Some Thoughts in March, 1999
by John Major Jenkins
My realm of study has been Maya calendar science, which embraces astronomy, mathematics, shamanism, and mythology. In approaching the fragmented ancient Maya knowledge that must be pieced together using data from archaeology, ethnography, astronomy, iconography, epigraphy, and other fields of study, I identified several key ideas. First of all, what were the primary interests and concerns of the people who came to the Americas long ago? Being part of the Neolithic era in which archaic shamanism prevailed, we can assume they were shamanistic. Shamans, both ancient and modern, are interested in undertaking visionary journeys into the the human mind, which is understood to be a reflection of the universe at large. This is the well-known "as above, so below" principle, in which the inner subjective world of the human soul is seen to reflect, in miniature, the processes of the macrocosm. The external metaphor, or location, of their inner visionary journey, was a place that can be generically termed, "the cosmic center." And we know that shamanistic societies in the Far North, even today, locate the "cosmic center" at the Pole Star. Reasonable enough, we might conclude, given that all the stars appear to revolve around the Pole Star, which is very high in the sky at far north latitudes.
However, what happened to this polar doctrine when people migrated out of the Central Asian crucible of civilization, moving eastward and southward through the Americas in successive waves going back perhaps 100,000 years? Well, we can’t be sure about what happened during all periods of this amazing human diaspora, but relatively recent evidence, including the Maya Creation myth, allows us to reconstruct the changing cosmological thinking of these early American explorers. Given that the concept of the cosmic center was a central religious idea, how did this concept change as people moved southward, away from the far northern latitudes where the polar center is prominent? The geographical happenstance of changing latitudes, as experienced by shamanistic Asians moving southward during their centuries-long perigrinations, allowed a profound evolution of cosmological understanding to unfold. They realized that the polar area, deified for millennia as the cosmic center and preferred destination of their visionary journeys, was false. Moving southward through the Americas, the Pole Star becomes lower and lower in the sky. In a very real scientific sense, this was a completely accurate assessment the polar center is only an apparent center, and is not the true center of the sky or "cosmic center."
One way that this "fall" of the polar deity manifests in Indigenous doctrines is very clear-cut in the Maya Creation myth, the Popol Vuh. During a previous World Age a vain and false ruler spread lies, seeking to aggrandize himself while impersonating the sun. His name was Seven Macaw, and his cosmic location was in the circumpolar stars of the Big Dipper. As such, he was the regent of the Polar Center, the "cosmic center" that was so important for the Asian ancestors of the Maya. It was the duty of the Hero Twins to do away with this charlatan so they could resurrect their father, One Hunahpu, and install him in his rightful place as the true cosmic ruler. They succeed in doing this, causing Seven Macaw to fall from his cosmic throne in the polar center. The inner meaning of this story, if we read between the lines and understand the astronomical dimensions encoded into this story, involves the demise of the formerly grand polar deity, now recognized as the lesser god of a previous World Age. True enough, we can conclude, because the polar zone is only the apparent center of the world. And appearances only deceive those who are seduced by the glamour that Seven Macaw projected, wearing gold and glittery ornaments to distract and confuse.
Now, why should One Hunahpu replace Seven Macaw? In my reconstruction work with Maya mythology and cosmology. I deciphered previously unrecognized parallels between Maya myth and astronomy. Seven Macaw’s identification with the Big Dipper was already available as a piece of ethnographic data, but recognizing the role that the myth of Seven Macaw played in the evolution of cosmological thought in Mesoamerica came only upon synthesizing a more comprehensive picture. In addition, I was able to identify One Hunahpu with the December solstice sun by accessing academic information from the fields of epigraphy, calendrics, astronomy, and linguistics. So, in what way then is One Hunahpu (the December solstice sun) a "better" cosmic center than Seven Macaw? Two thousand years ago, early Maya shaman-astronomers at the site of Izapa carved in stone the first representations of the Hero Twin Creation myth. At the same time, they starting carving Long Count calendar dates. In other words, the Maya Creation myth was created in the same place and at the same time as the Long Count calendar. The 13-baktun cycle of the Long Count calendar a period of over 5000 years - ends on December 21, 2012 A.D. Notice that this is a December solstice, a day when the deity One Hunahpu "shows his face." The unique property of the 13-baktun cycle end-date is that it highlights a very rare astronomical alignment within the 26,000-year precession of the equinoxes. This is an alignment between the December solstice sun and the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Amazingly, during a time when the polar deity was being dispensed with, another, higher cosmic center was identified. One Hunahpu became the regent of the Galalctic Center, and he takes his throne or, in the Popol Vuh, is resurrected, in A.D. 2012. Other writers have written about the "galactic alignment" to occur in era-2012 (after all, it’s an astronomical facts that astronomers must encounter in their studies as a matter of course), but the way that the Maya encoded these processes into their Creation mythology has emerged only recently with my research. And my reconstruction is backed up by solid academic research and documentation. I termed this end-date alignment of solstice and galaxy the Galactic Cosmology, and I deciphered how it manifests not only in the Maya Creation myth, but also in the cosmic symbolism of the Mesoamerican ballgame and in king accession rites.
A rather lengthy introduction to these central guiding questions of Maya cosmology has been necessary because this perspective on Maya thought, though self-evident when a synthesizing approach to the large field of interdisciplinary data is undertaken, is not yet well known. Why is this? Our own science, incuding the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology, has a blind spot. Our science suffers from a limited, linear perspective, and a superiority complex that it belongs to the most sophisticated paradigm yet designed by humans. But in its incomplete interpretations of Maya cosmology, it confronts its own inability to conceive of a multidimensional shamanistic paradigm that oriented itself to the Galalctic Center as a supreme organizing principle. And this is precisely what it is the Galactic Center is the heart and source of the entire galaxy and everything in it, including human beings. The Polar Center is false, and the relativism of Western science has only served as a rationale for polluting the earth, appropriating resources, and controlling third world countries and populations.
The wonders of modern technology are powerful indeed, secrets teased from the reluctant mouth of the Earth Mother. And like insistent children we were given what we ask for, but we have proven to be ethically incapable of handling these tools and powers. No government or popular movement is needed to take our prized toys and tools away from us they will simply betray us and our foolish misapprehension of their potential. In the Popol Vuh Creation myth, the World Age ruled by Seven Macaw was destroyed when the arrogant beings of that world failed to honor and take care of their implements. Consequently, those tools and implements pots and pans and all sorts of human artifice rose up against their controlling owners and destroyed them. This is a dire warning for the egoism of our own world. The problem with that World Age of Seven Macaw is that people were not oriented to the correct source of life. They were not aligned with the true fount of life, light, and wisdom. They were aligned with the superficial glamor of power and the falsity of loud, squawking self-magnification. The most astonishing thing to consider is that the Maya intended this information for our own predicament, not as a distant fairy tale of previous eras. Arrogance and the limited vision of egoism are problems that manifests at the end of any World Age, when the illusions of that particular period are exposed. And the tools that rise up to destroy will be those of our own making, the viruses lurking within our own systems and the ‘bugaboos" of our own unassimilated shadows.
We can understand how human worldviews and cosmologies have historically evolved by tracking how people moved around the globe. One point that I think is important in this regard involves the basic differences between the "Western" mind and the "Indigenous" mind. I think this is very similar to the dichotomy between oriental and occidental philosophies, the old East vs West split. What is this about? I believe we can identify an eastward-moving civilizing impulse vs a western-moving one. The processes of development and the basic foundational assumptions of these two positions will be quite different; in fact, opposed. But this is not left brain vs right-brain or intellect vs emotion. The difference, I believe, is between life-seeking and death-seeking.
Now that the migration of people has wrapped around the globe, the Americas have become the place where the great spiritual drama of east-meets-west takes center stage, and humanity has a chance to reconcile its two sides. Both approaches, of course, are important in their own ways. But each also has its own built-in faults which naturally result in a lopsided or extremist situation as the age draws to a close. And it is true that we are approaching the close of a large chapter in human history, the end of a 26,000-year growth cycle as targeted by the solstice-galaxy alignment maximizing in the decades around A.D. 2012. Although 2012 is still more than a decade away, the alignment which the Maya wanted to draw our attention to with its World Age calendar ending of 22.214.171.124.0 (December 21, 2012), most precisely occurred sometime in 1998. (The astronomical data with which this information is calculated may in fact be variable up to, at least, one year. The dates calculated by Jean Meeus (May, 1998) and the U.S. Naval Observatory (October, 1998) should therefore be given a plus-or-minus one year status.) But the effects of the alignment, changing very slowly with precession, stretch over decades and even probably centuries. We are in it now. Furthermore, we are approaching our own millennial meltdown, stimulated, I believe, by the effects of the solstice-galaxy alignment, but also influenced by social and economic anxieties based solely upon the numerical turning of year 2000. This phenomenon, sometimes referred to as millennial fever, is not new. Around the year 1000 A.D., even though the galactic alignment of era-2012 was still ten centuries into the future, all kinds of political and religious intrigues took place as many people believed the world was about to end. And today, there is a similar phenomenon dancing around the Y2K scare.
The root of Y2K seems to be a dim suspicion within our collective Western mind-set that we have a very basic and very faulty "bug" in our civilization’s founding assumptions. And I believe that this is not a simple problem of digit space in embedded computer chips. What is being exposed in this Y2K carnival is an absent-minded fault or lapse of reason in the minds of those who have designed Western civilization. But it goes back to Descarte who, with his Cartesian divorcing of mind from nature, cast out the "as above, so below" principle and alienated the human soul from its implicit relationship with nature and the greater cosmos. Shamans among the Maya and elsewhere would no doubt consider this to be ticking time bomb destined to explode at a most predictable moment. Cycle endings in most calendrical systems inspire thoughts of death and rebirth, of opportunity and reassessment. Individuals can certainly engage in soul searching at these times, but can an entire civilization? Here we are confronted with our own cultural identities, or lack thereof. Perhaps we are going to have to confront identities or roles foistered upon us by a worldview that is not oriented towards greater life, but towards its own unconscious yet certain sense of impending death. And the certainty of impending disaster within our civilization’s collective mind-set is manifesting as Y2K. As the old saying goes, "you can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she will speedily return." As we approach Year 2000, we can remember what the ancient Maya calendar-shamans said in the Popol Vuh about World Age shifts: humanity must transform itself during these eras into something completely new in order to survive. They based this advice on an understanding of the life and death transformation experienced by those who journeyed into the cosmic soul within the human monad, a cosmic heart and source of all creation which the Maya also perceived in the sky, in the Galactic Center. And it was deduced that when we come into alignment with, or resonance with, this cosmic heart and source, all humanity would be transfigured as if from within by a light of truth and reality revealed. What ever we become will be a function of how we integrate all the repressed personal and collective lies upon which we have constructed our worlds. The opportunity and the challenge that we face is in the dynamic dance, battle, and interplay of the forces of consciousness and ignorance, both of which dance within each one of us and upon the stage of human civilization as a whole. The point is not ultimately in resolving these polarized forces, but in offering up the energy that gets manifested through the churning process itself. The highest goal of alchemical teachings, the amrit nectar of consciousness or the philosopher’s stone, is the higher reality that is trying to be born in this cosmic birthing process. And we are vehicles of that manifestation, though probably not the only beneficiaries of it. In fact, we might not benefit at all from it. The manifestation of the higher consciousness through confronting our deepest shadows should by its very nature be so all-encompassing and consuming that life and death are no longer distinguishable, and the complete sacrifice of everything we think ourselves to be is the fuel that feeds the full emergence of the higher being, of which we are only cells.
Y2K is a rather small early warning signal. It’s a message from our higher self that we have built a time-bomb into our basic assumptions. The idea that science can fix Y2K, that everything will be okay, contributes to the superiority complex of science, and a continuing arrogance toward nature. Nothing much will happen in January of 2000, apart from self-congratulation and near-deification of the same goofballs who were responsible for the "Y2K problem" in the first place. In retrospect, it will seem like a carefully orchestrated coup on American opinions about computers and scientists. The myth that science will fix all our problems will be given a boost, and then all kinds of outrageous crimes against nature will be proposed. It may take another 12 years before this folly is exposed, whereupon the great cycle-ending of baktun 13 will be fomenting its own uprising south of the border. Like unacknowledged messengers of deeper truth crowding upwards from the collective unconscious, Indigenous people and their allies will mount their own strategy for truth, and the self-serving B.S. that has guiding Western Man to the brink of apocalypse will get a little push from behind. To paraphrase the conclusion to the 1997 version of Maya Cosmogenesis 2012:
The eastern-moving civilizing impulse is toward the rising sun, toward truth and light. The western-moving civilizing impulse, as exemplified in the technological achievements of the Egyptians and Western civilization in general, is toward darkness and death. The west eternally extinguishes itself but operates in the foreground of history. The east is the silent partner, always facilitates the inevitable, and aligns itself with processes beyond the ken of current concerns. It operates in the background and with its slow but insistent pressure, guides the lost to the dawning light.