Alan Perrott meets three women who have found a new direction and purpose in life through three unorthodox faith systems.
Signs are the signs of our times. What with earthquakes, recession, the odd tornado, and even an albino kiwi, a new portent seems to pop up every week.
So, dear old Harold Camping couldn't have timed his recent doomsday predictions better. No wonder he's organised a sequel for later in the year.
But if you were bemused by the fuss that brush with apocalypse created, just imagine what will happen when we approach the Mayan end of 2012. That will be hysteria of biblical proportions.
Well, you never know, do you? Who would have predicted something as patently lame as planking would take off? What is predictable is that the rapturous anticipation has got all manner of people looking to the fringes for reassurance.
After all, if you are willing to believe that a long-gone civilisation discovered a still-ticking doomsday clock then science becomes no more convincing than astrology, Sensing Murder or Ken Ring.
Maybe it's because such huge events leave us feeling powerless that we become more willing to suspend disbelief, much like the upsurge in serious interest in aliens and UFOs during the Cold War. It can't be a coincidence that specialist stores are now reporting rising interest in stones, crystals and gems with reputed mystical powers. As one store owner told Canvas, near-death experiences are common among first-time visitors to the store.
But if it's the scary stuff that first draws you to a new belief system, it's the small stuff that will keep you there. Because the belief is about the mundane. Long-term, having your place in the universe explained is less important than feeling better about your day, and if what you're learning doesn't do that for you, the search will go on until you find something else that does.
At least that's what Canvas discovered after speaking to three Aucklanders who went out looking and found what they were after.
A new identity was the last thing Pauline Jones expected to find in a packing crate.
"It was this book my dad gave me ages ago," she says.
"I had never bothered reading it, but even though I'd moved and downsized a few times, I'd always hung on to it. I don't know why, it was like each time it called out to me and I'd think: You know what? I'll keep that a bit longer."
Her life had been chaotic from the moment she married an alcohol and heroin addict in Australia. After three attempted suicides and ongoing depression, she was out of hope and wasn't even 30.
"I eventually hit rock-bottom," says Jones. "I remember lying on my bed bawling my eyes out when this feeling of complete peace washed over me. I knew everything was going to be all right, I'll get through this ... but it didn't last and I was hungry to get it back."
So she started what she calls her "soul search". Or what her family calls her rebirth as a tree-hugging hippie.
Jones ticked off the main stops of her path: Christianity, Jehovah's Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, Hare Krishna and Buddhism. Then on to vegetarianism, fruitarianism and, eventually, body building.
Everything changed the day she walked into a crystal shop.
"I got that feeling again as soon as I walked in the door ... I was told that I had moved on to a higher vibration and that the crystals were picking up on it and virtually talking back to me."
Intrigued, Jones began taking meditation classes and dabbling in Wicca, even casting a few spells until she tried one on a woman who had upset her. Jones said the result rebounded on her so badly she won't attempt that again.
Still, life was getting better. She settled into North Shore life and even started a curtain-making business with her sister. Then, just four months ago, she finally picked up the book from her dad.
"There was that feeling again ... and the more I read, the stronger it got. From that moment on I have considered myself a druid and the change has been quite mindblowing.
"Everything about it feels comfortable to me and, ask anyone, my anger and negativity has gone.
"It really is hard to explain, but I feel a new connection with my ancestors and a new understanding of the fears I've held on to all my life.
"It's like I have been born into a new identity. As I say it's only been four months, so I am still at the stage of accepting and surrendering to it, but I am now a lot happier about coming out to people."
She can't help beaming as she discusses her future, a notion she used to treat as a chore to be endured.
She is no longer alone after meeting other druids via the internet and at various festivals around the country. Next year she plans to spend her 52nd birthday in Peru.
That event falls on the next predicted doomsday, December 21: "So what better place to spend it than the home of the Mayans."
But she is confident it will be marked by some kind of global shift in consciousness rather than the apocalypse. There might even be cake. Once that's done she hopes to have a crack at another ambition she's held on to since she was a child: flying. That doesn't mean she has abandoned her attempts at levitation. says Jones, but until she cracks that one, helicopters will do just fine.
Carla van Voorst
After the divorce came the cancer.
It was hard, but Carla van Voorst held herself together with her new fiancé's "shit happens" philosophy.
"I just felt really lucky," she says. "My treatment was over and I was in a new relationship with an amazing person, one of those people who says: 'There will always be bad stuff. Deal with it. Then move ahead anyway because you can do it, you can break through the wall.' That was a great lesson for me."
He died before they could be married.
Obviously those were five very tough years and they left the then-29-year-old scrabbling to regain control through a regime of constant dieting, exercise and food obsessions. It wasn't long before she was borderline anorexic.
"I got to the point where I was totally and utterly over myself. All that chatter in my head - and it was all food, all the time - I was forced to step way back and take a proper look at myself. I decided I had either been a real bitch in a past life and this was karma getting me back or I was holding on to some belief system that was attracting all this stuff to me. I needed a major change, but I had to work my way through all of that had happened to me first so I could move on."
Of all things, she found solace and advice in the stuff her ex-husband used to ply her with, self-help.
"He had been right into all that, he was a very motivational, sales-type person. But it all seemed a bit extreme to me and there were only a few things I could ever relate to, so it was something I never thought I would get involved in. Yet here I am ... most people would call it New Age, I think of it more as moving to a higher awareness, shifting consciousness."
A newspaper story on the subconscious got her started.
"I had a very strong, very immediate reaction to that. It wasn't so much a gut reaction, it was stronger than that, more like a knowing."
Which took her by surprise. Aside from her self-help books, the former model, sales rep, makeup artist and project manager had been more focused on conventional help from nutritionists.
Hearing a hypnotherapist talking on the radio only reinforced that sense of rediscovery and she began to research more deeply.
The revelations she felt after finally being hypnotised herself marked her total conversion to what she calls the biology of belief.
It wasn't the sun that had caused her melanoma, says van Voort, but her belief system: "Something in my head had been driving everything."
She now blames factors such as low self-esteem and stress for damaging her immune system and allowing the illness to spread. The hypnotherapy helped identify the moments different beliefs were embedded so she could pick them apart and hopefully keep any recurrence at bay.
As a result, van Voort, now 39 and newly engaged, has undertaken some formal study and launched her own hypnotherapy business in Grey Lynn. She is now looking into more obscure treatment methods such as Theta Healing and Reference Point Therapy.
"This is nothing like I'd have ever been able to do before, I just didn't have the confidence or feel clever enough. So it feels like I've been on a long journey and after all the trauma, all the drama and all the lessons, I've realised that if you always do what you've always done, you'll always end up with the same result."
Sorting paper from plastic was only step one.
"That was about 10 years ago. I went green. Not hard-out, just recycling, eating organic food and trying to be a bit better to the planet." Then came feng shui.
Blame work. Farah Jacobs was in media sales and life was an adrenaline rush: "I was pretty much a total part girl." Everyone she worked with was chasing money, living hard and bugger the consequences.
Homelife with her partner became her peaceful cocoon. Going green soothed her conscience and feng shui helped create a sense of love and abundance.
Nothing out of the ordinary then, just a woman trying to restore some karmic balance to her life. Until she went for a haircut.
"We got talking and I asked [my hairdresser] about her ring, it was labradorite, and so we got to talking about crystals and what they do (labradorite is said to enhance tuition and wisdom)."
Next thing you know, Jacobs was visiting an astrologer, a tarot reader and enrolling in a crystal healing class.
"It all felt pretty full-on, but in a good way. I was talking to all sorts of people about spirituality, about different belief systems. I just wanted to find out about as much as I could."
All the same, and even with her home fully gridded out with the appropriate crystals, she was keeping her new enthusiasm on the down-low, especially from her workmates. "I guess media is a bit of a fickle industry and very showy. Crystals and that sort of thing wasn't anything anyone ever wanted to talk about. They would just go quiet, it was a bit hippie for them."
Not that she was entirely convinced herself. The clincher didn't come until last year as she was gearing up for a world trip. The key this time was a push from an energy healer.
"We got talking about our holiday and I was saying how we needed $20,000, but we had only saved $2000. She asked how long it was till we left and I said three weeks. Then she told me that if we really believed, we would get it, and we did. I got two sales commissions and my holiday pay when I resigned and my partner got a bonus. I felt weird but great."
The pair returned to Mt Wellington, Auckland, four months ago and Jacobs, now 33, was an avowed crystal spiritualist.
"It was lots of different things really. I've found that crystals and meditation have helped me in so many ways, from my confidence, to work, to communicating with my partner. I still don't think I'm someone you would expect to be into this sort of thing, but I've become a bit of an evangelist for it; all my friends have crystals now."
Her partner started carrying a citrine "wealth" crystal of his own each day while her collection has grown to about 30 big rocks and 15 pendants and rings. She mixes and matches what she carries according to her daily needs.
It's all about self-confidence and Jacobs, a sales professional, is already talking to a friend - her "crystal sister" - about their next big step. The pair hope to open an holistic health centre, a plan further supported by their goal setting group that meets every fortnight.
"Oh, I'm right into my goals now, maybe that's an age thing. But it took some time before I felt like it was making a difference.
"Now I set goals for everything and the group helps with that, we talk about life and what we want to do, it just keeps us all on track. I believe we all have the power to manifest the things we need, but getting that abundance isn't just about becoming rich, it's stuff like goodness and truth as well and I'd really like to help make that message more accessible to everyone."
iscovery of some new privacy concern, from an outcry over its adoption of face-recognition technology as standard in Europe to political speechifying against the amount of information it has amassed on us (thanks to us voluntarily handing it over). Add these to the nagging doubts we have always had about our addiction to the service. Why am I poking this person? Should I have something better to do than throwing digital sheep? Would I be more productive at work if I didn't click on so many videos of kittens? Is Facebook the equivalent of throwing acid on my brain and watching my attention span slowly dissolve?
But don't forget to counter this with the joy of old friendships rekindled and existing friendships kept fresh despite the obstacles of distance or time or sporadic bouts of social laziness.
There is something a little odd about the palpable excitement that Facebook's critics felt at the news that its user numbers in the US declined from 155.2 million at the start of May to 149.4 million at the end of the month, and that its user numbers in Britain fell by more than 100,000 too.
The figures, published by Facebook Insider Gold, are derived from the data that Facebook itself presents to potential advertisers, so they might be more reliable than data from outside measurement firms, but they might not, either.