Many gather to ponder end of Maya days
Hundreds of people gathered near the Golden Gate Bridge over the weekend to ponder the enigmatic date of Dec. 21, 2012, the last day of the ancient Maya calendar and the focus of many end-of-the-world predictions.
In these times of economic distress, participants shelled out $300 each to attend the sold-out 2012 Conference, where astrologers, UFO fans, shamans and New Age entrepreneurs of every stripe presented their dreams and dreads in two days of lectures, group meditations, documentaries and, of course, self-promotion.
Normally, New Age platforms attract the interest of only the narrowest group of enthusiasts. But this one has been generating wider audiences because it so forcefully underscores the turmoil of the times, as indicated by the stock market plunge, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the Sept. 11 attacks, global warming and the possibility of a magnetic pole shift and stronger sunspot cycles.
To some, the end of the Maya Long Calendar’s roughly 5,000-year cycle portends calamity, or the birth of a new age, or both.
The conference’s slogan: “Shift happens.”
The gathering of about 300 people from as far away as Holland was launched with the blessings of a Guatemalan shaman and the scary predictions of Jay Weidner, whose firm, Sacred Mysteries, has sponsored four 2012 events in the last six months.
“The greatest crisis in human history is unfolding all around us. It’s not the end of this world, but it’s the end of this age,” he likes to say. “To survive the 21st century, we’re going to have to become a sustainable world — people should want to know how to pound a nail, milk a cow and grow their own food.”
Now, a gold rush of “2012ology” is underway. A similar conference in Hollywood this year drew an audience of more than 1,000. At least two gatherings are planned for the Los Angeles area in the spring. “A Complete Idiot’s Guide to 2012” was published last month, adding to a burgeoning market of books, CDs and History Channel specials suggesting that the ancient Maya predicted the impending end of the world as we know it.
Director Michael Bay is set to make a movie titled “2012,” based on a novel about multiple earths in parallel universes slated for destruction.
Stewart Guthrie, professor emeritus of anthropology at Fordham University, was not surprised by the growing interest in newfangled notions about what those Maya time keepers might have had in mind as far back as AD 200.
“When events leave us feeling powerless and confused, we are more open to new claims about the disorders of the world,” he said. “If people persuade enough others to accept their answers to this crazy world, it can become a movement, for better or worse.”
The scene at the 2012 Conference here had the same giddy sense of urgency. Conference co-organizer Sharron Rose said the Maya timeline foretold “the most profound event in human history. Everything we know, everything we are, is about to undergo a substantial and radical alteration.”
Exactly which direction to take, however, was unclear. The group is strikingly splintered, each focused on his or her own New Age theories: Spiritual teacher Jose Arguelles, for instance, contends that the Maya were prescient space aliens. And author Daniel Pinchbeck describes 2012 as a time for “the return of the Quetzalcoatl,” the mythical feathered serpent of Mesoamerica.
This topic has been around for a while. Here’s an item from March, 2007:
Does Maya calendar predict 2012 apocalypse?
The buildup to 2012 echoes excitement and fear expressed on the eve of the new millennium, popularly known as Y2K, though on a smaller scale, says Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor at Publishers Weekly. She says publishers seem to be courting readers who believe humanity is creating its own ecological disasters and desperately needs ancient indigenous wisdom.
“The convergence I see here is the apocalyptic expectations, if you will, along with the fact that the environment is in the front of many people’s minds these days,” Garrett says. “Part of the appeal of these earth religions is that notion that we need to reconnect with the Earth in order to save ourselves.”
But scholars are bristling at attempts to link the ancient Maya with trends in contemporary spirituality. Maya civilization, known for advanced writing, mathematics and astronomy, flourished for centuries in Mesoamerica, especially between A.D. 300 and 900. Its Long Count calendar, which was discontinued under Spanish colonization, tracks more than 5,000 years, then resets at year zero.
“For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle,” says Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Fla. To render Dec. 21, 2012, as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”
Part of the 2012 mystique stems from the stars. On the winter solstice in 2012, the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years. This means that “whatever energy typically streams to Earth from the center of the Milky Way will indeed be disrupted on 12/21/12 at 11:11 p.m. Universal Time,” Joseph writes.
But scholars doubt the ancient Maya extrapolated great meaning from anticipating the alignment — if they were even aware of what the configuration would be.
Astronomers generally agree that “it would be impossible the Maya themselves would have known that,” says Susan Milbrath, a Maya archaeoastronomer and a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. What’s more, she says, “we have no record or knowledge that they would think the world would come to an end at that point.”
University of Florida anthropologist Susan Gillespie says the 2012 phenomenon comes “from media and from other people making use of the Maya past to fulfill agendas that are really their own.”