Between broken nuclear proliferation agreements, warring global superpowers, and impending ecological collapse, the end of the world seems nigher than ever. At such times, humanity turns to religion. But which one to choose?
Beyond the big five, there are some religions most have never heard of let alone explored. So here’s a quick run-down of what they have to say when it comes to the end of the world — in order of how much we hope they got it wrong.
10. The Invisible Village of Ancestors (Dinka, Akan, and others)
African ancestral religions tend to lack a concept of apocalypse. But they’re still worth a mention for the alternative view they present. Instead of a slow but sure fall from grace toward a punishing and catastrophic end, they see only a “timeless infinity” in which humanity continues forever. The rain season and planting are followed by harvesting and the dry season followed by the rain season and planting and so on. Just like the waxing and waning of the moon, time is an endless rhythm.
Humans die, of course, but not completely. After death, the “righteous dead” join the “invisible world” of the “village of ancestors”. Righteousness is judged on respect for ancestral traditions and remembering the dead — in other words, continuity.
But this isn’t a future golden age as spoken of by apocalyptic religions. If anything, for African ancestral religions, the golden age lies in the past. After all, each year that passes only adds to the past so if eternity is anywhere, it’s there.
9. Oblivion (Yarsanism)
The Kurdish religion Yarsanism is a branch of the Cult of Angels. It doesn’t have a holy book. Instead, its teachings — and prophecies — are orally transmitted down the ages. Like other branches of the Cult of Angels, Yarsanism holds that souls transmigrate through various reincarnations. Starting out in inanimate objects and progressing through plants and non-human animals, the goal of this journey is purification culminating in a human body worthy of union with the Universal Spirit. Allowing for sins and regressive transmigrations, this process (known as dun ba dun, “oblivion to oblivion”) can take up to 1,000 lives or 50,000 years.
If after its 1,001st transmigration a soul remains non-human, it must await the Final Judgment or Pardivari, “the bridge crossing.”
Thus, unlike most other traditions on this list, the individual determines, by their conduct, the date of their personal apocalypse.
8. The End of the Era of Beasts (Daesoonjinrihoe)
Central to the Korean religion Daesoonjinrihoe (the Fellowship of Daesoon Truth) is a belief in two main eras of humanity: the Former World, seoncheon, which is full of transgressions, and the Later World, hucheon, which is full of goodness. The Former World, in which we live, is subdivided into “Six Stages of Waning Proximity from the Dao” that is, six eras of increasing corruption and chaos. These are the eras of: Divine Thearchs; Sagely Emperors; Heavenly-mandated Kings; Cunning Tyrants; Uncivilized Rulers; and, finally, Beasts.
We currently live in the last of these, the Era of Beasts, a time of maximum misalignment with the Dao. But this also means the Later World is imminent. Not everyone will get there, but those who do will live forever in eternal youth and abundance. When they open a chest, there will always be clothing and food. There will be no war, no jealousy, only peace for this “noble populace”.
There will nevertheless be rulers. But these rulers — 12,960 “noble individuals empowered by the Dao” — will be duty-bound to benevolence. Indeed, they only get to be rulers in the first place as a reward for their goodness. They are the highest of Daesoonjinrihoe devotees (of which there are more than two million), and may even come from outside the faith given sufficient cultivation of spirit.
7. The Dawning of the New Age (The Aetherius Society)
Founded in 1955 by London cab driver Dr. George King, the Aetherius Society believes extraterrestrials have long been guiding mankind — in the forms of Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, and others. But the central extraterrestrial is the Master Aetherius, who spoke through the Society’s founder. According to this being, the New Age is “being born this moment”; it’s up to us whether it’s pleasant or “a little unpleasant.” But either way, “the wheat will be sorted from the chaff.”
The apocalypse preceding the dawning of the New Age will involve various catastrophic changes, including an increase in natural disasters (check), a gradual decrease in the ionosphere (check), and a consequent increase in cosmic rays and UV radiation reaching the surface of our planet (check). In our current form, says the Aetherius Society, we are not spiritually evolved enough to benefit; these changes will kill us instead. But the next Master is on his way, and the Earth herself is set to alter her position in space. We are, according to the teachings of the Master Aetherius, at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius — a new golden era for humanity.
This vision of the end times differs considerably from that of Raëlism, another extraterrestrial religion. According to their prophet Raël, the development of nuclear weapons was the “sixth seal of the Apocalypse” and their use in nuclear war will be the seventh. At this point, our extraterrestrial creators the Elohim (Hebrew for “gods”) will not intervene. But they will clone, on the Planet of the Eternals, all humans fortunate enough to have had their “cellular plan” transmitted to Raël or one of his guides beforehand.
6. Ragnarok (Asatru)
Based on the ancient religion of the Norse, modern Asatru revives beliefs in the old Æsir gods — as well as their (and our) ultimate demise. Ragnarok literally means “Doom of the Gods” in Old Norse, but they’ll take the world of men, Midgard or “Middle Earth”, with them. In Norse mythology, the land of the gods, Asgard, is at the heart of Midgard. It’s also the site of the ash tree Yggdrasil, the death of which will mean the end of the world.
What we know of Ragnarok comes from two main sources, the 13th-century Prose Edda and the 10th-century poem Voluspa. First will come moral chaos, murder, and a harsh, cruel winter — the lightless Fimbulwinter — that will last three years. The wolf Skoll will swallow the sun and the wolf Hati will swallow the moon. The wolf Fenrir will be loosed from its bondage onto the world, as will Loki and the Midgard Wyrm. These and other giants, demons, and ghosts will attack Asgard from all directions and the gods will each fall as heroes. Their final moments are actually told in some detail: Thor will slay the Midgard Wyrm then stagger back nine paces and die from its venom; Loki and Heimdall will kill each other, as will Tyr and Garm, a hound from the underworld. And Odin will be swallowed by the wolf Fenrir. Freyr, armed only with a stag’s horn, will be killed by the giant Surtr who will then set about destroying the earth. Everything will be burned, including the “World-Tree” Yggdrasil. It’s not known when this will happen (although the Viking calendar is said to have set it for February 22, 2014).
However, new life will follow. The children of the gods (Odin’s sons Vidharr and Vali, Thor’s sons Modi and Magni, and others) will inherit Asgard. And from a new shoot of Yggdrasil, called “Treasure-Mimir’s Holt,” will emerge a woman named Lif (“Life”) and a man named Lifthrasir (“Stubborn Will to Live”). Together, they will repopulate the earth.
5. Apocalyptic War (Yezidism)
Another branch of the so-called Cult of Angels, an ancient belief system whose real name has been lost to history, Yezidism is a minority religion in Iraq. They worship the Peacock Angel, or Malak ????s, a fallen angel outsiders conflate with the Devil — hence Yezidis’ unfounded reputation as devil-worshipers. Besides two written scriptures, the Book of Revelation and the Black Book, Yezidism is an oral tradition, with teachings passed down and embellished by word of mouth.
Prophecies are transmitted the same way, even though, confusingly, they come from what Yezidis call the “book” or defter. This “book” has no material existence. When seers enter a trance and receive their visions, they are said to be “falling into book” (defteré keftin). Often, the content of these visions pertains to the end of the world.
A recurrent theme is an impending apocalyptic war between the forces of good and evil, in which holy beings (xas) and supernatural entities (bastiné) will do battle. As of 2020, there were said to be 200 xas preparing for war in Iran, while Miryam (Mary) was in London creating the planes that would bring the angels. Some prophecies are highly specific, listing the countries involved, how long war will last, and how many people will die. “There will be a war in America. There will be a war in Holland, in Britain, in Lebanon … Twelve years this war will last. After twelve years, only six million will remain in Iraq.”
But always the forces of good will prevail and life will be pleasant again — for the survivors and those yet to come. Another prophecy foretells the destruction of all life on Earth, followed by the arrival of the “golden-eyed ones” (holy beings), who will “make the world pleasant again.” Another talks of a “great deluge” in which “the earth will be like a sea” but after which “everything will be nice again.”
4. The Fourth Destruction (Mandaeism)
The Mandaean religion, founded in Persia in the first centuries CE, reveres above all the non-personified “god” ‘Great Life’, or fertility, whose symbol is ‘living water’. Shunning hierarchy, they see rulers (Archons) as obstacles to spiritual progress. Hence, while they consider John the Baptist one of their own, they don’t see him as a prophet or leader but one of many adepts in healing magic, a Nasurai. Jesus was a Nasurai too, they say, but one who led men astray, since, among other things, his Byzantine followers used still (i.e. dead) water for baptism and forced monks and nuns into celibacy.
Unfortunately, we don’t know a great deal about Mandaean cosmology. Their Haran Gauaita is thought to have contained the Mandaeans’ entire world history, from creation to apocalypse, but only fragments survive. Nevertheless, what we do know from this and other texts is fascinating. According to the Mandaeans, the future of humanity ends with chaos among Arabs, the reign of the false Messiah, the return of Anush Uthra (an angel from the world of light), and “a final debacle before the end of the world under the domination of Amatit, daughter of Qin.”
All this will take place 480,000 years after Adam. But it won’t be the first such apocalypse, it’ll be the fourth. Adam and Eve’s race was destroyed by “sword and plague” 216,000 years after their creation. Then came the age of Ram and Rud, survivors of the previous destruction, whose race lasted 156,000 years. After the second destruction, survivors Shurbai and Sharhabi’il sired a new race of humans, only for it to be wiped out 100,000 years later by flood. From survivors Nuh and Nhuraitha came our own race, allotted just 8,000 years by the prophecy. Specifically, our destruction is set for the 791st year of the sign of the fish, Nuna, and while it’s not clear when that is, it’ll come by wind or air.
3. The End of White Yang (Yiguandao)
Once seen as a threat by the Chinese Communist Party, Yiguandao spread to Taiwan in the 1980s and, after decades of suppression there too, was eventually legalized. Since then, the religion — a mix of Daoist and Buddhist ideas — is even welcome back on the mainland.
Yiguandao cosmology basically consists of ‘Three Yang Eras’ (or ‘Three Sun Eras’), each presided over by a Buddha. The first, the ‘Era of Blue Yang’, lasted 1,886 years from 3086-1200 BCE under the watch of Dipamkara Buddha. Then came the 3,114-year ‘Era of Red Yang’ (1200 BCE – 1912 CE) under Sakyamuni Buddha. Our own age, the ‘Era of White Yang’, is set to last 10,800 years under Maitreya Buddha.
So, according to Yiguandao, we have until the 127th century (the year 12712 CE) before the end of Man. This will complete the ninth “mega-month” of the 129,000-year “mega-year” allotted to the universe by Supreme Goddess Wuji Laomu. The Earth itself will be around longer, beginning to deteriorate in the tenth “mega-month” until finally vanishing without a trace, along with Heaven, in the twelfth.
2. Return to Ilyuwn (Nuwaubian Nation of Moors)
The Nuwaubian Nation of Moors originated in the 1970s and 80s as the Ansaaru Allah Community, a black separatist group based in Brooklyn. Founded by Dr. Malachi (aka Dwight York), it rebranded with its Afro-futurist, extraterrestrial overtones in the 1990s. According to Nuwaubian scripture (all written by Malachi), black people are superior to whites. Whereas whites evolved from apes, blacks were created by aliens. Furthermore, not only were the ancient Egyptians black; Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and every other prophet were “dark skinned” and “wooly haired”.
In 1993, Malachi shifted the center of his religion to a purpose-built compound in Georgia. Known as Tama-Re, it featured replicas of the Egyptian pyramids, Sphinx, and other monuments and temples. Here the Nuwaubians claimed sovereignty as a nation and started stockpiling guns.
They were preparing for the end times. The Nuwaubians’ extraterrestrial creators were on their way back to “pick up their children” and annihilate every Caucasian. The aliens would then take the Nuwaubians — all 144,000 of them if the 2,000 or so devotees would hurry up and have more children — back to their home galaxy Ilyuwn, where Dr. Malachi’s planet Rizq can be found.
1. Project Lucifer (The Pana-Wave Laboratory)
The Pana-Wave Laboratory, a Japanese religion known for wearing white clothes and driving a convoy of white vans to deflect radiation, has put out numerous prophecies for the end-times. Believing that Earth began 365 million years ago on a star named Veh-erde, they claim extraterrestrials have guided us ever since — in particular through their founder Yuko Chino. According to her, not only were “communist guerrillas” slowly assassinating her with a bombardment of gamma rays, microwaves, x-rays, and other radiation, there was also an apocalypse looming. On May 15, 2003, an undiscovered tenth planet would pass close to Earth and reverse its poles, leading to earthquakes and tsunamis that would wipe out most of humanity. Hoping to ride it out, she and her convoy traveled around Japan looking for somewhere to wait. When May 15 passed uneventfully, a spokesman rescheduled the apocalypse for the following week, May 22, 2003. Again, they were wrong.
But they didn’t stop there. In July 2004, they announced that cracks were forming on Japan’s sea floors and that “at this rate Japan will sink to the bottom of the seas” by spring 2005. The Laboratory’s new plan was to build a spacecraft to leave the planet. Unfortunately, however, they were unable to obtain the steel-titanium alloy they needed. But that didn’t matter, because by spring 2005 an alternative scheme had been hatched. Project Circle P, in which the P stood for “pick-up”, assured Chino’s followers that a fleet of UFOs would rescue them from coming disasters.
The most concerning of these, for them, was codenamed Project Lucifer. According to a memorandum from Chino, the US government was planning to “transform Jupiter into a new sun” by firing a probe full of plutonium at it. As a result, Mars would be pulverized, becoming an asteroid belt, and Jupiter’s now unmediated gravity would pull Earth right through it, killing 99 percent of humanity. Although it hasn’t happened yet, Chino’s death in 2006 has deprived us of any further updates.