Don’t panic. Yes, another Mayan inscription referencing December 21, 2012, has been found, this one at Comalcalco, Mexico. Previously, the only known reference to this date was a Mayan stone tablet found at nearby Tortuguero. The Tortuguero inscription says that Mayan god Bolon Yokte, a deity of war and creation, will arrive at that time.
But scholars and scientists insist that this does not mean the world is ending. In fact, the National Institute of Anthropological History in Mexico just assembled a group of experts to combat the rising hysteria. The institute issued a statement that read, “The West’s messianic thinking has distorted the world view of ancient civilizations like the Mayans.”
If you speak to anyone who knows anything about the Mayan calendar, they will tell you the ancient Maya believed the gods had a changing of the guard every 20 years. So, the arrival of Bolon Yokte would not mean the apocalypse. So say New Age gurus, NASA scientists, and serious scholars — like etchings specialist Erik Velasquez, who recently told Reuters that the doomsday take was a “marketing fallacy.”
It’s just a calendar
What they all agree on is that the winter solstice, December 21, 2012, is the end of the 13th Baktun, a division of time that represents approximately 400 years. On the long-form Mayan calendar, which has fallen out of use, the end of the 13th Baktun represents the end of one big 5,000-plus-year cycle and the beginning of a new one.
Where opinion splits is on what December 21, 2012, does mean. Mayan scholars insist the date is no more meaningful than the change of the millennium on the Gregorian calendar.
“The solar year is not an arbitrary divider of time; the sun making a complete cycle is a significant astronomical event,” says Tom Guderjan, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Tyler and president of the Maya Research Program. “But when you put years into bigger groups, they start losing their meaning. A lot of people thought the world was going to end on January 31, 1999, but of course, it did not.”
Others, like Eden Sky, who maintains the New Age site 13moons.com, writes that winter solstice 2012 represents a turning point in a shift in human consciousness that is happening now. Sky explains that we are in a time of “uncertainty and imbalance” (hello, Occupy Wall Street) and that we are on the verge of a great awakening that can lead to humanity’s self-destruction or a more harmonious existence on Earth. Guderjan, for one, isn’t buying it.
“Some Mayan shamen known as ‘h’men’ from the Yucatan, who’ve been hanging out with the New Age set for 30 years, are making good money talking about this renewal,” Guderjan says. “Basically, it is profiteering. If you talk to traditional h’men who stayed home with their people, they don’t believe this.”
Sky’s page also touches on the Galactic Alignment Theory of John Major Jenkins, what she calls “a rare 26,000-year alignment between the December solstice sun with the Galactic equator,” also known as the bright center of the Milky Way. Other popular myths about 2012 including the approach of fictional planet Nibiru, and the reversal of the magnetic poles, which believers claim will cause the earth’s rotation to reverse. It’s a complicated and fascinating mythology, but according to NASA Astrobiology Institute senior scientist David Morrison, it’s a bunch of hooey.
Disaster, aliens, oh my
As 2012 approaches, obsession with the Mayan calendar seems to be reaching a fever pitch. Roland Emmerich’s 2009 disaster film “2012” capitalized on this collective fear. Raul Julia-Levy — Mexican American actor, filmmaker, and son of late actor Raul Julia — is producing a documentary film, “Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond,” which purports to have evidence that the Maya had close ties to aliens.
“This idea about aliens is disrespectful to the contemporary Maya, living in Guatemala, Yucatan, Belize, and Chiapas,” says Bruce Love, a Mayan scholar for the Archaeological Institute of America. “Whatever the significance of the date is, it is significance we are putting on it; it’s not the significance the Maya are putting on it. It’s not coming from anywhere in the literature or in the Mayan hieroglyphic writing.”
Lisa Hix is a freelance writer and a former Yahoo! editor who’s been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Glamour, and Bust. She’s currently an associate editor at Collectors Weekly and a KQED Arts blogger. Find her on Twitter.
Photo by Adam Baker/Flickr