The Final Days New York Times page 2

The Final Days by Benjamin Anastas,
New York Times July 1, 2007
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Far from its origins, divorced from its context and enlisted in a

prophetic project that it may never have been designed to fulfill, the

Mayan calendar is at the center of an escalating cultural phenomenon —

with New Age roots — that unites numinous dreams of societal

transformation with the darker tropes of biblical cataclysm. To some,

2012 will bring the end of time; to others, it carries the promise of a

new beginning; to still others, 2012 provides an explanation for

troubling new realities — environmental change, for example — that seem

beyond the control of our technology and impervious to reason. Just in

time for the final five-year countdown, the Mayan apocalypse has come of



Light and darkness — heavenly forces and a corrupted earth — are the

twin engines of apocalyptic movements. For Christians awaiting rapture

or Shiites counting the days until the Twelfth Imam appears, the trials

and injustices of the known world are a prelude for the paradise that we

can imagine but can’t yet achieve. Judging by the sheer number of

predicted end dates that have come and gone without the trumpets blowing

and angels rushing in, we are a people impatient to see our world

redeemed through catastrophe — and we are always wrong. Gnostics

predicted the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom as early as the first

century; Christians in Europe attacked pagan territories in the north to

prepare for the end of the world at the first millennium; the Shakers

believed the world would end in 1792; there was a “Great Disappointment”

among followers of the Baptist preacher William Miller when Jesus did

not return to upstate New York on Oct. 22, 1844. The Jehovah’s Witnesses

have been especially prodigious with prophetic end dates: 1914, 1915,

1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994. Any religious movement with an

end-time prophecy is certain to attract followers, no matter how

maniacal or fringy (witness the Branch Davidians). For those who want to

go online and get the latest tally of bad news, there is a nuclear

Doomsday Clock and the Rapture Index. If you remember living through

Y2K, that was another millenarian moment — except our computer systems

were redeemed by the same code writers who corrupted them in the first



Who dreams of the apocalypse? Why do they dream of it? Polls indicate

that up to 50 percent of Americans believe that the Book of Revelation

is a true, prophetic document, meaning they fully expect the predictions

of “Rapture,” “Tribulation” and “Armageddon” to be fulfilled. There is a

paradox built into end-time theologies in that imminent catastrophe

often brings comfort; according to Paul S. Boyer, an authority on

prophecy belief in American culture and an emeritus professor of history

at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the apocalypse is an

appealing idea because it promises salvation to a select group — all of

whom share secret knowledge — and a world redeemed and delivered from

evil. “The Utopian dream is a big part of the Western tradition,” Boyer

told me, “both the religious and secular forms. But the wicked have to

be destroyed and evil has to be overcome for the era of righteousness to

dawn.” This is as true in the New Age as much as in any other one.

Rumors of global crisis, the distrust of institutional authority, the

ready availability of esoteric lore, the existence of individuals drawn

to abstruse numerical schemes, the urge to assuage anxieties with dreams

of social transformation — wherever these elements exist, apocalyptic

thinking is likely to flourish.


The year 2012 first entered the public consciousness two decades ago

this August with the Harmonic Convergence organized by José Arguelles,

the author of a number of esoteric books about the Mayan cosmos and his

experiences with telepathically received prophecies. With a penchant for

promotion going back to the first Whole Earth Festival in 1970, which he

organized, Arguelles promoted the convergence as an earth-changing event

requiring 144,000 participants — the number echoed Mayan mathematics and

the Book of Revelation — to free the planet from the dissonant influence

of Western science and synchronize with the “wave harmonic of history”

set to culminate in 2012. Mayan civilization, to Arguelles, was not

entirely Mayan: It was originally a “terrestrial project” managed by a

race of “galactic masters” from “star bases.” He saw the convergence as

a stage, ordained by prophecy, in a march to the end foreseen by the

ancient calendar makers: “Somewhere in that far and distant time, when

armies clashed with metal and chemicals released the fire of the Sun,

the wonder of Maya would burst again, releasing the mystery and showing

the way that marks return among the patterns of the stars.”


Large crowds, some perhaps oblivious to the apocalyptic undertones of

the event, did end up gathering at “focus locations” around the world —

Stonehenge, Mount Shasta and Bolinas in California, even Central Park

and extensive media coverage of the meditating and dancing masses lent

Arguelles and his project an eccentric authority. The New Age had

discovered its own eschatology — with a mysterious, mythical people the

controlling intelligence — and 2012 joined the lexicon of “energies,”

transcendental meditation and crystals. By 1991 Arguelles was

popularizing his own calendric system, which he branded Dreamspell, as a

corrective to our mechanized time (dismissed, in mathematical shorthand,

as “12:60,” the ratio of solar months to minutes in an hour). Inspired

by the tzolk’in, the 260-day prophetic calendar utilized by the ancient

Maya and common throughout Mesoamerica, Dreamspell functions as a daily

oracle, replacing linear time with a “loom of resonances” that users

navigate with a “galactic signature” based on the day of their birth.

More than just an astrological sign, this signature is a tool for

meditation and, as the latest edition of Arguelles’s calendar promises,

“your password in fourth-dimensional time.”


Arguelles, under the aegis of his fief, the Foundation for the Law of

Time, has lobbied tirelessly for the universal adoption of his calendar

— now called the 13-Moon 28-day Calendar — by posting communiqués on the

Web and arranging audiences with Mayan elders and members of the

Vatican. Lately he has been designing large-scale telepathic experiments

in conjunction with a Russian laboratory in Novosibirsk and other groups

affiliated with his Planet Art Network.


“The post-2012 world will be a world of universal telepathy,” Arguelles

wrote me recently from New Zealand, where he has gone to prepare for the

transition. Since 1993, when he claims to have received a new prophecy

in Hawaii, he has been calling himself Valum Votan, Closer of the Cycle.

“We’ll be literally living in a new time,” Arguelles said, “by a

13-month, 28-day synchronometer that will facilitate our telepathy by

keeping us in harmony with everything all the time. There will be a lot

fewer of us, with simple lifestyles, solar technology, garden culture

and lots of telepathic communication.” As for the many who “have not

evolved spiritually enough to know that there are other dimensions of

reality,” Arguelles predicts they will be taken away in “silver ships.”


With Arguelles drifting into even more occult realms — his last book,

“Time and the Technosphere,” spun elaborate new theories around 9/11 —

he has been supplanted in the New Age conversation by the next

generation of Mayan-calendar mystics with their own theories about the

coming transition. This new generation does not typically think that

space aliens guided the Maya and prides itself on its reverence for

Mayan culture and tradition. Carl Johan Calleman, author of “The Mayan

Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness,” is a former cancer

researcher from Sweden whose calculations have led him to a

controversial end date of his own devising: Oct. 28, 2011. As

Arguelles’s closest spiritual heir in the Mayan-calendar movement,

Calleman has been active in promoting a regular mass-meditation event

called the Breakthrough Celebration and other more focused projects

including the Jerusalem Hug, which gathered 5,000 people around the

walls of the Old City on May 21 to harness constructive energies and

create a “cascade of peace.”


While his interest in 2012 is not exclusively focused on the Mayan

calendar, Chet Snow — a past-lives regression therapist and author from

Sedona, Ariz. — tracks the impending consciousness shift on his Mass

Dreams Newsletter, organizes annual crop-circle and sacred-site tours

and gathers the disparate camps of the 2012 movement together for

conferences devoted to ancient mysteries and the paranormal.


When I asked Snow why he thought people were turning to alternative

ideas and explanations like the ones espoused at his conferences, he

told me the answer was a simple one. “The pillars of our expectations

about the future in the West have started to crumble,” he said.

“Religion, politics and economics — none of it is working any more. So

when you hear about the ancient Maya and this changeover in 2012

involving solar cycles and astronomical events, you say, ‘Huh, maybe I

need to connect with that.’ ”


If the Mayan calendar seems like an unlikely timing device for our

salvation — whether it arrives through global catastrophe or telepathic

rainbow around the earth — its animating role in the 2012 phenomenon is

entirely consistent with popular notions of the “mysterious” Maya that

have persisted for over a century. The Maya were just one of the peoples

to thrive in Mesoamerica before the Spanish conquest of the 16th

century, but the civilization’s florescence — spanning the period called

the Maya Classic, between 300 and 900 A.D. — was especially bright and

spectacular. After growing into a loose confederation of rival

city-states that spread across the Yucatan peninsula and extended as far

as Chiapas in the west and Honduras in the east, the Mayan civilization

fell into a rolling decline that ended with the almost complete

abandonment of their cities. The so-called Mayan collapse is a continued

source of speculation and a major reason why the Maya have captured the

imagination of 19th-century travelers, 20th-century archaeologists and

generations of popular fantasists who have connected the Maya to

everything from intergalactic colonies to the lost island of Atlantis to

Teutonic gods from fire-breathing spaceships. The Mayan sites attract

small armies of New Age pilgrims every year, hoping to plug into a stone

socket of timeless indigenous wisdom; tens of thousands gather for the

spring equinox at Chichén Itzá alone to watch the shadow of a snake

slither down the steps of the Temple of Kukulcin.


In the introduction to his book “Maya Cosmogenesis 2012: The True

Meaning of the Maya Calendar End Date,” John Major Jenkins describes his

first visit to Tikal, the vast ruin in the Guatemalan rain forest that

thrived as an urban center at the pinnacle of Mayan civilization.

Jenkins, perhaps the most lucid figure in the subculture of 2012

prophets, writes of the “bone-jarring 16-hour bus ride on muddy and

dangerous roads” that carried him to a “sprawling former metropolis” of

pyramids, palaces, residences, ball-courts and scores of engraved

monumental stones, or stelae, decorated with intricate, otherworldly

images and hieroglyphs.


“Sitting on the stone steps of the Central Acropolis,” Jenkins recalls,

“I looked around me at the towering sentinels of stone, their upper

platforms stretching above the jungle canopy like altars to the stars,

and I listened carefully to the wind whisper messages of a far-off time,

and of another world.”


Jenkins wasn’t the first 22-year-old traveler with spiritual yearnings

to encounter the sublime at a Mayan archaeological site, but he is one

of the few who has found a life’s vocation in the process. As

harmonically as Jenkins was struck in Guatemala by the larger mysteries

of the Maya, however, it was the calendar that really seized him —

specifically the fact that there were Maya living in the highlands who

still followed the same day count as their distant ancestors. (A common

misconception is that the Maya “disappeared” when their cities emptied;

there are six million Maya currently living in the states of Central

America, a number far larger than population estimates of Mayan

civilization during the Classic period.)


“Here was an unbroken tradition,” Jenkins told me when I went to visit

him at his home in Windsor, Colo., one afternoon in late March. We sat

in a pair of lawn chairs in the backyard while a neighbor passed back

and forth on a noisy tractor. “It’s a lineage going back 2,000 years,”

he said, oblivious to the racket. Jenkins, now 43, is difficult to

distract when talking about the Mayan calendar and 2012. After years of

working as a software engineer to support his research and writing books

and papers in his spare time, 2012 is now Jenkins’ full-time job.

Influenced by the work of the pioneering psychedelic writer Terence

McKenna — whose Timewave Zero system, based on computer analysis of the

I Ching, also shows history to be culminating on Dec. 21, 2012 — Jenkins

argues that ancient Maya “calendar priests” were able to chart a

26,000-year astronomical cycle called “the precession of the equinoxes”

with the naked eye. He fixed the 2012 end date to coincide with a

“galactic alignment” of the winter-solstice sun and the axis that modern

astonomers draw to bisect the Milky Way, called the galactic equator.


In the alchemical tradition, Jenkins notes, eclipses signify the

“transcending of the opposites.” During the period around 2012, Jenkins

says, the galaxy will provide the opportunity for the rebirth of

creation and a reconciliation of “infinity and finitude, time and

eternity.” The Maya knew it, and just like an alarm clock, they set

their calendar to coincide with the occasion.


Jenkins and his fellow travelers in the 2012 movement have chosen a

particularly arcane source of secret knowledge in Mayan calendrics. The

Maya calendar keepers are known to have charted the cycles of the moon,

the sun, Mars and Venus with an accuracy that wouldn’t be duplicated

until the modern era. Like most premodern societies, the Maya conceived

of history not as the linear passage of time but as a series of cycles —

they called them “world age cycles” — that would repeat over and over.

To capture these cycles, the Maya employed what scholars call the

long-count calendar, a five-unit computational system extending forward

and backward from their mythical creation day, which is calculated to

have fallen on either Aug. 11, 3114 B.C. or Aug. 13, 3114 B.C. All the

current hoopla is due to the mathematical fact that the current

world-age cycle on the long count, which began in Aug. 3114 B.C., is

about to reach its end, 5,126 years later, on a date given in scholarly

notation as — which falls, not quite exactly, on Dec. 21,

2012. Enter the apocalypse.


I asked Jenkins how he viewed the passing of one world-age cycle into

another in December 2012, and he paused. It was a little bit like asking

a seismologist what he thinks about earthquakes. As much as Jenkins has

made a place for himself in the 2012 discussion through his independent

research on the Maya and precession, he has made an even greater impact

by applying academic rigor to the theories of his contemporaries and

exposing, in his books and on an extensive Web site, their

inconsistencies with established Mayanist scholarship. Jenkins was the

first to reveal a major flaw in the synchronization between Arguelles’s

Dreamspell and the Mayan day count, and he has been involved in an

extensive, long-distance feud with Calleman since 2001 over their

differing approaches to interpreting the Maya and over Calleman’s belief

that the end time will be in 2011, not 2012. When I first spoke to

Jenkins on the phone, he told me, “I think of myself as leading the

charge for clarity and discernment.”


“2012 is such a profound archetype,” Jenkins went on. “Here we are five

and a half years before the date, and already there’s so much interest.

Personally, I think it’s about transformation and renewal. It’s

certainly nothing as simplistic as the end of the world.”


But what about the connection many people see between the approach of

2012 and environmental crisis? I asked. What about the popular link

between the Maya and end-time prophecy?


“A lot of people are talking about apocalypse right now,” he said, “but

there’s a deeper meditation that can and should happen around the end

date.” Jenkins — bearded, in a T-shirt and jeans — is originally from

Chicago, and traces of a flat Midwestern accent remain in his voice. He

looked and sounded beleaguered by the mention of apocalypse. “At any

end-beginning nexus — at the dawn of a new religion or a spiritual

tradition — you have this amazing opening,” he said. “Revelations come

down. There’s a fresh awareness of what it means to be alive in the full

light of history.”


To scholars monitoring the 2012 movement from their posts in academia —

and some do — this latter-day apotheosis of the Mayan calendar is a

source of frustration and an opportunity for deeper reflection. Or

sometimes, just an opportunity. Anthony Aveni, an archeoastronomer and

professor at Colgate, has a history with 2012 going back to the Harmonic

Convergence, when he was interviewed on CNN to provide some perspective.

“I got an offer from a literary agent to represent me the same day,” he

told me. “So I’m grateful to José Arguelles for that.”


Aveni is critical of Jenkins’s approach and his galactic-alignment

theory. “I defy anyone to look up into the sky and see the galactic

equator,” he said. “You need a radio telescope for that, and they were

not known anywhere in the world that I’ve heard of until the 1930s.” The

real question, to him, is how an obscure, culturally circumscribed issue

like the end date of one Mayan long-count cycle could manage to gain

such traction in the wider world.


“Jenkins and Calleman and Arguelles are the Gnostics of our time,” Aveni

said. “They’re seeking higher knowledge. They look for knowledge framed

in mystery. And there aren’t many mysteries left, because science has

decoded most of them.”


John Hoopes, an archaeologist at the University of Kansas, is more

complimentary of Jenkins’s research, even if he doubts the validity of

his major conclusions, including the galactic-alignment theory. “John

Jenkins has done his homework on the ancient Maya,” he told me, “and

he’s thought about their culture a great deal. Arguelles and Calleman

largely disregard what we know the Maya believed.” Still, like most

Mayan experts, Hoopes is not convinced that the Maya would have

considered the end of a world cycle to be an apocalyptic event; one

cycle could be subsumed into the next without a hiccup in the system,

let alone a rupture in the count of days.


In the wider discussion around 2012, Hoopes sees a parallel to the

debate going on in Kansas about teaching evolution and intelligent

design in the public schools. It is an issue he takes so seriously that

he has included the 2012 phenomenon in a course he developed called

“Archaeological Myths and Realities,” which explores how science and

history are manipulated to serve a religious or political agenda. Other

examples include Nazi archaeology and the recently heralded ancient

“pyramids” in Bosnia. Referrring to occult interpretations of the Maya,

he says: “What’s interesting is how this fosters community in the New

Age movement, and elsewhere, the same way that the anti-evolutionists

have coalesced around intelligent design. I’ve started using the terms

‘religious right’ and ‘spiritual left.’ ”


Toward the end of my visit with Jenkins in Colorado, we drove from his

home in Windsor to Denver — about 50 miles south — to meet his wife,

Ellen, for dinner and a screening of “2012: The Odyssey,” a documentary

that Jenkins appears in along with José Arguelles and other authorities

on 2012. Jenkins had written me a long, discouraged e-mail message that

morning about an item he found on an academic message board, linking to

an article about 2012 from USA Today. The article included a description

of Jenkins’s galactic-alignment theory without citing him as the source,

and to make matters worse, the scholar who posted the link quoted a

description of the galactic alignment and asked, “Anyone want to

speculate about what this means?”


To Jenkins, it was further confirmation that his work is generally

ignored inside a scholarly community that he has looked to for guidance

and cited tirelessly in defense of the “authentic” Mayan tradition. He

told me, as we drove past new housing developments going up where

pastures had once been, that he had gone to conferences to meet the most

important Mayanists and had been sending out papers and links to his Web

site to selected scholars for years, but his attempts at making contact

were usually ignored.


“When you fund your own trip to do fieldwork by putting it on

MasterCard,” he said, “and then they really don’t want to engage in a

discussion with you, it’s kind of like ... wrong universe, I guess.”


I asked him if he thought this might have something to do with some of

his more speculative theories, like his assertion that the Maya had

practiced pranayama — yogic deep breathing — based on the posture of

Maya kings in certain paintings and carvings, which appears similar to

full lotus.


“It’s the assemblage of evidence that leads to my reading,” he insisted.

“It’s not magically projecting something onto the images. But ultimately

there is some guesswork involved. How often can you be 100 percent sure

of anything?”


By the time we drove up to the Oriental Theater in the Berkeley

Highlands section of Denver, his spirits had lifted again. The Oriental

is a handsome, Persian-themed theater from the 1920s that has recently

been refurbished after a long decline; it retains elements of both the

glamour of its distant past and the seediness left over from its middle

age as an adult theater. Now the Oriental is an arts center with a

regular schedule of film screenings and live entertainment.


“Look at that,” Jenkins said with a gesture at the marquee, making sure

that I saw the big “2012” in black numerals.


While Jenkins mingled with the early arrivals inside the lobby, I sat at

a cafe table with his wife, a social worker at a hospital in Boulder,

and Gina Kissell, director of the Metaphysical Research Society, a local

group that offers workshops and programs in comparative religion and

spirituality. The society was a sponsor of the screening that night, and

Kissell, an ebullient woman in a sequined top, was thrilled about the

turnout. I asked her about 2012 and what it meant to her, and she

started in without hesitating:


“To me it’s all about a movement toward enlightenment. We say compassion

over competition. This whole shift in consciousness is going to wipe

away everything negative. Armageddon isn’t what it used to be, you

know?” Kissell told me that she had recently tried spending 21 days

without having a negative thought: “It’s really hard! I tried, but I

didn’t make it through the second week.”


Inside the theater, it was a festive scene. The seating sections were

all full except for the balcony; a pair of waitresses roamed the aisles

taking drink and sandwich orders (the Oriental has a full bar and panini

menu); and the crowd presented a mix of the buttoned-down and the

Bohemian, trending toward the tattooed and pierced. Ellen flashed me a

proud look when Jenkins climbed onstage to give an introduction, and he

was met with a lively burst of applause. Dressed in a well-worn jacket

over a faded T-shirt, he could have been a professor who never quite

recovered from his graduate-school years. Jenkins started by giving a

primer of his theory about the galactic alignment and how the ancient

Maya had calibrated their long-count calendar to coincide with this rare

and transformative astronomical event. He shared his belief, reflected

in the mantra “As above, so below,” that our lives are influenced by

larger forces in the universe and that the Mayan sky watchers had used

their sacred science to read the stars and divine creation’s deepest

secrets. These same secrets can be ours, according to Jenkins’s theory,

if we cup a hand to one ear, raise it to the sky and listen.


“A lot of people ask me if the world is going to end in 2012,” he said,

“and I’ve come up with the best way to address that. The short answer is

yes. The long answer is no.”


Writing in the forward to Jenkins’s “Maya Cosmogenesis 2012,” Terrence

McKenna proffers that “we, by choice or design, actually live in the end

time anticipated by the ancient Maya shaman-prophets. Their bones and

their civilization have long since gone into the Gaian womb that claims

all the children of time. Indeed, their cities were ghostly necropoleis

by the time the Spanish conquerors first gazed upon them, 500 years ago.

Yet it was our time that fascinated the Maya, and it was toward our time

that they cast their ecstatic gaze, though it lay more than two

millennia in the future at the time the first long-count dates were



It is a splendid, human-size dream, that an ancient people revered for

unearthly wisdom could climb aboard a calendar ship and redeem us from

our troubled world and the confines of our vexing natures. Dec. 21,

2012, is already here — long before the date arrives — and perhaps it

has always been. End dates are not the stuff of fantasy, after all; each

and every one of us has a terminal appointment inscribed in our

calendars. And the end might just arrive sooner. Perhaps that is why we

need to imagine a supernatural force with one eye on a ticking clock,

waiting to make everything new again.


It is the Maya who bring us apocalypse this time, and when the next one

comes — well, we’ll just have to wait and see if the world is still here.


Benjamin Anastas, a novelist, previously wrote for the magazine about

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