Is our western prophecy of the Mayan 2012 Doomsday derivative of Christian Eschatology, Theosophical mysticism, and Mayan suppression?
Mainstream Media over the last decade, and especially the last month, is replete with documentation of people seized with interest and fear over the so-called “Mayan Apocalypse”, “2012 Doomsday”, and other “end-of-days” prophecies, centering around what most researchers recognize as a misunderstanding of the meaning behind the ancestral Mayan’s ‘Long-Count’ Calendar.
The theories are varied and attribute different value to the winter solstice of December 21st, 2012. Some think there will be a cataclysmic event such as a massive depopulation, a galactic alignment (either positive or negative), some sort of catastrophic impact of earth by an asteroid or as yet undocumented planet, a sudden reversal of the north/south poles, massive coronal ejections from the sun, and the like.
While we will chronicle the panic, and somewhat cover the different meta-theories of the Mayan 2012 Apocalypse, our focus is on the belief systems that created or promoted the prophecy, while examining the history of Christian Eschatology, Mayan suppression by Catholic Jesuits, and the effect of Catholicism and Theosophical mysticism on indigenous Mayan culture.
The Mayan Apocalypse in the news
In America interest has peaked so much that NASA has issued a press release entitled The World Didn’t End Yesterday (which is dated for the day after the proposed end-of-days in true tongue-in-cheek fashion) dismissing the theories, after waves of concerned letters and questions flooded the astronomical authority.
David Morrison, of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, explains:
“A lot of [the submitters] are people who are genuinely frightened,”
“I’ve had two teenagers who were considering killing themselves, because they didn’t want to be around when the world ends,” he said. “Two women in the last two weeks said they were contemplating killing their children and themselves so they wouldn’t have to suffer through the end of the world.”
The meme has manifested in Russia as Siberian vendors peddle “Meet the End of the World” kits, torches and flasks, and other survivalist materials, exacerbated by Tibetan monks affirming the impending catastrophe of the upcoming winter solstice. In response the Russian parliament sent requests to TV networks asking them to cease disseminating “pseudoscientific information about the end of the world.”
In hyper-capitalistic China, vendors are selling-out of Candles and other survivalist associated products to people in would-be preparation for the “Mayan apocalypse”. The last month has seen a rise in Chinese hucksters using the meme to scam pensioners out of their savings, towards good karma in the face of the end-of-days.
China, with little native history of obsession with the apocalypse (in stark contrast to post-nuclear bombed Japan) attributes the scare to Western movies such as 2012, which saw a fictional Chinese government working with america towards building modern-day Arks.
Chinese police recently detained over 100 people for promulgating and exploiting the Mayan meme, many being members of a Christian cult named “Almighty God,” a 20-year-old fringe group that believes Jesus was reincarnated as a woman in central china. Almighty God, also known as Eastern Lightning, is leveraging the scare to foment support for their political ideals, to “exterminate the great red dragon” of Chinese neo-Communism.
France has seen a recent spike of fearful immigrants latching onto apocalyptic prophecies infused with AAT or ancient alien/astronaut theories, with an expected 60 thousand to flood the town of Bugarach where they hope to escape the end-of-days by hitching a ride in an alien mothership lying dormant in the Pic de Bugarach mountain.
In Serbia other fear-induced migrants are flocking to Mount Rtanj in the Carpathian mountain range, thought to be a prehistoric, pyramidal edifice constructed by aliens,where it is believed the ‘special energy’ emanating from the sacred peak will protect them from the cataclysm-to-come.
University of Minnesota neuroscientist Shmuel Lissek sees the doomsday meme as evoking the evolved fear response in mammals, where those who ‘play it safe’ will live to be reproductively prolific, and that belief in a fatalistic cataclysm might soothe apprehension about uncertain futures and remove sense of personal responsibility in the face of impending eternity.
Lissek also posits that solidifying the nebulous terror of mortality into one event may mitigate the existential threats and make us feel in-charge during times of duress, which might also explain goal-oriented behaviors such as hunkering down and survivalist preparation.
Social psychologist Karen Douglas sees the germs of conspiracies and apocalyptic beliefs as intrinsically related in that they find function in assuaging feelings of powerlessness, and giving the adherents a perceived leg-up on the rest of humanity.
It’s clear that the narrative has captivated most of the developed world, through belief or in derision. Let’s examine, quickly, some of the meta-theories of the would-be Mayan Apocalypse, and where they may have originated.
The Meta-theories of the Mayan Apocalypse
The workhorse of the Mayan 2012 Apocalypse meme is the ancestral mesoamerican calendar system of the Maya, which was probably inherited from the older Olmec culture, and specifically the conclusion of a b’ak’tun segment of their long-count calendar.
The K’iche’ Maya recorded their cosmogenesis narratives in the Popol Vuh, which related our current human inhabited earth as the fourth world created by the gods, following three previous failed earths. While the Maya did reconcile their history in blocks or epochs or ages, there is no negative connotation to the ending of the b’ak’tun segment of their calendar, which seems to be pure interpolation by westerners.
In fact, the Olmec/Mayan calendar system is cyclical (which really pokes at the false prophecy), evidencing greater astronomical knowledge and time/space mastery than the Abrahamic linear model. A detailed description of how the Maya/Olmec calendar works can be read here.
The b’ak’tun section terminates on a date people have associated with the winter solstice of December 21st 2012, which probably adds a certain cachet with people who adhere to, or are aware of, the old world religions’ focus on the solstices, itself probably derivative of agrarian focus on the seasons, and the moral or ‘active’ high-gods associated with agricultural and pastoral cultures.
The date is seemingly corroborated by two engravings, one discovered earlier this year, and the other discovered by western anthropologists in the 60’s, which began the end-time meme when Yale University anthropologist Michael Coe briefly posited that it might mark a perceived Armageddon in his 1966 book “The Maya”. Previous anthropologists had attached doomsday scenarios to Mayan codices, correlating perceived images of floods to the Abrahamic and Sumerian diluvian narratives.
Multiple people have built upon these brief suggestions in the years since, and as a result we have a myriad of theories revolving around haughty anthropological postulations. Pseudo-intellectuals ranging from Daniel Pinchbeck to Terence McKenna glommed onto the meme and forwarded their non-academic tropes, usually revolving around non-falsifiable theories on fractal ‘timewaves‘ and psychedelic inspired notions of western shamanism infused with theosophical syncretism.
There is a split among adherents of the proposed event that can be sorted into two groups:
- Those that see the winter solstice of December 21st as a doomsday, a mass extinction, or some other cataclysmic event;
- Those who see it as a catalytic happening pulling humanity up by its bootstraps and collectively leading us towards a Theosophically-derivative Utopian “new age”, “age of Aquarius”, or the “beginning of the fifth sun”.
Stephanie Pappas has done the busy-work for us in curating the five biggest meta-theories of the 2012 ‘Mayan Apocalypse’, which are quickly debunked as having little to no basis in reality:
- The sun will kill us all – coronal mass ejections will fry the earth as the solar cycle reaches its apogee.
- The Earth’s magnetic poles will flip-flop – the sudden reversal of the north/south poles will cause ruin.
- Planet X will collide with Earth – an imagined planet [or dwarf star] will come out of hiding with a vengeance.
- The planets will align – the planets will align sucking us into the ‘great vagina’ of a galactic alignment.
- Total Earth blackout – the aforementioned alignment will blot out the sun causing cessation of life.
Our purpose isn’t to disprove untenable theories (although you can read criticisms here, here, here, and here). We aim to understand how and why the possible Mayan day of celebration got hijacked or appropriated by western Christendom’s apocalyptic prognosticators, and why some see it as a doorway to the Utopia of tomorrow.
Christian Eschatology and End-time Prophets
Christian Eschatology is the theological examination of end-time prophecies derivative of the bible (predominantly). Death, the afterlife, heaven and hell, the death and resurrection of the Jesus character, the last judgment, and the final revelation are all prophesied in the Pentateuch (aka the Mosaic Law, “old testament”, or the first five books of the Tanakh) and the cult of Christianity’s “new testament”.
People encultured and indoctrinated in Christianity have a propensity to frame incoming data in this apocalyptic prophecy paradigm. While some theologians recognize the allegorical nature of these prophesies, people less familiar with the nuances of their scripture, or less able to appreciate the poetry of holy writ, adhere to it with rabid fundamentalism.
Millennialism, a sort of prophetic thinking, is probably a strong factor in much of the Mayan/2012 meme, being the belief, first of Zoroastrianism and subsequently appropriated by Christian occultists (more specifically Millenarianism), that history is segmented into thousand-year periods punctuated by catalytic and cataclysmic events.
Under-educated Christians look to our arbitrary calendar system as some sort of divination mechanism, so events near the beginning or end of millenniums are more likely to be given more weight or absorbed into the fold of their prophetic ideology (like the 2012 Mayan apocalypse).
There is a strong history (I am reticent to call it a rich tradition) of would-be prophets who systematically scrutinize their holy books in attempts to forecast impending events foretold in them. There is a rich tradition (haha) of people failing to do so much to the enjoyment of non-religious like me.
Drawing upon early adherents of Christianity like Paul/Saul of Tarsus, Origen, Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, and Justin Martyr, Christians of every generation feel that their beliefs will come to fruition within their own lifetime, which leads them to make too-haughty conclusions regarding the exact dates of biblical prophecy. I suppose it is sort of a solipsistic attitude native to humans that makes it natural to see themselves as part of the culmination of their ideology, or maybe a part of how we are entrained to perceive time as relating to our own lifespan.
The failed predictions littering theology are too numerous to list here (here is a Wikipedia page enumerating them), but some notorious examples beg to be mentioned.
William Miller, and his eponymous followers the Millerites, believed that the Melchizedek Redivivus (second coming of Christ) would appear in 1843. Miller was a Baptist native to the occult radicalism of the Burned Over District, who saw what he perceived to be signs evidencing his beliefs in the bible. Three different predictions of March 21, 1844, April 18, 1844, and October 22, 1844 came and went with no sign of the savior, leading to the “Great Disappointment” of the Millerites, and their fracturing into different Adventist groups. Subsequent Adventist prognostication, all failed, is called Millerism.
Throughout the 60’s, and again affirmed in 1974, The Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted the end of the world in 1975 on the 6000th anniversary of the Earths creation by their Jealous god. They were wrong.
The Seventh-Day Adventists made multiple assertions that the world would end in 1999. It didn’t.
Although not a Christian prophesy, Y2K made headlines as people predicted the fall of the machines due to poorly planned and programmed calendars in computers, which would cause mass failings in computer dependent infrastructure on the stroke of midnight in the first seconds of the third Millennium. It isn’t hard to see how predominately-Christian America was drawn to this prediction of a maybe-doomsday.
In a campaign that cost over 100 million dollars to spread the alarm of the final tribulation, Howard Camping, a Christian cult leader and broadcaster predicted that the world would be judged on May 21st, 2011, with a subsequent annihilation on October 21, 2011, where the righteous would be raptured directly to heaven while God simultaneously destroyed the entire universe. Following his failed prediction he has kept out of the public and is reportedly sorry for presuming to know the workings of God.
It is in the context of this fundamentalism and fixation on Revelation that we can properly examine the Mayan Prophecy meme, and specifically the historical relationship between Mayan belief and Christian theology.
Mayan Suppression and The Pizza Effect
In 1511 Spanish explorers [albeit accidentally] first landed in the Yucatan Peninsula, touching off a 170 year campaign against the indigenous inhabitants of Mesoamerica, namely the Aztec (properly the Mexica), the Inca, and the Maya peoples. Spain quickly had ascendancy in Mesoamerica, then dubbed “New Spain”, which opened the door to ethnic cleansing and brutal suppression of the Mayan peoples, their culture, and ultimately their paradigms.
Although nearly 10 million Maya still exist, speaking their native tongues, they have been slowly entrained by the European-born, or Peninsulares, inhabitants of North America, who through the encomienda and repartimiento systems subjugated the indigenous in forced labor programs where labor, gold, and anything deemed of value to the Catholic overlords was extracted irrespective of the effect on the natives.
Diego de Landa, a Franciscan bishop with sweeping powers in post-Spanish Mesoamerica, set about scrubbing the indigenous peoples of their writing, culture, and beliefs, bringing the inquisition of the Iberian Peninsula’s Reconquista (expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain and Portugal by the Monarchs Isabella I of Castile & Ferdinand II of Aragon) to New Spain.
By all accounts Landa’s actions were brutal, even to his contemporaries, and he responded by turning up the gas and burning approximately 40 codices 20,000 Mayan images and idols in a ceremony called auto-da-fé, adding to his campaign of physical and emotional abuse against the Mayan peoples with destruction of their non-Christian history.
Surviving Mayan history, surprisingly, was preserved by Landa’s ethnographic work, the Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, in which he recorded the culture, writing, and beliefs of the Maya. Many are dubious of the account, the basis of modern Mayan history, as it is unlikely to be free from catholic interpolation and bias. Still, some laud it as a gem and the type specimen of ethnography. A similar scrubbing may have transpired with the catholic translation of the Prose and Poetic Eddas, the prime record of pre-Christian Viking and Icelandic culture.
This hostile and foreign curation of Mayan culture, which was kept for western eyes whilst Mayans were forcefully taught Spanish and converted to Catholicism, may have opened the door for The Pizza Effect to forever mar the native mythologies of the indigenous Mesoamericans.
The Pizza Effect, or a Hermeneutical Feedback Loop, according to Wikipedia is where:
“…cultural exports are transformed and reimported to their culture of origin, or the way in which a community’s self-understanding is influenced by (or imposed by, or imported from) foreign sources. It is named after the idea that modern pizza was developed among Italian immigrants in the United States, and later exported back to Italy to be interpreted as a delicacy in Italian cuisine.”
A key example of this “hermeneutical feedback loop” is how Theosophists, ethnographers, and anthropologists collected and documented the folk-tales of Hindu India, the Sanatana Dharma, which were reintroduced to the indigenous Indians under colonial rule as part of their history. In Britain, Gandhi himself studied the English translation of the Bhagavad Gita first, which western academics lauded as the Sanatana Dharma equivalent of the bible.
It is frustrating to attempt to reconstruct the true origins of the Native Mayan mythologies pertaining to the end of their long-count calendar in the light of this aggressive western destruction and rebuilding, or export and adapted import. But, now that we have historically contextualized the dueling Mayan prophecies, let’s explore them more.
Mayan Catalyst vs Christian Cataclysm
In absolute opposition to Christian notions of cataclysmic prophecy, Carlos Barrios, a Mayan elder and Ajq’ij (ceremonial priest) who has conferred with over 600 Mayan elders, summarizes his views as such:
“Anthropologists visit the temple sites and read the inscriptions and make up stories about the Maya, but they do not read the signs correctly. It’s just their imagination. Other people write about prophecy in the name of the Maya. They say that the world will end in December 2012. The Mayan elders are angry with this. The world will not end. It will be transformed.”
The elders see the winter solstice of 2012 as a rebirth, a transcendent event, that will lead to the World of the Fifth Sun, when the Earth will align itself with the center of the galaxy as the galactic center and the solar meridian cross, which will symbolically represent the Sacred Tree, a mesoamerican version of the Tree of Life.
Leonzo Barreno, trained to read the calendar and versed by Mayan elders in their “ancestral” myth relates that to them:
“…it’s a joyous event, not an apocalyptic event. What is coming is the end of a calendar and the beginning of a new one.”
Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday prophecy sprang from Western theology, not Mayan myth.
The Maya see the World of the Fifth Sun as the ascendance of the light side which will displace what they perceive to be the current dark forces in ascendancy, where humanity will subsequently be united in a global village.
While it is possible that notions of an ascended utopia currently espoused by Mayan elders formed independently of new-age traditions in the west, I myself find it highly unlikely, and see the divide in interpreting the Mayan date of December 21st as cataclysmic or catalytic to be dueling superimpositions of Christendom and Theosophy, respectively.
The New Age, the Age of Aquarius, the Beginning of the Fifth Sun, etc., are in sharp contrast with puritanical ‘City on a Hill’ or Christianopolis Utopian memes, which the Christian Separatists imagined to be the culmination of society under strict christian law and under the dominion of their religious orders. If one reflects it is clear the only true Christian Utopia is Heaven, which as defined by scores of theologians doesn’t exist on earth. Fundamentalist Christians see this earth as soiled and ripe for revelation, where the wicked will be sent to hell and only members of their individual congregations will make it to heaven, or be raptured when the 7th angel blows his trumpet.
Indeed, the Mayan elders interpretation seems much more in-line with western syncretic spirituality popularized by Theosophists like Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Alice Bailey, who in-turn drew from heretical christian mystics and anglicized Indian folklore. However, given the voracious comparative mythology typified by Theosophists, it might very well be that their beliefs were shaped by Christian accounts of Maya mythology. Manly Palmer Hall, probably the greatest american occultist, certainly was influenced and responsive to Mesoamerican myth, exemplified in his book America’s Assignment with Destiny.
Whether true to their roots or not, indigenous Maya would naturally support a change in the geopolitical power structure, which might foment support among them for perpetuated interpolation of syncretic utopianism.
One has to wonder that irrespective of any ‘real’ event, if the cultural focus on a specific time that is correlated with a positive shift may be an event in itself- a sort of placebo transcendence.
Do you think misperception of Mayan myth might be a good thing if it leads humanity away from jingoistic nationalism, sectarian conflict, and ethnocentric exceptionalism ?
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Everett Tucker is the creator and editor of Mystic Politics. He is condescending, overconfident, under-educated, and extremely interested in exploring religiopolitical overlap, the psychology of belief, and the conspiratorial tropes & memes- real or otherwise- of popular culture. Signup for email updates to be notified of future theological/ anthropological hack work.
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