I’m working on the background for a new fantasy horror setting and the following idea interrupted me this morning:
Every generation produces zealots who believe that they are living in the End Times.
At midnight of June 1st 1660 the bells of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican began to ring by themselves, a long and melancholy peal of bells that lasted for five minutes. As they stopped, every single church bell in Christendom tolled a single note in response.
Some saw this as a miraculous sign of God’s providence. Some saw this as a warning of God’s wrath. The next few years became a time of turmoil and wonder.
Wars began and ended and began again along once stable borders. Civil uprisings occurred and revolutionary sentiments were widespread.
Reports of miracles and healings were heard from far off places and sometimes holy shrines nearer at hand. Tales of the rise of witchcraft and dark sorcery haunted the fears of those who would listen. Ghosts and apparitions were rumoured to appear and prophesy doom and despair. Stories of strange creatures in the margins of civilisation, and the resurgence of superstition to ward off the fair folk who were not so fair as everyone had pretended to themselves. Fierce preachers arose and witchfinders to seek out the heretics who consorted with devils. Wise women in remote villages conjured familiar spirits to divine the future and cure illnesses. Bands of men used to war wandered the land as free companies and swords for hire seeking employment in new conflicts.
When the famine of 1664 struck Europe people made up their minds. God was not provident. God was angry. Many died, many more fled the barren countryside into the cities. Villages and small towns were abandoned by mankind, but not perhaps by everything that walked on two legs. Some espoused a philosophy of nihilism since the wrath of God was already upon the world, why seek to please him? Others doubled down on their faith and became fanatics. Natural philosophers – scientists – toiled away in their laboratories to understand what was happen without recourse to religion or superstition and some unleashed horrors upon themselves in so doing.
The plague of 1665 struck the crowded cities and turned them into charnel houses. The unquiet dead stalked the dark midnight streets and spread the pestilence further. Scholars of old books found to their delight and dismay that the spells contained in those old grimoires had a dreadful efficacy now and there were always consequences to every action. The Pope declared that God had abandoned the world to ruin.
Every generation produces zealots who believe they are living in the End Times.
Sooner or later they will be right.
My novel A Step Beyond Context is currently on sale at Amazon (until June 24th) – if a dimension-travelling heroine facing down Regency intrigue and cyberpunk mayhem appeals then there has never been a better time to go along for the ride.