An apocalypse, strictly speaking, is a revelation (from the Greek apocalypsis, a revealing), a prophetic vision. In common usage it has come to mean a vision of the catastrophic end of the world. Apocalypse myths, then, are eschatological (Greek eschatos, last, and eschata, the last things), and the study of the end of things is called eschatology.

The idea of a catastrophic end to the world is common in human culture. In most cases the apocalypse marks the end of an old world and the emergence of a new. But the emphasis is on the end of the current order of things: "The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes" ( Joel 2:31).

Through their myths of the apocalypse human societies express a sense that the higher powers of the universe must intervene definitively to put an end to the failure of humanity. In some cases the righteous will be allowed to survive, but usually in a nonworldly state.

Apocalyptic writers tend to make heavy use of symbol and fantasy. Their writings are, above all, visionary and prophetic. Apocalypses contain strange beasts and a resurrection of the dead.

The apocalypse motif must be seen as closely related to the deluge archetype. The apocalypse is a ritual cleansing of cosmic proportions, a large-scale expression of the human fascination with the death and resurrection process. Psychologically, it speaks to a need to confront reality, to make ultimate decisions. In our culture the literary archetype for this aspect of the apocalyptic process is Armageddon (Hebrew Haer Megiddon, the famous battlefield of ancient Israel in Judges and Kings). In the Book of Revelation (16:16) Armaggedon becomes the symbolic battlefield where good and evil must finally fight it out at the time of the Last Judgment. We speak metaphorically of Armaggedon in reference to great moments of decision or confrontation. Much of the Christian view of the


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The World of Myth


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