The date – which marks the end of the Maya long-term calendar and, so say doomsday theorists, the end of the world – is expected to bring a surge of visitors to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador, the countries of the Mundo Maya. But even if you’re not headed there, you’ll surely be hearing about the hype of 12/21/12: the good, the bad, and the completely unfounded.
Enter Shannon Kring Buset, a world traveler, director, and tour guide to Maya lands who spent 18 months researching her award-winning documentary, 2012: The Beginning. In the film, Kring Buset dispels various doomsday myths through interviews with the world’s leading Maya archeologists, scholars, astronomers, shamans, and living Maya. “The people, places, stories, rituals, and even animals of the Maya world, both past and present, have enriched my life and the world in ways those of us in Western cultures are just beginning to understand,” she says. “I believe we owe it to them to enter their lands with respect and reverence, and to bring home the truth about this still great culture.”
Here are five of the most persistent myths, debunked. Fascinating stuff, no matter where you’ll be on the big day.
Doomsday Myth 1: The world will end on December 21, 2012.
The Truth: The ancient Maya never said the world would end on this date – or any other. Instead, movies like 2012 and doomsday alarmists have propagated such hype over an impending apocalypse.
In the Mundo Maya, only two inscriptions cite the December 21, 2012 date: one on a brick in La Corona, Guatemala, and the other on a monument in Tortuguero, Mexico. Epigrapher Barbara MacLeod, Ph.D, made the most comprehensive decipherment of this monument, and in Kring Buset’s documentary, she reveals exactly what the inscription says. As MacLeod explains, the monument includes a reference that Bolon Yokte’, a Maya deity, would be returning to the earth, but he would not be bringing the end of the world with him.
Doomsday Myth 2: December 21, 2012, is the last date cited by the ancient Maya.
The Truth: At the 8th-century archaeological site of Palenque, Mexico, the date October 13, 4772, is referenced on a text. This marks the completion of the 20th bak’tun, which is a 400-year cycle used in the Maya Long Count Calendar. If the ancient Maya believed the world was coming to an end on December 21, 2012, why would they reference a date more than 2,000 years following it?
Doomsday Myth 3: Living Maya believe the world is coming to an end on December 21, 2012.
The Truth: Of the more than 500 living Maya throughout Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras whom Kring Buset interviewed during her research, “only three of the Maya I met even entertained the idea that December 21, 2012 could possibly bring the end of the world,” she says. “[And] even these people were careful to say that ultimately, the fate of the world was in God’s hands.”
Doomsday Myth 4: The Maya will be without a calendar after December 21, 2012.
The Truth: Throughout their history, the Maya have used more than 50 calendars, two of which are still in use today for various purposes. Present-day Maya use two calendars, the tzolk’in calendar, which is the spiritual calendar, and the haab’, which is a solar calendar. These two calendars will still be in existence come December 22, 2012 – as will the world.
Doomsday Myth 5: December 21, 2012 marks the beginning of an Age of Enlightenment.
The Truth: December 21, 2012 marks the completion of 13 bak’tuns, or 13 400-year periods in Maya history. The ancient Maya viewed each bak’tun ending as an opportunity to review the past and make changes for the future; the modern-day Age of Enlightenment theories have evolved from that belief (along with some help from New Age-y spiritualists).
As Edwin Barnhart, Ph.D, archaeologist, and director of the Maya Exploration Center, explains in 2012: The Beginning, “The Maya used the Long Count Calendar, and particularly the bak’tun cycle, to know when it’s time to change versus when it’s time to follow the status quo. We see major changes in politics, in where and how they live at the change of each one of these bak’tuns.”
Barnhart also points out that “the ancient Maya did not believe change happened to them. They believed that they were responsible for co-creating change.”
Sounds like excellent inspiration for making resolutions for 2013.