The Mayan Calendar and the End of the World

About a year and a half ago I sat on a “Pagan Panel” with such luminaries as Selena Fox, Christopher Penczak, Raven Grimassi and his wife Stephanie Taylor, and Damh the Bard (plus a few others whose names escape me right now). I have no business being on those types of panels (haven’t done enough, and this was a year before Raise the Horns was a thing), but I’m strangely good at doing them. I’ve always been a much better speaker than a writer (there’s something about public speaking that captures my sense of humor better than the pixilated page) and it shows in those type of situations.

A lot of times a panel discussion will have a particular theme, or all of the questions will be somehow related, this was one extremely open ended with a wide range of questions. One of those questions was about the Mayan Calendar and how its end might effect us (as Pagans) and the world in general. Let me stress how much I like and respect all of those people, and that I consider some of them friends in a very real sense, but I found many of their answers on the question surprising. Most of them were so serious, talking about “great cosmic shifts” and how the end of the Mayan calendar marked the “start of a New Age” in our planet’s existence. When the panel finally got around to my answer (I was near the end as we were taking turns talking at a long table) I answered the question as honestly as I could with something along the lines of “Well, when December 21st comes around I’ll probably be at the bar.”

To be completely truthful I probably won’t be at the bar on the 21st, but I still like my answer. To me, the real issue is why does anyone really care what the Mayan Calendar does (and doesn’t) say and why does it seem like such a big issue in the Pagan Community? I don’t worship any Mayan gods or celebrate any Mayan holidays that I know of. I have nothing against Mayan gods or Mayan holidays, it’s just never been my thing, and I haven’t met many Modern Pagans* who have made it a thing either. It just seems intellectually dishonest to appropriate one thing from a culture and then nothing else. I’d be OK with someone making a big deal out of the Mayan Calendar issue if their actual worship and beliefs were somehow tied to that culture. It would probably also help if there was actually some truth to the whole 2012 Phenomenon.

It’s true that the long-count of the Mayan Calendar ends sometime in the next few weeks (there is some disagreement on the date), but the Mayan calendar doesn’t necessarily end. The Mayans made reference to dates far past this year’s Midwinter, so they obviously didn’t believe the world was going to come to an end that night. If people want to believe that there’s going to be some major shift in consciousness at the end of the year, that’s fine, but I still haven’t seen anything that makes me believe in that approach. To me it feels like an attempt to attach a degree of significance to something simply because people are talking about it.

I’m not trying to insult the Mayan Calendar, it’s a beautifully complex thing that my math-troubled mind can barely comprehend. There are just lots of calendars out there, and I don’t know why we’ve suddenly decided the Mayan Calendar is the most important of them. Even as I type these words I know that I shouldn’t be surprised by it all. We attach all kinds of significance to the dates on calendars, even though the dates on those calendars were created by human hands, not godly ones. Most of us still remember the hysteria over the year 2000 (I’m so glad I didn’t stockpile any canned goods or I’d still be eating canned peas, which I hate!), and there was hysteria in the years 1000, and 1600, and 1900 too. Humans love hysteria and getting worked up about stuff. If the Goddess has something big planned it could happen at any moment, I don’t think she’s relying on the Mayan Calendar to dictate when our attitudes should change.

As the 21st rapidly approaches I do find myself nominally worried about a few things related to the Mayan Calendar. My biggest fear is that there will be several ironic hipster jackass parties related to the date. If you’re having one, I have ritual to go to that night so I won’t be making an appearance, besides I don’t wear skinny jeans anyways. My second big fear is that the hype around December 21 2012 might revive interest in the 2012 movie, which is one of those “so horrible it’s almost good” type of films. Did you know that John Cusack can outrun an earthquake? Me neither, at least until I saw that movie.

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While I’ve been approaching this whole issue with tongue planted firmly in cheek, it does have serious consequences. There are lots of scared kids out there, and concerns about suicide. The more people fixate on this issue the worse it will get. There’s probably more disinformation out there than real information. Perhaps a ritual asking for clarity and level-headed thinking would be most beneficial. There’s so much worry over impending doom that the official blog of the United States felt that a post was a necessary. Of course the government saying something makes me wonder if something is going on after all (also why does the government have an official blog?).

On that note, if you’re having a big End of the World Party or a Giant Shift in Consciousness Ritual I wish you all the best, but I’ll be celebrating the Solstice like I normally do. There will be a ritual, some presents, a lot of candle light, and at the end of the night a few pints of cider. Happy Solstice or end of the world or whatever else you might be celebrating that night.

*You might be thinking to yourself, “well Jason, Mayans still exist and they are pagan,” and you’d probably be right (though I don’t think they’d call themselves pagan), but I have yet to meet a Modern Western Pagan (the kind that might stumble upon this blog) whose world-view has been overly shaped by Mayan religion or culture. On this blog I also use the word pagan a particular way.

(An earlier version of this post featured a picture of the Aztec Calendar, whoops!)

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Yosarian

    Personally I try to focus on why people did things…why did the mayans record this time cycle? Early Euro people agreed upon the Gregorian calander because it coincided with the seasons for farming, it wasn’t some mystical mumbo jumbo it was a way to tell when spring and fall were coming. Likewise we must ask ourselves why the mayans measured these long time scales, obviously there was a significant reason beyond just the stars being a certain place in the sky, it had to have some effect on the people. People don’t like the theory about a “global awakening” and claim they see no signs of it…and yet around the world right now humans are connected like never before with the internet, ideas are being shared across the planet at the speed of light, and the poor formerly ignorant masses ARE waking up to what the world really is, who’s really running it, and realizing the power they have to change it. I believe the 21st may simply by the peak of this already obvious transformation, the energy high point at which the veil is lifted and men and women see the world as it is, and decide what to do about it. Personally I have hope for humans…even if it takes us another thousand years to pull our heads out of our asses.

    • C. M. Barons

      Wasn’t just ‘mystical mumbo jumbo…’ No calendar would be organized or put into practical use if it were merely mystical mumbo jumbo. I mean, who is this Mars that the month of March is named for? If you are suggesting that the Gregorian Calendar (Why was the Julian Calendar replaced? Because after 400 years, Easter could not be accurately placed using it.) carries less mystical baggage than the Mayan or Egyptian or Chinese or Jewish (etc) you need to do more research. Calendars are fascinating BECAUSE they attempt (with varying degrees of success) to encapsulate and correlate the sacred and the mundane worlds. Virtually all of them have small cycles (solar day), medium cycles (lunar month), big cycles (solar year) and really big cycles (epochs). The calendar is not at fault for confusion or even obsolescence; it is the nature of our universe. We have a solar year that is slightly less than 365 1/4 days long. We have a lunar year that is 354.37 days long. The two cycles generally DO NOT coincide, yet we have incorporated one or the other or both solar and synodic (lunar) elements in our calendars.

      • finn

        Maybe it ends on that date since the conquistadors killed all the Mayans and they didn’t have enough time to finish it.

        • Jason Mankey

          The Mayan civilization that created the calendar in question collapsed long before the Spanish came to North America. There are also still Mayans around today.

        • rchurch

          The Mayan calendar ends the same as any other calendar does, it will start at the beginning again once this cycle has finished.

  • Brian

    cool traler about @)!@{means 2012}

  • Ywen DragonEye

    Our Circle is celebrating in our usual way, albeit a slightly more elaborate ceremony. I saw Oberon Zell speak at our local Pagan Pride, and he suggested everyone sing “The Age of Aquarius” at dawn on the 21st. Sounds good to me.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Mayan Calendar predicts the end of the world? Meh. The response reflects the level of intelligence in the proposition.

    The Mayan calendar ends. The Gregorian calendar also ends. Frequently. It then restarts. Big deal.

    You want a decent link to governmental stance on an apocalyptic threat, try zombies:
    http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/

    I think there are plenty of examples of Pagans taking just one thing from a culture/system and nothing else, then abusing it until no context remains. Somehow, this is usually sold as a good thing.

  • Leo Prem

    Is the world really gonna end is still not making sence to me EITHER WAY

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    The Maya didn’t predict the end of the world or the end of anything else. The end of the long count calendar is a rare event (happens once every 5125 years) but ultimately it’s of no more significance than the end of the calendars we throw away every December 31.

    However, there is a lot of anxiety (i.e. – energy) surrounding December 21. Could a good ritual channel that energy into something productive, something creative?

    I think it could…

  • sravs

    i dont want to be go i hope that there is no end

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      There is always an end. But what is an end other than change, really?

      The world will end (not on the 21st, most likely), that much is assured. If nothing else, the sun will go super nova, destroying the entire solar system. But we have a few billion years before we need to worry about that one.

      • Rachel

        The sun is not massive enough to ever go supernova. It will become a red giant then planetary nebula, then end its life as a white dwarf. This will happen in roughly 5bil years.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          You are right, but I think the end result, from the Earth’s perspective is much the same.

  • Ursyl

    The Mayan Long Count calendar is an amazing thing, but what you have a photograph of at the top of this article is the AZTEC Sun Stone. also a calendar, but not on remotely the scale of the long count. The Sun Stone symbol are for days of the months and weeks.

    Look it up. It’s also fascinating and probably mathematical too, but it is NOT Mayan.

    • DJ Mayu

      It appears he’s changed it… because the right calendar is up now.

  • Ursyl

    Just saw the updated photo. Well done!

    And Thank-you.

    • jason mankey

      Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Embarrassed.

      • Ursyl

        It’s such a common misusage, no need to be embarrassed–unless failing to fix it after learning, eh?

        I grew up knowing that design is Aztec, though until recently had no clue about the meanings of the symbols. Mom has a beautiful pendant given to her by her best friend which I hope to inherit, many many years from now. Last time I was home, we had some fun looking it up.

  • DJ Mayu

    I’m actually Christian, so I have other reasons for knowing the world won’t end… but I also am a nerd and I like studying ancient cultures. I consider myself an “amateur Mayatologist” lol. I’m not going to go into a long and dragged out explanation of the Popol Vuh and Dresden Codex (the two main reasons people believe the end is nigh) – but I’ll say this. Neither show the end of the world. (The last page of the Dresden Codex that depicts a flood is actually, in my opinion, not correctly interpreted. Parts of the writing is missing at the top, and we can’t be guaranteed this is the true last page since so many artifacts are missing/destroyed/placed in the wrong order. However, even if this were the true last page, it can still be interpreted in 3 ways OTHER than mass flooding predicting the end of the world. In fact, one interpretation is it could be a pictorial representation of one of the stories from the Popol Vuh and not a prophecy. Another interpretation is it is a struggle for enlightenment. The goddess of renewal and life is pouring water on the head of the god of black arts, war and wealth. he in turn is depicted as holding the waters of the Caiman at bay. There is one side of the codex completely untouched by water which goes against the representation of a massive flood overtaking the world. Anyhoo, I think I’ve been rambling more than I said I would so I’ll go now. ^_^

  • Aluloff

    Just a note, not about the mayan calender, but about something else you wrote…If you are going to stockpile food, for whatever reason, why would you stockpile food you didn’t like to eat??? LoL!!!

    • JasonMankey

      My brother lived with me at the time and he loved pees?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sage.blackthorn Sage Blackthorn

    I can remember back in the last few weeks of 1999 when people were freaking out over “Y2K!” and places shown on the news with bare shelves as people stockpiled water and food, with fanatic certainty that planes were going to fall out of the sky, and bank accounts were going to disappear and the government would collapse…… wishful thinking perhaps….. And then they did it all again at the end of 2000 because of an argument over whether Dec. 31st 1999 or Dec 31st 2000 was the “official” end of the millennium.

    But the world as we know it did not end in 1999, nor did it end in 2000. At the time was was (and actually still am) a student of wilderness survival skills and primitive technology…. not because I thought/think the world is going to end, but because at that time I went camping a lot with my family felt I should know about how to get along in the woods the way my ancestors did in case my modern gear broke down or was lost. These days I simply find value in doing things the old fashioned way. It’s fun and when the power goes out, or the gas and water stop flowing from the Public Utilities, I find myself just as comfortable cooking over a wood fire and coals on the patio in my fire-pit, reading by the light of candles and oil lamps, and warmed by long-johns and wool blankets at night with occasional cat curled up next to me on the bed. It’s been 21 years since I began my studies, and in all that time the world as we know it has not ended.

    This year on the 21st, we are having our Third Annual End Of The World Sale at work, we are raffling off 2 large stuffed animals to raise money for our local Pet Adoption Center, and hosting an informal party at the store… there will be Twinkies served. Being both sarcastic and optimistic sorts, we also have a “We Survived The End Of The World” party planned on Dec. 22nd.

    My only real concern is not that the world really is going to end, but that irrational and ignorant mobs who believe they are about to die are going to decide it’s the perfect opportunity to riot and loot stores (because they’re really going to need a Flat-Screen HDTV after the Apocalypse when there’s no electricity and no TV stations to broadcast anything). It seems that the Los Angles area will riot at the drop of a hat in particular….I remember the riots at the Rodney King verdict (understandalbe but still an inappropriate response to a bad decision by the judge I thought, just my opinion), but then there have been “riots” after the Raiders lost a game…..or The Lakers……or some neighborhood’s favorite team…..now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a riot because The Mighty Ducks lost. Maybe Hockey Fans get their aggression out during the game instead of after it. Anyway, I don’t live in L.A. but I’m close enough to worry about it….slightly. There are enough sports bars around where I work that Monday Night Football worries me more than “The End Of The World.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/sage.blackthorn Sage Blackthorn

      P.S.

      I laughed hysterically watching “2012″ when California “broke” along the San Andreas fault and slid in to the Pacific Ocean. I swear the writers must’ve made a bet to see how many disaster cliche’s they could cram in to that movie. If Hollywood makes another End Of The World film, I’m voting that they turn S.M. Stirling’s “The Change” novels into a series if for no other reason that some of the characters are based on people I know (Juniper MacKenzie, for example was modeled after Singer/Songwriter Heather Alexander)

  • http://cognitionfactor.net/ Schwann

    12 Part movie series featuring Terence Mckenna, one of the original progenitors of the Mayan 2012 link – http://cognitionfactor.net/tmom2012.html

  • Y2KBABY

    Dear Jason, I have recently became a pagan and I was wondering if our elements had anything to do with this whole 2012 thing. I am the Earth element and I was born on 12-31-99 (aka Y2K) and lately have been feeling really strange. When I go hiking I feel the sudden urge to run and climb trees. I pick up huge logs and smash them to bits, and when I run I feel like i’m floating. My body temp is about a constant 97 degreesF, and I have the vascular disease were i don’t get that much blood flow in my body so it make my arms and legs feel like blocks of ice, and the past few days I have only slept for about 3 hours and I never get tried. So, sorry for going into so nuch detail but do the elements make a difference?

  • rchurch

    I agree with the view that the world is not going to end. People always take things in a way which makes it seem worse. You don’t see people worrying every new years eve that the world is going to end (other than the millennium) just because our calendar is ending. Calendars are part of a cycle and when they end they start again at the beginning.

  • UKVamp

    maybe they ran out of space on the stone they were carving it on?

  • Gopal

    here is an interesting reply of the founder of a hare krishna movement, Srila Prabhupada, about a similar idea presented to him, I am not posting this so that you all do the same, although you certainly could, as this is a universal thing to do, but you could draw a similar conclusion and carry one with what you are doing on your path… so here you are:

    “Regarding your prediction of cataclysmic earthquakes in this side of your country, your fear of my life is certainly natural. I was pet child of my father whom I lost in 1930, and since then nobody was taking care of me as affectionate son. But Krishna has sent me so many fathers to take care of me in a far distant place in USA. So I am fortunate enough that you are all so anxious, but we must always depend on Krishna. Rest assured that this nonsense idea of cataclysmic earthquakes will never take place. And even if it takes place, why should we be afraid of it? As soon as there is sign of such earthquake, we shall sit down together and chant Hare Krishna. So it will be a great opportunity of meeting death while chanting Hare Krishna. If one dies on sound condition of body and mind chanting Hare Krishna, he is the most fortunate man. There is a proverb in which it is said, “My dear royal prince, please do not die. My dear Brahmacari, you die immediately. My dear saintly person, you die or live it is all the same. My dear butcher, you do not die and do not live.” So we are neither butcher nor royal prince, some of us are Brahmacaris, and some of us are supposed to be saintly persons, so if the Brahmacaris die, he immediately goes to Vaikuntha, and if the saintly person dies, he is all the same—he is engaged here in Krishna’s work, and he will be engaged in Krishna’s work there also. So don’t bother about this earthquake business. Chant Hare Krishna peacefully and do your duty nicely.”

    Letter to: Rayarama — Los Angeles 19 November, 1968

  • http://www.moykrest.ru/ Andrew Esipov

    And there shall be signs in sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows; men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh.” http://www.moykrest.ru/


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