8.3. THE MAYA PSEUDO-PROPHECY AND THE YEAR 2012
After the failure of the year 2000 the interest in apocalypticism was quickly invigorated through the pseudo-prophecy of the Maya calendar for the year 2012. Once again, an army of astrologers, journalists, writers, contactees, mediums and spiritual healers begged for attention screaming that in 2012 something extraordinary was about to happen with Earth and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, their efforts were mercilessly amplified by the mass media and the Internet, both flooded by prophetic clichés such as the “turning point in the history of humanity,” “year of great changes” or “the special significance of the year 2012.”
The 2012 phenomenon was by far the most widespread apocalyptic phenomenon. It shattered the cultural, social and religious barriers and it manifested itself within nations that have nothing to do with Christianity or with Maya culture. Hundreds of books, articles, video documentaries and websites discussed and analyzed this subject. A virtual domain owned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration received more than 5,000 questions from the public on this subject, some asking if they should suicide, kill their kids or pets, make provisions of food and water or take shelter in bunkers.1425
The 2012 phenomenon came into being because in the year 2012 an important cycle of the Maya calendar ended – an aspect interpreted as a prophecy about the end of the world – and because any effect related to this calendrical event could directly affect us. All the other apocalyptic theories were speculations that deformed the truth.
There are two general perspectives regarding time in the world:
(1) The linear time – mainly promoted by the monotheistic Abrahamic religions. These say that time is unique; it started to flow at the moment of Creation and it is not known if it will be stopped by God in the future (the end of the world does not necessarily involve the end of time).
(2) The cyclic time – promoted by Amerindian and Hindu religions, together with modern, neopagan and New Age systems of belief. The idea of cyclic time, as the idea of reincarnation, is inspired by the cycles of seasons and other cycles of nature. The ancient Hindu elaborated a system of four successive yugas (a sort of ages of the world) of moral decadence which have a temporal length according to the proportion 4:3:2:1. Thus, the Hindu model of time was divided into a satya yuga of 1,728,000 years, treta yuga of 1,296,000 years, dvapara yuga of 864,000 years and the final age, of ultimate depravation, kali yuga of 432,000 years (the current age). After kali yuga the Universe will be completely destroyed, an age of emptiness will last unknown eons of time, and the entire cycle will repeat again, endlessly.1426
The Maya also had a cyclic conception about time and several methods to measure time, all based on the vigesimal numeral system (base 20) and on the mystical significance of the value 13. The basic calendar, tzolk’in, was composed of the combination of a cycle of 20 days with a cycle of 13 numbers; it took 260 days to complete (20 x 13). Haab was the 365 days calendar. The starting points of tzolk’in and haab overlap every 52 years, which corresponds to the cycle of Venus. And they also had the Long Count, used to measure temporal distances larger than 52 years. The Long Count contained k’in (“day”), uinal (a cycle of 20 k’ins), tun (a cycle of 18 uinals; 18 multiplied by 20 is 360 k’ins), k’atun (a cycle of 20 tuns), b’ak’tun (a cycle of 20 k’atuns; 20 multiplied by 20 is 400 tuns), piktun (a cycle of 20 b’ak’tuns; 400 multiplied by 20 is 8,000 tuns), kalabtun (a cycle of 20 piktuns; 8,000 multiplied by 20 is 160,000 tuns), kinichiltun (a cycle of 20 kalabtuns; 160,000 multiplied by 20 is 3,200,000 tuns) and alautun (a cycle of 20 kinichiltuns; 3,200,000 multiplied by 20 is 64,000,000 tuns). So, the Maya were capable to calculate periods of millions of years. Tun means “stone,” because the Maya calendar was written in stone and it had the purpose to keep track of the religious ceremonies.1427
The South American cultural conceptions regarding time, creation and death were diverse. According to Popol Vuh, a compilation of mythological stories of the Maya tribe K’iche’, the gods created three failed ages (or worlds), followed by a successful fourth age in which they placed mankind (the Aztecs had five ages of different length1428). The Maya placed the beginning of the Long Count at the end of the third age, which lasted a cycle of 13 b’ak’tuns. Hence, apparently, the fourth age was to end upon the completion of 13 b’ak’tuns as well.1429
Attempts to correlate the Mesoamerican calendar with the Western European one have been made since the first contacts between Europeans and natives in the 16th century. But, given the fact that there are radically different conceptions regarding the system of numeration and the flowing of time between civilizations, the calendrical correlation is a never-ending discussion. At the moment there are over 20 versions regarding the moment when the Long Count begins, varying between 3512 BC and 2594 BC. Of all, the version propounded by the expert Eric Thompson in the 1920s was the most accepted in the academic environment. Thompson calculated that the first day of the current Maya age was the date of August 11, 3114 BC, in the proleptic Gregorian calendar, the day when, mythologically speaking, the planet Venus was born.1430 Accordingly, if one b’ak’tun is equal to 144,000 k’ins (“days”), then 13 b’ak’tuns are equal to 5,125.36 years. And if 5,125.36 years are added to August 11, 3114 BC, then the date when the fourth age ended was December 21, 2012.
Thompson had no interest in eschatology and he did not speak about an end of Creation; on the contrary; he was not even sure about the calculations and the calendrical interpretations he had made.1431 Previously, at the beginning of the 1900s, the German scholar Ernst Förstemann interpreted the last page of Codex Dresdensis, a Maya book from around 11th century, as a representation of a global flood. Förstemann made reference to the end of the world, but he mentioned nothing about the end of the 13th b’ak’tun or 2012. Nor is it clear if his point of view referred to an event from Maya history or to a future event.1432 The archeologist Sylvanus Morley had the same opinion, writing in 1915 that “on the last page of the manuscript, is depicted the Destruction of the World … here, indeed, is portrayed with a graphic touch the final all-engulfing cataclysm” under the form of a flood.1433 So, scientifically speaking, the moment of the end of the 13 b’ak’tuns and the significance of this event are issues far from being clear. But, given that December 21, 2012, marked the winter solstice, an event with powerful astrological and astronomical significances, the apocalyptic speculators took the conclusions of the academics and adapted them to their own opinions. The comments of the early Mayanists created small snow-balls that, over the years, picked up the flakes of amateur astronomers, Maya devotees, spiritualists, New Age writers, and turned into an avalanche of speculations. By 2012 the so-called Maya apocalypse became an eschatological vortex absorbing the wildest catastrophic or transformative scenarios.
Roughly, there were two points of view, separated by a thin line, regarding the 2012 apocalypse. On the one hand, there was the New Age movement, which depicted 2012 as the start of a new level of human existence. Mankind was on the verge of a physical and spiritual transformation in the Age of Aquarius, leaving behind the decadent Age of Pisces. On the other hand there were doomsday theory advocates, for whom 2012 was synonymous with destruction. Geomagnetic reversal, deadly solar flares, earthquakes …
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