Mayan apocalypse: End of the world, or a new beginning?


One in 10 of us is said to be anxious that 21 December marks the end of the world. The Ancient Mayans predicted this doomsday, and the press is eating it up. But where are all the believers?

That the world will end in 2012 is the most widely-disseminated doomsday tale in human history, thanks to the internet, Hollywood and an ever-eager press corps.

Recent hurricanes, unrest in the Middle East, solar flares, mystery planets about to collide with us – all “proof” of what the ancient Mayans knew would come to pass on 21 December 2012.

According to a Reuters global poll, one in 10 of us is feeling some anxiety about this date. Russians have been so worried that the Minister of Emergency Situations issued a denial that the world would end.

Authorities in the village of Bugarach in the South of France have barred access to a mountain where some believe a UFO will rescue them.

And survivalists in America – many of whom use the term “prepper” – have been busy preparing for all manner of cataclysm.

The “Long Count” cycle of the Mayan calendar began in 3114 BCE and is widely accepted to end on 21/12/12 CE.

Except that in Simon Martin’s view, everyone has got it wrong.

Martin is curator of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia’s “Maya 2012” exhibition. He says the calendar is complex, and best thought of as a series of gear wheels.

He points out that at a Mayan site in Palenque, Mexico, there is an inscription describing an event that takes place in 4,722 of our era, “and that is the turning of an even bigger cycle”, he says.

He adds that technically this is also not the start of a new cycle.

In 3114 BCE the calendar reset to zero with the turning of the 13th bak’tun (which is a smaller, 400 year cycle). This time, however, it does not reset to zero but merely goes on to the 14th bak’tun.

“The Mayan Calendar is a weird and wonderful thing,” he says.

So I set out to find people who believe 21/12/12 is D-Day.

It was harder than I imagined, despite seeking out preppers, bunker builders, and even a Mayan shaman.

Eventually I turned to Morandir Armson, a scholar of the New Age and Esoterica at the University of Sydney, Australia.

“If you told me there were more than 5,000 people who genuinely believed the end of the world was coming rather than just having vague fears about it, I’d be surprised,” he says.

Armson adds that those people are probably “in the wilds of Idaho, heavily armed, and won’t talk to journalists anyway”.

The heightened fear around this date is, in his view and that of other experts, almost entirely due to the internet. More specifically they blame the blogosphere.

It is not how the whole 2012 phenomenon started.

In 1987, Jose Arguelles, a man who devoted much of his life to studying the Mayan Calendar, organised what was called the Harmonic Convergence, a sort of post-hippy Woodstock. It attracted tens of thousands around the globe.

The event was an attempt to “create a moment of meditation and connection to the sacred sites around the earth,” says Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 2012: The Year of the Mayan Prophecy.

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