The fourth season of Parks and Recreation introduces the Reasonabilists, a local doomsday cult that worships a malevolent deity named Zorp the Surveyor. Each year Zorp speaks to the cult’s leader and reveals that the world will end on a specific date—though if that date should happen to coincide with the Parks Department’s annual ice cream social, Zorp is surprisingly flexible. The Reasonabilists gather in the park for an all-night vigil, at the end of which they expect their lord to appear and incinerate all unbelievers with his volcano mouth.
The reason this works so effectively as satire is because it’s largely based on actual doomsday cults, borrowing elements from the endless failed predictions of Christian radio personality Harold Camping and the Heaven’s Gate cult, among others. Given the thousands of years people have been predicting the end of the world, and getting it wrong, it’s remarkable that we continue to do it. But we do, and the following are some of the strangest end-time prophecies.
10. The Village of Bugarach
The village of Bugarach in the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France became the center of some unwelcome attention from New Age groups prior to the much-touted Mayan “end of the world.” Since the 1960s the town has, inexplicably, been a magnet for occult groups, much to the chagrin of locals. Yet the situation grew considerably worse in the early 2000s, with visitors holding festivals in anticipation of a predicted UFO landing and scaling a nearby mountain, Pic de Bugarach, naked. Much of the excitement stemmed from the shape of the mountain: geologists believe it exploded shortly after forming and landed with its crest on the ground. Known as the “upside-down mountain,” it’s thought to have inspired the novel A Journey to the Center of the Earth and the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, about a group of people who travel to a mountain expecting to meet aliens. Interest in the mountain waned somewhat when neither aliens nor the end of the world materialized in December 2012.
9. The Hen of Leeds
A minor panic occurred in the area surrounding the town of Leeds, England, in 1806, when a hen began laying eggs that bore the ominous message, “Christ is coming.” As told in the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, the townsfolk became fanatically penitent and prayerful, convinced that the day of judgment was at hand. That is, until someone decided to sneak over to the farm in question and catch the hen in the act. It was discovered that the hen’s owner was inscribing the warnings on the eggs in corrosive ink and then shoving them back up into the hen’s oviduct. The panic dissipated rapidly.