Delivery alert

There may be an issue with the delivery of your newspaper. This alert will expire at NaN. Click here for more info.

Recover password

Harmony or Calamity? What Will Dec. 21 Bring

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — This story originally appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on Nov. 18, 2012

University of New Mexico associate professor of anthropology Keith Prufer, who specializes in Mayan archaeology, poses with Mayan children at Nim Li Punit in Belize. (COURTESY of KEITH PRUFER)



On Friday, Dec. 21, the Mayan Long Count Calendar ends, and if doomsday prophets and Hollywood depictions are correct, mankind will be destroyed in the wake of cataclysm.

If they’re wrong, then on Saturday, Dec. 22, we will be watching football on television while sipping a beer and flipping a burger on the patio grill.

The smart money is on the beer and burger, says University of New Mexico associate professor of anthropology Keith Prufer, who specializes in Mayan archaeology.

“The broad consensus among archaeologists is that all the publicity around 2012 is just hype for marketing tourism and something embraced by New Age spiritualists,” Prufer says. “There is no basis for any calamity or apocalypse.”

The calendar, covering 5,126 years, simply marks the end of an old cycle and the start of a new one, he adds. Still, there is something mystical, spiritual, even beguiling about the calendar’s end that has captured the imagination of so many, causing them to speculate about its meaning.

We asked some Mayan experts, cultural enthusiasts, think tankers and New Agers for their thoughts as we count down to Dec. 21, 2012.

Mayan ruins at Lubaantun, Belize, are shown. (COURTESY of KEITH PRUFER)

Not surprisingly, none of them bought into the Hollywood vision of death and destruction depicted in “2012,” the blockbuster special effects-driven film, released in 2009. The movie shows the Earth quaking, fissures swallowing neighborhoods, skyscrapers collapsing, land masses sliding into the sea, oceans flooding mountain ranges and fireballs raining from the sky.

Origin of mystique

The Mayan Long Count Calendar is tied to a creation myth that says humans emerged upon the Earth on the first day of the calendar, in what would correspond to the Gregorian calendar year of 3114 B.C.E., Prufer says.

Amateur archaeologists over the past few decades were drawn to the mystical nature of the calendar and extrapolated from the creation myth that on the last day of the calendar humans would vanish from the Earth, he says.

In addition, some New Age adherents co-opted passages from the Bible, particularly the book of Revelations, to validate an end-of-time doomsday prophecy, according to well-known Bible scholar Mark Hitchcock of Oklahoma.

The Mayan calendar does not look like the Gregorian calendar that people use today. Rather, says Prufer, archaeologists decoded the dates after studying numerous carved stones, each called a stele, found in ancient Mayan ruins and abandoned cities. The stones contain iconography that describes an event in text and image. The calendar also incorporates a date using Mesoamerican numerals shown as bars and dots. Each date is part of an intricate and interlocking system of time cycles, expressed as the number of days since the start of the calendar.

It’s not the end of the world but the end of a cycle, says Glenn Aparicio Parry, president of the SEED Institute think tank in Albuquerque, which features a Mayan informational portal on its website.

“The Maya don’t really believe that the world will end. The calendar is the end of a cycle, possibly the dramatic end of a cycle, with tumultuous transformations, as we’re seeing now with global climate changes,” he says.

A block with Mayan iconography contains a date from eighth century, and is part of the Mayan Long Count Calendar date. The stone is in Pusilha in Belize. (COURTESY of KEITH PRUFER)

“This could be interpreted as a cleansing or the end of the world as we transition to another age.”

SEED held a conference on “Wisdom from the Origins: The Maya Calendar and Other Prophecies on the Future of Humanity” in September.

The conclusion of the Mayan calendar does not signal the end of time, Parry says. Rather, it’s an opportunity to “rethink how we think of time,” he says.

Finding symbolism

Others see it as an opportunity to educate people about Mayan history, such as Beverly Cole, owner of Que Chula, an online store and warehouse in the Southeast Heights that offers imported Mexican folk art, home décor and accessories.

Cole has designed a Maya-inspired jewelry collection and considers herself a serious student of Mayan culture. The five pieces in the collection have “very symbolic meanings in the Maya culture.”

But she says when she took the pieces to trade shows in Los Angeles and Phoenix earlier this year she was astounded by how little people knew about Mayan culture.

“They would look at the jewelry and say, ‘Oh, yeah, Maya, end of the world,'” she says. “What they knew about the culture came from the movie ‘2012.’ They have no idea of the true meaning of the calendar and dismiss it as just another Hollywood production that’s loosely based on some vague piece of Maya history.”

Worse, Cole says, they seemed uninterested in learning more.

In the new age, which starts Dec. 22, she says, people are expected to evolve to a higher plane of consciousness.

An ‘evolutionary process’

What that higher plane might be has been a big topic of conversation among the customers of Crystal Dove, a metaphysical store in Albuquerque, says owner Inga Madsen.

“They want to know what to expect on Dec. 21. I tell them we will be going to work on the 22nd,” she says. “It all comes into one pile of expectations for the future.”

Doomsday prophecies are nothing new, she says. Regardless of the ominous predictions made by some, “evolution continues, whether we’re looking at the Maya or Gregorian calendars. The calendars are a way of keeping track of the events of daily life, but in the bigger picture life evolves and consciousness evolves no matter what.”

Even if some sort of cataclysm were to befall the Earth on Dec. 21, Madsen says, “it would be part of the evolutionary process, and if that’s the case it’s a cause for celebration because every ending is also a new beginning.”

Galactic events

Transformational energy healer Szuson Wong, a well-known speaker and author of “Guardian of Gaia,” says the end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar ushers in “an age of new consciousness and a new way of living, being and relating.”

Dec. 21 is also tied to the winter solstice and a galactic alignment. According to Mayan prophecy and New Age websites, as well as some amateur astronomers, the alignment occurs when our sun appears to rise into the patch of sky called the Dark Rift at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, a phenomenon that last occurred 26,000 years ago, they say.

With the alignment, “an energy force will be released and engulf us and go into our hearts and embrace us with unconditional love and remind us that we are divine spiritual beings who are one with the creator and one with all of the universe,” says Wong, who lives and practices in Albuquerque. “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

The Griffith Observatory in California posted a different spin on its website: “The winter solstice Sun never coincides with the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. There is no ‘galactic alignment’ on winter solstice, 2012. There is no meaningful midpoint across the Milky Way. A midpoint for the winter solstice sun’s precessional passage across the Milky Way cannot be defined to a century, let alone a single day (and certainly not to 21 December 2012).”

As for the Maya themselves, what do they think? Currently about 7 million Mayan-speaking descendants of the ancient Maya live in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. “They laugh and think it’s crazy,” Prufer says.