NEW YORK -- The sky did not fall, the earth did not quake (unless you count the rumble of the subway below), but the Great Harmonic Convergence of 1987, Central Park site, may justly be remembered for at least one amazing phenomenon: More than 1,500 people waited for hours in the predawn darkness near 83rd Street and no one got mugged.

Beyond that, all claims are a little murkier.

The Harmonic Convergence, as the astrally attuned already know, is a global event dreamed up by a Colorado art historian named Jose Arguelles. Not too long ago Arguelles consulted the ancient Mayan calendar and a few other sources and concluded that during a two-day period ending yesterday, the Earth would move from one epic age to another. The transition would be precarious, however, and to help the Earth along into the Age of Aquarius (to say nothing of preventing nuclear holocaust or similar catastrophe), Arguelles recommended that 144,000 humans get together at far-flung sites, hold hands and hum.

For reasons that remain unclear, but which undoubtedly have something to do with widespread anxiety about the state of civilization, thousands of people around the world decided to do just that yesterday.

Five thousand converged, in one of the larger gatherings, on snow-capped Mount Shasta in northern California; 1,000 met on an ancient Indian mound in East St. Louis, Ill., waving clamshells of smoldering herbs; 45 danced, chanted and meditated on Egypt's Giza Plateau. "Dozens" of convergers were reported in the English town of Glastonbury, said to be the burial place of the mythical King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, 200 joined at nearby Stonehenge, and another 200 beat drums around a crater in Hawaii.

In New York, it happened like this:

By 4:30 a.m., while the rest of the city slumbered on, hundreds of people began streaming into the park entrance at 81st Street and Central Park West. The sky was still a deep blue, and there was a bright half moon overhead. In the shadows, women waved burning incense tapers. People were dressed in T-shirts,jeans, spandex cycling gear, tennis clothes and tie-dyed leggings. Some had babies and dogs in tow, while others toted coolers stuffed with bagels, butter and cartons of orange juice.

They settled quietly in a clearing around a small circle of sand, beside the rumpled occupants of even more rumpled sleeping bags. The scene looked a lot like a large, disorganized slumber party. "I'm not taking anything, are you?" one young man asked another.

In the circle, a half dozen men and women, some wearing long robes and carrying conch shells, drums or small finger cymbals, paced in measured, druidlike steps. Occasionally one of them raised a set of limp wrists to the sky and rotated his or her hands slowly.

There was a big fat candle in the center of the circle, and around that a sand painting of a map of the world. That in turn was encircled by a line of 130 or more plum-sized pieces of rock crystal at inch-long intervals. Rock crystals were big in Central Park yesterday. They appear to have replaced mantras and gurus in the mystical grab bag of pop philosophy, holistic medicine and esoteric spiritualism that is known as New Age.

Some people had hunks of the stuff fastened on chains around their necks. Others clasped crystals the size of dinner rolls in either hand, and waved at the sky. "They are frozen light, energy," said one woman.

The demands of participatory democracy being what they are, it was a while before the crowd in Central Park actually got around to meditation, much less humming.

The first public words were spoken at 5:30 by a deep-voiced older woman who rose from her blanket and advised the crowd to pray for help. "I think we should all ask," she called across the seated, silent mass. "Surrender to Mother Earth! This is our spaceship! Let's all clean up our room."

Not long after this a second woman, heavily made up and carrying a drum, declared in stentorian tones that the time had arrived to prepare for a two-hour meditation. "May I suggest that we please be quiet and respect the silence," she said. "We agreed to have total silence until 8:40 -- that was the agreement -- because people are meditating all over the world."

Soon after that, a petite short-haired woman in a long purple robe stood in the center of the sand circle. "We're going to make a conch ceremony," she said, holding her shell out toward the crowd. The others in the circle followed her lead -- slowly they all raised their conch shells toward the sky, then lowered them, bowing slightly. When they blew on the shells, the sound was a little like a traffic jam on Columbus Avenue. Or the sound of seals escaping from the Bronx Zoo.

"You shouldn't announce the ceremony!" the woman with the drum announced to those seated around her. "You just do it! If you announce it, it breaks the -- " She caught herself, and sighed. "That woman, she is so obnoxious!"

The conch-wielders turned toward the rising sun once more. "They already did that direction," muttered the drum lady.

The conch lady was undeterred. "The conch is being blown all over the world," she said. "We're aligning the horizontal plane with the vertical so that the energies of the celestial bodies and heavens can come down through us ... As we start the last round of the conch ceremony let your bodies become a conch!" she advised.

To which the drum lady retorted, under her breath: "To me the greatest thing would be if everybody just stayed quiet." The sounds of silence were not without their own problems, however. As one woman lowered herself onto the grass, a nearby couple tried to speak to her. She shushed them peremptorily. The couple persisted. "We just wanted to tell you that a dog peed in that spot," the pair said.

By now the sky was beginning to redden. A young woman in a yellow football jersey joined the circle and began to speak. "My wish is that we discover a new way of living on this planet, where we don't fight. No more limitations, no more fear. Think about peace and harmony. Start with your own world, because we've each been given our own portion to take care of."

Many members of the audience had drifted off into meditation or sleep (it was hard to tell the difference sometimes) when a sad, rheumy-eyed older woman with a weathered face and blackened hands rose unsteadily and began a sing-song lament. "I only wish this day would last all year, for the rest of my life," she said plaintively. "I want to say, I love you, I love you, over and over. That way I know this day will last forever. You can remember until your heart beats the last." The woman swayed from person to person. "I love you," she said to each, refusing to move on until she had extracted a declaration of love.

Instead of ushering the woman out of the circle, the woman in the yellow jersey turned and gave her a bear hug and soothed her by stroking her hair. It was one of the few spontaneous gestures in a morning of what often seemed highly self-conscious spirituality.

Almost immediately, however, that scene was interrupted by a young man in a ragged suit coat who rose from the gathering to denounce the proceedings.

"So let people talk," he cried angrily. "The truest peace comes from people expressing conflict. People who can say ... 'I'm angry at you!' "

"I agree with you, thank you very much," the woman in the yellow jersey said. "Do whatever you feel."

The prevailing code of conduct seemed to be solicitous permissiveness, '60s hedonism mixed with the raised consciousness of the '70s. In other words, if it feels good do it, unless it bothers your neighbor, in which case you should discuss the matter in a peaceful, loving way.

"I see a great range of ages here," said the woman in the yellow jersey, whose name was Donah Geffen. Geffen, 33, described herself as a former graphics designer who'd left the trade for waitressing because it gave her more spiritual freedom. "I don't feel these are the leftover hippies who are trying to pick something up here.

"As we've been handling things up to now, the human race has been pretty self-destructive," she explained. "I'm looking for another way."

Not everyone was buying it, of course. "You see all these people running around with crystals," said Carlos Madrid, 37, a Peruvian-born painter and yoga teacher who dismissed the crowd as predominantly white and affluent. "This is a very immature, external type of spirituality. I wonder if these people give food to the guy who has no food ... For me, a very spiritual person is Mother Teresa."

By 6:10 a.m. there was ambient humming detectable, but no planetary shift. At exactly 8, the call to arms was sounded. "It is now 12 noon Greenwich Mean Time, and we would like everyone to link up at centers all over this planet," intoned a tanned, blond man. "Carry forth the vision you would like for this planet."

A thousand hopeful "Oms," "Aahs" and "Ohs" were heard. It was a sound fit for a cathedral, and it went on with no interruption for the next hour. Several people held their crystals up to the sun. At 9, someone began playing bongo drums, and the first part of the Harmonic Convergence was over.

In New Mexico, Sun Screen And Strange Vibes For a few moments in the New Mexico desert it seemed almost possible. At dawn, seen across the wasteland, a pink haze hovered over the bulk of the Chaco Canyon cliffs and rocks threw out extraterrestrial shadows across the scrubland.

At 6:41 a.m. the sun rose above the clifftops and hit the rim of the sacred Grand Kiva, Casa Rinconada, a ceremonial Anasazi pit-lodge. The stone turned orange, burnt sage filled the air and a cylindrical bowl of crushed crystal was tuned to a high-pitched hum by a circling finger.

If it was going to happen anywhere, it was here and now among the thousand-year-old ruins of the Chaco Anasazi. More than 1,200 "New Ageists" had gathered here for the Harmonic Convergence, a spiritual reunion with the galactic call -- and, perhaps, the return of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl.

But then, as the sun rose higher, the picture changed and the pitch of the hum faltered.

It was not after all Quetzalcoatl who descended from the skies, hovering over the ceremonial heliport and blowing dust for miles around, but a helicopter come to disgorge a cargo of unwelcome TV crews.

And it was not Quetzalcoatl who emerged from the shadows of the canyon but the glinting sunglasses of park rangers, here to protect their own kind of harmony.

"We are here to ensure it doesn't look like Woodstock afterwards," said Tom Vaughan, superintendent of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

His voice caught the ear of Guru Deep Singh, who looked up from his meditation down in the Kiva: "Hi there, rangers -- got your sun screen?" he said. The glasses glinted back.

It was not, after all, all harmony at Chaco Canyon, and what is more, not all gods were welcome. Jesus Christ, for one, was banned. Fundamentalists particularly were "negativity," the New Ageists were told by their leaders.

"We just weren't asked along," said 35-year-old Cheryl Farnsworth from Farmington Southern Baptist Church, in Farmington, N.M., who had come, nevertheless, to stake out the Kiva, canvassing for souls.

Yet another of her leaflets was thrown to the ground by a scornful pilgrim. "Everyone here is trying to reach forces and spirits which are not God. Everyone wants to know what is going to happen -- but they must understand that nothing is going to happen until the return of Jesus Christ. All this is just satanic and pagan," Farnsworth said.

"We know we are not welcome here but we can find the souls who need to be saved if we come."

Chaco Canyon is believed by some spiritualists to be the site of the west pole. It covers a space of about 32 square miles in northwest New Mexico, 60 miles from the nearest town. It is the site of 24 archeological ruins, the excavated dwellings inhabited by the Chaco Anasazi Indians about 1,000 years ago.

It is difficult to imagine what the Anasazi would have made of their 20th-century devotees as they chugged their way around the canyon this weekend in 22 specially hired yellow school buses, stopping off at blue portable restrooms positioned among the ruins to serve their needs.

But the Anasazi might at least have admired their organization. Pilgrims arriving Saturday at the gathering's base camp -- 20 miles away from the canyon -- paid $30 to register, have access to "ceremonial facilities" and information from the "ceremonial coordinator" at the "ceremonial coordination site."

The schedule set out on a notice board read, "5:20 p.m. The Earth is Alive. {Workshops}. 12:30 p.m. Ceremonial Prayer and Chanting. 8 p.m. Yoga Classes."

Said Marina Morrisey, a 32-year-old dancer from Austin, Tex.: "This is different from the '60s and the early '70s. We didn't know what we were doing it for then. We just shot a lot of LSD. But now it is all making sense and I know there's going to be a lot of happiness." -- Sarah Helm In Reston, 'Passages' And Powerful Vibrations

Except for the candles, it could have been a scene on the lawn at Wolf Trap. About 130 people gathered in a large field behind Brown's Chapel in Reston early yesterday, young and old stretched out on blankets or harmoniously ensconced in lawn chairs.

"This {astrological configuration} won't happen for another 23,000 years. Pluto was being real nasty," said 19-year-old Joe Hertz of Reston, who had come here around midnight with a few friends, candles and a guitar.

"Even if there is not a powerful vibration level of the planet, to have this many people all over the world thinking the same thought is a positive thing," said Ann Pecora, a Herndon resident in her late thirties who described herself as a "free-lancer of everything."

The official ceremony began around 4 a.m. with a candlelight procession.

"I'd like to welcome us all and bless us all," said Avtar Brach, who has been involved in things spiritual for 15 years.

"May we who have come here become aware of the beauty in the self," she prayed. "May this always be a place of inner stillness."

The group blew out their candles and began to meditate.

Brach, dressed in white cotton shirt and pants, led the gatherers through a series of yoga movements. Low-impact aerobics for the soul.

"Twist left, twist right. Inhale ... exhale ... arch your spine fully to wake up the energy at the base of the spine," she commanded gently.

As they stretched "up toward infinity," the worshipers chanted the mantra, "hum dum hareh, hareh, hareh hareh, hum, dum." A group of turbaned Sikhs played softly on a guitar, accordion and flute.

A few people chuckled.

Then came the long, eerie sounds of the gong that washed over the worshipers like an ocean wave breaking gently on the sand.

When the gray dawn and cool rain arrived, the worshipers placed offerings in the middle of the circle -- a copy of Gail Sheehy's "Passages," a ceramic jar of feathers, a man's hat, a vase of flowers.

After the "ceremony of the relationship," during which the gatherers' foreheads were anointed with a reddish dot of ocher, they hugged.

"It reminds me of a wedding," said one woman. -- Elizabeth Lazarus In Washington, Signs All Over The warm, gentle mist that fell on Washington yesterday at dawn was more than a summer shower, according to those who gathered at the Light Center, a spiritual gathering place on 16th Street, to herald the harmonic convergence. It was a sign, a cleansing of dissonance, a spritz of spirituality from the heavens that meant one thing: Someone up there was paying attention.

"This is good," said a middle-aged woman to her teen-aged male companion as they joined other area residents who gathered to promote peace, love and good vibes. "This is a very good sign."

To most of the 150 who braved the rain and the skepticism, everything was a sign. Don Wilder, one of the most vocal here, proudly stated that he found his not in nature or in God but at a Hechinger. It was there that he bought copper tubing to make a pyramid that would harness energy and welcome in the New Age, there where he was drastically undercharged by a bumbling cashier.

"The materials only cost me $20, and it should have cost a lot more," said Wilder, owner of Wilder and Wilder, a "holistic hair salon" in Georgetown. "When she rang it up wrong, I saw that as a sign. There were electric impulses in that machine."

And also in the main meeting room of the center, according to many participants. Andrew May, for instance, said he definitely felt something at the conclusion of the vigil, which was punctuated by relentless chanting, a 20-minute meditation section and lots of hugs and kisses. "I had a sense of complete peacefulness," he said quietly. "I projected myself out. I felt warmth and light."

The hour-long ceremony began at 7 a.m. and after an informal greeting, the Rev. Rita McInnis of the Science of Mind Center took the stage. The fun began.

"Let your light shine!" McInnis urged the throng, many of whom kept their eyes closed and meditated throughout the ceremony. "Close your eyes and tune out all destructions! We celebrate a New Age, a New Time!" Audience members smiled and nodded. One elderly woman in the back nodded off.

Immediately following McInnis' invocation came the orientation by her husband, the Rev. Noel McInnis. He explained the theories and beliefs behind the convergence, and expressed amazement at the advance publicity the event had gathered. The large turnout, he said, could be traced to the onslaught of media attention preceding the event.

"We have to give that credit to 'Doonesbury,' " McInnis said, referring to the Garry Trudeau comic strip that recently satirized the event. "The secret to all this is taking it lightly."

Later, in the building's lobby, New Age follower Karen Rainwater sobbed. "Instead of thinking of just number one, we're going to start thinking of number one and number two," she said, her face streaked with tears.

And if they weren't crying, or hugging, or discussing the purge of negative energy, they were stuffing their faces at a nearby buffet with free food supplied by true believers. "Happy New Age!" they cried to each other as they sucked up doughnuts and fruit and coffee and then walked into the morning light, ready to change the world by simply aligning their positive attitudes. -- Ryan P. Murphy