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December 21, 2012

5 best places to watch the world end

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LONDON —

Whether the 4,000-foot mountain projects "energy," as certain New Age adherents claim, is less measurable than the recent rise in local property prices, the increase in visitor numbers, and the flood of reports of strange goings-on in the woods surrounding the village, including processions of half-naked ramblers climbing up the mountain ringing bells. In fact, the French authorities are so spooked by the occult attraction exerted by the lonely mountain that it has decided to cordon it off in the days surrounding Dec. 21.

Perhaps they're right to be spooked. The upside-down mountain has attracted religious dissenters since, well, heretical Cathars founded Bugarach in the 13th century. Less than 10 miles to the northwest lies Rennes-le-Château, another focal point of esotericism. Perhaps best known as a central location in the novel "The Da Vinci Code," treasure supposedly found in Rennes provides clues to the real nature of the Holy Grail — the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, intertwining with that of early France's Merovingian kings.

The French government agency monitoring religious cults, Miviludes, is keeping a close eye on events in and around Bugarach, anxious to prevent mass suicides à la Heaven's Gate, the sect that chose death in order to migrate to the spaceship hidden behind the 1997 Hale-Bopp comet. Prevention may be the best cure, but it's unclear why a cult would go through all the trouble to try to save itself from the end of the world only to then commit suicide. Unless, of course, the world's stubborn refusal to end proves too much of a disappointment.

2. Bugarach is but one of several options for those looking for an exit on Dec. 21. You could still make your way to Sirince, a small Turkish village not far from the Ionian coast. Its 600 souls live near the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus. Sirince also reputedly emanates "positive energy," which some link to a nearby site associated with that other Mary in Jesus's life.

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