It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

It’s incredible how far and wide-reaching misconceptions can spread, and certainly the Mayan “end of the world” prophecy for December 21st, 2012 is no exception. I know from my nonfiction writing (much of which is based on history) that falsities run rampant, even in history books and, dare I say, TV shows. So I shouldn’t be too surprised.

The first hint that you’re being misinformed is when you come across an article or website that highlights the classic circular sun stone calendar that looks like this:

Aztec Calendar

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly legitimate calendar. It’s just that, well… it’s NOT MAYAN!!!  It’s Aztec! The Mayans never even saw this calendar.

So, anyone passing it along as the Mayan calendar and then making predictions of the end of the world, is not exactly starting off on a credible foot. Unfortunately, about 90% of the websites I’ve seen on the Mayan calendar mistakenly reference the Aztec calendar (and even the popular cartoons, like the one below).

maya_cartoon

In actuality there are three Mayan calendars, the civil calendar (the circular Haab calendar, pictured below, which covers about 52 years — the average lifespan of a person at the time), the ritual/sacred calendar (Tzolkin, which is also circular and interlocks with the Haab calendar), and the one in question, the long count calendar. Below is a picture of the Haab calendar (note the Disney-esque cartoon-like center, which easily differentiates this from the Aztec sun stone):

mayan-calendar

 

This is the long count calendar, which is the one everyone’s been talking about with regard to the apocalypse. It’s a column — not circular.

Mayan-Calendar-300x200

 

Now, as for that pesky 12/21/12 reference. To understand that, it’s important to understand how the Mayan long count calendar works.

One B’ak’tun is 144,000 days or about 394 years. 20 B’ak’tuns make up a Piktun.

There are higher orders as well (20 Piktuns make up a Kalabtun, 20 Kalabtuns make up a Kinchiltun, and so on), all of which are referenced in Mayan tablets when depicting events in the distant future.

We are currently nearing the end of the 13th B’a’ktun (which began in the 15th century). The next B’ak’tun starts December 21st, 2012. The current Piktun doesn’t end until the year 4772.

The only mention of the 13th B’ak’tun (the end of which correlates to December 21st, 2012) is on the following stone tablet.

tortuguero_2012_1

The section highlighted makes reference to the 13th B’ak’tun as a time when a new god, dealing with change and wisdom, will reign, and generally a big celebration occurs at the change of a cycle. There is no reference to the end of the world or anything remotely resembling an apocalyptic event.

Overall, the Mayan calendar depicts 5 columns that work sort of like an odometer, with the leftmost column representing B’ak’tuns (it starts at zero and bumps up one cycle every 394 years), then, moving left to right, the next four columns are …

Katuns (cycles approx every 20 years), Tuns (cycles approx yearly), Uinals (cycles every 20 days), and Kins (cycles every day). There is some debate whether the B’ak’tuns reset to zero after 13 B’ak’tuns or 20, but most scholars say 20.

So, on December 21st, the Mayan calendar would look like:  14.0.0.0.0. On the 22nd, it would look like 14.0.0.0.1, and so on.

Keep in mind, there are higher orders than B’ak’tuns, as I mentioned, and these are references on other tablets, but they’re not part of the Mayan calendar per se. Why?

The same reason our computer systems in the last century only had two digits for the year (the famous Y2K problem). It seemed good enough at the time.  Either that, or they ran out of room, like the cartoon says (albeit showing the wrong calendar).

For those familiar with Y2K, when we hit the year 99, every computer programmer in the world was scampering to change their systems to a 4 digit year (though some people kept a 2 digit year and coded their systems to bump up the century if the year was less than 40 — which means we’ll have the same problem again in 2040). But I digress.

In any case, what we have is the Mayan equivalent of the Y2K problem. Nothing more, nothing less. Of course, people into new age science may talk about the alignment of the planets and stars, and there may be some some truth in that (the Mayans, after, all, were brilliant astronomers), but I’ll leave you to decide what that does or doesn’t mean for world consciousness.

As for the rise of a new Mayan god, keep in mind, the ancient Mayans also believed in bloodletting and human sacrifice.

Meanwhile, let’s all have a Mayan-like party (minus the human sacrifice) and celebrate the end of the 13th B’ak’tun and the beginning of the 14th on December 21st!

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