Inaugurating a weblog, 1 November 2009
Whoever said “Well begun is half done” was thinking of someone like me. Except my grasshopper-mind offers such monumental impediments to getting started on large projects, that my version is more like, “Well begun is about 85.714286% done.” First impressions being so important, I’ve been dithering for days about the topic of my very first blog. I finally overcame the inertia with the comforting thought that only about six people in the world will read this, and three are family. You, dear Reader, are in very select company.
The first, the most specific: What did the Maya say to make us think that 2012 was the end of the world, or something? And second, more generally: Why are people attracted to Apocalyptic prognostications like this?
I’ll speak to the latter issue first:
Interviewers always ask, “Harmonic Convergence in 1987, Y2K, and now 2012. So why do people keep predicting The End of the World As We Know It?”
I think it springs from Christian ideology, coupled with a sense of helplessness and frustration. The former permeates our culture, religious and secular. Like our ubiquitous year-calendar, the visions of Revelation color all our thinking. Whether we be skeptic or Mennonite, these Apocalyptic visions resonate with us; they are saturate so deeply into our mental landscape we hardly ever notice them. We almost never consider what the world would be like, if as, say, in ancient Greece, we had no concept of End-Times.
(No doubt some alert Reader is going to quote some obscure bit of Diogenes to prove me wrong. Good. I welcome contributions of this type. But no way did Athenians spill as much ink about the End of the World as we do.)
Since Nero’s pogroms in 64 AD, Christians have been comforted by the notion that This World is not the one that counts. We shall be rewarded in the afterlife, if not in direct proportion to our suffering in this one, at least by eternal happiness. (Or, in some circles, 72 virgins.) Most apocalyptic prophecies embody this idea: at least a chosen few will be saved to start afresh in a cleansed world, or carried off in a silver spaceship, or perhaps we all shall be initiated into a Galactic Brotherhood. This comforts us, since we cannot escape tribulation, neither here and now, nor in a coming Deluge.
What is particularly frustrating to most of us is that WE can see the train wreck coming, and are helpless to stop it. From strip-mining forests to overfishing to bovine streroids to selling weapons to rogue states, we are aghast at stupid, stupid choices by powerful people. Those with their hands on our world’s steering wheel, and their feet tromping the throttle, are impervious to our cries of warning. We are riding in a taxicab whose driver is drunk, crazy, heedless. Despair seems our only option.
Along comes a soothing prophecy:
“Don’t worry; in 2012 this will all change. Powers set in motion, millennia ago, will rebalance the world. It’ll be OK.”
Who wouldn’t welcome this Deus ex machina? I wish I could. But I happen to believe that, if there are Creator Gods watching over us, they designed us to solve our own problems. They’re not about to step in and clean up our mess, like Noah’s Flood or the Popol Vuh destructions. Not this time.
The more specific answer to “What did the Maya say about 2012…” is a bit more technical, but simple enough. Bear with me:
1. The Maya had several calendars, as we do. Most are cyclical, again like ours.
2. Their uncyclical calendar, the Maya Long Count, counts time from a specified “zero date”, like our A.D. year-count.
So far, so good? Nine more factoids:
3. While we count in a decimal system (“base 10”), based on our ten fingers, the Maya counted time in a vigesimal system (“base 20”), because these barefoot tropical-forest dwellers counted their fingers and toes. Our year “2009” counts years since the birth of Jesus (not exactly correctly, but never mind); the Maya counted the days since the gods “Manifested the Hearth”. (Their metaphor for building World was building a house: and a place to cook is foremost.)
4. While the Christian/Common beginning date was “1 AD / 1 CE”, we write the Maya “Era Date” as 126.96.36.199.0 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u. They, of course, wrote it in their sublime hieroglyphs; our version is only a crude, convenient echo. They sometimes abbreviated the date to “End of the 13th Pik,” or, more usually, “4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u”. Don’t worry what all the Maya terms mean; I’ll explain them on a need-to-know basis. We call this latter abbreviated date a Calendar Round, or CR.
5. Like a clock just after midnight going to 12:01, then on to 1:00, the Maya Long Count apparently began this Creation at 188.8.131.52.1, then 184.108.40.206.2, and on up, but reset to 220.127.116.11.0 instead of 18.104.22.168.0.
6. The Maya and Aztec myths of Creation both describe several iterations of this world. We are in the fourth Creation, according to the Maya Popol Vuh (the most complete surviving Maya Creation mythology). But we are in the fifth Creation, according to the Aztec Leyenda de los Soles (“Legend of the Suns”: the Aztecs called each Creation a “sun”). Each of the previous Creations ended with annihilation of the population, of the sun and moon, perhaps of Time itself. This implies that they believed this World, too, —our world— was destined to end sometime.
7. The Leyenda de los Soles specifies that each Sun began on a specific cyclic date, such as 4-Jaguar, or 4-Water. This date itself prophesied the character of the era. Each previous Sun ended on the same cycle date: the “4-Jaguar Sun” began and ended on the day 4-Jaguar, and the “4-Water Sun” began and ended on 4-Water. Likewise the “4-Wind Sun”, and the others. These beginning-and-ending dates were separated by multiples of 52 years, either 6 x 52, 7 x 52, or 13 x 52 years. (It is no accident that 6 + 7 = 13.)
7a.Specifically, the day-name of each Sun foretold the method of its destruction: at the end of the 4-Jaguar Sun, its population was devoured by jaguars. The 4-Water Sun ended in a massive flood. And our Creation, the 4-Earthquake Sun, will end … you can guess. The Mesoamerican calendar was more than a mere method to track Time; it was Destiny.
8. The Aztec Calendar clearly parallels many features of the much older Maya calendar. (Unfortunately, we know much less of the Maya Creation cycle story.) For example, the Maya Long Count begins on a 4 Ajaw date, echoing the 4-Water, 4-Jaguar, etc. (Note, however, that none of the five Aztec Creation dates are 4-Flower, which corresponds to 4 Ajaw. For some reason, the date got changed in translation….)
8a. Also, the Maya Long Count’s begin-date suggests a Creation cycle of 13 Pik (a Pik is 20 x 20 Maya ‘years’ of 360 days), which, perhaps, transformed into the Aztec 13 x 52-year cycle. Another feature distorted in translation. Unfortunately, the Popol Vuh, which details the four Maya Creations, neglects to date any of its events.
9. Combining the peculiar Maya Creation date of 22.214.171.124.0 with the notion of multiple Creations, many people have deduced that the Maya Long Count has an “end date” of 126.96.36.199.0. And the End is Near; the upcoming 188.8.131.52.0 falls on 21st December 2012. (Its CR is 4 Ajaw 3 Uniiw, also known as 4 Ahau 3 Kank’in.)
Combining these three stories, the Maya Creation date with the Aztec and Maya Creation cycles, modern scholars —and others— have deduced the foundation of the 2012 “end date”. This is everything we know. All the rest of the kerfuffle is extrapolation, imagination, wishful thinking.
For a more detailed and colorfully-illustrated account of what the Maya tell us about these Creation cycles, as well as several related issues, please visit my FAMSI website:
FAMSI has also kindly installed links to archived radio interviews and news items featuring scholars’ voices here:
My book, “2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya” is finally ready! Hurrah! You can get it at Amazon.com and several other online stores, in paperback or hardcover. Also have a cheap .pdf download, which we’re in the process of making available to the Mac Store and other venues… Stay tuned!
Note: By the way, Nero’s persecutions, which first popularized feeding Christians to lions, led to his characterization as the Antichrist. I read somewhere that his name, rendered in Greek letters (which are also Greek numerals, from 1 – 700), added up to 666. However, when I sought confirmation of this by Googling “666 Nero Beast”, I found several candidates for names with numerological values added up to 666 (including “the Romans”), but Nero’s wasn’t among them. So I added up the letter-values for NERON KAISAR, his usual moniker in Greek, and they only reached 487. His full name, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, has a value far in excess of 666. How anticlimactic.