosphere. This determines weather pattern shifts."

Other predictions of such magnitude and more have also arisen from the minds and pens of more serious scientists. Thus the astronomer Martin Rees, in a very jolting book, has described the current phase of human history as our Final Hour. On the other hand, the geneticist Bryan Sykes is telling us that in little over 125 thousand years, there will be no more males of the human species.

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