As we approach the year 2012, there is an increasing amount of interest online about the ancient Mayan Calendar; about its connection with Dec 21, 2012; and about it somehow heralding the end of the world as we know it. All of this is very sad and disturbing. Mainly because it is not right. Today's post has nothing to do with climate change or global warming, but it does have a lot to do with hope.
The Mayan Long Count Calendar is an amazing achievement of math and astronomy that was formulated in 500BCE, with a start date in 3114BCE. To understand the magnificence of this complex time counter, one must first appreciate the concept of equinoctal precession, which is what the entire Long Count Calendar is based on. Imagine that you wish to measure time, not time based on the earth's revolutions around the sun with its divisions of night and day; or the time measured from the moon's gravitational pull on the oceans' tides (the Mayans measured both of these in separate calendars), but ultimate time, insofar as a mere human can manage.
With enough understanding of precession, even very early civilisations had the tools to reach out to a center much further away than our small sun, to the galactic center, giving them the ability to measure time based on how our planet transits around the center of the Milky Way. The Mayan Long Count Calendar perfects our limited concept of time onto a scale of enormous proportions. Equinoctal precession is the movement of the constellations across the earth's skies over vast periods of time. Each constellation is considered an 'age', as the stars of that constellation take approximately 2,150 years to crest the horizon, transit the heavens and then disappear again on the far horizon, slowly ushering in the new 'age' behind it. Twelve constellations mark twelve 'ages', and the total amount of earthly time for the entire course of the constellations to complete a full circuit of precession is approximately 25,800 years. Early civilisations such as the ancient Egyptians, Hittites, Babylonians and even more ancient and obscure civilisations such as those being uncovered at Gobekli Tepe, Turkey were deeply aware of the precession of the equinoxes, so much so that their empires marked their temples, statues, bas reliefs and gods by the constellation dominating their heavens.
The Mayans devised the Long Count Calendar using their observations of axial precession and the movements of the heavens purely by continuously observing the heavens over time and seeing a grand pattern playing out before them. This grand pattern was programmed into the elegant movable device shown at the top of this post. The beauty of this creation is that it is has no beginning or end. It is circular, demonstrating the endlessness of time. And here is where we find hope. Here is where we divert from the lie that the 13th bak'tun represents the planet's destruction by natural causes on Dec 21, 2012.
The Long Count Calendar has five cycles within it, each 5,128 years in length, once all five have completed and returned to the 'beginning' the device will have completed a Grand Cycle of 25,625 years (or just short of a complete revolution of precession - the earth's wobble can cause discrepancies in constellation time).
Within each cycle are 12 full bak'tuns of 427 years. The first day of the 13th bak'tun representing the simultaneous ending of the preceeding cycle and the beginning of the next one. The Mayan calendar was created in 500 BCE and backdated to commence in 3114 BCE, therefore on Dec 21, 2012 we are only reaching the end of the first of the five cycles. There is nothing about this change that should give us reason for fear. Rather since man has waited over 5,000 years to experience this shift in cycles, this gives us profound reason to be curious, to be intrigued, and to be observant.
The Mayans created this device from observing the heavens, therefore these five cyclical divisions are of importance primarily on a galactic level. To assume this galactic calendar is earth-centric would be the equivalent of the fallacious medieval assumption that the sun orbited the earth. The more we discover about the universe, the more we realise that events do not revolve around earth, rather that we are part of something much larger. While it is true that what happens in the heavens shall affect the planets 'below', the idea of our little insignificant planet (although beautiful and precious to us) will tear apart on Dec 21, 2012 and enter into oblivion seems somewhat defeating of the purpose of making such a timeless calendar in the first place. If this is the case, what shall happen on 7040 when the 13th bak'tun of the second cycle occurs? Or 12,268 at the end of the third; or 17,396 which ends the fourth? But let us consider 22,524 when the final cycle completes and the Grand Cycle finishes its first complete revolution, surely the ending of this cycle shall mark the end of all things more than any other? Or perhaps even this Grand Cycle is merely just the changing over of one enormous passage of time to another. How many of these Grand Cycles are needed to completely circuit the center of the galaxy? And if our planet could exist that long, what would that one cycle be called? A Galactic Cycle? Demonstrating the calendar in this way gives one reason to pause. Drawing a line at a certain point in time may be arbitrary, but is necessary simply to create portions of measurable time, not to predict the end of all things.
This device was never crafted to incite fear, it is a gift of knowledge, an item Mayan elders have used to portray allegorical cycles of spiritual development in humans with each cycle and bak'tun representing particular stages of advancement. Whether the creators made this device for such religious purposes, or whether it was made by astronomers for astronomers and the shaman of the times saw an allegorical connection to it, we will never know. What we do know is that we are on the brink of something amazing, profound and galactic. We are - for the first time in the entire recorded history of man - going to experience something that only happens once every 5,128 years. That is not something to fear. That is something to celebrate.
We live in amazing times. Embrace them. And live without fear.
Originally published on Paradigms Bend July 5 2011