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"It's the end of the world as we know it..."

Fears of mass suicides and natural disasters have circulated on the Internet ahead of 21 December.

According to the Mayan calendar, the world is set to end on 21-12-2012 at 1.11pm

JOHANNESBURG/CHICHEN ITZA- If you are waiting for the world to end on Friday, you might need a change of plans.

A Mayan Prophecy has left the world thinking it will end at 1.11pm, but experts and presidents the world over seem to think the world is going to be all right.

Johannesburg residents in particular are nonplussed about the 'imminent Armageddon'.

Eyewitness News went in search of stock-piling apocalypse believers, but after hunting far and wide, it seems they are mostly limited to the internet.

With the Armageddon expected to wipeout the world on Friday, some Gautengers said they were not too worried.

One man said he was leaving for holiday tomorrow and planned to enjoy himself.

He said he no longer believed in the myths after the so-called Rapture.

While another woman said she would "definitely drink, just in case it is the end of the world".

Even the Russians have confirmed that the world will not end, with Vladimir Putin's hypothesis about how it will be another four to five billion years before the end of time.

Meanwhile, thousands of mystics, hippies and spiritual wanderers will descend on the ruins of ancient Mayan cities on Friday to celebrate a new cycle in the Mayan calendar, ignoring fears in some quarters that it might instead herald the end of the world.

Brightly dressed indigenous Mexican dancers whooped and invoked a serpent god near the ruins of Chichen Itza late on Thursday, while meditating westerners hoped for the start of a "golden age" of humanity.

"I see it as a changing of an energy, the changing of a guard, the changing of universal consciousness," said Serg Miejylo, a 29-year-old gardener originally from Connecticut.

Wearing sandals, smoking a rolled-up cigarette and sporting blonde dreadlocks, Miejylo is among those joining the festivities at Maya sites in southern Mexico and parts of Central America.

But while people here were celebrating, the close of the 13th bak'tun - a period of some 400 years - in the 5,125-year-old Long Calendar of the Maya has raised fears among groups around the world that the end is nigh.

A United States (US) scholar once said it could be seen as a kind of "Armageddon" by the illustrious Mesoamerican culture, and over time the idea snowballed into a belief that the Maya calendar had predicted the earth's destruction.

Fears of mass suicides, meteorites, huge power cuts, natural disasters, epidemics or an asteroid hurtling toward Earth have circulated on the Internet ahead of 21 December.

Chinese police have arrested about 1,000 people this week for spreading rumors about 21 December, and authorities in Argentina restricted access to a mountain popular with UFO-spotters after rumors began spreading that a mass suicide was planned there.

In Texas, video game mogul Richard Garriott de Cayeux decided to throw his most elaborate party ever at midnight - just in case the Earth did come to an end.

Maya experts, scientists and even US space agency NASA insist the Maya did not predict the world's end and that there is nothing to worry about.

"Think of it like Y2K," said James Fitzsimmons, a Maya expert at Middlebury College in Vermont. "It's the end of one cycle and the beginning of another cycle."

A NEW DAWN?

New Age optimism, stream-of-consciousness evocations of wonder and awe, and starry-eyed dreams of extra-terrestrial contact have descended on the ancient sites this week - leaving the modern Maya bemused.

"It's pure Hollywood," said Luis Mis Rodriguez, 45, a Maya selling obsidian figurines and souvenirs shaped into knives like ones the Maya once used for human sacrifice.

In Chichen Itza, below a labyrinth of gray and white Maya pillars, a circle of some 40 tourists sat meditating silently on Thursday.

At one point, a woman in a pink shirt said "the golden age is truly golden" and asked the group to find a form of light to take them to another dimension. The meditation then resumed.

Moments earlier, indigenous dancers wearing white linen, bright feathers and beads shook maracas and the seed pod of the flame tree to the beat of drums at the foot of the Temple of serpent god Kukulkan, a focal point of Friday's celebrations.

"We ask all the brothers of the Earth that Kukulkan dominates the hearts of the entire world," said one of the dancers, raising his arms towards the sky.

The Maya civilization reached its peak between A.D. 250 and 900 when it ruled over large swathes of what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. The Maya developed hieroglyphic writing, an advanced astronomical system and a sophisticated calendar.

DOOMSDAY PREDICTIONS

There is a long tradition of calling time on the world.

Basing his calculations on prophetic readings of the Bible, the great scientist Isaac Newton once cited 2060 as a year when the planet would be destroyed.

US preacher William Miller predicted that Jesus Christ would descend to Earth in October 1844 to purge mankind of its sins. When it didn't happen, his followers, known as the Millerites, refereed to the event as The Great Disappointment.

In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult, believing the world was about to be "recycled," committed suicide in San Diego to board an alien craft they said was trailing behind a comet.

More recently, American radio host Harold Camping predicted the world would end on 21 May, 2011, later moving the date forward five months when the apocalypse failed to materialise.

Such thoughts were far from the minds on Friday of gaudily attired pilgrims to Chichen Itza seeking spiritual release.

"What I hope is that I let go of all the old belief system and all the past and I just enter into a new reality that is even better," said Flow Lesur, 48, a Frenchwoman now living in California who teaches underwater yoga in her spare time.

Faun Rouse, a 78-year-old visitor from Colorado, was thinking of a different kind of inner contentment when asked how she would mark the coming of a new epoch. "With a big steak and lobster dinner, then fly back on Saturday," she said.

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