The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs that
cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012, which is said to
be the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mayan
Long Count calendar. Various astronomical alignments and numerological
formulae related to this date have been proposed, but none have been accepted by
A New Age interpretation of this
transition posits that during this time, Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a
positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that
2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Others suggest that
the 2012 date marks the end of the
world or a similar catastrophe. Scenarios posited for the end of the world
include the Earth's collision with a passing planet (often referred to as "Nibiru") or black hole, or the arrival of the
next solar maximum.
Scholars from various disciplines have dismissed the idea that a catastrophe
will happen in 2012, stating that predictions of impending doom are found
neither in classic Maya
accounts. Mainstream Mayanist
scholars state that the idea that the Long Count calendar "ends" in 2012
misrepresents Maya history. The modern
Maya, on the whole, have not attached much significance to the date, and the
classical 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.
Astronomers and other scientists have rejected the
apocalyptic forecasts, on the grounds that the anticipated events are precluded
by astronomical observations, or are unsubstantiated by the predictions that
have been generated from these findings. NASA has compared fears about 2012 to those about the Y2K bug in the late
1990s, suggesting that an adequate analysis should preclude fears of disaster
December 2012 marks the ending of the current b'ak'tun cycle of the Mesoamerican Long Count
calendar, which was used in 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 writing system of the classic
Maya 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 "zero date" 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 (360
days) made a tun, 20 tuns made a k'atun, and 20 k'atuns (144,000
days) made up a b'ak'tun. So, for example, the Mayan date of 220.127.116.11.15
represents 8 b'ak'tuns, 3 k'atuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 15 days since creation.
Many Mayan inscriptions have the count shifting to a higher order after 13
b'ak'tuns, or roughly 5,125 years. Today, the most widely accepted correlation of the end of the thirteenth
b'ak'tun, or Mayan date 18.104.22.168.0, with the Western calendar is December 21,
2012, with December
23 remaining another option.
In 1957, the early Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that
"the completion of a Great Period of 13 b'ak'tuns would have been of the utmost
significance to the Maya". The anthropologist
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 [b'ak'tun]. Thus ... our present universe
[would] be annihilated [in December 2012] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count
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 b'ak'tun would perhaps be a
cause for celebration, it did not mark
the end of the calendar. "There is nothing
in the Maya or Aztec or ancient Mesoamerican prophecy to suggest that they
prophesied a sudden or major change of any sort in 2012," says Mayanist scholar
Mark Van Stone, "The notion of a "Great Cycle" coming to an end is completely a
modern invention." 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 b'ak'tun. Stela 1 at Coba, for example, gives a date with twenty
units above the b'ak'tun, placing it either 4.134105 × 1028 years in
the future, or an equal
distance in the past. Either way, this
date is 3 quintillion times the age of the
universe, demonstrating that not all Mayans considered the 5,125-year cycle
as the most important. In fact, 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 b'ak'tuns, 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 22.214.171.124.0.
The present-day Maya, as a whole, do not attach much significance to b'ak'tun
13. Although the calendar round is still used by some Maya tribes in the
Guatemalan highlands, the Long Count was employed exclusively 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". Archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni says that
while the idea of "balancing the cosmos" was prominent in ancient Maya
literature, and some modern Maya affirm this idea of an age of coexistence, the
2012 phenomenon does not present this message in its original form. Instead, it
is bound up with American traditions such as the New Age movement, millenarianism, and the belief in secret
knowledge from distant times and places.
Mayan archaeologist Jose Huchm has stated 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 b'ak'tun 13 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 b'ak'tun: Tortuguero Monument 6 and, possibly, the
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 b'ak'tun 13. It has been partially
defaced; 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 ...[illegible]...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
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.
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 four times in the 20th century, with many disputes over the meaning
of its passages. One passage in particular is relevant to the interpretation of
the 13th b'ak'tun:
- lic u tal oxlahun bak chem, ti u cenic u (tzan a cen/ba nacom)i
(ciac/cha') a ba yum(il/t)exe
Maud Worcester Makemson, an archaeoastronomer, believed that this line
referred to the "tremendously important event of the arrival of 126.96.36.199.0 4
Ahau 3 Kankin in the not too distant future", Her translation of the line, runs:
- Presently B'ak'tun 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 188.8.131.52.0 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. The more recent translation of Munro S. Edmonson does not support this reading;
he considers the Long Count almost entirely absent from the book, since the
360-day tun been supplanted in the 1750s by a 365-day Christian year, and
a 24-round may system was being implemented. He translates the line as follows:
- ...like the coming of 13 sail-ships. When the captains dress themselves,
your fathers will be taken.
Other Chilam Balam books contain references to the 13th b'ak'tun, but it is
unclear if these are in the past or future; for example, oxhun bakam u
katunil (thirteen bakam of k'atuns) in the Chilam Balam of Chumayel.
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".Aveni, who
has studied New Age and SETI communities,
describes 2012 narratives as the product of a "disconnected" society: "Unable to
find spiritual answers to life's big questions within ourselves, we turn outward
to imagined entities that lie far off in space or time—entities that just might
be in possession of superior knowledge."
In 1975, b'ak'tun 13 became the subject of speculation by several New Age
authors. In his book Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of
Waters tied Coe's December 24, 2011 date to astrology and the prophecies of
the Hopi,while both José
Argüelles and Terence McKenna (in their books The
Transformative Vision and The
Invisible Landscape respectively)
discussed the significance of the year 2012, but not a specific day. In 1987,
the year in which he held the Harmonic Convergence event, Arguelles
settled on the date of December 21 in his book The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond
in which he claimed on that date the Earth would pass through a great "beam"
from the centre of the Galaxy, and that the Maya aligned their calendar in
anticipation of that event.
In the mid-1990s, John Major Jenkins asserted that the ancient
Maya intended to tie the end of their calendar to the winter solstice in 2012, which falls on December 21. 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 ecliptic is the
path taken by the Sun across the sky over the course of the year. The 12 constellations which line the
ecliptic are known as the zodiac and,
through the year, the Sun passes through each constellation in turn.
Additionally, over time, the Sun's annual passage appears 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 is the zodiacal
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
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.
Astronomers argue that the galactic equator is an entirely arbitrary line,
and can never be precisely determined because it is impossible to say exactly
where the Milky Way begins or ends. Jenkins claims he drew his conclusions about
the location of the galactic equator from observations taken at above 11,000
feet, which is higher than any of the Maya lived. Furthermore,
the precessional alignment of the Sun with any single point is not exclusive to
a specific year, but takes place over a 36-year period, corresponding to its
diameter. Jenkins himself notes that, even given his determined location for the
line of the galactic equator, its most precise convergence with the centre of
the Sun already occurred in 1998.
Some Maya scholars, such as Barbara MacLeod, Michael Grofe, Eva Hunt, Gordon
Brotherston, and Anthony Aveni, have suggested
that some Mayan holy dates were timed to precessional cycles, but scholarly
opinion on the subject remains divided. There is also
little evidence, archaeological or historical, that the Maya placed any
importance on solstices or equinoxes.
It is possible that early Mesoamericans had an emphasis on solstices which was
later forgotten, but this is also a
disputed issue among Mayanists. The start date of the Long Count is not astronomically significant.
"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 simultaneously.
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
b'ak'tun on the Maya calendar, he revised his hypothesis so that the two dates
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.
In 2006, author Daniel Pinchbeck popularised New Age concepts
about this date in his book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, linking it
to beliefs about crop circles, alien abduction, and personal revelations based
on the use of entheogens and mediumship.
Pinchbeck claims to discern a "growing realization that materialism and the
rational, empirical worldview that comes with it has reached its expiration
date...[w]e're on the verge of transitioning to a dispensation of consciousness
that's more intuitive, mystical and shamanic." Beginning in 2003, he has promoted these ideas annually in presentations at Burning Man.
April 2010, Pinchbeck and several others released the documentary film 2012: Time for
In India, the guru Kalki Bhagavan has promoted 2012 as a "deadline"
for human enlightenment since at least 1998.
In the United States, the association of December 21, 2012 with a
"transformation of consciousness" has also received popular attention in The Lost Symbol
(2009), a bestseller work of thriller fiction by Dan Brown, in which the date is associated with
references to esoteric beliefs of Freemasonry and noetic theory. David Wilcock, a new age
researcher, has gained increasing popularity with viral video-seminars promoting
the idea of global ascension, and a golden age, in the year 2012.
A far more apocalyptic view of the year 2012 has also spread in various
media. This view has been promulgated by History Channel with
the series Decoding the Past (2005–2007), and its
segment on the Mayan calendar, based loosely on John Major Jenkins' theories.
However, Jenkins has 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), Last Days on
Earth (2006), Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (2007), and
Nostradamus 2012 (2008). Discovery Channel
also aired 2012 Apocalypse in 2009, suggesting that massive solar storms, magnetic pole reversal, earthquakes, supervolcanoes, and other drastic natural events
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
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. 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
Proponents of a Nibiru collision claim that a planet, called
Planet X or Nibiru, 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 beings 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.
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 Sagittarius 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 Earth's
Some versions of this idea associate the theory of a 2012 "galactic
alignment" with that of a very different "galactic alignment" proposed by some
scientists to explain a supposed periodicity in mass extinctions in 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.
The Web Bot project is a series of automated bots that search the internet for specific keywords, looking for patterns.
Its co-creator, George Ure, states that its study of "web chatter" predicted the
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