Top 10 Myths About 2012 ~ Mitch Horowitz

The ancient Mayan people, whose empire extended across much of Central America from late-antiquity to the 1500s, maintained a complex system of calendars — which, oddly enough, ended with this year, 2012. This anomaly in Mayan timekeeping has caused many today to wonder whether the great calendar-makers foresaw an apocalypse in our era. The truth is more complex. Here are today’s top 10 myths about 2012.

1. OK, it’s past 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2012. Why didn’t anything happen?

Actually the great endpoint of the Mayan Long Count calendar is winter solstice 2012, which falls on Dec. 21 of this year. Keeping counting.

2. Is the world really going to end on winter solstice? Yikes.

Not according to most people who’ve recently written on the topic. Author John Major Jenkins has tracked some remarkable astronomical phenomena due to occur this year, in particular a “galactic alignment” of the earth, sun and a black hole at the center of the galaxy. While that may sound ominous to people who follow portentous signs, Jenkins finds nothing in Mayan literature to suggest an apocalypse. Ditto for writer Daniel Pinchbeck who, like Jenkins, envisages a shift in consciousness rather than a global meltdown. An earthly sign of what these and other writers have in mind, perhaps, is the worldwide protest/Occupy movement.

3. But the Mayan civilization DID predict the world’s end, right?

The truth is: We don’t know. Virtually no surviving Mayan carvings or documents make any reference to 2012, beyond the calendar system. Conquistadors and missionaries destroyed vast amounts of Mayan records and scholarship beginning with the Spanish conquest of the Yucatan peninsula in the early 1500s. We are left today with just remnants of Mayan thought. Hence, what these ancient mathematicians and calendar-makers actually believed would happen in 2012 remains a mystery of the antique world.

4. But other signs in the environment point to something creepy happening, don’t they?

Actually, one legitimate cause for environmental concern that is sometimes tied to 2012 is the problem of solar flares, which could disrupt electrical grids. Author Lawrence Joseph, a 2012 theorist, has written very ably on this question — though he doesn’t necessarily pinpoint the issue to the calendar year 2012 itself.

5. I should stock up on water and provisions just in case, right?

Well, Napoleon put it this way: “Every plan immediately fails upon contact with the enemy.” Hence, it’s really difficult to say whether generators, freeze-dried food or the massive jug of water that leaked in our kitchen last night (this is true) will make any difference for anyone, anywhere, on Dec. 21, 2012, or any other day. Ethical living, on a personal and global level, takes precedence any day in my book.

6. The famous early-20th century psychic Edgar Cayce foretold bad tidings for 2012, didn’t he?

No. While this rumor widely circulates on the web, and while Cayce did forecast earth-change prophecies for the late 20th century, he never uttered a word about 2012.

7. But the soothsayer Nostradamus warned us over 2012, right?

Again, no. While this is another rumor that makes the rounds online and in tabloid weeklies, the Renaissance-age seer never mentioned 2012. Of course, many analysts of Nostradamus would find that debatable. Nearly all of the middle-French quatrains produced by Nostradamus were imbued with ambiguous, shadowy images and language, which led to the profitable development of a cottage industry out of their interpretation and translation. But the best scholars in the field, which include Stephane Gerson (author of a monumental forthcoming biography of the seer) and Richard Smoley, who has recently retranslated the middle-French quatrains, find nothing in the work of Nostradamus that deals specifically with the year 2012 (or with the events 9/11 either, for that matter).

8. Didn’t a computer program called Web Bot predict a 2012 apocalypse?

The Web Bot Project is a program that scans the Internet for repeat phrases to search out cultural and business trends. Its findings are broad and widely open to interpretation — and some do use its data for prognostication. But it hasn’t pinpointed anything that plainly speaks to 2012.

9. I’ve heard the earth’s magnetic poles could shift in 2012.

This too makes the rounds online. If the magnetic poles suddenly shift our climate and environment could be thrown asunder, according to theorists. The author John White has written an authoritative book on this very question and finds little evidence for a sudden, contemporary pole shift.

10. OK, so this is all a bunch of hooey from a backwards primitive culture, right?

Again, the truth is more complex. The Maya were an extraordinary civilization, possessed of a greatly intricate and multilayered system of calendars, mathematics, astronomy, architecture, geometry and religion. They were a truly great civilization, on par with other ancient cultures, such as the Greeks and Romans. The fact that they abruptly ended their calendar on winter solstice 2012 is a historical mystery. Did they believe this year marked a great transition? An endpoint of some sort? Or were they merely taking a break in their vast system of time-keeping? We really don’t know. But anyone who is fascinated with the philosophies of the ancient world has a legitimate interest in wondering what the Maya had in mind.

Mitch Horowitz is the editor in chief of Tarcher/Penguin and the author of ‘Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation’ (Bantam). He is writing a history of the positive-thinking movement, forthcoming from Crown.

Is the 2012 Apocalypse Real? ~ Jason Boyett

“We were warned.” That’s the ominous tagline of the late 2009 disaster film staring John Cusack. The one in which earthquakes tear the world apart, tsunamis flood the planet, Los Angeles crumbles into the Pacific Ocean, and we all learn that the ancient Mayan Long Count calendar predicted the whole thing. We also learned that you don’t need a coherent script when you’re destroying the planet, but that’s a separate post.

Now that it’s actually 2012, the year in which those fictional events supposedly were to have taken place, you may be wondering: Is the Mayan calendar a real thing? Were we warned? Is 2012 the end of the world?

The answers, in order: Yes. No. And probably not.

Yes, there is such a thing as the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar, as mentioned in the movie. And yes, it does come to an end on the Winter Solstice of this year — Dec. 21, 2012. Just like your desk calendar came to an end on Dec. 31, 2011. And just like your car’s odometer will “come to an end” should you drive it all the way to 99,999.9 miles.

Only you know as well as I do that calendars and odometers don’t “end.” They reset and start over. Your car doesn’t implode when the odometer resets. Time didn’t end when the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve. Numbers change, totals reset to zero, and we keep counting.

Though it’s based on different intervals of time, the Mayan’s Long Count Calendar isn’t that different from modern calendars. Our calendars measure days, weeks, months, years and centuries, with our largest interval (for practical purposes) being a millennium, or one thousand years. The largest interval on the Long Count is called a b’ak’tun, which is around 144,000 days. The calendar resets each time it measures another b’ak’tun.

Though there is some disagreement on it, most Mayanist scholars date the starting point of this calendar back to Aug. 11, 3114 B.C. If this is accurate, then the calendar “resets” by reaching the 13th B’ak’tun on Dec. 21, 2012, at which point it rolls over and begins counting toward another milestone — just like our calendars rolled over at the end of 2011 and began counting the days and weeks of 2012.

So what’s the big deal? Why all the end-of-the-world stuff? According to ancient Mayan mythology, the world we’re living in now wasn’t our Creators’ first try. They attempted to create the world three times prior to it, but each of these early attempts failed. Before beginning our now-successful world, the Creators destroyed the previous world at the 13th B’ak’tun.

The arrival of the 13th B’ak’tun on Dec. 21, 2012, means that our current world will have surpassed the “expiration date” of the previous world. So it’s a significant occasion — if you believe in the Mayanist creation narrative.

If you don’t believe that our mythological Creators trashed three previous worlds before finally getting it right with this one, then the arrival of the 13th B’ak’tun on the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar should mean nothing to you.

But that hasn’t stopped fear mongers, conspiracy theorists, New Age kooks and other apocalypse aficionados from hitching their doomsday wagons to Dec. 21, 2012, as a potential date for the end of the world. We praise the ancient Mayan culture for being advanced mathematicians and astronomers. Couldn’t they maybe have been onto something with this end-of-the-calendar thing? Did they know something we didn’t?

That’s why a quick search of 2012 doomsday or Mayan apocalypse or something similar will result in a rainbow of fruity scenarios supposedly slated for Dec. 21 of this year, including an Earth-scorching supernova, catastrophic solar flares, alien invasion, asteroid collision, supervolcano eruption, a “dangerous” planetary alignment, nuclear Armageddon, the biblical apocalypse or the arrival of yet another Roland Emmerich disaster film.

If you believe the doomsayers, the transcendentally wise Mayans predicted it thousands of years ago, and created their ancient calendar to warn us. When the calendar ends, so does life as we know it. If you buy into their mythology, go ahead and freak out about our impending demise.

But if you don’t, then feel free to relax. The world is no more likely to end in December than it was when Harold Camping predicted apocalypse for October of 2011, or when Marian Keech predicted the world’s end in 1954, or when William Miller predicted the Rapture and Second Coming in 1844.

Humanity is obsessed with the end of the world. We predict it all the time. We are always wrong. The 2012 doomsayers will be wrong, too.

Jason Boyett is a writer, speaker and author of several books. His latest is “Pocket Guide to 2012: Your Once-in-a-Lifetime Guide to Not Completely Freaking Out,” currently available on Kindle and Nook.

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