The Mayan Prophecies of 2012
The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs that cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012. This date is regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae related to this date have been proposed.
A New Age interpretation of this transition postulates that this date marks the start of time in which Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Others suggest that the 2012 date marks the end of the world or a smaller catastrophe. Scenarios suggested for the end of the world include the arrival of the next solar maximum, or Earth’s collision with a black hole or a passing planet called “Nibiru”.
Scholars from various disciplines have dismissed the idea of such cataclysmic events occurring in 2012. Mainstream Mayanist scholars state that predictions of impending doom are not found in any of the extant classic Maya accounts, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar “ends” in 2012 misrepresents Maya history. The modern Maya do not consider the date significant, and the classical sources on the subject are scarce and contradictory. Astronomers and other scientists have rejected the apocalyptic forecasts as pseudoscience, stating that the anticipated events are contradicted by simple astronomical observations.
December 2012 marks the conclusion of a b’ak’tun—a time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which was used in Central America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Though the Long Count was most likely invented by the Olmec, it has become closely associated with the Maya civilization, whose classic period lasted from 250 to 900 AD. The writing system of the classic Maya has been substantially deciphered, meaning that a corpus of their written and inscribed material has survived from before the European conquest.
Unlike the 52-year Calendar Round still used today among the Maya, the Long Count was linear rather than cyclical, and kept time roughly in units of 20: 20 days made a uinal, 18 uinals (360 days) made a tun, 20 tuns made a k’atun, and 20 k’atuns (144,000 days or roughly 394 years) made up a b’ak’tun. Thus, the Mayan date of 126.96.36.199.15 represents 8 b’ak’tuns, 3 k’atuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 15 days.
There is a strong tradition of “world ages” in Mayan literature, but the record has been distorted, leaving several possibilities open to interpretation. According to the Popol Vuh, a compilation of the creation accounts of the K’iche’ Maya of the Colonial-era highlands, we are living in the fourth world. The Popol Vuh describes the gods first creating three failed worlds, followed by a successful fourth world in which humanity was placed. In the Maya Long Count, the previous world ended after 13 b’ak’tuns, or roughly 5,125 years. The Long Count’s “zero date” was set at a point in the past marking the end of the third world and the beginning of the current one, which corresponds to 11 August 3114 BC in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. This means that the fourth world will also have reached the end of its 13th b’ak’tun, or Mayan date 188.8.131.52.0, on December 21, 2012.
In 1957, Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that “the completion of a Great Period of 13 b’ak’tuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya”. In 1966, Michael D. Coe wrote in The Maya that “there is a suggestion … that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [b’ak’tun]. Thus … our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.”
The present-day Maya, as a whole, do not attach much significance to b’ak’tun 13. Although the Calendar Round is still used by some Maya groups in the Guatemalan Highlands, the Long Count was employed exclusively by the classic Maya and was only rediscovered with the decipherment of the Mayan writing system in the 20th century. Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun and Mexican archaeologist Guillermo Bernal both note that “apocalypse” is a Western concept that has little or nothing to do with Mayan beliefs. Bernal believes that such ideas have been foisted on the Maya by Westerners because their own myths are “exhausted”. Mayan archaeologist Jose Huchm has stated that “If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn’t have any idea. That the world is going to end? They wouldn’t believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain”.
It is not certain what significance the classic Maya give to the 13th b’ak’tun. Most classic Maya inscriptions are strictly historical and do not make any prophetic declarations. One item in the Mayan classical corpus, however, does mention the end of the 13th b’ak’tun: Tortuguero Monument.
There is no significant astronomical event tied to the Long Count’s start date. However, since the mid 1990s, esoteric author John Major Jenkins has asserted that the ancient Maya intended to tie the end of their calendar to the winter solstice in 2012, which falls on December 21. This date was in line with an idea he terms the galactic alignment.
In the Solar System, the planets and the Sun lie roughly within the same flat plane, known as the plane of the ecliptic. From our perspective on Earth, the ecliptic is the path taken by the Sun across the sky over the course of the year. The twelve constellations that line the ecliptic are known as the zodiac and, annually, the Sun passes through all of them in turn. Additionally, over time, the Sun’s annual cycle appears to recede very slowly backward by one degree every 72 years, or by one constellation every 2,160 years. This backward movement, called “precession”, is due to a slight wobble in the Earth’s axis as it spins, and can be compared to the way a spinning top wobbles as it slows down. Over the course of 25,800 years, a period often called a Great Year, the Sun completes a full, 360-degree backward circuit through the zodiac. In Western astrological traditions, precession is measured from the northern hemisphere’s spring equinox, or the point at which the Sun is exactly halfway between its lowest and highest points in the sky. Presently, the Sun’s spring equinox position is in the constellation Pisces and is moving back into Aquarius. This signals the end of one astrological age (the Age of Pisces) and the beginning of another (the Age of Aquarius).
Similarly, the Sun’s winter solstice position, its lowest point, is currently in the constellation of Sagittarius, one of two constellations in which the zodiac intersects with the Milky Way. Every year, on the winter solstice, the Sun and the Milky Way, from the surface of the Earth, appear to come into alignment, and every year, precession causes a slight shift in the Sun’s position in the Milky Way. Given that the Milky Way is between 10° and 20° wide, it takes between 700 and 1400 years for the Sun’s winter solstice position to precess through it. It is currently about halfway through the Milky Way, crossing the galactic equator.
“Timewave zero” is a numerological formula that purports to calculate the ebb and flow of “novelty”, defined as increase over time in the universe’s interconnectedness, or organized complexity. According to Terence McKenna the universe has a teleological attractor at the end of time that increases interconnectedness, eventually reaching a singularity of infinite complexity in 2012, at which point anything and everything imaginable will occur simultaneously. He conceived this idea over several years in the early to mid-1970s while using psilocybin mushrooms and DMT.
McKenna expressed “novelty” in a computer program which purportedly produces a waveform known as “timewave zero” or the “timewave”. Based on McKenna’s interpretation of the King Wen sequence of the I Ching, the graph appears to show great periods of novelty corresponding with major shifts in humanity’s biological and sociocultural evolution. He believed that the events of any given time are recursively related to the events of other times, and chose the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as the basis for calculating his end date of November 2012. When he later discovered this date’s proximity to the end of the 13th b’ak’tun of the Maya calendar, he revised his hypothesis so that the two dates matched.
The first edition of The Invisible Landscape refers to 2012 (but no specific day during the year) only twice. It was only in 1983, with the publication of Sharer’s revised table of date correlations in the 4th edition of Morley’s The Ancient Maya, that each became convinced that December 21, 2012, had significant meaning. McKenna subsequently included this specific date throughout the second edition of The Invisible Landscape, published in 1993.
A far more apocalyptic view of the year 2012 that has spread in various media describes the end of the world or of human civilization on that date. This view has been promulgated by many hoax pages on the Internet, particularly on YouTube. The History Channel has aired a handful of special series on doomsday that include analysis of 2012 theories, such as Decoding the Past (2005–2007), 2012, End of Days (2006), Last Days on Earth (2006), Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (2007), and Nostradamus 2012 (2008). The Discovery Channel also aired 2012 Apocalypse in 2009, suggesting that massive solar storms, magnetic pole reversal, earthquakes, supervolcanoes, and other drastic natural events may occur in 2012. Author Graham Hancock, in his book Fingerprints of the Gods, interpreted Coe’s remarks in Breaking the Maya Code as evidence for the prophecy of a global cataclysm.