At the Pic de Bugarach, a mountain in the Pyrenees of southern France, New Age believers in the 2012 Mayan apocalypse are gathering. They believe that within this oddly-shaped French mountain sits an extraterrestrial spacecraft that will spirit away the more than 100,000 believers expected to gather on the mountain December 21 in anticipation of the end of the world.
According to believers, the mountain is a “chakra” point where earth energy and alien technology combine to protect inhabitants from the upcoming cataclysm. Believers also say that the late French president François Mitterand, the Nazis, and Israel’s security service explored and excavated on the mountain. Local officials, by contrast, fear that the New Age believers plan a mass suicide like the Heaven’s Gate cult, who killed themselves when they thought a UFO arriving behind the 1997 Hale-Bopp comet would take their souls to an alien base on Pluto.
What interests me is the way in southern France the 2012 apocalypse is repeating a widespread bit of European folklore that dates back thousands of years.
The best known version of the story is that of King Arthur, who was taken to the Isle of Avalon, where according to a Welsh legend, he and his knights sleep in a cave awaiting the time when they will rise again to defend Britain during a great conflagration. But this is hardly the only version of the story, or even the first.
In Serbia, the hero Marko is asleep in a cave high atop a mountain, awaiting the moment he is needed. In Denmark, the hero is Holgar Danske, who sleeps beside his knights in a tomb beneath Kronberg Castle. Both Charlemagne and Frederick Barbarossa (or sometimes Frederick II) are believed to be entombed within mountains (Odensburg and Kyfhauser, respectively) waiting to rise up and reclaim their thrones, as are the Saxon King Harold, the Duke of Monmouth, Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI, and Portugal's King Sebastian. (Some of these are entombed in caves rather than mountains.) In most cases, the sleeper is a powerful man with a long white beard.
Many scholars believe all of these myths trace their source back to Odin, the Norse (and also Germanic) god of war who was the first to slumber within a sacred mountain (note that one such mountain is Odensburg, “Odin’s Mountain”). Odin shares the long white beard of the dead heroes, and many scholars also believe that the knights routinely entombed with the hero originate in the dead warriors who rested in Odin’s Valhalla awaiting the violent end of the world, ragnorak, when they would be needed for the final battle against the forces of evil.
That this story is ancient can be seen in Plutarch, who reports a myth from the Celtic fringe of the Roman Empire in two sections of his Moralia. Here Cronus, the father of the gods, can be read as Odin:
This ancient myth is the model for the sleeping god stories, whether they be, like Cronus and Arthur, on an island, or like Charlemagne and Frederick, in a mountain. The difference is probably due to geography—islands being less plentiful than mountains in Europe’s interior.
What is amazing, though, is that whether consciously or unconsciously, the New Age believers looking for dormant aliens within a sacred mountain are replaying an age-old story of the once and future king, the hero who will save us all when the End comes.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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