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The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of beliefs and proposals positing that cataclysmic or transformative events will occur in the year 2012. The forecast is based primarily on what is said to be the end-date of the Mayan Long Count calendar, which is presented as lasting 5,125 years and as terminating on December 21 or 23, 2012. Arguments supporting this dating are drawn from a mixture of archaeoastronomical speculation, alternative interpretations of mythology, numerological constructions, and alleged prophecies from extraterrestrial beings.
A New Age interpretation of this transition posits that, during this time, the planet and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Conversely, some believe that the 2012 date marks the beginning of an apocalypse. Both ideas have been disseminated in numerous books and TV documentaries, and have spread around the world through websites and discussion groups.
Mainstream Mayanist scholars argue that the idea that the Long Count calendar “ends” in 2012 misrepresents Maya history. To the modern Maya, 2012 is largely irrelevant, and classic Maya 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.
Certain predictions about how the world could end in 2012 (alignment with a black hole, collision with a rogue planet, polar shifts) have been rejected as pseudoscience by the scientific community, which maintains that many of these suggestions would violate the laws of physics, or are contradicted by simple observations.
Mesoamerican Long Count calendar
December 2012 marks the ending of the current baktun cycle of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, which was used in what is now 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 classic Maya were literate and their writing system has been substantially deciphered, meaning that a corpus of their written and inscribed material has survived from before the European conquest.
The Long Count set its “year zero” at a point in the past marking the end of the previous 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. Unlike the 52-year calendar round still used today among the Maya, the Long Count was linear, rather than cyclical, and kept time roughly in units of 20, so 20 days made a uinal, 18 uinals, or 360 days, made a tun, 20 tuns made a katun, and 20 katuns, or 144,000 days, made up a baktun. So, for example, the Mayan date of 188.8.131.52.15 represents 8 baktuns, 3 katuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 15 days since creation. Many Mayan inscriptions have the count shifting to a higher order after 13 baktuns. Today, the most widely accepted correlations of the end of the thirteenth baktun, or Mayan date 184.108.40.206.0, with the Western calendar are either December 21 or December 23, 2012.
In 1957, the early Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that “the completion of a Great Period of 13 baktuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya”. The anthropologist Munro S. Edmonson added that “there appears to be a strong likelihood that the eral calendar, like the year calendar, was motivated by a long-range astronomical prediction, one that made a correct solsticial forecast 2,367 years into the future in 355 B.C. [sic]”. 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 [baktun]. Thus … our present universe [would] be annihilated on December 24, AD 2011, [later revised to December 23, 2012][a] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.”
Coe’s apocalyptic connotations were accepted by other scholars through the early 1990s. In contrast, later researchers said that, while the end of the 13th baktun would perhaps be a cause for celebration, it did not mark the end of the calendar. In their seminal work of 1990, the Maya scholars Linda Schele and David Freidel, who reference Edmonson, argue that the Maya “did not conceive this to be the end of creation, as many have suggested,” citing Mayan predictions of events to occur after the end of the 13th baktun. Schele and Freidel note that creation date was inscribed at Coba as 220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.0.0.0.0, with twenty units above the katun. According to Schele and Friedel, these 13s should be treated as 0s, so the Coba number would be read as if it were 0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0, with the units of each column beyond the second (counting from right to left) equal to 20 times those of the previous one (The Maya, due to their cyclical concept of time, also wrote the date of creation, their zero date, as 184.108.40.206.0). This number represented “the starting point of a huge odometer of time”. Schele and Freidel calculate that the date at which this odometer would run out lies some 4.134105 × 1028 years in the future, or 3 quintillion times the scientifically accepted age of the universe. The issue is complicated further by the fact that many different Maya city-states employed the Long Count in different ways. At Palenque, evidence suggests that the priest timekeepers believed the cycle would end after 20 baktuns, rather than 13. A monument commemorating the ascension of the king Pakal the Great connects his coronation with events as much as 4000 years after, indicating that those scribes did not believe the world would end on 220.127.116.11.0.
Maya references to 2012
The present-day Maya, as a whole, do not attach much significance to 2012. Although the calendar round is still used by some Maya tribes in the Guatemalan highlands, the Long Count was strictly employed 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”. Mayan archaeologist Jose Huchm complains 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 2012 date is uncertain. Most classic Maya inscriptions are strictly historical and do not make any prophetic declarations. Two items in the Maya historical corpus, however, mention the end of the 13th baktun: 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 in honor of the contemporary ruler. One inscription, known as Tortuguero Monument 6, is generally agreed among Mayanists to refer to the 2012 date. It has been partially defaced; Mayanist scholar Mark Van Stone has given the most complete translation:
- Tzuhtz-(a)j-oom u(y)-uxlajuun pik
- The Thirteenth [b’ak’tun] will end
- (ta) Chan Ajaw ux(-te’) Uniiw.
- (on) 4 Ajaw, the 3rd of Uniiw [3 K’ank’in].
- Uht-oom Ek’-…
- Black … will occur.
- Y-em(al) … Bolon Yookte’ K’uh ta-chak-ma…
- (It will be) the descent(?) of Bolon Yookte’ K’uh to the great (or red?)…
Very little is known about the god (or gods) Bolon Yookte’ K’uh. Possible translations of his or their name include “nine support [gods]”, “Many‐Strides God”, “Nine‐Dog Tree”, or “Many‐Root Tree”. He appears in other inscriptions as a god of war, conflict, and the underworld, though Markus Eberl and Christian Prager believe that the Tortuguero inscription parallels the typical Maya ruler’s pronouncement of a future dedicatory celebration. No illustrations of Bolon Yookte’ exist, though dozens of other gods’ images are known. Also, the long count used at Tortuguero contains 20 b’ak’tuns in a cycle, so the end of the 13th b’ak’tun would not end the cycle according to Tortuguero astronomers.
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 twice: once by the archaeoastronomer Maud Worcester Makemson and once by the anthropologist Munro S. Edmonson. Makemson believed that one of the lines in the book (licutal oxlahun bak chem, ti u cenic u tzan a ceni ciac aba yum texe) refered to the “tremendously important event of the arrival of 18.104.22.168.0 4 Ahau 3 Kankin in the not too distant future”, translating it as “Presently Baktun 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 22.214.171.124.0 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. Edmonson’s translation does not support this reading; he considers the Long Count entirely absent from the book, with a 24-round may system used instead. Other Chilam Balam books contain references to the 13th baktun, but it is unclear if these are in the past or future; for example, oxhun bakam u katunil (thirteen bakam of katuns) in the Chilam Balam of Chumayel.
New Age theories
Many New Age thinkers believe that the ending of this cycle will correspond to a global “consciousness shift”. 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”.
The December 24, 2011 date (derived from Coe) became the subject of speculation by Frank Waters, who devotes two chapters to its interpretation, including discussion of an astrological chart for this date and its association with Hopi prophecies in his 1975 book Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness. The significance of the year 2012 (but not a specific day) was mentioned briefly by José Argüelles in The Transformative Vision: Reflections on the Nature and History of Human Expression, also in 1975. The specific date of December 21, 2012 appeared in Argüelles’ book The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology in 1987. In 1975, author Terence McKenna had also arrived at a New Age prediction for the year 2012. This was subsequently refined to December 21, 2012 in 1983 (the more specific date appeared in the 1993 revision of The Invisible Landscape). Author Daniel Pinchbeck popularized New Age concepts about this date, linking it to beliefs about crop circles, alien abduction, and personal revelations based on the use of entheogens and mediumship in his 2006 book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. Pinchbeck argues for a shift in consciousness rather than an apocalypse, suggesting that materialistic attitudes, rather than the material world, are in jeopardy. Beginning in 2003, he has promoted these ideas annually in presentations at Burning Man.
Semir Osmanagić, the author and metalworker responsible for promoting the Bosnian pyramids, referred to 2012 in the conclusion of his book The World of the Maya. He suggests that “Advancement of DNA may raise us to a higher level” and concludes, “When the ‘heavens open’ and cosmic energy is allowed to flow throughout our tiny Planet, will we be raised to a higher level by the vibrations”.
In the mid-1990s, John Major Jenkins asserted that the ancient Maya had planned an intentional correspondence of a December 21 date with the winter solstice in 2012. 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 Zodiacal constellations move along or near the ecliptic, and over time, appear to recede counterclockwise by one degree every 72 years. This movement is attributed to a slight wobble in the Earth’s axis as it spins. As a result, approximately every 2160 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, the precession of the equinoxes 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 happens to be the constellation intersected by the galactic equator. Every year for the last 1000 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.
The alignment in question is not exclusive to 2012 but takes place over a 36-year period, corresponding to the diameter of the Sun, with the most precise convergence having already occurred in 1998. Also, Jenkins himself notes that there is no concrete evidence that the Maya were aware of precession. While some Mayan scholars, such as Barbara MacLeod, have suggested that some Mayan holy dates were timed to precessional cycles, scholarly opinion on the subject is divided. There is also little evidence, archaeological or historical, that the Maya placed any importance on solstices or equinoxes.
Proponents of galactic alignment theories such as Argüelles and Jenkins have promoted use of a design that has come to be known as Hunab Ku (also the name of a post-Spanish Conquest Maya deity) that bears resemblance to both a yin and yang symbol and a spiral galaxy. However, this symbol is Aztec, not Maya. Its earliest known appearance is in the Codex Magliabechiano, a 16th century document from central Mexico that is known for graphic depictions of Aztec heart sacrifice. Facsimiles of this codex were published in 1903 and 1982. The design originally appeared on “mantas” or ritual cloaks. The cloak that originally inspired the supposed “Hunab Ku” design is identified as 5 verso #22 in the Codex Magliabechiano. The annotation on that page translates as “Mantle of spider water”, but Elizabeth Boone notes “The scribe misread teçacatl (lip plug) as tocalatl, an approximation of ‘spider water'”. The symbol is associated with the festival of lip plugs (ornaments worn in a large piercing in the middle of the lower lip).
Timewave zero and the I Ching
“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 instantaneously.
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 baktun on 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. McKenna originally considered it an incidental observation that his and José Argüelles dates matched, a sign of the end date “being programmed into our unconscious”. 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 peppered this specific date throughout the second, 1993 edition of The Invisible Landscape.
A far more apocalyptic view of the year 2012 has also spread in various media. This view has been promulgated by History Channel which, beginning in 2006, aired “Decoding the Past: Mayan Doomsday Prophecy”, based loosely on John Major Jenkins’ theories but with a tone he characterized as “45 minutes of unabashed doomsday hype and the worst kind of inane sensationalism”. It was co-written by a science fiction author. This show proved popular and was followed by many sequels: 2012, End of Days (2006), The Last Days on Earth (2008), Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (2008), and Nostradamus 2012 (2008). Discovery Channel also aired “2012 Apocalypse” in 2009, suggesting that massive solar storms, flipping of the magnetic poles, earthquakes, super volcanoes, and more may occur in 2012. 
One idea proposed in these films 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. A solar maximum would be mostly notable for its effects on satellite and cellular phone communications.
Proponents of a Nibiru collision claim that a planet, called Nibiru or Planet X, will collide with or pass by Earth in that year. This idea, which has been circulating since 1995 in New Age circles and initially slated the event for 2003, is based on claims of channeling from alien species 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.
Black hole alignment
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 Sgr 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, Sgr 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 our Solar System.
Some versions of this idea elide the 2012 “galactic alignment” with the 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 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 galactic disc only three million years ago, and is now moving farther above it.
Web Bot project
The Web Bot project is a series of automated bots that search the internet for specific keywords, looking for patterns. Its co-creator, Goerge 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.
A movie called 2012, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring the actors John Cusack, Danny Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt and Woody Harrelson is scheduled for release on November 13, 2009. On November 12, 2008, the studio released the first teaser trailer for 2012 that showed a megatsunami surging over the Himalayas and interlaced a purportedly scientific message suggesting that the world would end in 2012, and that the world’s governments were not preparing its population for the event. The trailer ended with a message to viewers to “find out the truth” by searching “2012” on search engines. The Guardian criticized the marketing effectiveness as “deeply flawed” and associated it with “websites that make even more spurious claims about 2012”.
The studio also launched a viral marketing website operated by the fictional Institute for Human Continuity, where filmgoers could register for a lottery number to be part of a small population that would be rescued from the global destruction. The fictitious website lists the Nibiru collision, a galactic alignment, and increased solar activity among its possible doomsday scenarios. David Morrison of NASA has received over 1000 inquiries from people who thought the website was genuine and has condemned it, saying “I’ve even had cases of teenagers writing to me saying they are contemplating suicide because they don’t want to see the world end. I think when you lie on the internet and scare children in order to make a buck, that is ethically wrong.”
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