Mayan Calendar: The End of Time, Or End Of An Era?
January 18, 2012

The end of the world as we know it will be on Dec. 21, 2012 -- at least, that's if you believe the Mayan calendar. What do you think? Please help us cover this story by answering a few questions.

The trailer for the Hollywood film 2012, starring John Cusack, begins with a newscaster telling his viewers that a "mass suicide adhered to the Mayan calendar, which predicts the end of time to occur on the 21st of December of this year." Soon, meteors are falling and earthquakes are turning the streets of Los Angeles into piles of concrete chunks and smashed-up cars. Hollywood loves any excuse for a good disaster film. And some people are obsessed with signs indicating the end of the world. The latest is the impending end of a 5,125-year cycle, known as the "Long Count," in the Mayan calendar. That day is also the winter solstice. A crescendo of New Age books, websites and films has helped spread the rumor that this day will also be our last. But in Guatemala, the cradle of Mayan civilization, most people say that's unlikely. “This is an Anglo perspective of the world,” said Ernesto Arredondo Leiva, a Guatemalan archaeologist. He said a couple of misinterpretations and careless predictions have morphed into a 2012 doomsday tale. And he said that's mostly thanks to some pseudo-scientific types looking for spiritual sport. "They have their own ideas, and then they use pieces of articles that they've read or parts of knowledge that we know from science, and they just grab it and make a soup with it," he said. Mayan scholars and archaeologists agree there’s not much evidence showing the ancient Maya predicted for 2012 any cataclysmic event — or alien landing, as some have suggested. In fact, the date is mentioned only once in ancient Mayan texts and monuments uncovered by archaeologists: on a seventh century monument at a site called Tortuguero in southern Mexico. The Mayan hieroglyphics carved into that monument mention December 21 "as a time when one of the gods will come back and he will be present in a big party or a big event,” Arredondo Leiva explained. That seems to be where a lot of the rumors got started. Some people don't take gods coming back to earth lightly. But what do modern-day descendants of the ancient Maya have to say about it?

Jill Replogle
At the headquarters of the Association of Maya Priests of Guatemala, each priest has a cubicle with a fire place, where he or she conducts private ceremonies.
"If you ask the Mayan community, you will hardly find any Mayan who will say, 'OK, this is the end of time,'” Arredondo Leiva said. In a walled-off corridor alongside a diesel-choked road on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Carlos Cajchun Osorio is reciting Mayan prayers as part of a traditional fire ceremony. He's a member of the Association of Maya Priests of Guatemala. Each priest has a sort of office here: side-by-side concrete cubicles, facing a row of chimneys. People with marital problems, or just in need of a spiritual lift, come to request private ceremonies where a priest will pray, and burn sugar, incense and candles as offerings to the creator. Cajchun Osorio said there’s nothing in the ancient Mayan texts — at least, the few that survived the conquest — to suggest the world will be ending this year. "It's a big lie that you could say is being driving by foreign beliefs," he said. "It's pure business what they're doing." People do hope to make money off of the 2012 craze, particularly through tourism. Moon Travel Guides has produced a special Maya 2012 guidebook covering celebrations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. In Guatemala, government ministries and private tourism reps have formed a 2012 Committee to promote tourism around the event. They've published a slew of glossy booklets and maps of routes along which tourists can experience ancient and modern Mayan culture.

Jill Replogle
ACarlos Cajchun Osorio is a Maya priest based in Guatemala City. He says December 21 is the beginning of a new era in the Maya calendar, not the end of time.
Maro Avecedo is executive director of the Guatemalan Tourism Chamber, and a member of the committee. "We saw it as a unique opportunity," she said. "And we hope it'll be an opportunity for national and foreign visitors to come to Guatemala and learn more about Mayan culture." The group is also educating tour guides about ancient Mayan science and what the end of the long count really means. On December 21, government-sponsored celebrations will take place at ancient Mayan ruins across the country. Modern day Maya who follow their traditional religion are also likely to celebrate that day, but not with goodbye parties. Cajchun Osorio, the Maya priest, said, if anything, he hopes the end of this era — and the start of the next — may signify a positive change: "It’s the awakening of the human race, but for good."