The number thousand seems innocuous enough, but it has been at the root of some of the most dangerous influences mankind has suffered. A thousand years is a millennium, a symbolic time span, which developed into the concept of Millenarianism.
Best described by Prof Norman Cohn in his book, The Pursuit of the Millennium, it is the belief that a major transformation of society is about to occur. Movements formed from the belief see the existing society as corrupt.
It will be destroyed by a powerful force.
In this sense, it forms the root of the belief in Apocalypse, or Armageddon. The Book of Revelation itself is the usual blueprint in the west for what such transition will involve.
From early Christianity, to present-day Al Qaeda, the Millenarianist impulse involves violence, ranging from self-destruction, to turning that violence upon others. And it does not just include major movements.
The Millenarianist mentality lies behind many cults.
The Branch Davidians and the horror of Waco is a classic example. Even 19th century Native Americans adapted their religion in the Ghost Dance, and the active belief that their worship would result in the destruction of the white man.
In this sense, we can often see Millenarianism as an act of desperation – a plea for a better world, invoking extreme or supernatural forces because normal means have collapsed. But there are numbers and there are symbols. When they mix, watch out!
© Anthony North, April 2008