From the NYT:

Inmates in a women’s prison near the Chinese border are said to have experienced a “collective mass psychosis” so intense that their wardens summoned a priest to calm them. In a factory town east of Moscow, panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, kerosene, sugar and candles. A huge Mayan-style archway is being built — out of ice — on Karl Marx Street in Chelyabinsk in the south.

For those not schooled in New Age prophecy, there are rumors the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, when a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count in the Mayan calendar supposedly comes to a close. Russia, a nation with a penchant for mystical thinking, has taken notice.

Last week, Russia’s government decided to put an end to the doomsday talk. Its minister of emergency situations said Friday that he had access to “methods of monitoring what is occurring on the planet Earth,” and that he could say with confidence that the world was not going to end in December. He acknowledged, however, that Russians were still vulnerable to “blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, floods, trouble with transportation and food supply, breakdowns in heat, electricity and water supply.”

Similar assurances have been issued in recent days by Russia’s chief sanitary doctor, a top official of the Russian Orthodox Church, lawmakers from the State Duma and a former disc jockey from Siberia who recently placed first in the television show “Battle of the Psychics.” One official proposed prosecuting Russians who spread the rumor — starting on Dec. 22.


Russians, however, can be powerfully transported by emotions, as the Rev. Tikhon Irshenko witnessed during his visit to Prison Colony No. 10 in the village of Gornoye. In an interview with the Data news service, Father Tikhon said he was summoned to the prison in November. The wardens told him that anxiety over the Mayan prophecy had been building for two months, and some inmates had broken out of the facility “because of their disturbing thoughts.” Some of the women were sick, or having seizures, he said.

“Once, when the prisoners were standing in formation, one of them imagined that the earth yawned, and they were all stricken by fear and ran in all directions,” the priest said. He lectured the inmates about the signs of the apocalypse according to the New Testament, he said, and after that “the populist statements about the end of the world were dispelled and the tension eased.”

Worth a read. One particularly interesting suggestion about why they're freaking out:

Though news outlets are likely to pay a price for this episode, Maria Eismont, a columnist for the newspaper Vedomosti, argued that the government’s recent embrace of archaic religious conservatism set the stage for apocalyptic thinking. At the blasphemy trial against the punk protest band Pussy Riot last summer, she noted, the young band members were sentenced in part on the basis of writings by Orthodox clerics from the seventh and fourth centuries.

“It would be unfair to consider Omutninsk a unique site of flourishing mysticism,” she wrote. “If Cossacks in operatic costumes march in downtown Moscow, and the State Duma is quite seriously considering introducing punishment for the violation of believers’ feelings, then why shouldn’t people living in a depressed town a thousand kilometers from Moscow not buy matches out of a fear of cosmic flares?”
Raises an interesting point about expecting your population to behave rationally when the government has repeatedly made demand of them based on something as irrational as religious fundamentalism. Or nearing it, at least. Essentially saying: I demand that you believe in this silly proclaimation and ignore all other similarly silly proclamations.

That said, it seems to be more of a cultural than religious issue. There are plenty of fundies in the US and I haven't heard any reports like this coming from there. It is really interesting how sensitive some people are to this kind of stress. And the scenes inside the women's prisons are also really fascinating. Strange.


This is probably riddled with typos; I'm iPhone posting.