Tumbling headfirst down the 365 stone steps of a Mayan temple, painted completely with a sacred recipe of blue paint, wearing an exit wound in his indigo chest from whence his heart was cut out and burned, a Mayan champion might think, ‘Maybe there’s something to that 2012 theory.‘ That is, if his waning consciousness could even operate through the hefty dose of hallucinogens a priest had given him before the ordeal.
Ancient Mayan culture, seen through modern eyes, seems inhumane, decadent and more than a little paranoid of the divine. It’s undeniable, though, that the rites and ministrations of the Mayan clergy were serious business. To an average Mayan, there was no higher order of human interaction. Science, religion, philosophy and art were rolled into one in their ritual observance of the cosmos – through making the dearest of sacrifices, Mayans hoped to influence the will of the universe.
One of the Mayan people’s most cryptic beliefs has recently been gaining the attention of mainstream America: the ominous date of Dec. 21, 2012.
For reference, that date is the Gregorian adaptation of the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar. Mayan systems for keeping time are unusually elaborate; Mayans calculated thirteen 20-day months on at least 22 different calendars to, essentially, predict the future. The Long Count reached furthest into the future and kept track of the Great Cycle, their longest unit of time. Our current cycle ends on that winter night three years from now.
With this complicated system, the Mayans had some peculiar success in prophecy. Quetzalcoatl is a major Mayan deity, depicted as a feathered snake, combining the elegance of flight with the subtleness of the serpent. His significance is somewhat Satanic and somewhat Promethean – his first appearance to humanity brought Mayan ancestors out of savagery and into prosperous and joyous civilization.
Before disappearing, the snake-bird prophesied his return, which Mayans calculated to be the very same day as the arrival of Hernán Cortéz. For non-history buffs, he’s the megalomaniac Conquistador who destroyed almost all of Mayan culture.
In 2012, they say Quetzalcoatl is returning for a third time.
So are we all going to die?
When theologically big things collide, it’s common to predict the end of the world. For modern apocalyptists, 2012 is no exception. Thousands of alarmist YouTube collages and militant web pages can be dug up at a moment’s effort by typing in just those four numbers. While the exact rendering of doomsday varies in each (alien contact, meteoric impact, getting baked by the sun), all agree that human life will be impacted permanently. A subculture has arisen around 2012 – authors, thinkers and trippers preach spiritual enlightenment to prepare ourselves for the transition.
But it’s not Armageddon.
Mayan descendents and cultural scholars agree that the end of the Great Cycle did not portend human extinction. The few ancient Mayan scriptures that survived the European invasion instead reference only a time of turmoil and change. Mayan calendars were circular, more resembling shapes of nature than the squares we hang on our walls. So, most suppose, cycles will simply roll over.
The concept of the world as we know it being destroyed by a vengeful god on 2012 isn’t what the Mayans themselves predicted. Instead, it’s a Judeo-Christian repackaging to market the idea to people already well-adjusted to a Second Coming. The movie is already on its way – Sony Pictures is releasing 2012 this July and its trailer depicts a Tibetan mountaintop monastery blasted to bits by a tidal wave. I shouldn’t have to tell you what commercialized sensationalistic shlock that is.
My fellow columnist Michael Hower wrote a column earlier this week on 2012 that inspired me to write this piece a little ahead of time. In it, Hower overlooked, well, almost everything about 2012, which strikes me as culturally irreverent. Dusting off one’s hands and saying, ‘Case closed!’ after spending more time riffing bad musicians than analyzing data is a feat worthy of another Indiana Jones sequel. If Hower had similarly dismissed the Rapture, reactions wouldn’t be pretty. When 2012 comes around, believers won’t “join hands and sing ‘Kumbaya‘ with John Mayer around a campfire.” Much more likely, they’ll be smoking DMT and watching Koyanisquatsi. After the orgy, of course.
Already, we can see that that the human state of affairs is overdue for a shakeup. The global economic crisis is certainly the most obvious symptom – the capitalist terror that has had free run of the world for centuries has resulted in the elevation of the worthless while over a billion people can’t feed themselves every day. Forgotten, in favor of Twittering about the iPhone’s capacity for Lil Wayne ringtones.
Instead of tearing out hearts, we now affect our universe by building Large Hadron Colliders, testing relativity and studying antimatter. We also strip-mine for coal, propagate inequity and use unmanned drones to lob missiles into Pakistani schools. Mayans have been tremendously accurate in predicting that, 1,000 years after their decline, there would be a global civilization in crisis. Could we even say there will be civilization in another thousand years? Only with an emergence of a global conscience.
2012 deserves some serious reflection on our part. Although not apocalyptic, it certainly will be a critical year in the development of human society. All you students reading this will have (hopefully) entered the workforce and begun contributing to a (hopefully) reformed and sustainable capital production system. We (hopefully) will have elected the next president of the United States and will have our eyes turned toward eliminating the divisions that leave so many of our brothers and sisters hungry, sick and homeless.
2012 will be a year of change, and it is our responsibility to ensure the next Great Cycle will be more peaceful and united than the last.
Here’s to the snake-bird.
CHEYA CARY is already making plans for the party. Send ideas for décor and guest lists to firstname.lastname@example.org.