Yet another prediction of doom has come and gone without the promised Earth-shattering kaboom taking place. Many of the same New Agers that had claimed that the end of the 13th b’ak’tun in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar would mark the beginning of a global catastrophe are now backtracking and saying that it actually marks the beginning of a new era of peace and love (Age of Aquarius, anyone?)
Though end-of-the-world cruises and gatherings took place around the world, one of the chief focal points for the 2012 craze was the small town of Bugarach, France (though it was an honour the city could have done without). Located at the foot of the Pic de Bugarach, the highest peak in the Corbieres mountains in southwestern France, the tiny town of Bugarach has an official population of 200 with an economy based on agriculture. Since the Corbieres mountains are world-renowned for their breathtaking beauty, Bugarach also had a brisk tourist trade with hikers and backpackers stopping through while touring the region. Bugarach is not connected to any of France’s main highways, visitors to Bugarach need to travel there using narrow, winding roads that often overlook treacherous ravines below. All in all, not a place likely to attract much of a tourist crowd.
Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, Bugarach also became popular with New Age and counterculture movements who believed in the “mystical powers” of the Pic de Bugarach (which was also known as the “upside down mountain” due to its unique geological features). According to cult believers, the mountain is the home of a hidden colony of extraterrestrials waiting for the fateful date of December 21, 2012 to make their presence on Earth known. The alien spaceships hidden in the mountain are believed to be meant as space Arks that would deliver the faithful to safety in the coming apocalypse.
In the years leading up to 2012, thousands of “UFOlogists” and other New Agers have purchased property around Bugarach and offered courses on spiritual enlightenment to the visiting believers (at 800 euros a week). Bugarach locals complained about their picturesque town being taken over by the influx of alien-watchers in the surrounding mountains . As December 2012 grew closer, that problem grew steadily worse and the town’s mayor even went so far as to give a public statement pleading with tourists to stay away.
The French government even raised the disturbing question of what would l happen on December 21 when doomsday failed to arrive. How would people, many of whom have sold all their assets and otherwise prepared for the end of the world, deal with being proven wrong? For the French government agency Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires (Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances – also known as MIVILUDES for short), the possibility of mass suicides on December 21 was grimly raised.
In statements to the media, MIVILUDES head George Fenech announced that he already warned the prime minister and other government officials about the potential impact the the "message of fear" could have on "fragile members of the French population.” The fear of mass suicide has been heightened by a 2002 incident in Nantes, France involving an end of the world prophecy and several suicides among a small circle of believers. Also uppermost in many minds is the rash of murders and suicides that occurred in the late 1990s in France, Switzerland, and Canada by followers of the Order of the Solar Temple as well as the Heaven’s Gate tragedy.
As it happened, the fear appeared to be overblown. Though hundreds of hopeful journalists gathered from all over the world to cover the events in Bugarach, there seemed to be nothing to see as December 21 came and went. Many of the same residents who had previously voiced their fear of what would happen with the pilgrims on December 21 now accused the media of overhyping the entire event. Although Bugarach’s mayor held a belated press conference and several colourful characters managed to make elaborate statements for the gathering press, the sense of disappointment seemed clear enough to the reporters and camera operators hoping for something more spectacular.
And the world returns to normal. At least, until the next prophecy of doom and the media circus it triggers, that is.