With humanity coming up fast on 2012, publishers are helping readers gear up and count down to this mysterious — some even call it apocalyptic — date that ancient Mayan societies were anticipating thousands of years ago.
Since November, at least three new books on 2012 have arrived in mainstream bookstores. A fourth is due this fall. Each arrives in the wake of the 2006 success of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, which has been selling thousands of copies a month since its release in May and counts more than 40,000 in print. The books also build on popular interest in the Maya, fueled in part by Mel Gibson’s December 2006 film about Mayan civilization, Apocalpyto.
Authors disagree about what humankind should expect on Dec. 21, 2012, when the Maya’s “Long Count” calendar marks the end of a 5,126-year era.
Journalist Lawrence Joseph forecasts widespread catastrophe in Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation Into Civilization’s End. Spiritual healer Andrew Smith predicts a restoration of a “true balance between Divine Feminine and Masculine” in The Revolution of 2012: Vol. 1, The Preparation. In 2012, Daniel Pinchbeck anticipates a “change in the nature of consciousness,” assisted by indigenous insights and psychedelic drug use.
The buildup to 2012 echoes excitement and fear expressed on the eve of the new millennium, popularly known as Y2K, though on a smaller scale, says Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor at Publishers Weekly. She says publishers seem to be courting readers who believe humanity is creating its own ecological disasters and desperately needs ancient indigenous wisdom.
“The convergence I see here is the apocalyptic expectations, if you will, along with the fact that the environment is in the front of many people’s minds these days,” Garrett says. “Part of the appeal of these earth religions is that notion that we need to reconnect with the Earth in order to save ourselves.”
But scholars are bristling at attempts to link the ancient Maya with trends in contemporary spirituality. Maya civilization, known for advanced writing, mathematics and astronomy, flourished for centuries in Mesoamerica, especially between A.D. 300 and 900. Its Long Count calendar, which was discontinued under Spanish colonization, tracks more than 5,000 years, then resets at year zero.
“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, Fla. To render Dec. 21, 2012, as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”
Part of the 2012 mystique stems from the stars. On the winter solstice in 2012, the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years. This means that “whatever energy typically streams to Earth from the center of the Milky Way will indeed be disrupted on 12/21/12 at 11:11 p.m. Universal Time,” Joseph writes.
But scholars doubt the ancient Maya extrapolated great meaning from anticipating the alignment — if they were even aware of what the configuration would be.
Astronomers generally agree that “it would be impossible the Maya themselves would have known that,” says Susan Milbrath, a Maya archaeoastronomer and a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. What’s more, she says, “we have no record or knowledge that they would think the world would come to an end at that point.”
University of Florida anthropologist Susan Gillespie says the 2012 phenomenon comes “from media and from other people making use of the Maya past to fulfill agendas that are really their own.” USA Today