Don’t worry I am not going to get all New Age and silly on you. But I have always been fascinated by the calendar in use in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. It is way more sophisticated and accurate than our Eurocentric culture would have us imagine. And it may have something to tell us about what the world is going through right now. Certainly the Mayans predictions have to be every bit as believable as your average recent political poll. Perhaps more on target?
Note: I am going to use the term “Mayan” here to designate a wider group that includes many communities, like the Aztec and even contemporary Guatemalan groups that used or still use a version of the Mayan way of counting the days , years, centuries, and millennia.
Second note: the Mayans counted in base twenty—perhaps when they counted they used their fingers AND toes. Fear not, I am not going to speak vigesimally (i.e. base twenty) here. After all I am writing for more people than just Michael, our resident mathematician. Fortunately for me, researchers have already converted the calendar into base 10.
When thinking annually, the Mayans divided the year into 18-twenty day months, with a period of five days that had no name at the end. They considered these days dangerous, because during them, the door between the realm of earth and of the underworld stayed open, and the evil gods could wreck havoc on mortals.
The part of the Mayan calendar that most fascinates me is called the Long Count. For reasons no one seems to understand, the Mayans wanted to be able to predict things like the phases of the moon and eclipses thousands of years into the future. By most calculations, they started the Long Count on 11 August 3114 BC (or BCE, if you insist), which relates to the beginning of human time in their creation myth. They carved their dates onto stela with their fascinating hieroglyphs.
Scholars have translated the Mayan dates to the Gregorian calendar using astronomical, historical, and archeological evidence. They are certain they have it right. The Long Count told the Mayans when one b’ak’tun (creation) would end and when the next one would begin.
A few years back, on 20 December 2012, the world saw the end 13th b’ak’tun and the next day the beginning of the 14th. A lot of nonsense circulated at that time that the world was going to end. Scholars of Mesoamerican culture pooh-poohed all that. And they turned out to be right. Since we are all still here.
In fact, the Mayans actually thought the change from one civilization to another something to rejoice over.
Another myth said that these cycles consisted of a period of order and calm followed by one of chaos and difficulty. And that the last twenty-five years of one and the first twenty five years of next tended to be particularly difficult.
When I first learned about this myth, in the late 70’s, in discussing it with a friend, he thought we would be entering a periods of chaos in 2012. My assessment was different. “This past four hundred years or so don’t look like times of order and calm to me,” I said. “I think we will be leaving chaos and entering order.” I hope that thinking turns out to be true. If so, once we get past the first difficult twenty-five years, things may just get a whole lot better.
Which would mean that Susan’s prayer (and mine) of yesterday just might come true by 2037. If I am still alive then, I will turn 96, the age at which my father died. I am not too keen on the current turmoil lasting for the rest of my life. But then, 2012 saw President Obama—our first black President, resoundingly reelected.
Perhaps my hopes will be borne out. That what we are witnessing now is the death throes of bad forces. I pray.