Shocking news: just like some of the world's best and worst ideas ever, the rumor of a Mayan apocalypse began with a familiar culprit. Psychedelic mushrooms.
As the supposed Mayan end of times approaches on Dec. 21, people are frantically preparing for Armageddon, flocking to such far off spiritual destinations as Bugarach, France and Mount Rtanj, Serbia.
NASA and the U.S. government continue to try to dispel our anxieties and fears that the world is ending in Dec. 21, claiming "False rumors about the end of the world in 2012 have been commonplace on the Internet for some time," in a post on the government's official blog.
"Many of these rumors involve the Mayan calendar ending in 2012 (it won't), a comet causing catastrophic effects (definitely not), a hidden planet sneaking up and colliding with us (no and no), and many others. The world will not end on December 21, 2012, or any day in 2012," the government assured.
NASA also noted in an Armageddon myth debunking video that scholars of the Mayan civilization, and even the Mayans themselves, have debunked such end of the world claims. The current fanaticism was all but the result of a wrong interpretation on the 5,125-year-old calendar of the ancient Mayans, they said.
"On the 21st, the date of the winter solstice, a calendar cycle called the 13th b'ak'tun comes to an end. Although Maya scholars agree that the ancient Maya would not have seen this day as apocalyptic," NASA explains.
According to Yahoo News, New Age spiritualism and magic mushrooms have been a propelling force behind the myth.
Beliefs in the Mayan apocalypse stem from two New Age books in the '70s and '80s, said Yahoo. The books go further than just predicting a Mayan end times, suggesting numerous surreal outcomes for humanity on Dec. 21, such as an "upgrade" to human consciousness, which was foreseen by a spirit in the seventh century.
The designation of Dec. 21 as the date of the apocalypse comes from a prophecy based on a magic mushroom trip.
"December 21st will be just another Friday morning," said Andrew Wilson, Assistant Head of Social Studies at the University of Derby. "A hippy guru called Jose Arguelles associated the date with the Mayan calendar in a book called 'The Mayan Factor' in 1987. But it's an obsolete form of the calendar, which had not been used since the year 1100AD."
"He claimed to be channeling various spirits, including the spirit of a Mayan king from the seventh century. He predicted a 'shift in human consciousness' - mass enlightenment," said Wilson.
The Dec. 21 date reportedly first appeared in an earlier book, a 1975 work, "Timeline Zero," by Terrence McKenna, "a writer who is known for his descriptions of 'machine elves' seen while he was under the influence of drugs," reported Yahoo.
The date was based on McKenna's own unique calculations, as well as the Chinese I Ching and his experiences while taking magic mushrooms, according to Yahoo.
Arguelles and McKenna later met and both writers became part of a group of New Age authors that cited one another's books, which lent an air of believability to their prophecy.
"The significance of December 21 2012 in 'New Age' circles emerged from the work of 'ethnobotanist' Terence McKenna as he traveled deep into the Amazon in the 1970s," says Wilson. "His calculations of a 'zero time wave' suggested the world would go through a large change on December 21."
"Arguelles, who had a long-held interest in Native American spiritualities, was inspired by McKenna's work. He popularized the date in connection with the 'long count calendar' of the Mayan people in his new-age circles," said Wilson.
Over the years the belief has evolved to include wilder predictions like the prophecy of a rogue planet Nbiru colliding with the Earth.
"There is no central belief," says Wilson, "It varies from the ideas that Earth's magnetic poles might shift, to the idea of a 'galactic council' visiting Earth. There's no one, definite idea - it mirrors the New Age beliefs from which it comes."
"It's become part of a lot of religious movements. For instance, 'The Galactic Federation of Light' believes that 'Planet X' will make a close pass by the earth in 2012 - causing a deep transformation of human life on Earth."
"What this and other apocalyptic dates have in common across new religious movements is that they are often predicted to occur within a believer's lifetime - making their beliefs urgent and important," said Wilson.
"However, most people who believe in the significance of December 21 2012 have tempered their predictions of an apocalypse to, instead, signifying some significant change in humanity. Whether that is a change in culture or a world-wide event - most believers in an apocalypse won't be preparing for an earthly end but looking forward to an imminent transformation," he said, Yahoo News reported.
"A lot of people look to this story for reassurance - about the financial climate, or even about fears of, for instance, the Large Hadron Collider."
"What's been popularized is the dramatic stuff - but I am definitely still doing my Christmas shopping as normal this year," he added.