For the past several years legions of self-appointed, non-native Maya prophets have been promoting the idea that the “Mayan Calendar,” a prophetic calendar from ancient Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, points to the Christian year 2012 as a time of reckoning. The assertions of these prophets have gotten media attention and the message is scaring people.
In fact, we’re talking about an onslaught of visionary madness. A search on Amazon.com pulls up over 500 books dealing with 2012, most of them predicting “the transformation of consciousness,” “Earth changes,” arrival of “space brothers” and the start of a New Age. Some compare our time to the last days of Atlantis. Talk show hosts on radio and television, who are mostly ignorant of the subject, assist in the transmission of these idealistic and doomsday messages allowing distorted, incomplete and uninformed ideas to further percolate through our culture.
On the cusp of December 21, 2012, what we’ve got is a prognosticatory free-for-all – an undisciplined, wishful-thinking, fear-driven rant fueling the declining book business and spicing up talk shows. So maybe it’s good for the economy? The truth is, however, Mayan Calendar 2012 subject matter is complicated and few have the patience to wade through it – a recipe for unfounded opinions. If you’ve gotten this far, and you are curious about 2012, get ready to focus your mind on some details.
Here are the Facts…
The name “Mayan Calendar” is popularly used to describe a symbolic time-count developed and employed by the ancient Maya of Mesoamerica.(1) Archaeologists call it the “Long Count.” It is a block of time 5,125 years in length – one end anchored in 3114 B.C.E and the other in 2012 C.E. I have argued in my writings that the Long Count is actually a kind of astrology created roughly 2,000 years ago by the ancient Maya of Mesoamerica.
The Long Count has some important divisions. It is composed of 260 katuns, each of which contain 7,200 days.(2) This length of time, 19.71 years, is very close to the average Jupiter-Saturn synodic cycle of 19.86 years. We know from inscriptions on ruins that Maya astronomer/astrologers followed the movements of these planets and appear to have used this information to schedule important cultural and dynastic events. I suspect that the Maya saw the katun as the perfect expression in time of the Jupiter-Saturn cycle – a block of days that was aesthetically and numerologically more balanced than 7,254. Western cultures do the same sort of thing by using 7 days in a week to measure the quarters of the Moon, or 360 degrees to track the Sun’s annual cycle of 365.24 days.
It’s all about Earth cycles. After rotation on its axis, and revolution around the Sun, the Earth’s third fundamental motion is the wobble of its axis called axial precession. The Long Count multiplied by five is very close to the 25,800-year average cycle of precession measured by Western astronomers from the equinoxes. If we then take a modest intuitive leap, we see the Long Count as a calendar of precession, a way of tracking this very, very long Earth cycle. It is a complete block of time in itself, but is also one-fifth of the full cycle. Cycles can’t be relative: they must be anchored to something stable. The starting and ending point of the full precession cycle as measured by the Long Count, appears to be the precession of the winter solstice Sun across the Milky Way – but this crossing takes roughly a thousand years.
To get more precise, this passage of the winter solstice Sun can be more narrowly focused on the crossing of the galactic equator (approximate midpoint) which occurred in 1998, the tangent to the dark rift in the Milky Way (~2012 +/– decades at least) or the transit over the ecliptic position of the galactic center (a couple centuries from now). See how much is uncertain here? I would identify this as a serious, unresolved timing problem, central to the basic thesis of 2012 as an end-date.
Intriguingly, Mesoamerican cosmology talks of five creations, this concept recorded graphically in the Piedra del Sol of the Aztecs which indicates the present creation is the fifth or last section of the full cycle. Using this fact, we could take another leap and say the end of the Long Count could be seen as the end of the precession cycle that began roughly 25,800 years ago. OK, what happened then, the last time the Mayan Calendar came around? I have read that it was around that time that humans used up all the easy-to-catch turtles for food and were forced to work harder for meals. But if that was really the case, it was most certainly something that didn’t happen in one day. All we can say for certain is that one precession cycle ago the Earth was deep in the grip of an 85,000 year long ice age that began to melt 5,000 years later.
Logic Of The Mayan Calendar
The logic of the Mayan Calendar is fairly straightforward in terms of just numbers. What I am adding to this is that the Long Count has both an astronomical and astrological basis. Not only does it appear to offer a figure for the length of the precession cycle, which was barely known in the West at roughly the same time the Maya were solving this problem, but it appears to be constructed from a string of idealized Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions called katuns, and we are now at the very end of the last of these 260 katuns. I want to emphasize that these proposed linkages to the Jupiter/Saturn cycle and precession, which link the calendar to real geocosmic phenomena, are currently academically questionable. I’ve made these leaps because I’ve studied astrology extensively and know it when I see it. Still, most archaeoastronomers haven’t done this yet, at least with any enthusiasm. So take it with a grain of salt.
If you gotten this far you now know that the “end of the Mayan calendar” in 2012 could be seen as both the end point of the current fifth part of the precessional cycle (the Long Count) and the terminal point of the entire precession cycle itself. This end-dating is where that cultural psychosis called millennialism and all the Earth-shaking prophecies come in. But what did the Maya have to say about this? The fact is that Maya prophecies for the end of the Long Count range from non-existent to a shred of pure obscurity. There really are, however, Maya prophecies for a section of the Long Count that is called the Short Count, but these don’t latch onto the year 2012 and they seem to be unknown to nearly all the published prophets.
Here’s all we have. A few years ago a badly weathered inscription was found at a minor Maya archaeological site that appears to link the end of the Long Count with the descent of an obscure Maya deity called Bolon Yokte. But not much more is clear, even who Bolon Yokte is in the Maya pantheon. Still, this minor discovery has been loudly touted as evidence that Maya were at least thinking about 2012 a long time ago.
So in the end, all we have for certain is a calendar end-date that we know with precision to be December 21, 2012. We can surmise that it may be linked to the precession of the winter solstice point through the approximate midpoint crossing of the Milky Way. We don’t know exactly what the Maya were intending in making this calendar, though we know the winter solstice Sun did cross the galactic equator in 1998. Finally, we don’t have much of an authentic Mayan prophecy to interpret so we are left with the creative imaginations of people who are dissatisfied with society and are looking outside of themselves for answers, justice and salvation. Not all writers on 2012 are in this category, but I think most of them are.(3)
Anyone Can Be A Prophet
Anybody paying attention these days can be a prophet. First of all, it’s obvious that humanity is at war with nature. We are fighting over increasingly scarce resources and degrading the Earth to such an extent that we have accelerated the natural cycles of climate change. Worse, many are in denial that humans are causing such problems. But the elephant in the parlor that is conveniently ignored is over-population. It seems people can’t really deal with reproductive issues (birth control, abortion, homosexuality, etc.) without emotional charge because we’re hard-wired like other animals to reach our biotic potential. Reproduction was crucial for 99% of our existence as a species but now it’s making things worse. So we are simultaneously over-consuming, over-populating and soiling our nest and surely we will pay the price over the course of the next century.
Anybody paying attention will also note that changes, both positive and negative, have already begun – at least for some people in some places.(4) It’s not that all of this is unprecedented, there are parallels with past crises – but never before has our planet been loaded up with this many domesticated primates! It just can’t go on for much longer the way it has been, so predicting either a new age or an Atlantis-like destruction is sort of a no-brainer. Predicting such events to occur right on 12.21.2012, which is most likely going to just be another Friday full of last minute Christmas shopping, is desperately audacious, however. Hopefully, enough smart folks will prevail and some kind of realistic accommodation with our Earth will be the outcome over several decades, visible in retrospect a century from now. As for visits from the space brothers, well, that’s a wild card. More likely we’ll find bacteria on Mars or Europa and finally know that we are not alone.
1. It should properly be called the Maya calendar according to convention, but it’s too late to change that now.
2. The Long Count appears to be a large-scale version of the 260-day astrological calendar of ancient Mesoamerica called the tzolkin. If you want to understand Mesoamerican astrology you should begin with the tzolkin.
3. If you wish to dig deeper into this subject in a balanced way, I recommend you consider the writings of both Anthony Aveni and John Major Jenkins.
4. The square of Pluto and Uranus, which has a long history of social disruption, is presently occurring and will be a factor for several years. This aspect, by itself, makes a strong case for major changes in culture and society. This is, of course, Western astrology and the coincidence with the end of the Long Count is just that, coincidence.