Clearing the Road: Lessons from the Ancient Maya
Acknowledgement to the living MayaChhonta chey[i]. Mal tyox. K'ak'namal. K’u bo’otik. Wokolawal. Yuh wal dyos. Kolaval. Wokolix awalo. Ban tyox. Dyos bo’otik.
I offer my thanks in just a few of your more than two dozen languages. Numerous kind-hearted souls among you and your remarkably diverse cultural traditions have inspired my life. Even so, I have no ability or inclination to speak on your behalf. This book attempts to convey what are merely my own reflections on time spent in your communities and inevitably reveals far more about me than it tells about your world. I ask your pardon in advance for shortcomings in my perceptual capacities. Like the first true human beings modeled from corn dough by the primordial spirits in the holy Popol Vuh, I see through eyes deliberately and mercifully clouded by our creators.
[i] With minor exceptions, the spelling of terms in Maya languages in this book uses the conventions of the Guatemalan Academy of Maya Languages. In this system, the /x/ sounds like the /sh/ sound in English except that the sound is produced with the tongue pointing slightly backwards. An apostrophe after a letter indicates a glottal stop like that found in the middle of the English expression of concern, “uh oh.”The /b’/ in Maya languagesis a glottal phoneme that sounds harder than the English /b/ but the simple /b/appears in this book in Maya words instead of the official spelling for the sake of simplicity. Another exceptional spelling is the /j/ sound in the official Guatemalan alphabet that is represented here with an /h/ reflecting its approximate pronunciation in English.
Maya[ii]frequently use the image of a path or road as a metaphor for human life. For example, when rural Yukatek Maya ask,"Bix a bel?," How is your road?; they are not merely inquiring about current trail conditions, a practical consideration for people who still sometimes travel great distances on foot; they are also asking about your present state of being as you walk. The 80,000 Q'anhobal Maya who live in the high altitude valleys of the Cuchumatan Mountains of northwest Guatemala use the road metaphor with a slightly different twist. There, the title for one of their revered spiritual guides is ahbe',or "person of the road," a being assumed to have attained a heightened capacity to provide reliable direction for one's life journey by virtue of their own lengthy experience walking literal and figurative roads. The living Maya continue a collective ancestral journey on a cultural path already some three thousand years in length. Their culture's well-worn road has already taken them through extreme challenges including near societal collapse, mass die-offs due to pandemic diseases and even barbarically violent attempts by outsiders to vanquish the Maya and their traditions. Maya have acquired their millennial knowledge concerning the human journey through repeated periods of severe hardship and over a hundred generations of human experience. As the much-heralded year 2012 approaches, the experientially acquired wisdom of this ancient culture offers us time-proven guidance based upon the Maya's profound familiarity with the twists and turns on life's many roads.
In these pages I intend to share my own perception of Maya ways, personal perspectives derived from my own walks on hundreds of trails in Guatemala, Mexico and Belize over the past thirty plus years among people speaking more than a dozen Maya languages. As I proceed in this book, I utilize this experiential grounding in Maya culture for direction in coming to terms with the multifaceted and sometimes bewildering topic of 2012[iii]and the Maya calendar. Just as when hiking on narrow Maya footpaths in an unfamiliar area, when trying to communicate about radically different cultural traditions such as those of the Maya and to explore the potential esoteric significance of their ancient calendars, it is helpful for the trail ahead to be clear of obstructions. For that reason, I begin the book by describing a bit of my own life journey, including some of its curious detours; the first lessons learned while hiking Maya trails with my wife in Mexico; and my gradual development of a better informed and multivalent appreciation for the potential significance of the year 2012. I write about myself, not because my personal saga is of any inordinate importance, but merely so readers have a clearer sense of "where I'm coming from" and thus can more easily assess my value as a guide. I hope to remove as many impediments as I can from our road to a richer understanding of the world of the living Maya, its elaborate calendar systems and the portentous year 2012 itself.
Approaching fruition of the 13th pik[iv]cycle in the ancient Long Count calendar during the highly anticipated year 2012, some of my fellow New Agers describe the Maya as highly evolved spiritual messengers from a distant constellation. These extraterrestrial Maya come, it is said, to guide an increasingly disoriented humanity at this time of unprecedented socio-environmental crisis. I agree wholeheartedly that Maya ways have much to offer us at this uniquely critical juncture in humanity's Earthly voyage, although my own experience has pointed in precisely the opposite direction for the source of their culture's genius. While I am utterly unqualified to discount Maya connections to spirit beings from other realms, my heartfelt sense is that some of their most valuable Maya guidance for us comes not from distant stars, but from their culture's powerful connections with the physical planet beneath their feet. These eminently practical lessons from the Maya have the potential to "ground" our lives more harmoniously into nature's infinitely complex ways, to widen our perspectives on human existence and help us develop our innate capacity for experiencing shared awareness with those around us.
Maya traditions have emerged from the living earth like an ancestral yaxte', an ancient kapok tree[v], more than a hundred generations thick. This ceiba, as it's more commonly known, represents the archetypal Maya World Tree, the horizontal axis of the cosmos with its deep roots drawing life-giving nutrients from the earth and its trunk reaching towards the star-bejeweled heavens above. A multi-millennially enriched cultural sap flows from deep ancestral roots skyward into the tree's divergent ethnic branches. Each bough grows with its own unique shape and puts forth distinctive blossoms of experientially acquired wisdom. Through reproductive metamorphosis these culturally specific patterns enter into more solid embodiments, the maturing fruit that ripen as into the current generation of precious Maya babies. The Maya; like Chinese, Persians, Indians and other preeminent world cultures; have a multi-millennial written history and a vastwealth of practical knowledge that can inform modern humanity's cultivation offuture generations. Their culture, like the others, has dedicated specialattention to proper ripening of human fruit. As we approach completion of the13th pik cycle in the MayaLong Count calendar, their ancestral tree is loaded with multicolored buds,poised for a season of particularly abundant cultural flowering, a time whenMaya wisdom can release its sweet fragrance into the intercontinental winds forall humanity to savor.
Maya wisdom is, of course, in many ways similar to the vast heritage of practical knowledge acquired by ancient peoples worldwide, but what makes Maya stand apart from these other global cultural expressions is their relatively large population and their proximity to the United States. Maya make up what is overwhelmingly the largest Native cultural nexus in the entire North American continent. In fact, in the entire New World, only the Kechwa[vi]of the South American Andes have a comparably large population. This massive Maya numerical presence has led them into especially intense and sometimes extremely violent confrontations with the dominating tendencies of some in the region's non-indigenous population. More recently, the proximity of the Maya homelands to the United States and the temporary immigration of tens of thousands of Maya into the American working underclass, have recently brought this ancient, truly American, culture into extensive contact with our modern ways. Maya sometimes suffer as a result of this closeness to the United States, so out of concern for their well-being; it behooves us to be more aware of their traditions. At the same time, a deeper understanding of Maya culture can be vitally helpful to us as well as we stand paused at this major crossroad, pondering the road ahead on humanity's collective journey. The well-worn cultural paths of the Maya provide potential alternative directions for us. At a moment when many of our own cultural guides seem to have led us astray, the paths first trod by the leathery bare feet of the ancient Maya offer proven options still viable after millennia of use.
I confess that when I first began to hear about the 2012 date, I couldn't help but marvel at some of the outrageous claims and outlandish speculation coming from a few of my fellow New Age spiritual seekers. The recent feature film "2012" added yet another levelof fear to this confusing conjecture. In spite of this, as I've delved deeper into the subject and learned from wiser souls, I now find myself far less inclined to dismiss the 2012 phenomenon as I once did, as entirely baseless assertions fed by media and commercial hype.
For example, even though I have had a profound appreciation of Maya culture for several decades, I was still taken aback when I recently learned that ancient Maya astronomers were so brilliant that they apparently had the capability to set up their 13 pik cycle of 1,872,000 days deliberately with a "zero" date on a solar zenith passage (at their latitude) in 3114 BCE and project over five thousand years forward to a cycle closing date on a winter solstice. This is an astounding intellectual achievement for a pre-industrial culture and strong evidence that the Long Count may have been established with astonishing forethought towards the December 21, 2012 date.
Further strengthening the case for the date's potential significance is that Maya have, indeed, described human evolution in terms of advancement through sequential world ages, a concept advocated by almost all of those writing about 2012. According to Maya mythology, each age's stage of humanity was mercilessly terminated by divinely inspired catastrophes before a more evolved and properly respectful human being could be created. Since several ancient Maya hieroglyphic texts associate the beginning of the 13 pik cycle in the Long Count that occurred in 3114 BCE with an era of cosmic creation, wouldn't one possibility be that the end of this massive cycle of time could also imply the end of the current Maya age and its mythically anticipated destruction? In Maya lore, the creator beings' previous experiments in fashioning proper human beings failed due to people's lack of capacity for appropriate reverence and genuine appreciation for divine processes. These less-evolved beings were vanquished by the gods in preparation for a subsequent creation that would produce more refined souls. If we look at the world with eyes wide open, we six billion humans are currently witnessing our own period of cataclysmic environmental destruction, circumstances brought about by our collective lack of respect for nature's infinitely complex ways. The similarity between this tragic situation and the mythological destruction of prior human generations in Maya lore is at least suggestive, if not compelling.
So when people ask, "what will happen in 2012?," I now refrain from simplistic answers and try instead to dialogue with them hoping to learn something myself from my questioners. In spite of my uncertainties, there are a few aspects of 2012 thinking that I do feel fairly sure about. I feel confident saying that the ancient Maya would have considered the 13 Pik date in 2012 to be an important calendric event. Even if ancient Maya thought of the complete Long Count pik cycle as consisting of twenty 144,000 day units rather than thirteen, as some researchers and hieroglyphic texts suggest, given Maya culture's prioritization of the number thirteen, they undoubtedly would have also seen the fruition of 13 piks as significant, a fact demonstrated irrefutably by ancient glyphs that will be discussed later. We know Maya cosmology describes several sequential eras defined by periods of cataclysmic destruction followed by new creation. Since the beginning of the Long Count is explicitly tied to creation events in ancient Maya iconography and writing, I remain open to the possibility that the close of the 13 pikcycle could mark the most recent of those "change in era" periods in Maya myth.
Furthermore, just as our own libraries of vast knowledge and experience would be largely incomprehensible to the ancient Maya, I am equally sure that they were also aware of dimensions of the human experience that we moderns no longer can even imagine. Human consciousness is shaped by our activities and how we focus our attention, and each human culture and every individual does so uniquely. Until relatively recently in our species' history, however, our brains and our awareness have developed in intimate relationship with the natural world, experience that activates our animal awareness. I use the term "animal" in a most positive sense implying the development of sensory capacities, physical capacities, instinctual skills that develop through generations of direct and deliberate exposure to nature's ways. Even in recent times, I have personally met Maya living barefoot in remote mountainous areas whose awareness, in particulartheir perception of themselves as integral to nature and in terms of interpersonal empathy, hints at states of consciousness that are almost non-existent in the "developed" world. Our modern lifestyle largely cuts us physically from nature and our being develops within parameters shaped by our logo-centric worldview, severe social fragmentation and atrophied psychological capacities. How much can we really know with certainty about the cosmos from within these narrow limits of our experientially shaped and culturally specific mental parameters? Might there actually be some sort of entities who are taking this opportunity to facilitate a collective enhancement of human awareness? After all, in my personal experience, overwhelmingly the most impactful influences in my life have been with saintly beings who appearedin unsolicited and unexpected dreams that I'm sure total less than a minute inwhich I received instantaneous infusions of positively transformative energy that has shaped my core. Couldn't such beings attempt to reach humanity collectively with their influences as well? Who among us can even begin to understand the unseen macro-cycles that integrate the fathomless universe? Our current best "scientific" guess is that we are hurling at incalculable speeds through incomprehensively vast, infinite space with but barely a clue as to who we are or where we are going. In this limitless all-directional cosmic context, we humans are ill-prepared for saying much definitive about very much at all, much less about such extraordinarily esoteric concepts as world ages and the evolution of consciousness.
Instead of solid answers, I find that more questions arise. Might the recent "return" of the Long Countcalendar into human awareness, after an absence of many centuries, be an archetypal alarm clock ringing in from Jung's collective unconscious? Might personal mythologies about the Maya and 2012 developed by New Age mystics take on a life of their own and coalesce into real change on a societal scale through processes of self-fulfilling prophecy? Is 2012 merely an ingenious New Age marketing scheme or is it a subtle tipping point in humanity's collective consciousness towards heightened spiritual illumination? Might it be both? I simply don't know.
I sincerely doubt there will be any peak moment of terrestrial catastrophe in connection with the passing of 13 Pik. I certainly hope there won't be. My best guess is that our Earthen orb will make its daily spin on its axis just as on any other Friday on early 21st-century planet Earth, with all its everyday horrific and awe-inspiring share of natural disasters, warfare, environmental degradation, personal and societal breakthroughs and breakdowns. For those not looking for any deeper meaning, the day will likely come and go as an "indigenously" flavored version of the Y2K non-event with its survivalist excitement over potential millennial computer glitches. Yet even as I remind myself of our vast cosmic framework and urge you to rest easy concerning disaster scenarios linked to 2012, I still feel compelled to sound an alarm calling more attention to the all-too-real global catastrophes of ecological and societal disintegration that are occurring as I write these words. As we enter the era of 2012 we find ourselves increasingly disconnected from nature's patterns, ever-more insensitive to our collective assault on complex and fragile ecosystems about which we humans have but a glimmer of understanding. Species are disappearing at rates unknown since the mass extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs over sixty million years ago. One hundred million tons of plastic trash currently spin in the North Pacific Gyre and through photo-degradation eventually passes into the tissue of marine wildlife in molecular-sized particles. There is now no place on our planet untouched by the chemical bi-products of our disintegrated lifestyles. Such contaminants now produce some 40% of human deaths worldwide[vii].We seem equally oblivious to the generalized abuse of our own bodies, "super-sizing" ourselves into unprecedented extremes of physical and psychological degeneration. In the United States we have, on average, over one hundred foreign chemicals storied in our bodies[viii]and increasingly we add to the mix by placing our children on psychiatric drugs in an act of mercy to help them cope with the incoherency and superficiality of the world we've created for them. Human-made hormone-mimicking contaminants currently produce sexual mutations in a growing number of species, from bass to alligators; and we now are finding that they adversely affect the human fetus as well. These are only a few salient examples of a planetary crisis in which humanity is only capable of perceiving the most obvious dimensions of the destruction it has caused.
Regardless of what one thinks about 2012 and the Maya calendar, if we do not change humanity's direction, the unprecedented human-induced environmental changes on our planet will become even more catastrophic. There is no question that humanity has reached a crossroads. The natural world bestowed upon us by infinitely complex processes of creation, in many very real ways, is actually ending. The coincidence between this ubiquitous environmental ruin and the world age philosophy embedded in both Maya myth and 2012 ideology is irresistibly suggestive. As mentioned earlier, each Maya world age comes to fruition with apocalyptic disaster in order to create more evolved forms. The earliest attempts at creation yielded the animals of the planet. The next human was made from mud but quickly dissolved. Then came people made from wood who were eventually destroyed by floods and who even had their own tools, their own technology, turn against them (Sound familiar?). The current age's human beings were fashioned by the Maya creator beings from corn[ix]ground by the mythical divine Mother herself. Might it now be time for the creators to fashion even more refined beings than we people of corn, ones more capable of living in better harmony with the varied and complex ecosystems of our planet and ones more appreciative of their role in this infinitely vast cosmos? Might the Maya's experientially informed appreciation of nature offerus direction?
Maya journalist Patricio Balona says that:
For thousands of years and in contemporary Maya communities, caring for nature that gives us our resources has been a part of our lives. And that care comes with the study of the stars, the winds, rain and the changes that each yearly cycle's end brings. These factors guide the manner in which we care for everything in our environment. We are aware that if we unconscientiously exploit what the Creator has given us, we surely are headed toward an end.
Could the world as humans have known it be shifting toward some sort of end? Might it already be too late? Is there some way we can become more whole and less exploitive? As we witness nature's fabric being torn, societal bonds undone, and individual human threads come loose; I am inspired by the connective orientation of Maya weavers I've known as they patiently kneel on their earthen patios, nimbly tie together broken threads on their back strap looms and then reintegrate the astutely repaired strands back into the larger fabric. The Maya cultural paradigm tends toward keeping things whole; be it a community, the natural world, or the cloth of a woman's intricately brocaded blouse. Traditional Maya have a remarkably sturdy cultural fabric that has endured and recovered from environmental cataclysm and periods of societal disintegration. It is woven with practical sensibilities learned from thousands of years of deliberately intensive interactions with the tropical ecosystems of their Middle American homelands. As with many indigenous peoples around the world, Maya intimacy with the realm of plants, animals and other life that sustains them, can lead to a profound awareness of their integrity with what they sometimes refer to as their "Mother," nature herself. They truly "get" that we humans are, at least from one very real perspective, simply another animal. We all suckle in Mother Earth's mountainous arms, wrapped in the "fabric" of her forests, nourishing ourselves with her life-giving waters.
The genuine sense of familiarity that some traditional Maya have with the earth occurs simultaneously with a broadly shared capacity for compassion fostered through deliberate nurturing of their infants, ingenious child rearing practices based on modeling of parental behavior, and the intentional cultivation of community awareness. As a consequence of these time-proven patterns of behavior, many Maya, at least those not already caught up in our globalized commercial"culture," still experience potent psychological bonds with one another almost impossible for those of us caught up in the distractions of our commercially oriented external environment to imagine. In many cases they also share an experiential awareness of their oneness with the natural world around them. The hard-earned lessons that produce these more integrated states of consciousness are Maya culture's sacred offering to humanity even though, given the Maya love of humility, I doubt many of them would ever make such a claim.
As 13 Pik and the much-heralded year 2012 approach, Maya pathways potentially provide at least potential directions for beginning to mitigate and heal the severe and sometimes irreparable damage we have done to our home planet and the equally harsh physical and psychological wounds we have inflicted upon our children and ourselves. Their traditions call us to place our feet firmly upon the life-giving earth, to light-heartedly pick up our individual life's cargo of burdens and blessings, and then set out in earnest on the ancient trails first laid out by the ancestral mam[x]millennia ago and still traveled by millions of Maya in the 21st century.
13 Pik: December 21, 2012
No one really knows, of course, if any extraordinary events will occur in the portentous year 2012, but human curiosity combined with easy access to electronic communication has led to a lively and multidimensional world wide social movement surrounding the date, the so-called 2012 phenomenon.[xi] Just as in the period leading up to Y2K, there is already an astonishing volume of attention to the 2012 date on the Internet in dozens of languages. Simultaneously, a rapidly growing number of books, videos, workshops and Internet communities speculate wildly as to the underlying meaning of the 2012 and what transformative events might take place. Since José Argüelles first brought my attention to the 2012 date in 1978 with publication of The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology, the 2012 phenomenon has expanded exponentially, in spite of the fact that few of us have had the chance to understand its content with critical awareness and with adequate appreciation for Maya ways.
The ancient Maya, of course, did not know of our current Gregorian calendar and so never made reference to our year 2012. Instead they probably called this special day "13 Pik"[xii](pronounced "peek"). The term pik refers to the current cycle of 144,000 days in the Maya Long Count, one of three principal calendars used by the ancient Maya during the so-called Classic Period of their culture (roughly 250-900 CE). This calendar, which fell into disuse among the Maya many centuries ago, is similar to our own calendar in that it counts forward from a fixed "zero" date. For the ancient Maya, this "start" date was August 11, 3114 B.C.E.[xiii]and they associated it consistently with myths concerning cosmic creation. Counting forward from that "zero" date in the Long Count, days, known individually as k'in, were grouped into units of twenty called winik by the ancients. Eighteen of these twenty-day winikunits formed a larger unit of 360 days equal to an approximate year known to the ancient Maya as a haab and to modern researchers as a tun. Twenty of these approximate years formed a still larger unit of 7200 days called a k'atun (the ancient name may have been winikhaab). We know from the hieroglyphs that k'atun endings were commonly celebrated by the ancient Maya and the numerous Chilam Balam texts from the Yucatan show that the importance of the k'atun continued, in what Maya called the may count, through the entirety of Spanish colonial rule. The ancient Maya combined twenty k'atun periods to form the pik, a cycle of 144,000 days or approximately 394 years. Maya counting of pik cycles gradually faded, along with use of the Long Count and hieroglyphic writing, after the Classic Period but scattered clandestine usage of these ancient cultural features probably extended into, and even through, the colonial period. The word baktun was invented early in the 20th century by archeologists who had still not deciphered the ancient writing system and so were unaware of the original word. It is also the term now adopted by many contemporary Maya from the Guatemalan highlands for referring to the 2012 date. We currently are in the final years of the 13th baktun,or as the ancients said, oxlahun pik.
Given the profound significance of the number 13 in Maya culture and the date's explicit appearance in the hieroglyphs on Monument 6 from Tortuguero, Mexico, it appears that the ancient Maya viewed a sequence of 13 piks as forming a still largercycle of 1,872,000 days (more than 5,125 years) that some investigators refer to as the "Great Cycle." While there is legitimate scholarly debate concerning the exact day that will mark this cycle's end, I find myself siding wholeheartedly with the few Maya I know who are familiar with the 2012 date and who all prefer December 21st because it comes on the day 4 Ahawin their 260-day Maya ritual calendar. We have known since the 19thcentury that the Great Cycle began on a day associated by the ancient Maya with cosmic creation on 4 Ahaw. Since this 1,872,000 day cycle is divisible by 260, the passage of 13 piks must bring us once again to another 4 Ahaw day. The December 21st date finds confirmation in the aforementioned Tortuguero text, the one and only reference to the 2012 date in the entirety of ancient Maya history. This seventh-century stone monument states unambiguously that the"thirteenth pik will be finished (on) 4 Ahaw, the third of K'ank'in.[xiv]"The December 21st/4 Ahaw date also turns out to be the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. I first saw this as an interesting coincidence, since solstices seems to have minimal importance in the ancient Maya texts. But I then recalled that 13 pik cycle's "zero" date over 5,000 years ago occurred on a solar zenith passage at the latitude where the calendar was probably invented and I find myself unable to set aside such a remarkable mathematical and astronomical accomplishment as mere chance. Scholars have suggested that the tzolkin calendar was developed based on the time between solar zeniths in the Mesoamerican tropics, in particular the 260 gap between the August and May zeniths at 15˚north latitude in the area where the Maya calendars were likely invented. In establishing their Long Count calendar "zero" date on the August 11, 3114 BCE solar zenith passage, the ancients also imbedded their tzolkin ritual cycle which comes full circle 260 days later on thespring solar zenith passage.
It is important to point out that this so-called GreatCycle was only a minor component within far larger periods of time thattheoretically extended infinitely backwards and forward in time using a systemof exponentially increasing temporal cycles without beginning or end. Contraryto what some say about the date, no Maya calendar "ends" on 13 Pik. The day merely marks the close of alarge time cycle. This and the various other Maya measurements of time areperpetual in nature, just like our own Gregorian calendar.
When examining the rapidly growing and evolving cultural phenomenon surrounding the 13 Pik date, one cannot help admire the consistency of altruistic attitudes among participants. Even those making the most outrageous and baseless claims seem committed to a more sustainable and healthy relationship to our natural environment and to more enlightened ways of being human. While fully appreciating that commitment, it must also be pointed out that little content in the 2012 phenomenon has much substantive basis in the Maya world. Apart from the recent publication 13B'aktun: Mayan Visions of 2012 and Beyond by Maya novelist Gaspar Gonzálezon 2012, nearly all writings on the subject of 2012 have been written by non-Maya who have minimal experiential familiarity with the Maya world[xv].
Since most of what we hear and read concerning the Maya in the 2012 phenomenon and about the 13 Pik date comes to us from sources outside the Maya world; if we hope to gain a better-informed appreciation of the year's potential significance, we must first look to the Maya themselves for answers. Ancient hieroglyphic texts and codices, the Popol Vuh, the Books of the ChilamBalam and the works of contemporary Maya are our best resources. The living voices of today's Maya connect us directly to the human "frequency" of the Maya world and their words can inspire new appreciation for their rich heritage. I, of course, cannot speak for the Maya; my sense is that many of them understand me far better than I do their world.
The 2012 phenomenon
A recent Google search requesting on-line items that included both the terms "Maya" and "2012" produced over 4 million electronic references, a figure that has doubled in less than one year![xvi]This massive and expanding Internet presence mirrors a rapidly growing virtual library of books and other media focusing on the topic. I have attempted to stay abreast of this 2012 phenomenon for several years and now feel familiar with the main ideological currents that circulate there. Given the extraordinary level of public interest in the Maya calendar and this anxiously anticipated date, it has been surprising to find that most materials currently circulating about 2012 have only superficial connections to the realities of the Maya world and that the overwhelming majority of the content in the 2012 phenomenon is inadequately researched misinformation.
To some extent, this is because the Maya themselves have thus far had relatively little input into shaping our thinking about 2012. Even today, only a tiny number of Maya have had any exposure to the topic.[xvii]The Long Count calendar that the 2012 date emerges from fell into disuse wellbefore the arrival of the Spanish invaders in the sixteenth century andknowledge of its rediscovery by Western academics has reached extremely few of today's Maya apart from the most educated. In fact, if you could somehow randomly select 1,000 adults from across the Maya world, I think you would be fortunate to find even a single person who has even heard of 2012, much less a Maya who could tell you something about its significance. Ironically, given its supposedly Maya underpinnings, the 2012 phenomenon has been almost exclusively non-Maya; but as 2012 makes its way into popular media in the Maya area as it is certain to do, these circumstances will change quickly and may have strong social and political impacts, especially in Guatemala.
Contrary to what many of my colleagues in the academic community assume, the 2012 phenomenon's origins are not in New Age circles butlie instead within the ivory tower itself. The first to mention the potential significance of the date was an astronomer named Maud Makemson who stated in 1957 that "the completion of a Great Period of 13 baktuns would have been of the utmost significance to theMaya."[xviii]Nine years later, the esteemed Mayanist Michael Coe mentioned that "the reis a suggestion ... that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the thirteenth (baktun). Thus ... our present universe(would) be annihilated ... when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion." Since then, due to the extraordinary volume of unfounded speculation that has arisen in the last two decades surrounding 2012, this cultural phenomenon has fallen into extreme disrepute among most serious scholars. In fact, academic disdain for the hyperbole of the 2012 phenomenon has reached such an intense level that the primary computer listserv for Maya scholars, aztlan-l, now explicitly bans all 2012-related posts and the esteemed archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni has dedicated a highly engaging book discounting what he views as 2012 madness, labeling it "the fashion of our times." [xix]
While interest in 2012 first surfaced in the scholarly community, New Age thinkers are overwhelmingly responsible for bringing this extraordinary date into the public imagination. 1975 saw publication of three different references to the date including the great novelist of the American Southwest, Frank Waters, who discussed the coming Long Count cycle closing in his book, Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness, and explored its connections with Hopi prophetic traditions. That same year, Terrence McKenna wrote about 2012 in The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching, arriving at the date through his substance-enhanced insights into the nature of time and its relationship to what he saw in human history as an exponential increase in the rate of novelty. That same year, Mexican-American visionary artist and spiritual teacher, José Argüelles mentioned 2012 in The Transformative Vision: Reflections on the Nature and History of Human Expression.
In 1987, Dr. Argüelles established himself as the virtual "father" of the 2012 phenomenon with publication of The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology, an enigmatic work that inspired thousands, including myself, to entertain his bold and unique perspectives on the Maya and their calendars. Argüelles is also responsible for what he called the Harmonic Convergence that took place in August of 1987, an event that I recall participating in with my young family by taking part in our invented version of a sweat lodge "ceremony" in the company of dear friends on a dairy farm in upstate New York. Argüelles states that this world wide event marked "the exponential acceleration of the wave harmonic of history as it phases into a moment of unprecedented synchronization,"[xx]words that are suggestive of the often cryptic (for me at least) nature of his work. The jacket of his best-known book, The Maya Factor, called the1987 date a "shift point into the last 25 years of the galactic beam," a beam presumably due to shift once again in 2012, ushering in a period of radically enhanced human consciousness. In the text, Argüelles revealed that before writing the book, he had "come to feel the spiritual presence of the Maya,"[xxi]words that assured readers like myself that his beliefs arose from the inner realms of the indigenous soul.
In 1993, he revealed that he had come into contact with what he called Telektonon, the "Talking Stone of Prophecy."[xxii] Telektonon purportedly revealed itself to Argüelles in a channeled message delivered through the stone "tube" that extends upstairs from the crypt of the famed seventh-century Maya king, K'inich Hanaab' Pakal, in the Temple of the Inscriptions in Palenque, Mexico. (This curious archeological feature actually exists.) Since then, Argüelles has acted as spokesperson for this ancient Maya lord, proposing a global shift to a thirteen-month lunar calendar that he invented with the hope that it would bring humanity into closer alignment with celestial rhythms.
While Argüelles approaches many aspects of Maya culture with engaging creativity, one of his boldest inventions has been development of his personal version of the 260-day Maya ritual calendar, a system that he nestles within a solar calendar consisting of 13 months of 28 days plus an additional "day out of time." Argüelles openly acknowledges the fundamental discrepancies between his own 260-day calendar called Dreamspell and that used by contemporary Maya in the Guatemalan highlands. He explains that his own calendar is "Galactic Maya" rather than "Indigenous Maya"[xxiii]and that his combination of 20 "solar seals" and 13 "galactic tones" has its own validity apart from any resemblance it bears to the Maya cholq'ih. His gracious demeanor and extensive work with New Age audiences around the planet have created a situation in which his invented "Maya" calendar may be even more widely known outside of the Maya world than the actual ritual calendar that Maya daykeepers have patiently developed and maintained in a continuous tradition dating backwell more than two thousand years. Argüelles refers to his work and followersas "New Dispensation Maya,"[xxiv] and he has taken the name Valum Votan ("Closer of the Cycle") for use in his work spreading what he says are prophecies from the seventh-century Bakal ahaw (Lord of Palenque). His vision for 2012 is bold and idealistic, holding that, "We are leaving the old time of war and conflict, where time is money, and entering a new time of peace and harmony, where time is art." [xxv]He posits that "a resonant frequency phase shift will usher us into the brilliance of galactic-solar-planetary evolution. We shall pass not only into a post-historic, but a post-human, or super human phase of our evolution."[xxvi]My sincerest wish is that Dr. Argüelles' profoundly optimistic visions of humanity's future prove true.
A relative newcomer to the 2012 phenomenon, biologist Carl Johan Calleman, has already made an impressive impact on the 2012 phenomenon with several books on the topic beginning with the 2000 publication of his work, Solving the Greatest Mystery of Ourtime: The Mayan Calendar. In many ways, he follows in the footsteps of Argüelles by arguing that the Maya Long Count functions as a temporal expression that reflects an exponentially increasing rate in the evolution of human consciousness, a process that he believes will culminate in conjunction with fruition of the current Long Count pik cycle. Argüelles, noting the strong similarities in their approaches to Maya material, wrote the foreword for Dr. Calleman's highly popular 2004 book, The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation ofConsciousness. Like Argüelles, Calleman envisions a global spiritual awakening that the ancient Maya foresaw millennia ago. According to Dr.Calleman's calculations, however, the cycle ending, at least in its terms of its spiritual dimensions, will occur on October 28, 2011 rather than in December of 2012. His choice of this alternate date appears to be based on the fact that October 28th of 2011 falls on the day 13 Ahaw on the cholq'ih, arguably the most auspicious day in the ritual calendar.
Several other keenly insightful, talented and provocative writers such as Daniel Pinchbeck and Gregg Braden have added their unique perspectives to 2012 lore, but no one stands out in terms of their research on the Maya and their influence on the 2012 phenomenon more than independent researcher John Major Jenkins. Unfortunately, some serious scholars have tended to confuse his work with the extremes of misinformation common elsewherein 2012 literature or get side-tracked by Jenkins' speculation concerning the date's metaphysical implications, a realm deliberately avoided in most academic circles, but one I feel Jenkins should be free to explore. In the process of reevaluating my own thinking on 2012, especially on the basis of my own numerous conversations with contemporary Maya in Mexico and Guatemala, I have found that I cannot resist speculating on the date myself and now find myself embracing John Jenkins' willingness to investigate potential explanations for the date's significance. If academia can dispassionately look at the heart of his thesis, setting aside what others in the 2012 phenomenon have said and granting this independent researcher the option to wonder about our collective future, our understanding of the Maya world can be enriched by Jenkins' perspectives.
Jenkins calls our attention to the potential astronomical and astrological significance of the date, asserting that the Maya established the Long Count cognizant not only of the solar zenith passage on 4 Ahaw in 3114 BCE that began our current era, but also with an eye to the astronomy at the time of the 13 Pik cycle closing on the northern hemisphere winter solstice in 2012. In his 1998 work, Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, easily one of the best-researched of the popular books that focus on the 2012 date, he contends that Classic Maya astronomers set the Long Count on the 2012 solstice date after noting an extremely rare[xxvii]alignment on that day between Earth, the sun and the dark rift in the Milky Way galaxy.[xxviii]
In his own words:
Since the early 1990s, my work has been oriented toward reconstructing the authentic Maya beliefs about 2012. My attention to the likelihood that December 21, 2012 was an intentional artifact of the creators of the Long Count was derived by the fact that according to most widely agreed upon correlation, the cycle ending falls on a solstice. I took the common sense approach of examining the site, Izapa, belonging to the Izapan culture, that many scholars felt was responsible for the formulation of the Long Count calendar during the pre-Classic Period. My findings indicted a rare astronomical alignment, referred to generally as "the galactic alignment" but more preciselyas "the alignment of the December solstice sun with the dark rift in the Milky Way." In Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 I showedhow the dark rift and other features involved in this alignment were utilized by the Maya in their ball game symbolism, the creation mythology, king-making rites, and were encoded into the iconography and archaeoastronomical alignments at Izapa. This work has been largely ignored or misrepresented by critics. Today, Tortuguero Monument 6 is receiving a great deal of attention because it contains a Classic Period inscription (ca. 669 AD) and a date reference to December 21, 2012. A thorough analysis of the 13 dates on the monument, undertakenby Michael Grofe and myself, reveals that 4 of the 13 dates involve alignments of the sun with the dark rift (the one in 2012 is on the solstice, which relates it to a unique era of precessional alignment). Two other dates involve alignment of the dark rift with Jupiter (at station) and a lunar eclipse..[xxix]
Jenkins is a humble and serious researcher who exhibits solid understanding of Maya calendar systems and the related astronomy. His core thesis depends on whether or not Maya astronomers knew of the long-term celestial shifts resulting from precession, an effect produced by the Earth's wobble that manifests in an apparent slow shift in the constellations of the night sky that is detectable only after hundreds of years of observation. Since the ancient Maya could keep accurate records across generations using their hieroglyphic and numerical systems, and were highly attentive to apparent celestial dynamics, such a supposition seems quite plausible, I would even say likely. First, we need to recall the extreme astronomical and mathematical sophistication that was required for the ancient Maya to set up this major calendric cycle of 1,872,000 days with a beginning ona solar zenith passage and an end point on a winter solstice. This Long Countcycle began with the sun directly overhead and on a day that started a 260 daycount until the next zenith passage in May. It will end on the winter solstice,the shortest day of the year. The truly impressive skills required for accomplishing this task would seem to make the discovery of precession seem arelatively simple matter of detailed record-keeping.
According to Jenkins, ancient Mesoamerican astronomer/astrologers established the Long Count to signal what he terms the "galactic alignment" of the 2012 winter solstice sun with the dark rift of theMilky Way. Like Argüelles and Calleman, he believes that the close of the 13 pik cycle heralds a shift in eras and potentially to a new age of greatly enhanced human awareness. Jenkins sees the Mexican site of Izapa as the birthplace of this "galactic alignment" philosophy and specifically points to the iconography near the Group F ball court and its alignment to the winter solstice as evidence in support of his ideas. When I first came upon Jenkins' work, like my other colleagues in academia, I was confused by his speculation as to the cosmic and societal implications of the date. But I have now learned more about Maya astronomy and find myself easily able to set aside his "galactic" speculation as being beyond my own limitations of understanding. As a consequence, I now believe that Jenkins is right, at least about the ancients considering the culmination of the 13th pik cycle to have been significant and also that they knowingly established their Long Count calendar with a set point on the northern hemisphere winter solstice that occurs at the time of the cycle closing. Not only does the Tortuguero text referred to in Chapter 1 explicitly mention the 4 Ahaw, 13 Pik date on December 21, 2012, but Dr. Aveni has shown that precisely in the area where the calendar likely originated there was a strong tendency to orient construction in alignment with solstices at the ancient sites. Furthermore, he says the entire site of Izapa, not just the ball court referred to by Jenkins, is oriented towards the solstices.[xxx] Jenkins' new evidence derived from the Tortuguero text that shows ancient Maya interest in the intersect between heavenly bodies on the ecliptic arc and the dark rift could prove significant in strengthening acceptance of his "galactic alignment" theory. While I do not think there is yet enough unambiguous evidence to conclude that Maya astronomers were also targeting Jenkins' "galactic alignment" between the earth, Sun and Milky Way with their Long Count, the likelihood that they were tracking precessional shifts combined with their mathematical expertise leads me to value his theory as an invaluable perspective worth considering as our understanding of Maya hieroglyphics and iconography improves and as there are new findings from the archeological digs.
The 2012 phenomenon boasts luminaries like Argüelles, Jenkins, Calleman, Pinchbeck, Braden and others; but there are also several New Age figures that are of Maya ancestry and one assumes that living indigenous traditions substantively inform these Maya teachers' thinking on the 2012 subject and lend a greater sense of cultural authenticity to 2012 ideology. Undoubtedly, the best known of the genuinely Maya teachers among New Age spiritual practitioners has been Hunbatz Men, a Maya spiritual guide and cultural activist from the "Itza lineage." At its core, Men's is a compassionate message warmly presented with poetic awareness of language. His was privileged to enjoya small Maya community upbringing under the spiritual tutelage of his uncle, don Beto. His public work as a Maya spiritual teacher really began in earnest in the 1980s when Men was already in his 40s. His inspirational creativity and his multifaceted life have enriched him with a diverse range of influences. He studied Gnostic philosophy and fine arts in Mexico City, worked as a commercial artist in New York City; and currently serves as a much sought after spiritual guide and ceremonial leader at the Cosmic International Mayan Community Lol Benear Merida, the bustling capital city of the Mexican state of Yucatan. Men has been particularly active in opening up Maya archeological sites for conducting rituals and leads group tours of spiritual seekers to reconsecrate them as initiatic centers in preparation for a coming "Itza" era. He recently organized a group tour in the Maya world in order to donate an oracle crystal skull to the sons of the late Maya elder Chan K'in (Viejo) as representatives of the Lacandon Maya. The crystal skulls are a phenomenon unto themselves, 13 quartz skulls known for their capacity to transmit information with "cosmic rays." According to Mr. Men, the Maya have lived in several other parts of the world since ancient times, including Egypt, India and even Atlantis.[xxxi]Men's teachings and spiritual work have provided genuine inspiration for many spiritual seekers even though some of his beliefs concerning worldwide Maya influences and Atlantian origins do not appear clearly in the archeological record nor are they ideas shared by Maya in general. Mr. Men's genuinely warm demeanor, transparently positive intentions and the fact that he actually is Maya, have attracted many sincere and dedicated students.
Revered K'iche'Maya elder Alejandro Cirilo Pérez Oxlaj stands out as one of the most traditional of the few Maya teachers connected with the 2012 phenomenon. Tat Cirilo,[xxxii]affectionately known as tata (father), was born in Quetzaltenango, the second largest city of Guatemala and raised in a village of nearby San Francisco del Alto. According to his wife, he received his sacred vara, the bundle of holy tz'ite seeds cherished by highland Maya oracles, at the age of 13 from his father. Upon doing so, he established the 13th generation of Maya spiritual guides in his family. Later in life, in a revelatory experience, "invisible beings" gave him the name Wakatel Utiw (Wandering Wolf) and a mandate as being "the Voice of the Jungle" and a "messenger of the Maya."[xxxiii]From his current home in Antigua, Guatemala, he heads the Consejo Nacional de Ancianos Mayas de Guatemala, one of the largest of several multiethnic associations of Maya elders. He also serves in the government of President Alvaro Colóm as Guatemala's official international ambassador for its indigenous peoples from an office in the National Palace. As part of his mission, he travels the world as are presentative of the Maya sharing prophecies and a message of compassion, fearlessness and respect in preparation for the coming period of world transition. The core of his message comes from his own K'iche' oral tradition. He says his own elders repeated the following message from their ancestors: "In the time of 12 baktun and 13 Ahaw is the return of the ancient ones, the return of the men of wisdom. May the morning come, may the dawn come, so the people can have peace and be happy.[xxxiv]Keeping true to these words, Tat Cirilourges people repeatedly not to be afraid about 2012, and to instead look forward to a period of positive transformation.
Maya oral prophecies of world changes
Just as tat Cirilo's words above demonstrate, even though much in the 2012 phenomenon has little basis in the Maya world, there are very real prophetic currents that exist within many contemporary Maya communities that refer to world change. Like those in the New Age 2012 movement, these indigenous beliefs point to an approaching period of significant, even catastrophic, world change, but they typically do not specify the year 2012. For example, within the prophetic tradition of the Macewal[xxxv]Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula, there has long existed a belief in a rapidly approaching cataclysmic period of warfare that will lead to the destruction of the current world and the creation of a new Maya society. According to Paul Sullivan, Maya of one Macewal village of believed in 1989 that war was "not much further off than the year 2000 and that it is inevitable."[xxxvi]According to one Mexican anthropologist, "the wait for fulfillment of the promises of the Cross, the imminent arrival of the end of the world and the creation of a new Maya society are dynamic elements that are present, strong, alive and active."[xxxvii] It bears mentioning that the temporal focus of this world-ending war around the year 2000 may have arisen from recent Christian millenarian currents since Nelson Reed's lengthy study of the Macewal noted no such specificity during his visit to the region in 1959.[xxxviii]
In recent years I have made several trips to the Macewal area specifically to speak with those familiar with their prophetic traditions and I have had the rare opportunity to make offerings at all of their principle shrines under the supervision of the temple guardians. In every case, those involved confirmed that there is a generalized expectation of major upheaval and world change among those most closely associated with the shrine sites. At one site, the main prayer-maker for the little chapel said that the only reason that divinely inspired annihilation of humanity has not yet occurred is a result of God's mercy for our innocent babies. We adults are guilty of violating sacred ways, especially in regard to our environmental misbehavior. A Yukatek speaking friend who was translating for me summarized the prayer-maker's thinking on the difficult times ahead:
When the end comes, the world will be overwhelmed by huge balls of fire descending from the sky cutting swats through humanity. But it will not destroy all humans. Some will survive. It is then that the Creator will send a monster to catch the stragglers, who by then will be making their way to sanctuary at the Macewal ceremonial centers. But even if you don't get eaten by the monster, you willhave to be held accountable for all your transgressions on earth before beingallowed into the sanctuary. The Creator will ask you what it is that you have done to remedy your earthly faults and if you do not have a good enough answer, you will be whipped and then allowed into the shrine site.[xxxix]
In an extraordinary demonstration of generosity, the prayer-maker guarding this particular shrine invited my Maya friend and I to return there with our families when it becomes clear that this inevitable destruction is at hand.
The Lacandon Maya, or Hach Winik as they call themselves, are closely related to the Macewal in terms of language. Among the few remaining Lacandon Maya traditionalists still living in Chiapas, Mexico, there has also been a belief that the end of the world is at hand. In 1978, the late well-known spiritual leader Chan K'in stated, "Our Lord Hach Akyum will make everything die .... The grass wishes to die. The seed, the animals all wish to die. And the True People also [the Lacandon] -- we all die. In thirty years Hach Akyum will destroy the world."[xl] The end of world tradition is so strong among the Hach Winik (Lacandon) that they have a special word for it, xu'tan. Even though at this point nearly all of the HachWinik in all three of their principle settlements have converted to various Christian denominations, as I found on two visits there, recognition of the term the xu'tan persists. Several Lacandon men recently made clear to me that the Christian Apocalypse they have learned about in their local churches and the Maya xu'tan are not the same thing. For them, xu'tan particularly implies the cutting, burning and destruction of vegetation. As in the case of the Macewal Maya beliefs concerning world renewal, those of the Lacandon reflect their own peculiar historical circumstances as witnesses to the virtual elimination of their traditional homeland, the Selvalacandona, once one of the largest rainforests in our continent. The living green world that nurtured Lacandon culture for hundreds of years is now almost completely gone. Having witnessed this on-going deforestation, the Lacandon beliefs in impending world destruction seem quite logical. Coincidentally, they also parallel the cataclysmic dimensions in the 2012 movement.
My recent visits to two of the three principal Lacandon settlements confirm that many of these beliefs are persistent even with the omnipresence there of Evangelical Christianity. One man told of a prophetic dream he had recently concerning human's lack of respect for nature and the destruction of the forest cover. He dreamt that as he was headed to his milpa he heard loud stomping. He cautiously approached the direction of the sound and saw trees, some sick ones, some dried ones and some healthy ones, walking to a clearing in the woods. As he got closer he heard them talking about what was ailing them. There was deforestation, carelessly set fire and man's needless cutting of trees. The trees met urgently to discuss the end they foresaw if man did not stop his abuse of the land. The following day after the dream the men went into the forest and heard whispers around him. He sat to contemplate the voices and after recalling his dream, he understood that the trees were giving him a message -- to spread the word that if we don't take care of our resources, our future generations will not have what our elders had, the natural world we are watching die day after day. The Lacandon man had never heard of 2012 but seemed convinced that humanity's short-sighted behavior could have catastrophic consequences.[xli]
Recently, knowledge of the year 2012 itself has spread beyond the realm of a select group of internationally known Maya spiritual teachers and intellectuals to include several spiritual guides still living and working at home within their highland Guatemalan communities. Once Maya spiritual guides hear about the date, their natural inclination seems to be to incorporate it reflexively with their own prophetic oral traditions. They also tend to envision 2012 with hope for a revival of Maya cultural practices and indigenous political power. The date's origin in the hieroglyphic writings of their revered ancestors lends immediate credibility to its significance, even though Maya seem far less inclined than non-Maya to reach conclusions as to what exactly the ancients meant to express. Out of modesty and respect, Maya tend not to attempt personal interpretations of those they consider far wiser than themselves.
The K'iche'spiritual guide Rigoberto Itzep[xlii] recalls listening as a boy of eight or nine to community elders in his remote highland town saying that their own elders had told them that, "You will still see many warnings. You will still see and hear strange things. You will still see great ruin. There will be many changes on earth." According to Itzep, his K'iche' elders never specified the year 2012, but for him, the potential for the year is multifaceted, saying, for example, that, "the ideological power of the West in its entirety might expire forever in 2012," words that undoubtedly represent the heartfelt wish of many Maya in the region. While tat Rigoberto makes clear that the year 2012 itself did not arise from his K'iche' Maya oral tradition, he says that the prophecies of ruin and changes that he heard from his elders may indeed be authentic cultural content that he says might be "woven together" with the 13 Pik date in the LongCount.
As a calendar priest, the fact that we are currently coming to the close of 13 Pik is especially suggestive since the number 13 expresses maximum potential in the cholq'ih calendar and also implies a culmination period that tat Rigoberto believes could bring about environmental and social upheaval and perhaps a subsequent period of human and ecological renewal. Refusing to say conclusively what will actually happen, he instead prefers to talk about the value in seeing the date as a time for reflection on humanity's behavior. In particular, he expresses concern about our harmful impacts on the natural world. He notes that the 2012 date occurs during a Noh year using the 365-day haab calendar. The No'h year-bearer suggests a period of thoughtfulness. Under the influences of No'h, spirit and body merge in heightened intuition and greater access to the collective memory from theancestral realm.
But even for Itzep, and other traditional Maya like tat Cirilo, the exact date itself in 2012 is not especially critical. Instead, they view the date as simply a temporal marker in the midst of vast cyclical processes that were set in motion long ago. As a young, articulate Maya spiritual guide from Chichicastenango recently told me: "It is anevent that has already begun, there are already signs.... Humans more than ever should pay close attention to all the events that disturb balance. They are teachings that we living beings should extract from the stages through which wepass. It's not that we are arriving at a zero hour in 2012, it's alreadybeginning."[xliii]
Apart from Maya in Yucatan and lowland Chiapas, a growing number of Maya cultural activists in Guatemala have expressed similar ideas, but with their recently acquired knowledge of the Long Count, they make explicit reference to 2012. Gaspar González, a Maya novelist and prominent cultural activist, was certainly among the first Maya to have referred explicitly to the potential import of the year 2012.[xliv]In 1996, he wondered out loud if the recently ended Guatemalan civil war might have been part of an extended period of severe and horrific tribulation that had helped prepare his people for the next cycle in the human experience. He added that the current age of the human beings made of corn was ending, and that beginning afterward, there will be a societal rebirth into what he called "una nueva era de la luz" (a new age of light). More recently, Mr. González added the following comments:
From the perspective of contemporary Maya, 2012 constitutes a very important point in the history of humanity since time is a variable that greatly influences the life of the planet and everything that exists on it. Human beings do not exist by coincidence or by a work of chance. They are part of a plan to carry out a mission in this part of the universe. The world is still not totally finished in its creation and perfection; this human creature has a role to play in the world and its preservation. One could say that the life of the planet depends on human beings and what they do in their existence.
As a senior member of the cultural revival movementknown as the movimiento maya, aserious scholar, a native speaker of Q'anhob'alMaya and a one-time member of the Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages,González has impeccable credentials as a Maya spokesperson. He recentlypublished a book entitled 13 B'aktun: Lanueva era 2012[xlv], that isnow available in translation as 13B'aktun: Mayan Visions of 2012 and Beyond[xlvi].Here he lays out his own and Q'anhob'al Maya beliefs relative to world changeand the first book written about 2012 to have actually been written by a Maya. His specific references to the year2012 undoubtedly are a result of academic study of the once-forgotten MayanLong Count calendar but they coincide well in terms of content with pre-existentprophetic currents such as those among the HachWinik and Macewal and highlandMaya like tat Rigoberto, but theseprophetic traditions are explicit in terms of date.
Another Maya intellectual, the Jakalteko novelist, professor and cultural activist, Victor Montejo, echoes González's emphasis on the active role of human beings in the coming age after 2012 when he says that:
Prophetic expressions of the indigenous peoples insist on the protagonist role that new generations must play at the close of this Oxlanh B'aktun (thirteen B'aktun) and the beginning of the new Maya millennium. The ancestors have always said that 'one day our children will speak to the world.' ... This millennial orb'aktunian movement responds to the close of a great prophetic cycle ... thegreat prophetic cycle of 400 years in the Maya calendar. For the Maya, this isnot the close of the second millennium or 2000 years after Christ, but ratherthe close of the fifth millennium according to the ancient Maya calendar initiatedin the mythical year that corresponds to 3114 B.C. (correction of typo inoriginal) ... The b'aktun includes the global concept of time and theregeneration of life with new ideas and actions. In other words, thetheoretical b'aktunian approach leads us to understand the effect of humanideas and actions on all that exists on the earth and their effects on theenvironment and cosmos." [xlvii]
Patricio Balona, my friend and nephew/student of the renowned Maya healer Don Eligio Pantí, while shying away from directly confirming the specific importance of the 2012 date, echoes the words of Montejo and González by reaffirming that Maya do indeed anticipate change associated with a shift in temporal cycles:
The 2012 speculators, those who do not believe the world will go boom on December 21, 2012, speak of changes, increased consciousness, alignment of heavenly bodies, the end of a cycle. I guess it's just a more sophisticated way of saying what the Maya already know happens at the end of each cycle. It may not be the definition or theory about December 21, 2012 that we are currently hearing, but this knowledge has been as Maya as it can be in Maya culture.[xlviii]
We may never know with any certainty if the ancient Maya established their Long Count calendar to signal such a shift in 2012. But clearly, the concept of cyclical change into a brighter future with a deliberately more thoughtful humanity is inherent in Maya thought, apart from the date itself.
Although few living Maya are currently familiar with the year 2012, the concept of a coming world renewal has already captured the imagination of many in the Maya world through the teachings and preachers of the numerous fundamentalist Christian denominations that have been so successful there.[xlix] The disastrous earthquake that shook Guatemala in 1976 not only killed over twenty thousand Maya villagers, it brought with it a new wave of missionaries hopin gto share their fundamentalist religious ideology with the native peoples along with much-needed relief supplies. Maya were drawn to the intensity of the Pentecostal message and the personal sacrifices required by the new Christians and the pulpits of the region have been taken over by Maya ministers speaking in their own languages, a rarity ability among Spanish-speaking Catholic priests in the region. The almost apocalyptic violence of the earthquake seemed to set the stage for the particularly brutal military repression of the Maya population in Guatemala in the late 1970s and early 1980s when scores of thousands of Maya civilians perished and hundreds of thousands of others found themselves wounded or displaced. While there exist several complementary explanations for the massive Maya shift towards Christian fundamentalism inrecent decades apart from this violent context, when missionaries refer to the coming end of the world in accord with their interpretation of the Bible,[l]one can understand how some Maya might be inclined to believe them. With the earth shaking beneath them, witnessing their families and relatives dying in droves, lamenting a perceived degeneration of their own religious traditions, and seeing a notable decline in the quality of their natural surroundings, it might be a challenge not to conclude otherwise. Fundamentalist groups focus on passages in the biblical book of Revelation and, of course, make no reference to the year 2012. While there is no evidence that Maya fundamentalists will embrace the 2012 date, the fact that in specific parts of the Maya world they literally share the streets and paths of their communities with 2012 adherents makes it virtually unavoidable that the two "apocalyptic" currents will eventually come into contact with one another. Since even Evangelical Maya still reflexively hold the elders and ancestors dear, when they hear about the Maya origins of the 2012, it may prove irresistible for them to connect the date with their Biblical "end of days" thinking. Whether or not this explicit connection is made, Maya are in general agreement that the human journey has reached a critical juncture.
[i] With minor exceptions, the spelling of terms in Maya languages in this book uses the conventions of the Guatemalan Academy of Maya Languages. In this system, the /x/ sounds like the /sh/ sound in English except that the sound is produced with the tongue pointing slightly backwards. An apostrophe after a letter indicates a glottal stop like that found in the middle of the English expression of concern, "uh oh."The /b'/ in Maya languagesis a glottal phoneme that sounds harder than the English /b/ but the simple /b/appears in this book in Maya words instead of the official spelling for the sake of simplicity. Another exceptional spelling is the /j/ sound in the official Guatemalan alphabet that is represented here with an /h/ reflecting its approximate pronunciation in English.
[ii] The term"Maya" can be inadvertently misleading since it does not adequately reflect their world's extreme cultural diversity. There are nearly 30 Maya languages, each with its own distinctive culture. Even within a single Maya language group, there is sometimes substantial linguistic and cultural variability. Theword "Maya" can refer specifically to the indigenous people of the Yucatan peninsula, but most researchers commonly use the term to refer to all Native Americans in the region that partake of a broadly related cultural heritage. The word "Maya" may be more meaningful when referring to the ancient Maya since there appears to have been greater homogeneity in the Maya world during the Classic Period (250-900 C.E.).
[iii] For those acquainted with scholarly debate concerning the correlation between our Gregorian calendar and the Maya Long Count, I prefer the 584283 GMT calculation since it produces the anticipated baktun-completing tzolkin date of 4 Ahaw on December 21, 2012, coinciding perfectly with the count of contemporary day-keeping Maya priests in the Guatemalan highlands. This same calendar correlation places the start date of the 13 pik cycle on a solar zenith passage at the latitude where the Long Count was likely invented, and establishes the end date on a winter solstice; an absolutely astounding mathematical and astronomical accomplishment and one impossible for me to dismiss as mere coincidence. In any case, the precise date for commemorating completion of this calendar cycle has no real significance for the purposes of this book.
[iv] Pik is the ancient Maya term for what most now call a baktun, a period of 144,000 days in the Long Count.
[v] Ceiba pentandra
[vi][vi]Better known in its Spanish spelling as Quechua.
[ix] I cannot resist pointing out that most Americans are literally people made from corn due to our inordinate consumption of corn-derived sweeteners, corn oil, and corn-fed animals. Maya are also people of corn since most of their daily food intake comes in the form of tamales, tortillas, and corn gruel.
[x] Mam is a multivalent term that I usehere to refer to the revered Maya "ancestors." The term also refers to a major Maya language spoken by hundreds of thousands of people, primarily in western Guatemala. The Tz'utuhil Maya use the term to refer to Maximon, the shape-changing Maya deity revered around Lake Atitlán. The Q'anhob'al Maya use the term as a respectful form of address with adult males.
[xi] The term was coined in "The 2012 Phenomenon: New Age Appropriation of an Ancient Mayan Calendar." Nova Religio 9.3 (Feb., 2006)
[xii] Monument 6 from Tortuguero, Mexico uses the term "13 pik" and is the only known explicit ancient reference to the date. The term "13 pik" also appears in Munro Edmonson's version of the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, p. 159, but the context is unclear.
[xiii] Using the 584283 GMT correlation.
[xiv]Translation from the original hieroglyphic writing by Prof. David Stuart.
[xv] Notable exceptions include the words of Victor Montejo and José Mucía Batz. See: http://www2.stetson.edu/~rsitler/13PIK/
[xvi] Search on December 15, 2009.
[xvii]This conclusion is based on a review of the relevant literature and informal investigation in various communities from over a dozen different Maya linguistic groups plus interviews with dozens of Maya spiritual guides and religious officials.
[xviii] Maud Worcester Makemson, "The miscellaneous dates of the Dresden codex," Publications of the Vassar College Observatory (June1957) 6: 4.
[xix] Anthony Aveni, The End of Time: the Maya Mystery of 2012 (Boulder, CO: UP of Colorado, 2009): 164.
[xx]José Argüelles, The Maya Factor: Path Beyond Technology (Santa Fe, NM:Bear & Co., 1987): 159.
[xxi]Argüelles, The Maya Factor, 20.
[xxii]José Argüelles, "José Speaks Out," <www.earthportals.com/Portal_Messenger/speakout.html>, accessed 20 January 2009.
[xxiii]José Argüelles, FAQ <www.13moon.com/time-is-art.htm>, accessed 20 January2009.
[xxiv]José Argüelles, <www.2013.net/multidim/mayas/time/tattvan.txt>, accessed 20 January 2009.
[xxv] <http://www.lawoftime.org/home.html>, accessed 16 December 2009.
[xxvi] JoséArgüelles, <http://www.realitysandwich.com/2012_now_everybodys_mind>, accessed 15 December 2009.
[xxvii] The celestial alignment itself is an annual event but its occurrence on the northern hemisphere winter solstice occurs at intervals of approximately 25,800 years.
[xxviii]John Major Jenkins, Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 (Santa Fe, NM: Bear &Co., 1998): 159.
[xxix] Personal communication December, 2009.
[xxx] Aveni, The End of Time, 54.
[xxxi] Steven McFadden, Profiles in Wisdom (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1991): 229.
[xxxii] He is also known widely as Don Alejandro, especially outside of Guatemala.
[xxxiii] Personal communication with Elizabeth Araujo, October 2006.
[xxxv]This is a reference to the contemporary descendants of the rebel Maya forces during the Caste War in the late nineteenth century. Some scholars also refer to them as Cruzo'ob', "those of theCross."
[xxxvi]Paul Sullivan, Unfinished Conversations: Mayas and Foreigners Between TwoWars (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989): 162.
[xxxvii]Jesús J. Lizama Quijano, "Las señalesdel fin del mundo: Una aproximación a la tradición profética de los cruzo'ob"("Signs of the End of the World: An Approach to the Prophetic Tradition of the Cruzo'ob") at <www.uady.mx/ sitios/mayas/investigaciones/historia/tradicion.htm>,accessed 20 January 2009. My translation from the original Spanish.
[xxxviii]Nelson A. Reed, The Caste War of Yucatán (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2001):343-44.
[xxxix] Personal communication with Patricio Balona, December 2009.
[xl] Perera and Bruce. The Last Lords, 49. Hach Akyum (my spelling) is the primary Lacandon deity.
[xli] Patricio Balona provided this summary of our chat in Lacanjá Chansayab.
[xlii] All references to tat Rigoberto Itzep Chachavac arose in personal conversations at our respective homes and through e-mail.
[xliii] Personal conversation. August 2006.
[xliv]Tape-recorded conversation with Mr. González on 27 December 1996.
[xlv] Gaspar Pedro Gonzalez, 13 B'aktun: La Nueva Era 2012, self-published, 2006.
[xlvi] Gaspar Gonzalez, 13 B'aktun: Mayan Visions of 2012 and Beyond (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010).
[xlvii] Victor Montejo (2005) in Maya Intelectual Renaissance: Identity, Representation and Leadership (Austin: U of Texas P, 2005), 120-122.
[xlviii]Personal message, Dec. 2009.
[xlix]According to Edward Cleary, Protestant denominations make up about 25 percent of the total population in Guatemala. Cleary, "Shopping Around: Questions About Latin American Conversions," International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April 2004), <www.providence.edu/las/Brookings.html>, accessed 8 September 2005. This figure may be much higher for the Maya alone.
[l]In Todos Santos Cuchumatán, belief in a coming fin del mundo ("end of the world") is commonplace among those belonging to the town's three principal fundamentalist churches.