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The Mayan Prophecy

On Christmas Eve 2012, the sky is divided by the sun and all dry land begins to rise. The oceans respond to the tectonic shifts and the great flooding of the Earth begins. New York is washed away by a tsunami ten times greater than the Indian Ocean wave of 2004. Chicago returns to its swamp roots as the melting ice from the North Pole quickly fills the basins of the Great Lakes, causing Lake Michigan to burst at the seams. Gravity from the North speeds up the process of course, as the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans collide in Nebraska. The new era of humanity turns from dominance to survival.
Rather then the plot for a blockbuster Hollywood summer movie, this is the way the world could end according to Western interpretation of the Long Count calendar, one of several created by the Mayan Indians who populated the Yucatan peninsulain Mexico hundreds of years ago. While many Mayans still exist today, the classical period of their culture ended around 900 A.D. They studied the stars and the movements of the moon and sun, developing several calendars including the Long Count, which measures huge periods of time, along with a calendar to mark the passing of a year.

The exact date of the ending of the Long Count calendar is Dec. 21, 2012. On that date the Last Great Cycle will come to a close. The Sun God will rule the sky, the ninth Lord of the Night. The Moon will be eight days old, and it will be the third lunation in a series of six. But what does this fascinating document actually mean? How accurate is the calendar and should we pay attention to it? Many religious aficionados predicted the end of creation to be December 31, 1999, and that story had a happy ending. Do we need to prepare for an astronomical event the equivalent of Armageddon?

The Long Count Calendar measures time in cycles of years. The current cycle, or baktun, is scheduled to end in the northern hemisphere on the winter solstice in 2012. This cycle will have lasted about 394 years, and is the last in a series of 13 baktuns, the first of which started in 3114 B.C. No one knows why the Maya marked the beginning of creation on that particular date. Every year the Sun, Earth and the Milky Way galaxy align in a particular manner in the days leading up to the winter solstice. What is special about 2012 is for the first time in 26,000 years this alignment will occur on December 21, the actual date of the winter solstice. This has led to rampant speculation that the Maya believed something catastrophic will happen. The problem is that none of these predictions were made by actual Mayans, only individuals from the West who have interpreted the calendar themselves, according to Dr. Robert Sitler, the Latin American Studies director at Stetson University in Florida.

“All of that speculation is by modern Western people who are unfamiliar with the Maya culture,” Sitler said. “If you talked to 1000 Mayans about 2012, they wouldn’t know about it.

“The (classic) Mayans simply never mentioned it once. I’m dissuaded from (the end of the world theory) because they never wrote it down anywhere”

While the Maya were accurate in charting the movements of the heavens without the benefit of telescopes, Sitler said the Long Count calendar has nothing to do with astronomy but more to do with the Maya’s theory on creation. In fact, the Maya believed in multiple creations, one of which ended with the great flooding of the Earth.

while Sitler says the dire predictions of apocalypse in 2012 are off-base, he does believe that the current state of society is in a downturn. “Will all that crazy stuff happen? No,” he said. “I think there is cause for concern when you look at the environmental situation we are in. The current lifestyle on planet Earth is unsustainable.”

In fact, Sitler said the Maya people currently living in places like Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize are learning about the 2012 prediction like other people: through the media. This has led some Maya to interpret the calendar to mean their people will return to autonomous rule. Other Maya resent what they consider to be another example of the white man taking over their culture by interpreting their own documents for them. Sitler believes nothing extraordinary will occur specifically in 2012.However, he does warn that unless changes are made regarding toxic dumping, pollution and the way we treat the environment, the end is not far off.

“The trajectory is in place and we are already in this disaster,” he said. “It will collapse, it has to. It has no choice. We desperately are trying not to see the writing on the wall. I think we’re kind of in a collective delusional state.”

Dr. Vern Scarborough is a Mayanist and professor of anthropology at the University of Cincinnati. He also warns not to read too much in the doomsday prophecy of the Long Count Calendar. “This was a society governed by rules that were very different than ours,” he said. “I think you have to be very careful when you drum up support for the end of the world just because the Maya say so.”

Scarborough said that the astronomy predictions made many years ago were often used in what today would be termed “playing politics.” Only a select group of Mayan elders studied the sky, enough to predict certain events like eclipses and the movements of planets. If an elder said an eclipse would happen and he was correct, he would then use that to his advantage when pushing for additional powers or longevity. “If things didn’t happen the way they predicted, they made them happen,” Scarborough said. “When you begin predicting eclipses, that’s a pretty heavy-duty statement. You then indicate that you are responsible for shutting out the sun. It’s a power play.”

One problem with studying the Mayan writings is many people fail to place them in the context of the time. The Maya had no way of knowing certain events like modern scholars can.

“We can be more rational because we can afford to be,” he said. The Maya couldn’t, they lived in a different world. I’m not taking away from their ability to construct this marvelous calendar. There are lessons to learn from their relationship with the landscape.

“As for myth and religion, why would you think a culture over 1,000 years ago would have a better understanding about the end of the world then we do today?”

The Maya were truly a unique civilization of people. They developed their own system of writing, and were expert mathematicians and astronomers. They lived for thousands of years in an area very difficult for human beings to inhabit. They built impressive cities, the ruins of which went undiscovered for centuries buried beneath the canopy of the jungle in Central and South America. The most famous of these cities, Chichen Itza, is located about 100 kilometers west of Cancun and visited each year by thousands of tourists who marvel at the exquisite stone construction of buildings, including the Great Ball Court, The Temple of the Warriors, and the Castillo. The Maya believed a great god, Quetzalcoatl (or “birdsnake”) resided in the city and the Castillo was a monument to the feathered serpent. Each year, during the spring and autumn equinoxes, carvings of feathered serpents located on the Castillo’s northern stair create an illusion that draws thousands of worldwide tourists. The late afternoon sunlight brings these carvings to life and as the day goes on a pattern of light and shadows gives one the impression that great diamond-backed rattlesnakes are writhing up the great stairs of the Castillo.

The progressiveness of the Mayan culture convinced a certain sector of their fan base that the Maya were actually not human at all. This line of thinking follows the concept that the Maya are in fact aliens from another planet who traveled by the light of the stars. The belief is that the Mayans will return on December 21, 2012 to transform reality. One of the curators of this theory is Jose Arguelles, author of “The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology.” Arguelles believes the Maya actually are from the star Arcturus in the Pleides cluster and materialized in Mesoamerica as “galactic agents.”

Reviews of the Pleidian theory range from polite snickering to outright dismissal. Kenneth L. Feder, author of “Frauds, Myths and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology”, writes “there is no reference to archaeological evidence or any sort of scientific testing for the speculations made by Arguelles. The claims may seem laughable, but at this time in genuine human history, the joke isn’t funny. The specter of thousands of people waiting hopefully for some ‘planetary synchronization’ or ‘harmonic convergence’ to cure all of the ills that afflict us and our planet is ultimately, desperately sad.”

While many Mayan scholars dismiss the end of the Last Great Cycle as pop hysteria, the fact is mainstream culture has slowly began to discover the Mayan civilization. The popular TV series the “X-Files” ended with Mulder and Scully not being abducted by predatory aliens, but because the producers deemed the Long Calendar as the ultimate X-File. The last episode depicts the end of the world in 2012, in accordance with the end of the last cycle. Mel Gibson’s new movie “Apocolypto” will hit theaters later this year, and deals with the downfall of the classic Mayan society. The characters will speak entirely in Mayan, the same language still spoken by the remaining Mayans today. Surprisingly, Scarborough is looking forward to the movie. He believes the film could have educational value if it encourages just one person to open a book about the history of the Maya and do some research.

“My colleagues might go crazy, but I’m a little more open to things,” he said. “The Maya were amazing, there’s no doubt about that. We have to be careful how far we take their beliefs.” As for what will happen on December 21, 2012, we know the planets will align and for sure, there will a lot of individuals proclaiming the end of days. But as Michael Coe, professor emeritus of anthropology at Yale University, puts it: “No one really knows what is going to happen.”

However, if we continue to turn a blind eye to such issues as pollution and global warming, we will not need a calendar to tell us the world is ending. All we will need to do is look out our window.

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  1. 08/03/2012 at 6:15 AM

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