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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.
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 of catastrophe in 2012. Mainstream Mayanist scholars state that predictions of impending doom are not found in any of the existing classic Maya accounts, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar "ends" in 2012 misrepresents Maya history. The modern Maya do not consider the date significant, 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.
Additionally, astronomers and other scientists have rejected the apocalyptic forecasts as pseudoscience, stating that the anticipated events are contradicted by simple astronomical observations. 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. None of the proposed alignments or formulae has been accepted by mainstream scholarship.
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.
Unlike the 52-year Calendar Round still used among the Maya, the Long Count was linear, rather than cyclical, and kept time roughly in units of 20: 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. Thus, the Mayan date of 220.127.116.11.15 represents 8 b'ak'tuns, 3 k'atuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 15 days. Many Mayan inscriptions have the count shifting to a higher order after 13 b'ak'tuns, or roughly 5,125 years.
There is a strong tradition of "world ages" in Maya literature, but unfortunately the record has been distorted, leaving several possibilities open. According to the Popol Vuh, a book compiling details of creation accounts known to the K'iche' Maya of the Colonial-era highlands, we are living in the fourth world. The Popol Vuh describes the first three creations that the gods failed in making and the creation of the successful fourth world, where men were placed. In the Maya Long Count, the previous world ended after 13 b'ak'tuns. The Long Count's "zero date" was set at a point in the past marking the end of the third 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.[a] This means that the fourth world will also have reached the end of its thirteenth b'ak'tun, or Mayan date 18.104.22.168.0, on either December 21 or December 23, 2012.[a]
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 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][b] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion."
Coe's apocalyptic interpretation was repeated 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 1990, Mayanist scholars Linda Schele and David Freidel argue that the Maya "did not conceive this to be the end of creation, as many have suggested." Susan Milbrath, curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, stated that "We have no record or knowledge that [the Maya] would think the world would come to an end" in 2012. "For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle," says Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Florida. To render December 21, 2012, as a doomsday event or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is "a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in." "There will be another cycle," says E. Wyllys Andrews V, director of the Tulane University Middle American Research Institute (MARI). "We know the Maya thought there was one before this, and that implies they were comfortable with the idea of another one after this."
Maya inscriptions occasionally reference future predicted events or commemorations that would occur on dates that lie beyond the completion of the 13th b'ak'tun. Most of these are in the form of "distance dates" where some Long Count date is given, together with a Distance Number that is to be added to the Long Count date to arrive at this future date. On the west panel at the Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque, a section of the text projects into the future to the 80th Calendar Round anniversary of the Palenque ruler K'inich Janaab' Pakal's accession to the throne (Pakal's accession occurred on 22.214.171.124.8; equivalent to 27 July 615 CE in the proleptic Gregorian calendar). It does this by commencing with Pakal's birthdate of 126.96.36.199.0 (24 March 603 CE Gregorian) and adding to it the Distance Number 10.11.10.5.8. This calculation arrives at the 80th Calendar Round since his accession, which lies over 4,000 years in the future from Pakal's time—the 21st of October in the year AD 4772.
Another example is Stela 1 at Coba, which gives a date with twenty units above the b'ak'tun, placing it either 4.134105 × 1028 (41 octillion) 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.
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 the 13th b'ak'tun 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 mostly in honor of the contemporary ruler Bahlam Ajaw. One inscription, known as Tortuguero Monument 6, is the only inscription 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
(ta) Chan Ajaw ux(-te') Uniiw.
- The Thirteenth [b'ak'tun] will end
- (on) 4 Ajaw, the 3rd of Uniiw [3 K'ank'in].
Y-em(al)...Bolon Yookte' K'uh ta-chak-ma...
- Black ...[illegible]...will occur.
- (It will be) the descent(?) of Bolon Yokte' K'uh to the great (or "red"?)...[illegible]...
Very little is known about the god (or gods) Bolon Yokte' K'uh. According to an article by Mayanists Markus Eberl and Christian Prager in British Anthropological Reports, his name is composed of the elements "nine", 'OK-te' (the meaning of which is unknown), and "god". Confusion in classical period inscriptions suggests that the name was already ancient and unfamiliar to contemporary scribes. He also appears in inscriptions from Palenque, Usumacinta, and La Mar as a god of war, conflict, and the underworld. In one stela he is portrayed with a rope tied around his neck, and in another with an incense bag, together signifying a sacrifice to end a period of time. Despite all this, Eberl and Prager believe that the reference to Bolon Yokte' K'uh at Tortuguero is a positive one, because the fragmentary word translated above as "descent" seems to be the same one used during building dedications.
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 188.8.131.52.0 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 184.108.40.206.0 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 was 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. Bolon Yokte' K'uh appears in in the Chilam Balam of Chumayel to signify an apparent battle and victory over Spanish invaders.
Many assertions about 2012 are a form of Mayanism,[c] a non-codified collection of New Age beliefs about ancient Maya wisdom and spirituality. In 1975, the ending of the b'ak'tun cycle became the subject of speculation by several New Age authors, who believe it will correspond to a global "consciousness shift". In his book Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness, Frank Waters tied Coe's December 24, 2011[b] 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.
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 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, called "precession", is attributed to a slight wobble in the Earth's axis as it spins. As a result, approximately every 2,160 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, precession 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 1,000 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.
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 (3,400 m), 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.
There is no clear evidence that the classic Maya were aware of precession. 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" 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. 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 included this specific date throughout the second edition of The Invisible Landscape, published in 1993.
A far more apocalyptic view of the year 2012 has also spread in various media, describing the end of the world or of human civilization on that date. This view has been promulgated by many fringe or hoax sites on the internet, particularly on YouTube, and by the History Channel, with such series as Decoding the Past (2005–2007), 2012, End of Days (2006), Last Days on Earth (2006), Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (2007), and Nostradamus 2012 (2008). The 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. Author Graham Hancock, in his book Fingerprints of the Gods, interpreted Coe's remarks in Breaking the Maya Code as evidence for the prophecy of a global cataclysm. Evangelical Christian minister John Hagee has also suggested in his book Can America Survive? 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation that Earth may suffer a doomsday scenario on 12/12/12 (December 12, 2012). This book was publicly endorsed by conservative media personality Glenn Beck.
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, Sagittarius 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. This reading of Jenkins's theories was included on the History Channel documentary, Decoding the Past. However, Jenkins has complained of 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".
Some suggested alternate alignments relate to 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 plane which bisects 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 plane bisecting the galactic disc only three million years ago, and is now moving farther above it.
A third suggested alignment is a planetary conjunction on December 21, 2012. However, there will be no alignment of planets on that date.
Another idea 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. In particular, the planet's magnetic fields are caused and regulated by the spinning of the solid inner core inside the molten outer core, and so cannot be changed by something external to the planet such as a solar flare. A solar maximum would be mostly notable for its effects on satellite and cellular phone communications. NASA's David Morrison attributes the rise of the solar storm idea to physicist and science populariser Michio Kaku, who claimed in an interview with Fox News that a solar peak in 2012 could be disastrous for orbiting satellites.
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 appeared in various forms within New Age circles since 1995, initially slated the event for 2003 but abandoned that date after it passed without incident. It originated from claims of channeling of 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.
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.
This is an incomplete bibliography of books on the subject of 2012, written from New Age and other points of view:
Here are sentences from other pages on 2012 phenomenon, which are similar to those in the above article.