Malmstrom / Jenkins exchange, May-July 2006

Exchange with Vincent Malmstrom, regarding his critique of one of my articles

I became aware of Malmstrom's critique of my work through Robert Sitler's essay published in Nova Religio. I sent an email to Robert in May, 2006:

Hi Robert,

Well, your questing has brought out the interesting development of the Tortuguero Monument 6 --- it's recent translation if not it's status as an "open secret." The section you have on your website is only the part that David translated. I wonder if we should be more curious about what the rest of the Monument says. I wonder if you could ask David to translate it, since he doesn't seem to respond to my threads?

I wrote a brief Web page summarizing some of my thoughts as I researched Bolon Yokte. You might find some of my obervations interesting--- it is here:
http://www.alignment2012.com/bolon-yokte.html

I did finally go to CU library Boulder and found Nova Religio. You had asked me if I might concur with one of your colleagues that it seemed like you were being an apologist. Having read it twice, I don't think so. Your characterization of my work as at least a few notches above the New Age stuff is simply an accurate assessment. I think to frame my research as a perspective that could easily lend fuel to New Age fires --- without that really being my intention --- was an honest and fair distinction to make. Whatever kudos might be found in your assessment was balanced with the mention of Milbrath's and Aveni's thumbs down judgment. Not to mention Malmstrom's vitriolic pdf tirade --- I didn't even know that existed, how did you find it? After reading it, I think it should be rather embarrassing for him, considering he presumed to judge my entire output based on a brief piece that was edited by a third person and truncated for a newsletter. And by stating in his title that the astronomical alignment of 2012 is a "non-event" is so typical, and gives a completely wrong impression. I've seen his kind of analysis of the alignment a dozen times. By invoking a precise definition of the galactic center as an abstract point, and ignoring the fact that to naked eye skywatchers it was a large "nuclear bulge", critics appear to triumph in their denunciation of the alignment as having any real foundation. When I try to point out that the dark-rift and the sacred tree cross was the target, they evade and divert. I have email exchanges with Susan Milbrath that leads down similar pathways. The only feedback I've had from Aveni is that he "was led to new insights" by the paper I sent him in 1996 (it became chapter 10 in Maya Cosmogenesis 2012). Also, you could have mentioned the appendix in my book in which I addressed "Precessional Knowledge in Mesoamerica: In The Literature" (drawing from Brotherston, Hunt, and a compelling quote by Aveni himself!). Anyway, thank you for the honest framing of my work; I know your article addressed the broader sociological phenomena of 2012 and so couldn't dwell on details. And it was nice of you to mention Geoff Stray's book too, since he really did survey the spectrum of 2012iana quite thoroughly.

I forgot I was sending you a DVD; sorry, I get overwhelmed by all the plates I'm trying to keep spinning.

Best wishes,

John

I sent an email to Malmstrom around May 10. It was brief and introdcutory, inviting dialogue. Malmstrom's letter in response to my email of mid-May (after I read his pdf critique of my article in the IMS newsletter):

Dear John,

First off, let me say that I have no more of a « personal » axe to grind with you than I did with the Böhm brothers, with whom I have recently had a « dialog » as well. I am quite ready to believe that you are a perfectly decent, well-intentioned human being who is not out to consciously deceive the public any more than the Böhms are, and I am not for a moment suggesting that you are in the class of such individuals as the South Korean would-be cloner or even Jeffrey Skillings or Kenneth Lay of Enron.

However, I do find it unfortunate that the initial « inspiration » for your ideas concerning the year 2012 stemmed from Edmundson and Bricker, both of whom automatically and, perhaps quite inadvertently, fell into « the Mayas were astrologers, not astronomers » camp when they embraced Thompson's revised correlation. Ironically, this meant that looking for an astronomical significance to anything that the Mayas did became not only fruitless but totally coincidental at best. What is even more far-fetched is Edmundson's notion (taken from Bricker) that the Mayas were attempting to commemorate an event that would « supposedly » occur on the winter solstice nearly two and a half millennia after the beginning of a time-count whose origin was completely artificial in itself. (I say « supposedly » because I found it impossible to replicate the event which you hypothesized was the reason for their calculation in the first place. Without the means of replicating a measurement or an observation, it must remain solely an idea, « original » and « daring » as it may be, but it is not a provable fact. I raise the same skepticism about the work of most « art historians », because there is no verifiable way of proving that their interpretations of a given depiction are correct or not, i.e. your « birth canal » analogy.) Indeed, in a « dialog » with a professional astronomer, he likewise raised the same questions I had asked myself : if your explanation is correct, why and how could the Mayas have made such a determination, especially in view of the fact that they didn't even know the earth was round or that it rotated on its axis or that it was part of a solar system that itself was part of the cosmos, etc, etc. Indeed, my research has shown that the Maya, marvellous as their civilization was , were still struggling to successfully predict eclipses at the end of their existence, much less anything more involved. Therefore, ascribing such « far out » capabilities to the Mayas as you did in your book is a totally unwarranted leap of faith into the unknown in my opinion, and one which borders on the « realities » of von Däniken if I may say so ­ science fiction, at its best., or worst, depending on how one wishes to characterize it.
Anyone who puts such ideas into print unfortunately must be prepared to face the « peer review » of others who may be less kind than I have tried to be in my assessement. As I pointed out in my article, while it gave me no special pleasure to point out the fallacy of your arguments, not to have done so would have been intellectually dishonest on my part.

Sincerely,

Vincent H. Malmström

 

From: John Major Jenkins [kahib@ix.netcom.com]
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 9:36 PM
To: 'Vincent H. Malmstrom'
Subject: RE: Your assessment of 2012

Dear Vincent,

 

Your recent email became viewable only when I switched back to MS Outlook, so I apologize for the delay. I don’t have my earlier email to you at hand. The general problem that often comes up when I begin a dialogue with someone who has provided a critique or “peer” review, is that I don’t find my actual arguments being addressed, nor the evidence I bring to the table. Instead, either a straw man with little resemblance to my position is erected and summarily torched, or pot-shots are taken at other suppositions that are not related to my approach or my statements. For example, I have pointed out specific evidence that the Maya (specifically, those involved in the documenting of the Popol Vuh in the 1550s) thought of the region of the galactic center (the rather large ‘nuclear bulge’, not the astronomically precise point that astronomers like to invoke) as a center and birth-place. The evidence comes directly from the Popol Vuh itself, the astronomical content of which was elucidated nicely by Dennis Tedlock. This evidence is the tip of the iceberg, but should illustrate for you my approach to documenting my arguments. I believe I sent you the link to my brief webpage that outlines this particular approach  (http://www.alignment2012.com/openletter.htm), which happens to be the same data that was edited for the IMS newsletter; again, it was intended as a brief summation that would alert the open-minded to the possibility that something interesting could be said about the Maya’s understanding of the galactic center region. That the nuclear bulge of the Galactic Center was recognized by Maya sky-watchers is not some kind of entré into Von Daniken-think. It is a conclusion indicated by the evidence, avoided by the overly cautious minions of slow-progress in Maya studies, but is really not so surprising when the misplaced precision of modern scientism is set aside for a moment.    

 

The way to best proceed will be for me to address your comments below.   

 

-----Original Message-----
From: Vincent H. Malmstrom [mailto:Vincent.H.Malmstrom@Dartmouth.EDU]
Sent: Friday, May 19, 2006 10:00 AM
To: kahib@ix.netcom.com
Subject: Re: Your assessment of 2012

 

Dear John,

First off, let me say that I have no more of a « personal » axe to grind with you than I did with the Böhm brothers, with whom I have recently had a « dialog » as well. I am quite ready to believe that you are a perfectly decent, well-intentioned human being who is not out to consciously deceive the public any more than the Böhms are, and I am not for a moment suggesting that you are in the class of such individuals as the South Korean would-be cloner or even Jeffrey Skillings or Kenneth Lay of Enron.

However, I do find it unfortunate that the initial « inspiration » for your ideas concerning the year 2012 stemmed from Edmundson and Bricker, both of whom automatically and, perhaps quite inadvertently, fell into « the Mayas were astrologers, not astronomers » camp when they embraced Thompson's revised correlation.

 

I was already aware that the GMT-2 correlation resulted in a December 21 end date for the 13-baktun cycle. That was and is clear from basic sources, but no one in academia had said the obvious until I read Edmonson’s Book of the Year (1988).  Could a forward projection on the order of 2,000+ years that fell on a December solstice merely be a coincidence? Quite unlikely; therefore, the happenstance is a viable focus for further inquiry. I was “inspired that a renowned scholar had noticed the December 21 date and had said something common sense about it, and that he was not alone in that Bricker had brought it up to him.  

 

Ironically, this meant that looking for an astronomical significance to anything that the Mayas did became not only fruitless but totally coincidental at best. What is even more far-fetched is Edmundson's notion (taken from Bricker) that the Mayas were attempting to commemorate an event that would « supposedly » occur on the winter solstice nearly two and a half millennia after the beginning of a time-count whose origin was completely artificial in itself.

 

The first notion that comes up when one approaches the “supposed” relevance of 13.0.0.0.0 falling on a December solstice is the consideration of why such a placement would be important. The answer is that the December solstice, of all the seasonal quarters, is the one that ends and begins a cycle (the year cycle). Thus, it is meaningful for the Maya to have intentionally placed their era-ending on a December (winter) solstice as well. This logical sequence should illustrate for you that the investigative process I’ve followed is not a willy-nilly smorgasbord of trivia and facts.  Also, we should remember that Thompson (who, by the way, seems so maligned by a certain age-specific demographic of scholars) was only verifying the earlier work by Joseph T Goodman. Thompson’s autocratic rule over hieroglyphic decipherment should not be applied to the correlation question. To his credit, he ate crow and re-examined his earlier 584285 correlation when ethnographic data from the Guatemala Highlands came in. The interdisciplinary mandate was for him held high, and he knew that the surviving 260-day calendar provided an unbroken secondary test for any proposed correlation. 13.0.0.0.0 must fall on 4 Ahau, and the count followed by modern daykeepers could verify it. And it did when the shift to 584283 was accepted; thus 13.0.0.0.0 = December 21, 2012 = 4 Ahau. I’ve dealt with Lounsbury’s 2-day shift argument elsewhere and side with Tedlock and Carlson on its irrelevance.

 

(I say « supposedly » because I found it impossible to replicate the event which you hypothesized was the reason for their calculation in the first place. Without the means of replicating a measurement or an observation, it must remain solely an idea, « original » and « daring » as it may be, but it is not a provable fact. I raise the same skepticism about the work of most « art historians », because there is no verifiable way of proving that their interpretations of a given depiction are correct or not, i.e. your « birth canal » analogy.)

 

But there is a way of verifying whether or not the alignment of the December solstice sun with the Milky Way & Dark Rift is relevant and/or meaningful in terms of Maya concepts. That is to ask: do the astronomical features associated with the era-2012 alignment have any place in Maya symbolism, eschatology, and mythology? The answer is Yes, they are front and center. The Dark Rift speaks to the Hero Twins in the Popol Vuh (it is a mouth). One Hunahpu’s head is hung in the “crook of the calabash tree” and he impregants blood Moon from there (it is a conception place). The Dark Rift as “door to underworld” is cognate with caves, temple doorways, monster mouths, and birth canals. The Crossroads (of Milky Way and ecliptic) targets the place where the December solstice sun will be in era-2012; crosses denote the “cosmic center” concept and occur on thrones, where king shamans symbolically “birth” new vision and energy. The richly interwoven paradigm that is implied by the end-date alignment is actually deeply embedded in Mayan symbolism and traditions (not least of which is the ball game). The value of my approach comes from the interdisciplinary methodology I employ. A few scattered lines of evidence might be dismissed, but the spectrum of evidence is much greater.

 

Granted, the arguments that art historians or symbolist philosophers might bring to bear on elucidating the content of art motifs are surely not susceptible to the same kind of rigorous proofs that mathematicians or other hard scientists employ. That doesn’t mean that meaningful associations and connections cannot be illustrated. If the work of mythographers and art historians such as Ananda Coomaraswamy were labeled “bad science” wholesale, then integrative and pioneering thinkers like Joseph Campbell must be severely deluded. I think your thoughts here speak only for your preference for literal proof, which is fine in certain arenas of scientific investigation, but inappropriate for the work of reconstructing an ancient cosmology and paradigm. But sure, I acknowledge that however much evidence I put on the table, there will always be those who say “irrelevant” or “fallacious”. But, in the end, I believe this judgment is based on a criteria of the modern mind misplaced and projected back onto an ancient culture. Coomaraswamy, for example, investigated the perennial principles and concepts that underlie all religions. They were there to compare and contrast; the demonstration of direct trans-oceanic contact was not necessary to appreciate the similarities. But by your reasoning, such comparative mythology would be fallacious because Coomaraswamy never showed how Hindu priests traveled to the Hopi lands to teach or obtain the similar ceremonial symbolism they share.   

 

Indeed, in a « dialog » with a professional astronomer, he likewise raised the same questions I had asked myself : if your explanation is correct, why and how could the Mayas have made such a determination, especially in view of the fact that they didn't even know the earth was round or that it rotated on its axis or that it was part of a solar system that itself was part of the cosmos, etc, etc.

 

This gets back to your earlier criteria that we must determine the method by which precession and the projection to the future alignment was accomplished. I don’t believe that determining the method is critical. A good reality check, however, is certainly to assess whether or not they could have, using naked eye astronomy. When we look at what Hipparchus achieved in 128 BC, the answer is yes. We should also take to heart the work done by Marion Popenoe Hatch indicating precessional realignments at La Venta circa 1000 BC.

 

My approach has been to investigate whether or not the astronomical features associated with the era-2012 alignment are present and meaningful in Maya traditions, cosmology, and mythology. If they are, and if we can identify symbolic representations that indicate the December solstice sun deity being born from the Dark Rift cleft — a picture of the era-2012 alignment — then we’ve gone a long way to proving that the alignment is the intended target and the reason why era-2012 was chosen. And we’ve done it without demonstrating the methodology. (I boldly say “chosen” because the positioning of 13.0.0.0.0 on December 21, 2012 is either intentional or an incredible coincidence; the latter seems unlikely.)

 

I must also assert that Dr Strous’s denunciation of my theory revolved not around the methodology of precessional calculation, but by way of an intellectually dishonest misquoting of the definition of the alignment. As I wrote in my rebuttal, Strous had left out the specific qualifier “December solstice” when he wrote (I’m paraphrasing) that “some writers believe the sun lines up with the galaxy in 2012, but the sun crosses through the galaxy twice a year in any era.” In other words, ha! there is no alignment in 2012. The simple analogy I made to illustrate why Strous is playing word games here, is that if I said “crab apples are bitter” everyone would agree. But if Strous said that I stated that “apples are bitter,” then he apparently triumphs. I’m actually quite surprised that a professional would engage in such a dishonest deception; but then again Strous seemed unaware of the basic fundamentals of the Maya calendar.   

 

Indeed, my research has shown that the Maya, marvellous as their civilization was , were still struggling to successfully predict eclipses at the end of their existence, much less anything more involved. Therefore, ascribing such « far out » capabilities

 

[Please be specific. An awareness of precession, an ability to make a decent forward calculation, and an awareness of the “nuclear bulge” of the galactic center as a center and birthplace, are the main points that my theory requires. Are those really all that far out? The questions that arise when considering these things have been addressed in my books, with intellectual honesty and without making hyperbolic and declarative statements. I wanted to put things on the table for “peer” review and to engage in honest dialogue, and it’s been a slow road with many byways preventing actually getting into the meat of the evidence]   

 

to the Mayas as you did in your book is a totally unwarranted leap of faith into the unknown in my opinion, and one which borders on the « realities » of von Däniken if I may say so ­ science fiction, at its best., or worst, depending on how one wishes to characterize it.
Anyone who puts such ideas into print unfortunately must be prepared to face the « peer review » of others who may be less kind than I have tried to be in my assessement. As I pointed out in my article, while it gave me no special pleasure to point out the fallacy of your arguments, not to have done so would have been intellectually dishonest on my part.

 

What I found so egregious about your “review” was that you thrashed an edited, brief, summation written for general readership, presuming that you had been apprised of the entire body of my work. And even in doing so, you didn’t even address the simple evidence mentioned in the piece. For example, that the cross of the Milky Way and the ecliptic is a viable concept in Maya thought, that it targets the nuclear bulge of the galactic center, that the xibalba be dark-rift is likewise an important concept in Maya mythology --- in short, that the astronomical features involved in my theory are meaningful and centrally important concepts in Maya creation mythology. So here we are back at the beginning. I do appreciate you taking the time to have this dialogue, and we should remember that we share an interest in Izapa, an amazing place, no? We haven’t even gotten into that part of the work --- do you believe that Stela 25 represents the Milky Way and the Big Dipper? Or no?

 

My approach to Izapa may similarly seem obscure or fallacious to you, but I find it amusing, and significant, that Looper and Kappelman have recently tread some ground (with Izapa’s astronomical symbolism) that I covered in my own research years ago --- probably without direct influence from my work, but it shows that my own work may not be so “far out” as you suppose, but perhaps just a few steps ahead. Best wishes,

 

John Major Jenkins

http://alignment2012.com

 

Sincerely,
Vincent H. Malmström

-----------------------

This was the extent of our exchange.

Note from JMJ. I don't have the original email I sent to Malmstrom (in mid-May), after I read his pdf critique (M-32.pdf). It was a brief and cordial suggestion that he look more deeply at my work, rather than spin out an irate slam based on one small article. I provided links. His reponse is above, to which I responded in late June, 2006.