Everything else

It’s Not the End of the World

And now we know it.

Illustration by Eleanor

For weeks, freaked-out people across the world have been ransacking stores to stock up on supplies for the Mayan apocalypse, which was supposed to go down today. In Russia, according to The Guardian, end-of-the-world supplies included salt, matches, torches, and candles; not exactly sure what the salt was for, but I can appreciate that doomsayers were thinking ahead enough to realize they’d want their last meal to be well-seasoned. Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov tried to offer some solace to fearful citizens on his website, but actually just ended up sounding like kind of a jerk: “Does no one realize that once the end of the world comes, candles won’t help them?” Thanks for the consolation, dude! Meanwhile, NASA released a video explaining why everyone needs to just chill.

By now we all know that the apocalypse didn’t happen today, and I really hate to be a killjoy, but it probably won’t happen in our lifetimes. I have accepted this, after spending literally one-quarter of my life studying and/or mildly freaking out about it, partly because of my semi-superstitious upbringing—my family is Mexican, and my grandmother was a curandera (a folk healer)—and partly because I am such a “just in case” person when it comes to these situations. You never know, right? But sometimes you do know. Fire did not rain down upon us from the searing lips of the feathered serpent gods. Tectonic plates did not rise up and swallow humanity whole. The magnetic poles did not shift. Mel Gibson’s hot Apocalyptos did not chase us through rain forests to our collective demise. John Cusack did not escape skyward on a borrowed plane as Los Angeles crumbled into itself below (although 2012 remains an extremely high-quality example of doomsday cinema). Today is a significant date in the Mayan calendar, but it has been misinterpreted for years, and for years archaeologists specializing in Mesoamerican cultures have been saying so.

So why are there endless forums, preparedness books, Nat Geo docudramas, and a $200-million Roland Emmerich film based on the concept? Here’s the deal: the Mayans, who lived (and continue to live) in and around the Yucatán Peninsula and Central America, were total bosses who, like many other ancient civilizations, developed highly complicated methods of astronomy and time-clocking, obviously without the aid of modern jams like telescopes or clocks. In around 5 B.C., they began using a sophisticated calendar that divided time into many complicated cycles, including a 260-day year called a tzolk’in, as well as a solar year encompassing 365 days, like our own. It’s elaborate, yes, but when your whole culture is based on building super-advanced cities and being mathematical wizards, you probably want a lot of ways to account for your activities. And anyway, the Mayans thought of time as cyclical, hence their super-ill calendar is round and divided up into 19 ouroboros-looking segments, which represent months. (I have one in my apartment handmade by someone named Johnny Camal of the Cayo District in Belize, where many modern Mayans live today. Yes, there are modern Mayans! We’ll get to that in a sec.)

The part of the Mayan calendar that has everyone freaking out is coincidentally one of the coolest parts of their culture. Whereas the Gregorian calendar divides time between “before Christ” and “anno Domini,” so that 2012 is 2012 years after Jesus’s birth, the Mayans began their calendar at the precise time they believed their gods created humanity. Accordingly, the sky god placed three stones at the foot of a pitch-black, sleeping sky; something clicked and the sun was raised, bringing life to earth. “[Earth] arose suddenly, just like a cloud, like a mist, now forming, unfolding,” reads one translation of the Popol Vuh, an ancient text describing early Mesoamerican mythologies. By the Mayans’ estimation, all of that went down in 3114 B.C., and they believed that after 13 baktuns—a baktun being yet another measurement of time that consists of 394.26 years—the calendar stopped. That didn’t necessarily mean it’s ALL OVER, but still: you can bet that back in 5 B.C., people weren’t able to conceive of what would be happening in the year 2012, much less that people 2000 miles away from the origins of their civilization would be fighting each other for toilet paper in preparation for the end of the world.

Obviously, the Mayan calendar is hella confusing, and some archaeologists and Mayanists don’t even agree on the way they calculated the dates, so you can understand how the end of the 13th baktun could be totally misconstrued to mean the End of the World (™). I certainly bought into it for a long time, although I also filled my bathtub with water for Y2K and believed with all my heart that the year 2001 would be not unlike the world on that crappy TV show Revolution. Clearly, we are not currently foraging for electricity pendants. But still! It makes sense why people are prone to believe doomsday prophecies, what with global warming already wreaking planet havoc and half the countries on earth engaged in perpetual war. I really can’t begrudge anyone for being freaked out enough to believe the Mayans predicted the end.

But again, they believed time is cyclical, which is actually pretty beautiful. Everyone should have just listened to what modern Mayans have to say: the new baktun just means the calendar is starting over again—and perhaps we’re in for an era of enlightenment, where we all have the opportunity to restart and broaden our minds, not unlike New Year’s. A new beginning! No indigenous Mayans holed up in bunkers or hoarded cans of beans; rather, all over the world they’ve been blessing water, offering up maize, and participating in purification ceremonies. Today is not a time to fear, but to celebrate. ♦

19 Comments

  • Ladymia69 December 21st, 2012 8:22 PM

    The first day of the Age of Aquarius! Cheers!

    • coolgirl December 24th, 2012 11:01 PM

      yes! now it is official. welcome

  • puffling December 21st, 2012 8:47 PM

    The sad consequences of the apocalypse rumours:

    http://intercontinentalcry.org/maya-banned-from-performing-ceremonies-at-ancestral-temples-in-mexico/

    :(

    What I find really bizarre is, why did the media play along with all of this? Anyone willing to spend two minutes reading up on the facts (as any journalist should be doing) could have learned that there was nothing to this scare-story, so why did they all keep repeating it?

    And who started it? Because we know that the actual Mayans haven’t been telling anyone that the world was going to end, so where did it come from?

    Really strange repetition of nonsense that has had very sad consequences for the Mayan people – I think all the media outlets and public figures who played a role in raising interest in these lies should be very ashamed of themselves.

  • Bloom December 21st, 2012 8:49 PM

    dude salt is for keeping monsters and demons away!!
    i really love this article ah thank u

  • OliRee December 21st, 2012 9:00 PM

    My family is also Mexican, and based on what my family knows, personal investigation and what my Art’s teacher says (who met this guy who studied the Mayan calendar and the 12 mayan prophecies ) as some may/should know, the December 21 2012 it’s dated as the day the Solar System ends its journey around its orbit on the Milky Way. This takes around 3000 years. The mayans weren’t seers, they were astronomers. It’s kinda sad that the masses believe what the media says or just pop culture’s ideas and myths.

  • comradeshelby December 21st, 2012 9:44 PM

    Great article! <3

  • azultardis December 22nd, 2012 12:21 AM

    yes! I’m mexican too,and live in México,and I’ve read and investigate about this subject,and this whole Mayan apocalypse started a few years ago and probably by the US media,cause the actual mayans have always said that it was just the end of their cycle and not the actual end of the world,and the old mayans used to think that after the end of this cycle people and nature would grow and renew…

  • DreamBoat December 22nd, 2012 1:48 AM

    This was a fantastic article. When I was younger, I was like HOLY CRAP THE WORLD IS GONNA END OMG I’M JUST GONNA SLEEP THROUGH THE 21st. I actually barely noticed it this year.
    Plus, the Mayan idea is really beautiful; I never even realized it! Today really is a day to celebrate <3

    http://psychedelicdaisy.blogspot.com/

  • Mary the freak December 22nd, 2012 3:17 AM

    Yeah! Great article!
    I am still a little bit disappointed that no alien has landed yesterday. This whole apocalypse thing is, in my opinion, pretty exaggerated. I don’t really want to die now,and don’t wan this universe to go down yet. Still, some aliens…
    Btw,even though I do not believe in that apocalypse thingy, I found my magic weapon against zombies. Iti is a painted sea anemone from my childhood. Zombies, do not make any sudden movements!!

    Anyways, this article was brilliant!

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • kirigamirose December 22nd, 2012 3:27 AM

    happy 14th baktun !!!

  • a-anti-anticapitalista December 22nd, 2012 8:12 AM

    I seriously thought that when you said modern Mayans you would talk about the march the Zapatistas had :c they decided to use this date to have a gigantic silent march and block access to entire parts of cities. Instead of any apocalypse related stuff they were just taking to the streets in political manifestation. http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=328484

    (english) http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/dec/21/zapatista-rebel-backers-march-in-southern-mexico/

    • puffling December 23rd, 2012 1:59 PM

      i hadn’t heard about this, thank you for the links. big love for the zapatistas.

  • Stephanie December 22nd, 2012 11:21 AM

    Loved this article and the conclusion was especially heartening! I’m ready for a new age!

  • LadyKatie December 22nd, 2012 11:40 AM

    Great article. So true, and everyone who was concerned about the end of the world needed to check their convictions with science.

  • ast_mar December 22nd, 2012 1:23 PM

    Great article!

  • ElizaRose December 22nd, 2012 2:28 PM

    The salt that those people in Russia were buying was for food preservation/pickling.

  • Dino December 22nd, 2012 2:29 PM

    I love this! :)
    It’s so sick how everything got so exaggarrated just to make money and to scare people. :(

  • dharma94ara December 22nd, 2012 3:49 PM

    This article (especially the title) was fantastic. In physics we were discussing how the world is not going to end. In all seriousness I really did think it would be the apocalypse, and I would notice weather habits and assume the world is ending. But the top reasons why the world would end (and not soon) is a major volcanoe, asteroid, greenhouse gas or nucleur warfare. It sad that we’re half the reasosn as to why the world might end.

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica May 17th, 2013 1:30 PM

    How interesting! This was a great read.

    Despite not believing that December 21st was gonna be the apocalypse, I couldn’t help but feel a little terrified for those 24 hours.