The headline today was ‘Doomsday Busted: The Mayan Calendar looks ahead 7000 years.’ Never one to pass on an opportunity, I want to look at this reaction, and what it says about us western folks. This goes much farther than calendars and prophecies, but has roots in where we see ourselves in the world and our inability to find any kind of balance or relationship with it.
When we think of end-time prophesy we likely first think of our contemporaries, like Christian radio host Harold Camping who convinced thousands that the world would end on May 21, 2011. And of course we think of media personalities who have marketed themselves using the Mayan label.
I have not been immune to these criticisms. I’m a gringo, wrote a book about 2012 and have a website where Mayan is like every other Macro key word. I am a product of my culture, and like all of us, moving past it is slow and sometimes painful. I’ve edited out some of the crazier stuff on the site from over the years, but I’m sure plenty remains.
Few of us would hear ‘end time prophecy’ and think first of Christopher Columbus or Mormon founder Joseph Smith. Few would think of Zoroaster, living perhaps 4000 years ago in ancient Iran. This business is ancient, and will not end after 2012. That perpetual enabler of bad behavior, the internet, already hosts an on-line proof “beyond any doubt” that Jesus Christ will return on Yom Kippur, in the year 2015.
Since long before the biblical Book of Revelations, we have been programmed to perceive the physical world and the human race as being equivalent, with equal significance and shared destiny. We enshrine time as though it is a universal constant, the base 10 decades, centuries and millennia that reflect no more and no less that the number of fingers on our hands. Mayan time is no different, except they began with counting both fingers and toes.
Basic tenants of the Abrahamic faiths, including Christianity, were written down in ancient Iran by Zoroastrians more than 1000 years before Christ. They include one universal creator, pure and eternal, unseen, who alone is deserving of devotion. Zoroastrian writings describe the eternal nature of souls, spiritual warfare between good and evil, the existence of heaven and hell, and the ultimate defeat of evil and salvation of souls at the end of time. It also describes a cycle of global destruction every 1000 years – every 10 fingers times 10 times 10.
The Magi bringing gifts to the Christ child are thought to have been Zoroastrians, bringing symbolic gifts of their wisdom. The 1000 year cycle was codified in the new faith by the concept of Christian millennialism, and the 1000 year ‘reign of Christ’ described in the Book of Revelations, chapter 20: 1-6. Christians argued about including the Book of Revelations in the bible for at least 200 years. Over the objections of many church leaders, including 4th century Saint Gregory the Theologian, the book was finally included in 397 AD. More than 1000 years later, Martin Luther was still calling the Book of Revelations “neither apostolic nor prophetic.” Despite all this, and despite the nearly universal historic agreement that this piece of apocalyptic genre literature was meant to predict the fall of Nero and Rome, we are left with the book as, for the faithful, the Word of God.
And for our western Christian culture, we are left with the view that the entire world, indeed the universe, is merely a stage constructed by God for the playing out of the human drama.
And we all know what happens to the stage once the play is over.
At the end of the 10th century, European Christians were on the march, waging war, invading ‘pagan’ countries in an attempt to convert the world to Christianity at the end of a sword before the year 1000 when Jesus would return on his cloud. Things had not changed much when Columbus sailed into the Western Hemisphere. Columbus saw himself on a divine mission from Christ. It was all about the Great Commission, the command of Jesus to make disciples of all the nations of the earth.
And of course it was also about bringing riches back to Europe.
Throughout Columbus’s life, an obsession with the apocryphal underside of religion grew in importance. This is clear from Columbus’s own ‘Book of Prophecy’. He wrote that his sailing voyages “all turned out just as our redeemer Jesus Christ had said.” He had, after all, discovered the Garden of Eden in what is now Venezuela. St. Augustine had said the world would end 7000 years after its creation. Columbus did the math. He wrote “only 150 years remain for the completion of the 7000 years which will be the end of the world.” Time was short for his divine mission to make Christians out of savages. London minister Benjamin Keach predicted the world would end in 1689, just a few decades past Columbus’ prophecy date.
Along with their horses and gunpowder, Europeans brought to the ‘new world’ their millennia old conviction that the end was near. Mormon church founder Joseph Smith predicted the end of the world would occur February 15, 1891. One of the more famous predictions was that of William Miller whose prophecy, based on the Book of Daniel, placed the world’s end on October 22, 1844. His followers in New York became known as Millerites.
Predictably, the Millerites lost quite a bit of their membership after October 23, 1844. Those who remained, however, evolved into the Seventh Day Adventists, and explained ‘The Great Disappointment’ of 1844 with a Doctrine of Investigative Judgment. Christ did return on October 23 of that year, and has been watching things ever since. The divine judgment of Christians has been in progress since 1844. A 2002 survey found that 86% of the world’s 16.3 million Seventh Day Adventists accept the Doctrine of Investigative Judgment.
Charles Russell attributed some of his views to the Adventists. He called his 6 volume work on the bible ‘Millennial Dawn’, and said Jesus returned in 1874 but had remained invisible. He placed the end of the world in October 1914, believing that WW I was the beginning of the biblical Armageddon. His 19.3 million followers are today called the Jehovah Witness.
Frank Waters, most famous for his ‘Book of the Hopi’, wrote in 1975 that the 13 Baktun period was a Mayan Great Cycle. He predicted the world would be destroyed on December 24, 2011. These were the earliest days of the marriage between western doomsday obsession and long cycle Mayan calendar science.
A Baktun is a 144,000 day Mayan calendar cycle. We are in the 13th Baktun at the present time, Oxlajuj Baqtun, in a count that began at the time of creation described in the ancient Mayan book Popol Vuh. No one knows exactly when the 13th cycle will end, but many Mayan scholars have settled on the December 21, 2012 date.
California artist José Argüelles, promoter of events including Earth Day and the Harmonic Convergence, published his book The Mayan Factor in 1987. His belief that an invisible beam from the center of the Milky Way galaxy would intersect and transform the earth on the last day of the baktun elevated its significance to a galactic level. The approaching age of the internet created a perfect storm in which the hopes and fears lying just below the surface of our DNA would once again, as they had throughout history, boil to the surface.
There were the disaster theorists, like Lawrence Joseph and his ‘2012 Apocalypse’, detailing the myriad ways the earth could be drowned or incinerated. There were the New Age hopefuls, such as John Major Jenkins, seeing ‘a transformation from one world to another’, and Carl Johan Calleman, who foresaw the completion of the creation process of the universe. Although seemingly opposite, these would-be prophets are strikingly similar. They all believe that the universe is created and controlled based on a calendar we humans created by counting our fingers and toes.
So now we have found a room lived in by a Mayan scribe containing dates written on the walls that see a future after 2012. Thus the 'doomsday busted' headline. These dates calculate planetary cycles 7000 years into the future. We are happy to announce a change in our world view based on this unknown man’s calculations. In the ruins of Palenque there are dates as far into the future as 4772 AD. There is no news here. There is an opportunity to ask ourselves what we are doing.
When my Mayan friends asked me to persist in my book project and offer an alternative to the doomsday stories shaming their culture, my heart was pure but my understanding was woefully small. I wrote my book, an alternative to alien invaders and pole reversals and killer asteroids, biblical floods and global earthquakes, but I was still living in the narcissistic world view that the earth was here for people.
It should not be hard to represent the Mayan perspective. After all, if you combined all the indigenous people who live within the boundaries of the United States and Canada, there are more living Mayans than the people of all those tribes combined. It is true of course that no group of people is totally homogenous, and there have been both Mayans and those representing themselves as Mayans who have been influenced by external and New Age influences. Some have become influential media personalities and motivational speakers. My friend Apab’yan Tew has stated most closely and succinctly what I have heard from many others.
‘Various media have spread all kinds of ideas and assumptions outside of the Mayan culture. The most important point is that human beings and their actions, individually or collectively, are not the measure of things in the universe. In the Mayan worldview, human beings are just another form in the organization of nature, one part in the endless interweaving of natural forces. Our calculations, observations and derivations are restricted by man’s position in what is only one corner of an infinite reality.
‘The obvious conclusion is that there is no conclusion, no end-time to be determined by the human mind, no coming disasters or cataclysms, no warnings or Mayan gods articulating strategies, and no room for changes of consciousness of the transformation of human thought. While part of humanity continues to give themselves the right to exploit others, things will stay the same, or become worse yet.
‘The end of the world does not belong to us as a species nor to any projection of our disappointment that may manifest as worship. The idea is ridiculous. So far, nothing we have seen in the undulations of the Mayan sacred fire indicate any tragedies other than those resulting from human shortsightedness and stupidity.
‘The Maya do not transmit adverse omens. The error is by those who have stolen the structure of our calendar and filled it with the fears and apprehension that is their own way of thinking, and not ours.’
What is there for me to add? Only a reflection on what comes next. It is almost a common understanding now that without respect for our planet, it will one day fail to be able to support us. A play is not reality, and the stage is torn apart after the last act. But life is not a play and the earth is not a stage. If we gain anything after 2012, I hope some will think twice before trying to tell the Maya and other indigenous peoples what their calendar and customs mean, and have the humility to listen to what they have to teach. These are authentic human beings with ancient cultures. We and they are one species, standing in the corner seeing a piece of a reality we are only part of.
It seems a quaint anachronism for the hunter to ask the deer for its sacrifice, and thank the animal for giving itself for the hunt. Stranger still perhaps, asking a tree pardon, and leaving an offering when we need its wood to heat our home. The Maya offer a bit of every drink back to the earth. They ask a field permission to be planted. These customs put us in relationship with the earth. Our lives are intertwined, we and our planet, but we humans have much more to lose. These are not anachronisms. They are a path to survival.