Read an Excerpt
From the Introduction
2012: An Unstoppable Idea
"This was the peopling of the face of the earth:
They came into being, they multiplied, they had daughters, they had sons, these manikins woodcarvings. But there was nothing in their hearts and nothing in their minds, no memory of their mason and builder. They just went and walked wherever they wanted …; they did not remember the Heart of Sky."—The Popol Vuh
Writing this book was an immense undertaking that had to accommodate new developments in the ever-shifting features of a quickly evolving field. Because of its curious crescendo in our immediate future, and therefore unlike any other topic, 2012ology ("twenty twelvology") has been growing exponentially with a unique set of issues and attractions. This accelerating growth of interest in the public arena is driven primarily by urgent doomsday scenarios spun out by the mainstream media and opportunistic writers. And yet the date is not simply a new-fangled gadget invented by the marketplace. It is, in fact, a true artifact of the authentic Maya calendar, which has suffered the cut-and-paste cosmologizing of wannabe wizards, pocket-protector prophets, and celebrity showmen. This heady stew is all stirred up in the Google cauldron, making a dangerous potion for the unsuspecting newcomer. As you step into this ever-shifting discussion, it will be helpful to have some historical background and a guiding survey of who has been saying what. This is part of what this book offers.
I've been investigating Maya culture since 1985, and I have written many research-oriented books and articles on Maya calendars and cosmology. My first two books were self-published travelogues peppered with historical facts and comments on the Mesoamerican worldview. I quickly became fascinated with various unresolved enigmas, including the 2012 cycle-ending date. My 1992 book, Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies, presented my work on the Venus calendar found in the Dresden Codex, one of the few surviving Maya books. My 1998 book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 broke new ground on identifying why 2012 was important to the ancient Maya, offering a new reconstruction of ancient Maya thought. Key questions were posed: When and where did the early Maya devise the calendar that gives us the cycle ending in 2012? Why did they place this cycle ending on December 21, 2012, and how did they think about it? These questions led me to discoveries and conclusions that integrated the domains of astronomy, mythology, prophecy, and spiritual teachings.
I found that a rare astronomical alignment culminates in the years leading up to 2012, when the position of the solstice sun will be aligned with the Milky Way galaxy. This solstice-galaxy alignment is a rare occurrence, happening only once every 26,000 years. It can be called a "galactic alignment" and was perceived by ancient astronomers as a shifting of the position of the sun, on the solstice, in relation to background features such as stars, constellations, and the Milky Way. Based on evidence in Maya traditions and key archaeological sites, it became overwhelmingly apparent to me that the future convergence of sun and galaxy was calculated, with good accuracy, by the ancient Maya and the cycle-ending date in 2012 was chosen to target it. Without going into any further questions and complexities, this situation means that the ancient Maya had astronomical abilities at least on par with their contemporaries in other parts of the world, including Greece, India, Babylonia, and Egypt.
Importantly, I noticed that the astronomical features involved in the galactic alignment were key players in Maya cosmology and Creation Mythology. These connections were not free-floating opinions based on imagined associations that had no real relevance for the ancient Maya. In fact, the evidence was there in the academic literature itself. I was merely stitching all the pieces together. The solstice sun, the Milky Way, and a curious feature that lies along the Milky Way called the dark rift were utilized in the sacred ballgame, king-making rites, the calendar systems, and the Hero Twin Creation Myth. These real connections anchored the galactic alignment firmly within known Maya concepts and traditions. In my studies I quickly focused my attention on the early Maya site called Izapa, which scholars suspected as being involved in the formulation of the Long Count calendar. By 1994 the results of this approach had revealed Izapa as a critically important place for understanding how the Maya thought about the galactic alignment in era-2012. Furthermore, the astronomy was woven together with spiritual teachings, conveyed as mythological dynamics in the Creation Myth on Izapa's many pictographic monuments.
Astronomy, the calendar, and the Creation Myth were facets of the same cosmology. Beliefs about cycle endings, especially the big one in 2012, were represented in these traditions and revealed how the creators of the Long Count thought about 2012. It was not perceived as some dramatic doomsday apocalypse, as our modern media repeatedly prefers to portray it. Instead, the creators of the 2012 calendar utilized sophisticated spiritual teachings intended to facilitate a process of spiritual transformation and renewal. This was clearly big news, given that, in the mid-1990s when I made these discoveries, scholars had said nothing about 2012 and the doomsday interpretation was on the rise in the popular media. For me, the years after my first trip south of the border in 1986 were filled with exciting discoveries, continuing travels, field investigations at Maya sites, living and working with the modern Maya, meeting remarkable people, writing and teaching.
Through the years I've been invited to contribute articles to anthologies, speak at conferences, attend irresistible events, and conduct radio and TV interviews. Naturally, some of these were well produced, but others were ill conceived, and I've learned a lot about working with conference organizers and documentary producers. Throughout the aforementioned wonderland of opportunities and farragoes my goal of finding a suitable publisher for a book telling the definitive 2012 story remained elusive. When the 2012 bug started to bite the mainstream press and many more books started to appear, I noticed that authors and the media were pulling the 2012 topic in predictably weird directions. For example, one prominent trend has involved slowly, and almost imperceptibly, divorcing the 2012 icon from its Maya roots. Another enlists 2012 into serving the dubious cause of fear-based doomsday scenarios populated by alien gene splicers, invisible planets, searing solar flares, and menacing asteroids. The vast majority of this unbridled superstorm of alarmist and hype-driven marketing ploys was problematic. I realized that I was in a unique position to offer clarity and discernment, so I got to work, building from scratch a new book that I envisioned to be the definitive 2012 story.
Chapter 1 presents the indispensable discoveries and academic work that over many centuries have led to an astonishing picture of ancient Maya civilization. How did explorers come to rediscover the lost cities of the Maya? How did scholars come to reconstruct the calendar systems? How did breakthroughs and biases help and hinder the process? And going further back in time, how and when did civilization in Mesoamerica develop? The material covered in Chapter 1 could easily have been expanded into a book of its own, telling the story of fascinating rogues and colorful characters who discovered and explored the jungle temples of ancient Maya civilization, reconstructing an entire worldview beginning with the barest of fragments. Since my goal was to write one book rather than a ten-volume series, I have summarized the most notable events and as a result many interesting episodes and characters have been left out.
Distilling the endless information down to its alchemical essence, I've highlighted certain themes that I believe define the remarkable ongoing process of recovering the lost knowledge of the Maya, America's most persistently mind-boggling civilization. One of these themes is the important place occupied, time and again, by the independent outsider. Quirky, eccentric, dealing genuine insights and controversial fancies, they have been the triggers and the mainstay of real progress. Visionary philosopher Terence McKenna said in one of his talks:
"What we need to celebrate is the individual. Have you not noticed (I certainly have), that every historical change you can think of—in fact any change you can think of, forget about human beings—any change in any system that you can think of is always ultimately traceable to one unit in the system undergoing a phase state change of some sort. There are no group decisions, those things come later. The genius of creativity and of initiation of activity always lies with the individual."
The efforts made by these upstarts to transcend status quo biases inflicted by degreed gatekeepers wielding their own limiting brands of logic and decorum can be observed time and time again. Usually the truth eventually came through, even though it was often reviled and marginalized for decades and the trailblazers themselves died without due acknowledgment.
I count myself among the autodidacts, the self-taught perpetual students fueled by passion and a sense of mission. The early independent Maya researchers had little to work with. Things have sped up since the days of Förstemann, Goodman, and Bourbourg, and I expect the next decade will see many unexpected breakthroughs in how we understand Maya astronomy, the hieroglyphic inscriptions, and the much maligned and misunderstood 2012 date—including, as we will see, new evidence that supports my reconstruction of the original intentions behind the 2012 date. Even after the 2012 party is over, the work will continue.
Another theme is 2012's wide appeal. By this I mean it is of interest to scientists, New Age spiritualists, novelists, survivalists, evangelizing model makers, and the mass media—although, it must be said, its millenarian aspect finds particularly fertile soil in the United States. Whether manifesting in negative or positive aspects, 2012 nevertheless has meaning in virtually every domain where it appears. This situation calls into question critics who declare, with a surprisingly smug certainty, that 2012 is a hoax or completely meaningless. I've observed and directly experienced this treatment and have dialogued with those who inflict it, so I feel obligated to report the following: In academia as well as in the skeptical popular press, 2012 is rendered meaningless to the extent that it is misunderstood. This is an interesting equation. If a prejudice exists that 2012 is meaningless, then myriad creative ways to misunderstand it can and must be implemented. One overarching misunderstanding is endlessly repeated: that the Maya predicted the end of the world in 2012. If you look at the Maya doctrine of World Ages, the hieroglyphic inscriptions that relate to 2012, and the Creation Mythology (The Popol Vuh), you find nothing of the sort. These misconceptions have currency because access to good information on 2012 has been either seriously limited or buried under the endless bric-a-brac of the spiritual marketplace. Discerning books and websites, including my own, are out there and have been for years, but they must compete with formulaic attention-grabbing marketplace products that are almost always sensationalized and riddled with errors.
I found it challenging to review, for this book, the many distortions and misapprehensions that have clogged the 2012 marketplace. I felt it would be important to clarify, for the record, the facts of the matter and have assessed materials from theories, models, so-called prophets, and visionaries. The real stories that underlie many of these authors and ideas are filled with ironies, debacles, and exposés, and I happen to have had the insider's view of all these telltale goings-on in the tortured topic of 2012. I offer my carefully considered overviews and assessments on the best-known theories connected to 2012, and I provide these candid critiques as a guide for unwary wayfarers on the road to 2012. Much of what is connected to 2012 is misleading and panders to fear and paranoia. Delving into this messy situation will, I hope, be made easier with some well-placed sardonic humor and wry wit. One thing I've learned from twenty years in the 2012 game is that humor is absolutely necessary if one hopes to survive the 2012 superstorm of surreal scenarios that are flooding the discussion. Surprisingly, we'll find that an unwillingness to investigate the 2012 topic rationally, which is diagnostic of many misconceptions in the popular literature, also infects academia. A critical survey of the "modern Maya calendar movement" and its relationship to academic treatments will be a frequent reference point.
Part I was conceived as a nuts-and-bolts chronological survey of the 2012 topic, bringing us up to speed on the facts of the matter. Summarizing the various theories inevitably invites a presentation of my reconstruction work and "galactic alignment theory." Chapter 4 frames this presentation within the larger issue of how breakthroughs occur, emphasizing that my work is built upon the previous breakthroughs of other scholars working in Maya studies. With new decipherments of hieroglyphic texts, the multifarious ways in which the ancient Maya utilized the concept of the alignment of the solstice sun and the Milky Way's dark rift (the "galactic alignment") in their traditions is becoming clearer. I found that the Maya ballgame, kingmaking rites, and the Maya Creation Mythology encoded the astronomy of the era-2012 alignment, which happens only once every 26,000 years. This galactic alignment is caused by a phenomenon called the precession of the equinoxes, the slow shifting of the positions of the equinoxes (and solstices) in the sky, resulting from the fact that the earth wobbles very slowly on its axis. My end-date alignment theory is now receiving new support from recent findings in academia, and after 2012 I'll continue the work that I've pursued since the mid-1980s.
This astronomical alignment has been generally and more compellingly referred to as an alignment to "the Galactic Center," a cause for confusion in terms of timing parameters, which I will explain and clarify. When the dust settles, I am confident that a paradigm justly identified as "galactic" in scope will become the consensus in academia and that college textbooks will include tutorials in hieroglyphic statements involving the dark rift in the Milky Way, precessional concepts and calculations in hieroglyphic inscriptions, and readings of the astrotheological iconography of pre-Classic Izapa.
Over the years I've traveled and talked with scholars and writers, and I will share their views in their own words. The academic Tulane conference on 2012 took place in February of 2009, just in time for inclusion in this book. It was a watershed event that consolidated closed-minded judgments in academia while paradoxically initiating a new era of scholarly openness (in some quarters) to considering 2012 as the valid artifact of Maya thought that it is. I attended and recorded the proceedings, and my exchanges with scholars reveal the current state of the 2012 discussion in mainstream academia. The first part of the book closes with a concise summary of new discoveries, in the inscriptions and elsewhere, that lend support to my galactic alignment theory while expanding our understanding of 2012 and Maya cosmovision in profound and compelling new ways.
My angle of approach to 2012 in Part I is guided by a straightforward, informed, and objective assessment. But something is missing. The deeper meaning that New Agers believe 2012 contains is, I venture, an important and valid part of the discussion. It has, in fact, been present for me from the early days of my research. What I've noticed is that Maya teachings, including those pertaining to cycle endings, belong to a Perennial Philosophy, or Primordial Tradition, a reservoir of knowledge and spiritual wisdom common in its essential form to all great religious traditions. The inner, symbolic message of 2012 can have meaning for all humanity. Approaching 2012 in this way is suspect to Maya specialists, even though it can be undertaken rationally. Comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, for example, drew from the integrative perspectives of this Perennial Philosophy to show patterns of similarity between widely separated global mythologies. He pierced beyond the veil of surface appearances and culture-specific terminology to see the archetypal level of meaning. Ancient Hindu teachings and Buddhist insights, for Campbell, could thus have spiritual meaning for modern seekers. So, too, Maya teachings belong in their archetypal essence to this primordial wisdom, and can speak to us today, or to any human being in any era.
One might suspect that this approach to 2012 would have been colonized by New Agers and spiritual seekers, but it hasn't. The thirst for spiritual insight has not been quenched by the wells plumbed by spiritual writers on 2012, because instead of tapping into Maya traditional wisdom as an expression of the Perennial Philosophy, all manner of inventive models charted in the name of the Maya calendar have instead staked a claim in the spiritual marketplace. The vein of pure gnosis is there, right before our eyes, in the Maya Creation Mythology; we just need to read it with eyes attuned to the symbolic, archetypal, universal content.
Part II ventures into this deeper area of inquiry, and beyond it is the ultimate invitation—for the reader to lay down books and open up their own initiatory conduit into a direct inner experience of the universal gnosis that all spiritual teachings point to. This is no time to insulate ourselves from the profound universal teachings of ancient Maya philosophy. Chapter 12 is dedicated to discussing the importance of this big picture, how we can open to it, how it can be embodied, and how its implicit values can be put into practice. We are being called to engage the initiatory sacrifice that the Maya's 2012 teaching insists is indispensable. Ultimately, this is the only way that anyone will be able to understand for themselves what 2012 is all about. It's an understanding not limited to facts and figures—it is the gnosis of union with the whole consciousness that lies at the root of ego and world. These ideas are centrally important to the universal meaning of 2012 and must be taken seriously. For now we are coming down to the wire; the 2012 date is looming like an unwanted intruder in the dream of Western civilization, urgently screaming that something is very wrong with the way we've been running the planet.
These are the big questions, ones that any 2012ologist is required to address. But to my mind they aren't concerns that will last. Or, I should rather say, the concerns for sustainable worldview and spiritual wholeness will last but their connection to 2012 will expire. After 2012 no one will care anymore about relating the Maya calendar to events in the world or to the importance of spiritual awakening. For mainstream culture it will pass into oblivion while the next trendy topic is lined up for consideration. What will last, in my view, is twofold: the ongoing effort to reconstruct ancient Maya cosmology and the growing indigenous cultural movement that Maya scholar Victor Montejo has called "the Maya Renaissance." An upwelling of indigenous consciousness defines this renaissance, which I believe heralds a much larger, and much needed, global awakening and renewal. Our entire world needs to have a turnabout in its deepest seat of consciousness, flipping the values of a self-serving dominator ethic back around to the community-building partnership strategies that were the ideal of indigenous societies. In this regard, the very idea of era-2012 as a time of renewal is exactly what the world at large needs to hear.
This book is the culmination of a quarter century of committed and constant research into Maya culture, cosmology, and the 2012 question. It was not written on assignment by a hired novice, as so many recent 2012 books have been. I've invested much time to sort out the wheat from the chaff and offer here a carefully considered treatment of a controversial phenomenon that is as thorough as such a complex topic allows. For many readers it will probably be challenging and enervating. Every reader will find in here things to agree with and others to disagree with. In a book that deals with a subject of so many labyrinthine layers and perplexing possibilities, that is how it should be; it is, in fact, unavoidable. Be prepared to dive in and get your feet wet. This is what you're in for, and I hope you will find it useful, challenging, and informative.
John Major Jenkins
May 31, 2009
Long Count 184.108.40.206.0