A few words by an American scholar, a crumbling Mexican monument and the love of a good yarn were all it took to spawn the belief that the world could end this week.

December 21 marks the end of an age in a 5,125 year-old Maya calendar, an event that is variously interpreted as the end of days, the start of a new era or just a good excuse for a party.

Thousands of New Age mystics, spiritual adventurers and canny businessmen are converging on ancient ruins in southern Mexico and Guatemala to find out what will happen.

“No one knows what it will look like on the other side,” said Michael DiMartino, 46, a long-haired American who is organizing one of the biggest December 21 celebrations at the Maya temple site of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula.

It is not the world but “the way we perceive it” that will end, said DiMartino, who pledged his event at ground zero for 2012 acolytes will be a “distilling down of various perspectives into a unified intention for positive transformation, evolution and co-creation of a new way of being.”

A mash-up of academic speculation and existential angst seasoned with elements from several world religions, the 2012 phenomenon has been fueled by Hollywood movies and computer games, and relentlessly disseminated by Internet doom-mongers.

Mass hysteria in a Russian prison, a Chinese man building survival pods for doomsday and UFO lovers seeking refuge with aliens in a French mountain village are just some of the reports that have sprung up in the final countdown to December 21.