The 2012 phenomenon……
The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs that cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012, which is said to be the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mayan Long Count calendar. Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae related to this date have been proposed, but none have been accepted by mainstream scholarship.
A New Age interpretation of this transition posits that during this time Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Others suggest that the 2012 date marks the end of the world or a similar catastrophe. Scenarios posited for the end of the world include the Earth’s collision with a passing planet (often referred to as “Nibiru”) or black hole, or the arrival of the next solar maximum.
Scholars from various disciplines have dismissed the idea that a catastrophe will happen in 2012, stating that predictions of impending doom are not found in any of the existing classic Maya accounts. Mainstream Mayanist scholars state that the idea that the Long Count calendar “ends” in 2012 misrepresents Maya history. The modern Maya, on the whole, have not attached much significance to the date, and the classical sources on the subject are scarce and contradictory, suggesting that there was little if any universal agreement among them about what, if anything, the date might mean.
Astronomers and other scientists have rejected the apocalyptic forecasts on the grounds that the anticipated events are precluded by astronomical observations or are unsubstantiated by the predictions that have been generated from these findings. NASA has compared fears about 2012 to those about the Y2K bug in the late 1990s, suggesting that an adequate analysis should preclude fears of disaster.
Mesoamerican Long Count calendar
December 2012 marks the ending of the current b’ak’tun cycle of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, which was used in Central America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Though the Long Count was most likely invented by the Olmec, it has become closely associated with the Maya civilization, whose classic period lasted from 250 to 900 AD. The writing system of the classic Maya has been substantially deciphered, meaning that a corpus of their written and inscribed material has survived from before the European conquest.
The Long Count set its “zero date” at a point in the past marking the end of the previous world and the beginning of the current one, which corresponds to either 11 or 13 August 3114 BC in the Proleptic Gregorian calendar, depending on the formula used. Unlike the 52-year calendar round still used today among the Maya, the Long Count was linear, rather than cyclical, and kept time roughly in units of 20, so 20 days made a uinal, 18 uinals (360 days) made a tun, 20 tuns made a k’atun, and 20 k’atuns (144,000 days) made up a b’ak’tun. So, for example, the Mayan date of 22.214.171.124.15 represents 8 b’ak’tuns, 3 k’atuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 15 days since creation. Many Mayan inscriptions have the count shifting to a higher order after 13 b’ak’tuns, or roughly 5,125 years. Today, the most widely accepted correlation of the end of the thirteenth b’ak’tun, or Mayan date 126.96.36.199.0, with the Western calendar is December 21, 2012, with December 23 remaining another option.
In 1957, Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that “the completion of a Great Period of 13 b’ak’tuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya”. In 1988, anthropologist Munro S. Edmonson added that “there appears to be a strong likelihood that the eral calendar, like the year calendar, was motivated by a long-range astronomical prediction, one that made a correct solsticial forecast 2,367 years into the future in 355 B.C.” (sic) In 1966, Michael D. Coe more ambitiously asserted in The Maya that “there is a suggestion … that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the thirteenth [b’ak’tun]. Thus … our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012][a] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.”
Coe’s apocalyptic connotations were accepted by other scholars through the early 1990s. In contrast, later researchers said that, while the end of the 13th b’ak’tun would perhaps be a cause for celebration, it did not mark the end of the calendar. “There is nothing in the Maya or Aztec or ancient Mesoamerican prophecy to suggest that they prophesied a sudden or major change of any sort in 2012,” says Mayanist scholar Mark Van Stone, “The notion of a “Great Cycle” coming to an end is completely a modern invention.” In their seminal work of 1990, Maya scholars Linda Schele and David Freidel, who reference Edmonson, argue that the Maya “did not conceive this to be the end of creation, as many have suggested,” citing Mayan predictions of events to occur after the end of the 13th b’ak’tun. Stela 1 at Coba, for example, gives a date with twenty units above the b’ak’tun, placing it either 4.134105 × 1028 years in the future, or an equal distance in the past. Either way, this date is 3 quintillion times the age of the universe, demonstrating that not all Mayans considered the 5,125-year cycle as the most important. In fact, many different Maya city-states employed the Long Count in different ways. At Palenque, evidence suggests that the priest timekeepers believed the cycle would end after 20 b’ak’tuns, rather than 13. A monument commemorating the ascension of king Pakal the Great connects his coronation with events as much as 4000 years after, indicating that those scribes did not believe the world would end on 188.8.131.52.0.Maya references to B’ak’tun 13
The present-day Maya, as a whole, do not attach much significance to b’ak’tun 13. Although the calendar round is still used by some Maya tribes in the Guatemalan highlands, the Long Count was employed exclusively by the classic Maya, and was only recently rediscovered by archaeologists. Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun and Mexican archaeologist Guillermo Bernal both note that “apocalypse” is a Western concept that has little or nothing to do with Mayan beliefs. Bernal believes that such ideas have been foisted on the Maya by Westerners because their own myths are “exhausted”. Archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni says that while the idea of “balancing the cosmos” was prominent in ancient Maya literature, and some modern Maya affirm this idea of an age of coexistence, the 2012 phenomenon does not present this message in its original form. Instead, it is bound up with American traditions such as the New Age movement, millenarianism, and the belief in secret knowledge from distant times and places. Mayan archaeologist Jose Huchm has stated that “If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn’t have any idea. That the world is going to end? They wouldn’t believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain”.
What significance the classic Maya gave b’ak’tun 13 is uncertain. Most classic Maya inscriptions are strictly historical and do not make any prophetic declarations. Two items in the Maya historical corpus, however, may mention the end of the 13th b’ak’tun: Tortuguero Monument 6 and, possibly, the Chilam Balam.
The Tortuguero site, which lies in southernmost Tabasco, Mexico, dates from the 7th century AD and consists of a series of inscriptions in honor of the contemporary ruler. One inscription, known as Tortuguero Monument 6, is generally agreed among Mayanists to refer to b’ak’tun 13. It has been partially defaced; Mark Van Stone has given the most complete translation:
- Tzuhtz-(a)j-oom u(y)-uxlajuun pik
- The Thirteenth [b’ak’tun] will end
- (ta) Chan Ajaw ux(-te’) Uniiw.
- (on) 4 Ajaw, the 3rd of Uniiw [3 K’ank’in].
- Uht-oom Ek’-…
- Black …[illegible]…will occur.
- Y-em(al)…Bolon Yookte’ K’uh ta-chak-ma…
- (It will be) the descent(?) of Bolon Yookte’ K’uh to the great (or “red”?)…[illegible]…
Very little is known about the god (or gods) Bolon Yookte’ K’uh. Possible translations of his or their name include “nine support [gods]”, “Many‐Strides God”, “Nine‐Dog Tree”, or “Many‐Root Tree”. He appears in other inscriptions as a god of war, conflict, and the underworld, though Markus Eberl[who?] and Christian Prager[who?] believe that the Tortuguero inscription parallels the typical Maya ruler’s pronouncement of a future dedicatory celebration. No illustrations of Bolon Yookte’ exist, though dozens of other gods’ images are known.
The Chilam Balam are a group of post-conquest Mayan prophetic histories transcribed in a modified form of the Spanish alphabet. Their authorship is ascribed to a chilam balam, or jaguar prophet. The Chilam Balam of Tizimin has been translated four times in the 20th century, with many disputes over the meaning of its passages. One passage in particular is relevant to the interpretation of the 13th b’ak’tun:
- lic u tal oxlahun bak chem, ti u cenic u (tzan a cen/ba nacom)i (ciac/cha’) a ba yum(il/t)exe
Maud Worcester Makemson, an archaeoastronomer, believed that this line referred to the “tremendously important event of the arrival of 184.108.40.206.0 4 Ahau 3 Kankin in the not too distant future”, Her translation of the line, runs:
- Presently B’ak’tun 13 shall come sailing, figuratively speaking, bringing the ornaments of which I have spoken from your ancestors.
Her version of the text continues, “Then the god will come to visit his little ones. Perhaps ‘After Death’ will be the subject of his discourse.” Makemson was still relying on her own dating of 220.127.116.11.0 to 1752 and therefore the “not too distant future” in her annotations meant a few years after the scribe in Tizimin recorded his Chilam Balam. The more recent translation of Munro S. Edmonson does not support this reading; he considers the Long Count almost entirely absent from the book, since the 360-day tun been supplanted in the 1750s by a 365-day Christian year, and a 24-round may system was being implemented. He translates the line as follows:
- …like the coming of 13 sail-ships. When the captains dress themselves, your fathers will be taken.
Other Chilam Balam books contain references to the 13th b’ak’tun, but it is unclear if these are in the past or future; for example, oxhun bakam u katunil (thirteen bakam of k’atuns) in the Chilam Balam of Chumayel.
New Age beliefs
Many New Age thinkers believe that the ending of this cycle will correspond to a global “consciousness shift”. Established themes found in 2012 literature include “suspicion towards mainstream Western culture”, the idea of spiritual evolution, and the possibility of leading the world into the New Age by individual example or by a group’s joined consciousness. The general intent of this literature is not to warn of impending doom but “to foster counter-cultural sympathies and eventually socio-political and ‘spiritual’ activism”. Aveni, who has studied New Age and SETI communities, describes 2012 narratives as the product of a “disconnected” society: “Unable to find spiritual answers to life’s big questions within ourselves, we turn outward to imagined entities that lie far off in space or time—entities that just might be in possession of superior knowledge.”
In 1975, b’ak’tun 13 became the subject of speculation by several New Age authors. In his book Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness, Frank Waters tied Coe’s December 24, 2011 date to astrology and the prophecies of the Hopi, while both José Argüelles and Terence McKenna (in their books The Transformative Vision and The Invisible Landscape respectively) discussed the significance of the year 2012, but not a specific day. In 1987, the year in which he held the Harmonic Convergence event, Arguelles settled on the date of December 21 in his book The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology, in which he claimed on that date the Earth would pass through a great “beam” from the centre of the Galaxy, and that the Maya aligned their calendar in anticipation of that event.
In the mid-1990s, esoteric author John Major Jenkins asserted that the ancient Maya intended to tie the end of their calendar to the winter solstice in 2012, which falls on December 21. This date was in line with an idea he terms the galactic alignment.
In the Solar System, the planets and the Sun share roughly the same plane of orbit, known as the plane of the ecliptic. From our perspective on Earth, the ecliptic is the path taken by the Sun across the sky over the course of the year. The 12 constellations which line the ecliptic are known as the zodiac and, through the year, the Sun passes through each constellation in turn. Additionally, over time, the Sun’s annual passage appears to recede counterclockwise by one degree every 72 years. This movement is attributed to a slight wobble in the Earth’s axis as it spins. As a result, approximately every 2160 years, the constellation visible on the early morning of the spring equinox changes. In Western astrological traditions, this signals the end of one astrological age (currently the Age of Pisces) and the beginning of another (Age of Aquarius). Over the course of 26,000 years, the precession of the equinoxes makes one full circuit around the ecliptic.
Just as the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere is currently in the constellation of Pisces, so the winter solstice is currently in the constellation of Sagittarius, which is the zodiacal constellation intersected by the galactic equator. Every year for the last 1000 years or so, on the winter solstice, the Earth, Sun and the galactic equator come into alignment, and every year, precession pushes the Sun’s position a little way further through the Milky Way’s band.
The Milky Way near Cygnus showing the lane of the Dark Rift, which the Maya called the Xibalba be or “Black Road”
Jenkins suggests that the Maya based their calendar on observations of the Great Rift, a band of dark dust clouds in the Milky Way, which the Maya called the Xibalba be or “Black Road.” Jenkins claims that the Maya were aware of where the ecliptic intersected the Black Road and gave this position in the sky a special significance in their cosmology. According to the hypothesis, the Sun precisely aligns with this intersection point at the winter solstice of 2012. Jenkins claimed that the classical Mayans anticipated this conjunction and celebrated it as the harbinger of a profound spiritual transition for mankind. New Age proponents of the galactic alignment hypothesis argue that, just as astrology uses the positions of stars and planets to make claims of future events, the Mayans plotted their calendars with the objective of preparing for significant world events. Jenkins attributes the insights of ancient Maya shamans about the galactic center to their use of psilocybin mushrooms, psychoactive toads, and other psychedelics. Jenkins also associates the Xibalba be with a “world tree”, drawing on studies of contemporary (not ancient) Maya cosmology.
Astronomers argue that the galactic equator is an entirely arbitrary line, and can never be precisely determined because it is impossible to say exactly where the Milky Way begins or ends. Jenkins claims he drew his conclusions about the location of the galactic equator from observations taken at above 11,000 feet, which is higher than any of the Maya lived. Furthermore, the precessional alignment of the Sun with any single point is not exclusive to a specific year, but takes place over a 36-year period, corresponding to its diameter. Jenkins himself notes that, even given his determined location for the line of the galactic equator, its most precise convergence with the centre of the Sun already occurred in 1998.
Some Maya scholars, such as Barbara MacLeod, Michael Grofe, Eva Hunt, Gordon Brotherston, and Anthony Aveni, have suggested that some Mayan holy dates were timed to precessional cycles, but scholarly opinion on the subject remains divided. There is also little evidence, archaeological or historical, that the Maya placed any importance on solstices or equinoxes. It is possible that early Mesoamericans had an emphasis on solstices which was later forgotten, but this is also a disputed issue among Mayanists. The start date of the Long Count is not astronomically significant.
Timewave zero and the I Ching
A screenshot of the Timewave Zero software
“Timewave zero” is a numerological formula that purports to calculate the ebb and flow of “novelty”, defined as increase in the universe’s interconnectedness, or organised complexity, over time. According to Terence McKenna, who conceived the idea over several years in the early-mid 1970s while using psilocybin mushrooms and DMT, the universe has a teleological attractor at the end of time that increases interconnectedness, eventually reaching a singularity of infinite complexity in 2012, at which point anything and everything imaginable will occur simultaneously.
McKenna expressed “novelty” in a computer program, which purportedly produces a waveform known as timewave zero or the timewave. Based on McKenna’s interpretation of the King Wen sequence of the I Ching, the graph appears to show great periods of novelty corresponding with major shifts in humanity’s biological and cultural evolution. He believed the events of any given time are recursively related to the events of other times, and chose the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as the basis for calculating his end date in November 2012. When he later discovered this date’s proximity to the end of the 13th b’ak’tun of the Maya calendar, he revised his hypothesis so that the two dates matched.
The first edition of The Invisible Landscape refers to 2012 (as the year, not a specific day) only twice. McKenna originally considered it an incidental observation that his and José Argüelles dates matched, a sign of the end date “being programmed into our unconscious”. It was only in 1983, with the publication of Sharer’s revised table of date correlations in the 4th edition of Morley’s The Ancient Maya, that each became convinced that December 21, 2012 had significant meaning. McKenna subsequently peppered this specific date throughout the second, 1993 edition of The Invisible Landscape.
Peter Meyer provided the mathematics which displayed the ‘novelty sequence’ on which McKenna’s whole proposition rested.  However subsequent mathematicians such as Mathew Watkins and Ian Bell have analysed his mathematics and found it to be deeply flawed.
In 2006, author Daniel Pinchbeck popularised New Age concepts about this date in his book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, linking it to beliefs about crop circles, alien abduction, and personal revelations based on the use of entheogens and mediumship. Pinchbeck claims to discern a “growing realization that materialism and the rational, empirical worldview that comes with it has reached its expiration date…[w]e’re on the verge of transitioning to a dispensation of consciousness that’s more intuitive, mystical and shamanic.” Beginning in 2003, he has promoted these ideas annually in presentations at Burning Man. In April 2010, Pinchbeck and several others released the documentary film 2012: Time for Change.
In India, the guru Kalki Bhagavan has promoted 2012 as a “deadline” for human enlightenment since at least 1998. In the United States, the association of December 21, 2012 with a “transformation of consciousness” has also received popular attention in The Lost Symbol (2009), a bestseller work of thriller fiction by Dan Brown, in which the date is associated with references to esoteric beliefs of Freemasonry and noetic theory. David Wilcock, a new age researcher, has gained increasing popularity with viral video-seminars promoting the idea of global ascension, and a golden age, in the year 2012.
A far more apocalyptic view of the year 2012 has also spread in various media. This view has been promulgated by History Channel with the series Decoding the Past (2005–2007), and its segment on the Mayan calendar, based loosely on John Major Jenkins’ theories. However, Jenkins has berated the fact that a science fiction writer co-authored the documentary and went on to characterize it as “45 minutes of unabashed doomsday hype and the worst kind of inane sensationalism”. The show proved popular and was followed by many sequels: 2012, End of Days (2006), Last Days on Earth (2006), Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (2007), and Nostradamus 2012 (2008). Discovery Channel also aired 2012 Apocalypse in 2009, suggesting that massive solar storms, magnetic pole reversal, earthquakes, supervolcanoes, and other drastic natural events may occur in 2012.
One idea proposed in these films involves a geomagnetic reversal (often incorrectly referred to as a polar shift by proponents of this hypothesis), which could be triggered by a massive solar flare, one with energy equal to 100 billion atomic bombs. This belief is supposedly supported by observations that the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening, which indicates an impending reversal of the north and south magnetic poles. Scientists believe the Earth is overdue for a geomagnetic reversal, and has been for a long time, even since the time of the Mayans, because the last reversal was 780,000 years ago. Critics, however, claim geomagnetic reversals take up to 5,000 years to complete, and do not start on any particular date. Also, NOAA now predicts that the solar maximum will peak in 2013, not 2012, and that it will be fairly weak, with a below-average number of sunspots. In any case, there is no scientific evidence linking a solar maximum to a geomagnetic reversal. A solar maximum would be mostly notable for its effects on satellite and cellular phone communications.
Some proponents of doomsday in 2012 claim that a planet called Planet X or Nibiru will collide with or pass by Earth in that year. This idea, which has been circulating since 1995 in New Age circles and initially slated the event for 2003, is based on claims of channeling from alien beings and has been widely ridiculed. Astronomers calculate that such an object so close to Earth would be visible to anyone looking up at the night sky.
Black hole alignment
An apocalyptic reading of Jenkins’s hypothesis has that, when the galactic alignment occurs, it will somehow create a combined gravitational effect between the Sun and the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy (known as Sagittarius A*), creating havoc on Earth. Apart from the fact noted above that the “galactic alignment” predicted by Jenkins already happened in 1998, the Sun’s apparent path through the zodiac as seen from Earth does not take it near the true galactic center, but rather several degrees above it. Even if this were not the case, Sgr A* is 30,000 light years from Earth, and would have to be more than 6 million times closer to cause any gravitational disruption to Earth’s Solar System.
Some versions of this idea associate the theory of a 2012 “galactic alignment” with that of a very different “galactic alignment” proposed by some scientists to explain a supposed periodicity in mass extinctions in the fossil record. The hypothesis supposes that vertical oscillations made by the Sun as it orbits the galactic center cause it to regularly pass through the galactic plane. When the Sun’s orbit takes it outside the galactic disc, the influence of the galactic tide is weaker; as it re-enters the galactic disc, as it does every 20–25 million years, it comes under the influence of the far stronger “disc tides”, which, according to mathematical models, increase the flux of Oort cloud comets into the Solar System by a factor of 4, leading to a massive increase in the likelihood of a devastating comet impact. However, this “alignment” takes place over tens of millions of years, and could never be timed to an exact date. Evidence shows that the Sun passed through the galactic disc only three million years ago, and is now moving farther above it.
Web Bot project
The Web Bot project is a series of automated bots that search the internet for specific keywords, looking for patterns. Its co-creator, George Ure, states that its study of “web chatter” predicted the September 11 attacks in New York, though he also suggests that the project can predict natural disasters, such as earthquakes. He now asserts that the project has predicted that the world will end on December 21, 2012.Critics of these proposals argue that while the collective knowledge of humanity could possibly predict terrorist attacks, stock market crashes or other human-caused events, there is no way it could predict something like an earthquake or the end of the world.