Thinking About 2012
(op-ed piece for news distribution)
John Major Jenkins. October 14, 2010
We have all heard something about 2012. The movie that came out last Fall triggered a lot of media attention. As the author of The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth Behind the Most Intriguing Date in History, a recent book on the topic, I found myself being interviewed for a spectrum of mainstream reports on 2012, including the Sean Hannity program on FOX, ABC Nightline, CNN, USAToday, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and a bevy of morning TV programs, radio interviews and newspaper articles. I had a chance to see reflected back to me how 2012 was being processed by the collective consciousness, filtered through the “if it bleeds it leads” news machine.
In my 25 years as an author of numerous books on the Maya calendar and cosmology, with a special focus on reconstructing what the Maya thought about 2012, I have learned how to deal with sound bytes, media filters, and schlock-jock DJs. My book, The 2012 Story, came out right in time for the 2012 movie promo carnival and explicitly addressed misconceptions in the 2012 marketplace. I had an article published in early 2009 in an updated anthology of the Disinformation Company’s You’re Still Being Lied To which laid out the specific cases of how 2012 is being mishandled by exploitative writers, arrogant professional scholars, and hook-seeking journalists. I was even invited by Sony Pictures to speak and be interviewed at two press conferences for their 2012 disaster movie, including a walk down the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere, addressing an entire panoply of reporters. I took the opportunity to jump into this pool of sharks for one reason only: to try to convey the one fact that nobody in Hollywood wants to hear. And that is: there is no evidence that the ancient Maya predicted a cataclysmic doomsday in 2012.
So, what did they say about it? Can we know anything about this? Well, to answer this question one would need to study the origins of the Long Count-2012 calendar, study the related tradition of the Creation Mythology, and also have a clear knowledge of the mechanics of the calendars as well as general knowledge about Maya epigraphy, folklore, linguistics, mythology, astronomy, archaeology, and ethnography. This would be a tall order for any grad student working towards a degree. It would also be a tall order for a degreed scholar busy grading papers and worrying about tenure. Unfortunately, the very mention of “2012” has for many years been associated by academics with New Age silliness and it has been a hands-off topic for scholars until very recently.1
The years of research required for understanding the authentic origins of the 2012 date in the Maya calendar tradition would have had to have been taken up by some eccentric character driven by the desire for knowledge, ahead of the academic status-quo curve and able to venture beyond the cutting edge, where professional scholars fear to tread. That’s where I come in. Since 1985 I’ve had 2012 on my radar as a perplexing enigma. After my first three books, my goal was to reconstruct or figure out what kind of intentionality might underlie the 2012 date. It was clear that something funny was going on, because the period ending in 2012 fell on a solstice. This circumstance strongly suggests that the creators of the calendar wanted 2012 to fall on the solstice, meaning it was an intentional artifact. By 1993 I was pursuing a possible explanation, a rare astronomical alignment that actually utilized celestial features at the center of the Maya Creation Mythology. The breakthrough for me came in 1994, when I made unprecedented connections between astronomy and Maya mythology and showed how the astronomical alignment was embedded into Maya institutions such as the ballgame, the Creation Myth, and king making rites. And, I should emphasize, there was no expectation by the Maya of an apocalyptic doomsday. Rather, an ideology of transformation and renewal was highlighted in the authentic Maya material that was associated with all period endings, including 2012.
As my work seeped out into the collective field of discussion, the details and documentation of my work and the no-doomsday evidence was left at the door while my work on the 2012 alignment astronomy was adopted and enslaved to all manner of ideas that I would never endorse. And thus we have, today, an incredibly messy stew of 2012 disinformation that I won’t claim responsibility for, but which appears to emanate from my pioneering work. Thank you to [long list of names deleted, you know who you are] for not communicating with me about the true dimensions of my work, for failing to do your own diligent research into 2012, and for distorting authentic Maya tradition in the interest of selling misleading books to an unsuspecting public.
Meanwhile, the professional scholars were incapable of rationally engaging my well-documented reconstruction work, laid out in detail in my 1998 book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, and instead chose to take immature potshots at selected snippets of my statements, culled from a wide variety of sources and forced via clever polemics out of context. Time and again they neglected to observe that my ideas derived from studying the early Maya site of Izapa, the origin place of the Long Count. What better way to discover the original beliefs and teachings than to go to the source? Here’s what I found. The two basic ideas that I put on the table in the mid-1990s are as follows: The ancient Maya believed 2012 targets an astronomical alignment. In addition, this alignment scenario was packaged with an ideology, or spiritual teaching, involving world renewal facilitated by deity sacrifice. The astronomy has to do with the sun’s alignment, on the winter solstice of 2012, with the Crossroads of the Milky Way and the ecliptic in Sagittarius. This is real astronomy. It happens only once — in our own 2012 “era” — during the 26,000-year precession cycle.
In 2006, a 2012 date in the inscription of a monument from the site of Tortuguero became common knowledge. Today, as a result of research undertaken by Sven Gronemeyer and Barbara MacLeod (on the ideology), Dr. Michael Grofe and myself (on the astronomy, presented in my 2009 book The 2012 Story and in my Society for American Archaeology presentation of April, 2010), two things have become clear: 2012 was utilized by the Maya because of the astronomical alignment of the solstice sun and the Milky Way Crossroads. The ideology associated with the date involves world renewal facilitated by deity sacrifice. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s right. The ideas I put on the table 16 years ago, which I have tirelessly defended in the face of persecuting turf-protecting scholars and plagiarizing New Age pundits, was barking up the right tree. Actually, it was spot on. In other words, a 33-year-old non-degreed guy living in a small town in Colorado, a passionately engaged self-taught and self-funded student of Maya traditions working in isolation, figured out the solution to a fascinating puzzle that has implications more real and interesting than anything concocted by any of the doomsday pimps milking the marketplace.
Will the media pick up on this incredible, amazing story? Well, they failed to do so last Fall, when I laid it all out, clarified every misconception they threw at me, provided compelling sound bytes (such as: “the Maya did not predict the end of the world in 2012” and “professional Maya scholars haven’t dropped the ball on figuring out the 2012 enigma, because they never picked the ball up!”) and directed them to the facts and the truth. (For some odd reason I thought that’s what reporters were supposed to be interested in.) However, time and time again they seemed interested in reinforcing the doomsday fallacy, or in framing the story as “clueless New Age fools vs omniscient Phd-wielding Maya scholars.” A talented young reporter for the Toronto Star wrote a great piece about what the ancient Maya believed regarding period endings, but his editor nixed it and told him to write something about the 2012 movie. I educated an Associated Press reporter on what the modern Maya think about 2012, and sent him contact information for several Maya spokesman. He then used one of them to underscore what I’ve been saying for twenty years — that the Maya don’t believe 2012 is about doomsday — but then he portrayed me unfavorably, registering doubt on such a fundamental question as to whether the galactic alignment was real astronomy. This was in an Associated Press piece which, of course, received wide distribution.
We truly live today in an Idiocracy, affecting all levels of discourse. The Donkeystan-USA Collective has difficulty understanding the real 2012 story. We live in a media superstorm of illusion and stupidity, which is the death knell for getting past Maya calendar kindergarten. Sometimes I feel that the only hope for the truth about 2012 is that future digital archaeologists will sift through the data-byte debris and put the pieces together correctly. However, there are two years left before December 21, 2012. This is not a dire warning about time running out for the world. It’s a call for thinking people to be clear and discerning and set aside media hype. The real information is already in place. This time around, with the paperback release of my book in October of 2010 the real story won’t be over-shrouded by the irrational doomsday hype that the 2012 disaster movie generated. It is time to start addressing what 2012 is really about, what it meant for the ancient Maya, and why they thought the date was important.
The 2012 Story covers all angles, sweeps away the debris, and presents the latest breakthroughs in understanding why the ancient Maya chose this date which certainly is, as my subtitle states, “the most intriguing date in history.”
Notes (added August 11, 2013):
1. In fact, at the time of writing this piece (October 2010) there was only ONE source by Maya scholars that was devoted to reconstructing what the ancient Maya believed about 2012. And that was the Wayeb no. 34 monograph by Sven Gronemeyer and Barbara MacLeod, released in August of 2010. Curiously, they identified themselves as “Independent Scholars.”
This piece was written at the request of my publicist at Tarcher / Penguin, in mid-October 2010. It does not appear to ever have been used anywhere, although perhaps it was sent off to the various news outlets.