Some thoughts on the year 2012
2012: Facts and Fiction
The Yucatán Peninsula is the cradle of one of history’s most fascinating civilizations: the Maya. December 2012 marks the beginning of a major new Maya calendar cycle; its initial date is repeating for the first time in 5125 years.
In the course of more than 2000 years, the descendants of the pre-Hispanic Maya world have preserved some degree of its knowledge. Nevertheless, the majority of Maya culture remains inaccessible to us, despite intense dedication on the part of archaeologists, ethnologists and other specialists in anthropology working over the course of more than 200 years. Even though the Maya calendar was indeed one of the first elements to be studied, much still remains to be understood about the meaning of its most significant dates.
A calendar is a system for the representation of time’s passing that groups days into superior categories such as weeks, months or years. The Maya had more than one calendar and not all such calendars began on the same date. The Maya calendar whose cycle begins in December 2012 is the calendar known as the Long-Count calendar. This same cycle began on 13 Baktun, whose Gregorian calendar equivalent is 3114 BC.
After conquest at the hands of the Spaniards, the Maya ceased using the complex Long-Count calendar. Nevertheless, some Maya groups continued to use other pre-Hispanic calendars associated with what is known as the Short-Count calendar. Others use the Haab Cycle calendar, with 365 days; and still others use the Tzolkin Cycle, with 260 days and lunar-phase periods. Other cycles used to study the cosmos are the Lunar Cycle and the 819-Day Cycle of the Smoking Mirror Cycle—used in ceremonies associated with the cardinal directions—or the Great Cycle calendar, a period of fifty-two years.
The Mayas’ ample astronomic knowledge as well as their observations and calculations for the prediction of eclipses is well known thanks to texts recorded in stone as well as the four known Maya codices. Their knowledge of relationships between the planets allowed their calculations to cover thousands of years, both past and future. The Maya maintained a relationship with the universe that modern humankind has lost—almost no one gazes at the heavens anymore.
The most important Maya calendar date in modern times correspond to 21 or 23 December—depending on the which correlation one favors—at which time a 5125-solar-year cycle ends and another cycle, 13 Katun, begins.
What does the date mean in relation to the Maya calendar? Why is it so important? The end (or death) of a cycle represents the occasion of its re-birth. The end of a significant cycle makes way for great renewal.
As well, dates that end in zero are particularly significant in Maya cosmogony. The more zeros in a date, the greater its importance. The date in question that corresponds to December 2012 ends in fours zeros.
Dates that contained the number thirteen were considered special occasions. They alluded to the thirteen Bolontikú deities, also known as the Lords of the Night (los Señores de la Noche).
We can imagine that in those months leading up to major cycle changes, the Maya prepared elaborate celebrations. So what about us? How may we be able to interpret this particular cycle change? Can it have a meaning in our own time-measuring systems?
Even today, we have but scant knowledge of the Mayas’ wisdom, still slowly being unearthed by anthropologists. It allows us only to get a glance at that wisdom’s import. “Surviving” traditions are also available for study. But we still don’t know enough to start making definitive conclusions. That said, questions that emerge from the Long-Count cycle change require us to reflect on what meaning the date has for us.
We can also extend a hypothesis with regard to the date and its correspondence to an inversion of the earth’s magnetic poles. Once again it means a great new cycle, a re-birth…
In any case, it’s now a fact that a window onto the awesome nature of the knowledge that lies beneath the Long-Count calendar is slowly being opened. It offers us an opportunity for reflection on the relationship we maintain with the planets and the cosmos, what place the earth takes up in that vast system, and what place we all occupy in it. These are themes that were fundamental to the Maya and even regulated the activities of daily life.