2012: Don't call it the Apocalypse

John Mayor Jenkins has written extensively on the 2012 alignment, work he believes is being misrepresented.

There's been growing media coverage of the widely anticipated 12/21/2012 date – which marks the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar, a rare Winter Solstice galactic alignment, and associated New Age predictions – with journalists and skeptics scoffing at doomsday predictions that it will trigger the apocalypse.

Yet as I've researched the prophecies, predictions, and possibilities associated with 2012, it seems that the only significant people offering up such end-of-days views are those seeking to mock them, shoot them down, or whip up hysteria. And nobody is feeling more frustration over this straw man media hype than author/researcher John Major Jenkins, who has written more about the significance of this date than anyone.

Before Jenkins would even let me interview him, he had me read the “Guide to 2012” that he prepared for those interested in writing about the subject, which he begins by reinforcing the accuracy of the 12/21/2012 date and clarifying its significance. “The doomsday assumption is not found in Maya tradition,” wrote Jenkins, who has researched the subject for 25 years and written nearly a dozen books on Mayan cosmology and beliefs. “The evidence indicates that Maya concept for cycle endings (such as 2012) is transformation and renewal.”

That idea – that we're leaving an age focused on competition and consumption and entering an era of greater cooperation and connection – has been emphasized by everyone that I've interviewed on the concept. That includes New Age authors, a professor who studied Mayan folklore, political activists seeking a shift now to avoid real ecological and economic catastrophes later, and astrologers focused on the alignment of the earth, sun, and dark center of the Milky Way for the first time in 13,000 years (when that alignment occurred on the Summer Solstice, double that period for the last time it appeared this way on the longest night of the year, which some view as a more significant catalyst for change).

“I feel like the collective has been unable to receive the basic message I've been trying to give,” Jenkins told me, a hint of irritation in his voice as he recounted his painstaking research into Mayan artifacts and beliefs, the significance of which lies largely with their connection to the natural world that many modern people have lost. “That doesn't seem to be what the collective wants or what the mainstream media want to say.”

Jenkins expresses almost equal frustration with those who seek to discredit or misrepresent his work as he does with those who have appropriated it for their own political or self-aggrandizing purposes. “We don't know what's going to happen,” he said. “We've been filtering 2012 through this kind of Nostradamus lens.”

Yet beyond his main point of simply understanding and honoring the Mayan people, Jenkins does hope that people use this moment as a prompt to create a transformation in global consciousness: “The challenge is for us to engage in and participate in the world in a more sustainable way and get past the domination mode.” And by "moment," Jenkins and others emphasize that 12/21/2012 is the peak of moment lasting weeks, months, or years, depending on people's perspectives.

Rob Brezsny, the San Rafael resident whose down-to-earth Free Will Astrology column has been printed in alt-weeklies throughout the country for decades, told us he respects Jenkins' work and sympathizes with his current plight. “He gets it from both sides,” Brezsny said, noting how Jenkins gets attacked by both the skeptics and true believers.

Brenzsny is also a little skeptical about all the hype and focused hope surrounding 2012 – mostly because he thinks such magical thinking discounts the need for the long, hard work involved in either spiritual or political transformations – but he does believe in the importance of markers and rituals like those associated with the 12/21/2012 date.

“I think most people these days understand that how the world proceeds is through spectacles,” Brezsny told me. “The activists believe this may be a good moment, a good excuse to have a transformational ritual and to take advantage of this time. We need transformational rituals...Rituals have been a way to marshal our emotional and spiritual resources.”

Both Jenkins and Brezsny acknowledge the difficulty, even the danger, of relying too much on this moment to spark the sociopolitical renewal the world needs. “It's a complex phenomenon as far as cultural change, and the recognition that things need to be done differently,” Jenkins said.

Yet Brezsny said that to achieve the kind of fundamental transformation that humans need to address issues like global warming and the mass extinctions now underway, that begins with a personal awakening and realization of our connection to one another and the planet. We need to set aside our egos and selfish desires, listen to one another, regain our connection to the natural world, and learn to work together. As Brezsny said, “For me, so much of what the revolution is about is how we treat each other moment to moment.”

These are just two of the dozens of sources that I've been interviewing about the 2012 predictions and possibilities, which I'll take an in-depth look at from a variety of perspectives for the Guardian's long Dec. 19 cover story (we'll also include listings and other resources for how to spend that much-anticipated moment, such as the World Unity 2012 online hub).

Then I'll be traveling through Mayan country in the Yucatan from Dec. 17-23, interviewing fellow pilgrims and wisdom keepers, visiting Tulum and other significant sites, and attending the Synthesis Festival in Chichen Itza, Mexico (and perhaps the Day Zero Festival in Playa del Carmen), so I hope you'll follow along with my regular postings on this site. See you on the other side.


We just dismissed it as an artful flight of whimsy from the most whacked-out, quirky SFBG writer. But two?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

wisdom keepers,

Posted by matlock on Dec. 07, 2012 @ 11:49 pm

Those last couple of paragraphs read like the Freak Brothers trip to Mexico.

Posted by matlock on Dec. 07, 2012 @ 7:44 pm

If the transformation will turn us into self pitying victims of our own drug use and bogus writings, like Jenkins, then leave me out.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 08, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

then I'd be pleased, but I firmly believe it is far more likely that man might learn to control the stars rather than the other way around.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 08, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

Why is the left so intolerant that they cannot even accept criticism without resorting to insults?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 08, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

and very angry. He seems to have a sad little life and is very resentful it's all turned out this way for him.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 08, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

Thanks, Steven. As you allude to in your article, this shift/transformation has been happening for some time. People are also (including me) reinventing themselves simply on account of the tough economic times we find ourselves in...coincidence or part of the grand scheme? Wasn't the Occupy movement born of this unease as well, and isn't President Obama trying (not sure how successfully) to articulate its message now to the recalcitrant Republicans? To the extent that he is successful in changing their world-view, I think that is also a sign of the times. I hope he can articulate a "larger-view" on the subject---a moral view on the subject like Elizabeth Warren does so well, and also George Lakoff, who has recently spoken of it.

That problem—the one of the fact that there are some leaders who think it OK to hoard such ungodly sums of money all to themselves—is a symptom, in my opinion, of the old guard, the belief that it represents freedom...but it is a narrow view of the world--and a false one that is dying. The larger view—the one being born—is that we are all connected, as you wrote about. If you have millions of people who are poor and not making it, it affects the well being of the rich. I hope we get a leader who can articulate this well for all to see, but in the meantime, we are all leaders, and our voices just serve to magnify this new reality, strengthen the message through repetition because, as we all know...old habits die hard.

But of course things are changing. In the grand scheme of things, one could say that something started with the first photographs of planet earth from space—the visual depiction of a beautiful circle of life.

Anyway, I'll be following you, and jealous of your trip. If I weren't a visual artist, I think I might've been either an archaeologist or a journalist, so...happy travels! Let us know what kind of chocolate they have down there!

Posted by Daniele E. on Dec. 09, 2012 @ 8:03 am

This dude said it well:

If you want to awaken
all of humanity,
then awaken
all of yourself.

If you want to eliminate
the suffering in
the world, then
eliminate all that is dark
and negative in yourself.

Truly, the greatest gift
you have to
give is that of your
own self-transformation.
Lao Tzu

Posted by Daniele E. on Dec. 09, 2012 @ 8:17 am

"Then I'll be traveling through Mayan country in the Yucatan from Dec. 17-23, interviewing fellow pilgrims and wisdom keepers, visiting Tulum and other significant sites, and attending the Synthesis Festival in Chichen Itza, Mexico (and perhaps the Day Zero Festival in Playa del Carmen), so I hope you'll follow along with my regular postings on this site. See you on the other side."

Steven, I've found that the Riviera Maya was much more enjoyable back before it was a Riviera and back when there were still Maya around.

Playa del Carmen is a second string Cancun for Jersey Shore rubes who cannot afford Cancun. Avoid PdelC at all costs. We went there in the early 90s when the population was 5000 and had sand streets, we had an amazing cabaña on the beach for like $15/nite but now it is hideously overdeveloped and disgusting. Try Xpu-Ha a few klicks down MX-307 for a more relaxing old school Mexican Caribbean beach spot.

Also, Isla Holbox at the northeastern tip of the peninsula near where Quntana Roo meets Yucatan state and the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean is awesome. There are virtually no autos on the island, still has sand streets, most travel is via scooter or golf cart. You can walk for hours along white sand beaches into the wilderness. Bien tranquilo.

Tulum, likewise, has been gentrified beyond recognition. Used to be you could get a cheap shack on the beach for $1 but those days are long gone. Last time we were there, we got a nice beachside contemporary "cabana" [sic] for like $180/mo.

A quick trip to Cobá north and east of Tulum is essential for bike riding down the sacbeob between pyramids.

The Golden Rule of Ruins is to arrive early in the morning, at the moment they open up the facility so as to avoid the tour bus day trippers and to have a better shot at seeing wildlife. This is impossible at Chichen Itza which, like Tulum, is still worth seeing even for all of the overload.

One favorite is Uxmal and the Puuc culture in the southwest corner of Yucatan state near the Campeche border. The main Uxmal site is quite impressive architecturally, very well preserved with intricate ornamental detail with much Nahua/Teotihuacan-ish influence. There are also several lesser Puuc ruin sites in a loop in the adjacent campo. These are virtually unpopulated compared to Tulum and Chichen Itza although the obese Americans stand out like pasty white Twinkies.

Another site that I'd wanted to visit for some time but have not been able to yet is Calakmul which is at the base of the peninsula adjacent to the Guatemalan departmento of El Peten. Calakmul was Tikal's main rival city. If Calakmul is anywhere near as impressive as Tikal, it warrants a visit. Tikal was the first Mayan ruin site we visited 20 years ago as we die La Ruta Maya from Guatemala City to Tikal then via river and bus to Palenque, up to Merida, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Belieze back to Guate City. Since we'd started at the top, everything has been less impressive than Tikal, but we've gotta get back there as well as to see Calakmul.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 09, 2012 @ 9:02 am

Typo, Not $180/mo but $180/nite @ Tulum.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 09, 2012 @ 9:11 am

I've been to Calakmul and it is quite impressive, deep in the jungle, and virtually unvisited.

In 2005, we did a two week trip to the Yucatan and a little bit of Chiapas (Palenque, Yaxchilan, Bonampak). The closest we got to Cancun was Tulum and it was by far the worst place we visited--like the Disneyland of Mayan ruins, though the beach is scrumptious.

Valladolid is a nice town between Chichen Itza and Tulum. Farther west, Izamal is a small colonial wonder. Even Merida, though large and hot, merits a visit. I'm biased, of course, because I love to visit Mexico.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 09, 2012 @ 9:22 am

Yeah, we were close to Yaxchilan and Bonampak when we took the lancha down Rio de la Pasion from Santa Elena/Flores to Benemerito de las Americas and onto Palenque. That boat ride was the furthest we'd ever been from a road on the earth's surface. The "border" formalities were quite informal for lack of use.

The problem with the Yucatan is that along MX-307 they've sold narrow parcels from the highway out to the beach that get transformed into all inclusive resorts where no contact with the Mexicans is required. As you note, they are essentially disneylands that could be anywhere in the region.

We fly into Cancun because it is usually cheap, then rent a car and control our own destiny. Back in the day we'd take transit, but compared to the rest of Mexico, the Yucatan is crime free and the roads are in great shape. Along the toll road from Cancun to Merida, we did see the body of a poor spotted cat that got unlucky.

The Yucatan plays second fiddle to me, because Oaxaca and Chiapas are far and away my favorite parts of Mexico. Three things that I took away from my forced exile in Texas: lack of visceral fear of guns, love for pickup trucks and appreciation of all things Mexico.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 09, 2012 @ 9:55 am

to be able to afford to travel? I make this comment unironically, not to cast aspersions. I just appreciate my good fortune at the birth lottery. Most people on earth can't afford to travel beyond the place where they were born.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 09, 2012 @ 11:26 am

Used to be that you didn't need to afford much to travel in Mexico, especially living 4 hours from the border crossing at Laredo, but in the post-NAFTA era, much has changed.

In '86 I was able to spend $250 for a week in Zihuatenejo, Guerrero, including bus/train travel. The next year I was able to spend $750 on Afghani hash sales proceeds--probably went to the mujahadeen--for a trip from Austin to Managua and back overland. Got to meet Sandinistas Ernesto Cardinal and Tomas Borge and hear ANC leader Oliver Tambo speak at the 8th anniversary celebrations of the 1979 revolution.

I'm so glad that I was able to get to know Mexico prior to the "free trade" tsunami that swept across the countryside taking sustainable communities and agriculture with it and driving desperate youth into the cities where they've become fodder for the drug cartels.

The sad thing is that so many Americans never leave their home county much less leave the country. It is also sad that so many Americans are not fluent in English, much less another language. Fluency in Spanish has opened so many doors in Mexico, they don't expect the gringo pelón to be conversant and when I am, it breaks the ice.

The last time I was on the Oaxaca coast and making a reservation for a Sitio Playa Amor taxi to the airport the next morning ($347RT to SFO-Huatulco in October 2007 and $20/nite for a mud/thatched roof cabaña!) I was chatting up the taxista and his girlfriend. After a while they asked where I was from. I asked them where they thought I was from. They answered France. And I thought i had a tex-mex norteño accent. No, no, soy estadounidense.

International travel has given me a 3d view of our lives in the US reflected upon countless other realities that are not like ours. Mexico blew my mind when I first cross the border into Matamoros in 1980. But the realities in which people living in South Africa and India are grounded so divergent than what we know that it shines light on aspects of our realities that we've long since taken for granted and makes me question them so that I can understand both our sur/reality and that which a good 1/3 of humanity faces.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 09, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

Or has all your wealth and privilege numbed you to harsh reality of life for the other 1/3 of humanity?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

Thanks for the travel advice, guys, I'm working your tips into my still-developing plans.

Posted by steven on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 11:03 am