Chapter 3. On Scholars and Progress

John Major Jenkins


correspondence with scholars on the Aztlan list, mid-1999


(Chapter intended for my 2002 Inner Traditions book Galactic Alignment, but was cut from published version)


The responses among scholars to my work have covered the whole spectrum, from supportive agreement and encouragement to close-minded denial, depending on the individuals involved. However, the response has been weighted in the direction of the latter. I believed that, at the very least, I was putting new ideas on the table that should be honestly and carefully evaluated by scholars and experts. Unfortunately these experts were usually specialists, and I was surprised by the lack of knowledge these specialists displayed of the various fields that I had integrated into a whole picture of ancient Maya cosmology. As a result, exchanges with scholars tended to evolve into them feeling threatened as gaps in their interdisciplinary knowledge became exposed and I directed them to the academic studies that backed up my position.


For example, one scholar on the Aztlan email list criticized my “assumption” that there was astronomy encoded into the Maya Creation book, the Popol Vuh. I directed him to the work of Dennis Tedlock, translator of the Popol Vuh, who demonstrated that the Popol Vuh is all about astronomy. The dialogues would bog down at these elementary levels and, especially on email lists, I would find myself having to recapitulate every point and citation in my 450-page book for the benefit of those intellectuals who were ultimately not interested in reading the book but only in indulging in polemics. A few of my exchanges with better known Mayanists will be revealing.


Ed Krupp, Mayanist and Director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, responded to essays I sent him in 1995-1996. This was material that argued for the dark-rift and the crossroads as indicating a creation place in Maya cosmology. His main objection was that a Mayan concept of a galactic equator could not be proven, and that no evidence indicated the “star fields of Sagittarius” as a creation place in Mayan cosmology. Regarding the first objection: The Milky Way itself is the galactic equator; degrees of precise measurement have enabled modern astrophysicists to narrow this down to an abstract dotted line extending through the precise middle of the Milky Way. In addition, the dark-rift is a narrow path along the middle of the Milky Way, extending north of Sagittarius and Scorpio, which the Maya recognized variously as a road, a mouth, and a birth portal. This was the Mayan’s conceptual equivalent of the galactic equator. Regarding the second objection: In Maya iconography, crosses denote the cosmic center and origin place. The Great Cross formed by the Milky Way and the ecliptic (in Sagittarius) has been recognized as a viable concept in Maya cosmology — a key concept in fact: it’s the Sacred Tree. Thus, the “star fields of Sagittarius” coincide with a location the Maya considered to be a creation place. Krupp’s comments were offered at an early stage of my research, based solely on essays I sent him. His early letters were open minded but as my research  expanded and more evidence was located, our correspondence ended. I sent him a copy of Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 and he said he might review it for the Griffith Observer. Due to my working a full-time job in computer software engineering and attending to life’s responsibilities, I have been unable to persist in a great deal of the correspondence nurtured earlier on in my research. The same holds true for scholars who often professed having no time to adequately respond to my work.


In mid-1997, when I completed the prototype version of Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, I sent out invitational letters to various scholars — Munro Edmonson, David Kelley, Linda Schele, Susan Milbrath, and the Tedlocks — offering to send them spiral-bound copies of my laboriously (and expensively) produced book. I sent one to David Kelley which resulted in an exchange, but he, like Antoon Vollamaere, was arguing for a completely different correlation and so was predisposed to not thinking anything significant might revolve around the 2012 date. Barbara Tedlock and Dennis Tedlock, an extraordinary scholarly team who I met at Naropa Institute in Boulder in 1994 and 1995, were a mixture of support and indifference. Talking with Dennis at Naropa, he told me he had noticed the solstice-galaxy alignment but  “didn’t know what to do with it.” He considered any argument for an intentional connection between the alignment and  2012 to be a case of misplaced concretism — because you will not actually be able to see the alignment (covered as it is by the sun). This, however, did not seem valid to me as the real point was that the ancient skywatchers could see, and could track, the slow movement of the solstice sun toward the band of the Milky Way. When I spoke to Barbara later (in March, 1998), she begged off commenting on my book because it was not published with an academic press. The impression I got was of encouragement, though mixed with a disinterest in seriously looking at my work. I greatly respect the work of the Tedlocks; recently I converted and edited Dennis's Breath on the Mirror for a large ebook conversion company, successfully preserving his idiosyncratic formatting and font style choices that would otherwise have been removed. A few telephone conversations with Dennis have not resulted in much direct discussion of my ideas.


In March of 1995 I journeyed via beat-up pick-up truck from Denver to Austin, Texas, for the famed Maya Meetings. Linda Schele would be there, and I hoped to talk with her. I opted to go to this event over the popular Chichen Itza equinox gathering. I was well aware of Schele’s 1992 breakthroughs demonstrating important relationships between Maya myth and astronomy. After the conference we attended the customary party at Linda’s house. I talked with her about Izapa, but within ten minutes she was distracted by others in her entourage. However, she directed me to one of her grad students who was studying Izapa. I then talked to her, but she was unable to discuss any of the monuments I mentioned, not seeming to have a working knowledge of Izapa in general. The contacts I made in Austin seemed promising, but subsequent attempts at correspondence were left unanswered. In an amusing exchange, I traded my book The Center of Mayan Time with Barbara MacLeod for her Maya comic book. A brilliant epigrapher, MacLeod is also a talented artist and produced some very funny Mayan cartoon epics.   


Since her passing in April 1998, Schele’s breakthroughs have been criticized by rationalist apologists in Maya studies, claiming that as a result of her terminal liver diagnosis she became “too metaphysical.” I find this to be disingenuous indeed, and it may be argued that a brilliant scholar who has long labored under the restricting biases and constipating politics of modern academia may have become freed in her final years to be more lucid and more clear. Giorgio de Santillana, one of the authors of Hamlet’s Mill, was near death as that masterpiece was being completed, and wrote of that ambitious and progressive study: “Whatever fate awaits this last enterprise of my latter years, and be it that of Odysseus’ last voyage, I feel comforted by the awareness that it shall be the right conclusion of a life dedicated to the search for truth.”[1] Perhaps Schele may have felt the same way. Her astronomical statements are at times unclear; however, her emphasis on the role played by the Milky Way / ecliptic cross (the “crossroads”) finds precedent in the work of David Kelley, Susan Milbrath, Raphael Girard, Barbara Tedlock, Dennis Tedlock, and others. This is really the only area where my work converges with Schele’s, apart from her general emphasis that mythology and astronomy go together—a truism that I don’t think anyone questions.


Art historian and Maya scholar Susan Milbrath responded to my early letters. At the time she was working on her magnum opus, Star Gods of the Maya, recently published with The University of Texas Press. A careful reading of her incredible book provides enough evidence to convince one of the veracity of my own theory. And her presentation in September of 2000 at the Institute of Maya Studies brilliantly revealed three celestial crosses toward which the Cross Temples of Palenque were oriented. Unfortunately, Milbrath herself does not believe the ancient Mesoamerican astronomers tracked and calibrated precession, and her presentation de-emphasized the Mayan recognition of the Milky Way / ecliptic cross (for example, although the Sagittarian Thieve’s Cross is practically co-spatial with the Milky Way / ecliptic cross, that fact wasn’t addressed). She acknowledges precession was an astronomical reality, but I think she sees it as a potential complication to her own theories. I believe her insights are correct and aren’t threatened by precession; in fact, we can take her work to the next level if we admit that precession was consciously incorporated into Mesoamerican cosmology. 

I should point out that my early exchanges with scholars were based only on preliminary essays I had sent out. Disinterest in my research at that point might be expected. However, since that time I have amassed and assembled a huge amount of related evidence, and Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 was the result. My cordial invitations to Mayanists since that time have resulted in a series of interesting, if somewhat frustrating, exchanges. The area in which I engaged in the most telling and valuable dialogue on my progressive ideas was the Aztlan email conference, which generally sustains a high level of intellectual rigor and scholarship. Unfortunately, it is dominated by specialists seeking miscellania. Linda Schele was active on this list after its inception in late-1995; in fact, her comments on the 2012 end-date inspired a response from me, which I mailed to her at that time and later incorporated into Appendix 5 of Maya Cosmogenesis 2012.  It was only later, in the spring of 1999, that I rejoined the list and corresponded with various scholars and independent researchers.[2]

After I introduced and outlined my work in a brief letter, Lloyd Anderson open mindedly addressed the possibility of precessional knowledge among the ancient skywatchers. Then Antoon Vollamaere criticized the correlation that makes the end-date occur in 2012. I was forced to sketch the academic work beginning in the early 1900s that leads to the widely accepted 584283 correlation, making the end-date of the 13-baktun cycle of the Long Count equal December 21, 2012.  Also, criticism of associating 2012 with the “end of the world” arose, which I had addressed in Appendix 5 of Maya Cosmogenesis 2012. The criticism arose among scholars, and rightfully so, because of the proliferation of under-informed and sensationalist books about the Maya calendar, UFO abductions, Nostradamus prophecies and so on. The effect was that Linda Schele wrote, in 1996, that the 2012 date was insignificant compared to a larger 20-baktun cycle recorded at Palenque by her beloved Pacal. However, this position assumes that the political machinations of a seventh-century ruler have precedence over the original intentions of the creators of the Long Count calendar, eight centuries before the reign of Pacal.  Calendrically speaking, 2012  is the end of a large cycle of 5,125 years—13 baktuns of the Long Count—which was a Creation cycle in Maya cosmology as demonstrated by Creation Monuments in the archaeological record. I agree with Schele that the Maya conception of time is cyclic, and I don’t promote 2012 as the end of the world. As always, Maya mythology and the doctrine of World Ages focuses on transformation and renewal occurring at the end of a Creation cycle. These ideas are true to the Maya intention and transcend sensationalist doomsayers in the mass media. Many interviews I did for radio and television were wasted because the interviewer could not get beyond this “end of the world” drama and I refused to play into it.  I was surprised that intellectuals also were fixated on the end-of-world misconception, to the detriment of discussing the deeper importance of why the Maya had chosen the year we call 2012. The reality that the alignment involves the Galactic Center was also a stumbling block.

By mid-1999 I had received a statement from an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University to the effect that ‘it is not possible that the Maya could see the Galactic Center.’ My general response to this opinion is that the region of the Galactic Center should be more generally identified as the “nuclear bulge” which can be noticed with naked eye observation because the Milky Way is wider in that region and there are more bright stars there. In other words, any ancient culture intimate with the night sky would notice that part of the Milky Way as interesting. But this argument was not well received, so I decided to resort to evidence. I wanted to show that the Maya thought of the region of the Galactic Center as a center and a source, designations true to the Galactic Center’s nature. I wrote a short piece, “An Open Letter to Astronomers and Mayanists,” that presented some facts of Maya star lore and posted it to the Aztlan email list in June of 1999:     


Did the Maya know where the Galactic Center is located? Yes. Now, brace yourself, because I’m going to show you how and why without resorting to speculation or guesswork. The question to ask is this: Did the Maya understand the region of the sky occupied by the Galactic Center in a way that is metaphorically and conceptually equivalent to what the Galactic Center is? In this way we can answer the related question of "did the Maya know where the Galactic Center is located?


First, what is the Galactic Center? In most basic terms, the Galactic Center is:


·        A source-point, or “creation place.”

·        A center


The first thing to recognize is that the region of the Galactic Center contains several features—all visible to the naked eye—that call attention to it as a unique place along the Milky Way. These are:


·        The Milky Way is filled with brighter stars and is wider in the region of the Galactic Center


·        The dark-rift, or Great Cleft, of the Milky Way extends to the north of the Galactic Center


·        The cross formed by the Milky Way and the ecliptic is near the Galactic Center


Now we can assess established, academic identifications in Mayan ethnoastronomy and starlore. Two factual indicators:


1. Among the modern-day Quiché Maya, the dark-rift is called the xibalba be. This means “road to the underworld.” In the ancient Maya Creation text, the Popol Vuh, this same feature serves as a road to the underworld and is also called the Black Road. Associated iconography with the “underworld portal” concept includes caves, monster mouths, and birthing portals. In general, the Milky Way was conceived as a Great Goddess and the dark-rift was her birth canal. This demonstrates that the Maya understood the region of the Galactic Center as a source-point or birth place.


2. The cross formed by the Milky Way with the ecliptic near Sagittarius has been identified at Palenque, among the Quiché and Chorti Maya, and elsewhere as the Mayan Sacred Tree. In the Popol Vuh, it is the Crossroads. The cross symbol, according to accepted epigraphic and iconographic interpretation (e.g., on thrones), denotes the concept of “center” and usually contextually implies a “cosmic” or “celestial” center. The concept of “cosmic center” and the principle of  world-centering was important to Mesoamerican astronomers, city planners, and Maya kings — kings who symbolically occupied and ruled from the “cosmic center.” Thus, the Maya, via the Sacred Tree/Cosmic Cross symbology, understood the region of the Galactic Center to be a center.


Center and birthplace — understandings that are true to the Galactic Center’s nature. This is not speculation, but an  assemblage of academic evidence. I repeat here the evidence available in my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, which contains 24 pages of bibliography and 20 pages of academic documentation in end notes.


I speak of “region” in referring to the Galactic Center because the visible “nuclear bulge” of the Galactic Center is not an abstract, invisible point, is not limited to the high frequency radio spectrum, but rather covers a large area or “region” in the visible night sky. Now, my book argues, as its primary thesis, that the Maya intended 2012 to mark the rare alignment of the solstice sun with the band of the Milky Way. In astronomical terms, this is the alignment of the solstice meridian with the Galactic equator—an astronomical fact. Notice that my thesis, in this sense, does not even require knowledge of the Galactic Center in order for it to be valid. Nevertheless, knowledge among the ancient Maya of the Galactic Center as a “creation place” and “cosmic center” is strongly implied, indeed demonstrated, by established Maya concepts, as outlined above.


Ancient Maya knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes is the hitch that most skeptical scholars invoke to discredit my work. The evidence for precessional knowledge is found in the academic data, in archaeoastronomical realignments of temples, in the Creation monuments and texts, in the structure of the Long Count calendar, and in the work of respected Mayanists like Gordon Brotherston and Eva Hunt. Appendix 2 of my book surveys the evidence in the literature. Citations to the work of Brotherston, Tedlock, Schele, Smiley, Hunt, Aveni, and others are available upon request (electronically) and are also contained in my book. Important points that are demonstrated here, which will help us understand how and why the Maya knew where the Galactic Center is located:




I am trying to establish here a foundation for astronomers to approach my material without judgment before the evidence I’ve assembled is assessed. I anxiously await further dialog, comments, and feedback. [end]


Three Aztlan subscribers questioned and critiqued this Open Letter piece. I responded clearly to all of their comments, but the dialogs dwindled into silence or a flat rejection (despite them never having actually read my book, but only my brief email summaries). This, unfortunately, exemplified the response most typical of the linear, one-dimensional thinker.  I’ll illustrate shortly why this is really a question of two different approaches to analyzing ancient data — one of which is more limited than the other.


In late September, an Aztlan member who I will call S. Davies responded to the open letter that I had posted, reprinted above, which was designed to show how the Maya identified the region of the Galactic Center  as a source (or birthplace) and a center. I responded to his critique after returning from England in early October:


From my open letter: Among the modern-day Quiché Maya, the dark-rift is called the xibalba be. This means "road to the underworld."


S. Davies: OK. That gives us a fact from a particular time ca. 1970 from a particular culture, Quiché. What is true for Quiché language and legend today is not thereby true for classic Mayans of more than a millennium before. If it were the case that all, or almost all, present day Mayan languages called the dark-rift “xibalbe be” your point would be much stronger. As it is, it raises the question in my mind, why are the Yucatecs and Choltis [Chortís] and so forth not doing this?


John Major Jenkins: My argument is intended to show that the concept of  “road to the underworld” was central to Mesoamerican ideas about emergence or birthing. We should not expect cultures speaking different dialects to be using the exact same term for the same concept. The Yucatec and Chortí Maya have concepts similar to the Quiché xibalba be; for the Yucatec it is the U hol Glorya or Glory Hole (Schele’s term), for the Chorti it is probably the Hol Txan be. It can also be shown that the “road or portal to the underworld” concept is represented in cave and jaguar symbolism going back to the Olmec. For example, the mouth of the jaguar was portrayed as an entrance to the underworld. 


Open letter: In the ancient Maya Creation text, the Popol Vuh, this same feature serves as a road to the underworld and is also called the Black Road.


S. Davies: No. The Popol Vuh refers to red, green, white, and black roads. The black road to the underworld is taken. But where do you get the “also” from? There is NO connection made in the Popol Vuh between the black road and any astronomical feature whatsoever.


JMJ: By saying “also” I was showing that the dark-rift in the Milky Way was labeled by the Quiché as a “road to the underworld” and “also” Black Road. You emphatically state that there is “NO connection made in the Popol Vuh between the black road and any astronomical feature whatsoever.” Have you ever heard of Dennis Tedlock? As ethnographer and translator of the Popol Vuh,  he has elucidated the astronomy within the Popol Vuh very carefully and clearly, specifically associating the Black Road taken by the Hero Twins with the dark-rift in the Milky Way. Before making emphatic statements, it may be more productive to ask for my sources. In this regard, my open letter is intended as a brief, concise summary. The interdisciplinary evidence I have assembled and interpreted can be found in my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012. But let me direct you to the studies which demonstrate (if you read them) the larger millennia-long context of the "underworld portal" and the astronomy within the Popol Vuh:


Open letter: Associated iconography with the “underworld portal” concept includes caves, monster mouths, and birthing portals. In general, the Milky Way was conceived as a Great Goddess and the dark-rift was her birth canal.


S. Davies: Whoa! This appears to be quite the non sequitur. I don’t know where you get “birthing portals” for your first list, and cannot imagine what leads you to assert “in general the Milky Way was conceived as a Great Goddess,” etc. [Do you mean] in general throughout the world? For the present day Maya? Classic Maya? What are you talking about here and what is your evidence for it and its relevance to your thesis?


JMJ: In Mesoamerican cosmo-conception. See Milbrath’s 1988 study of Aztec astronomy and goddesses in the website previously cited. The relevance to the open letter thesis is to show that the wider conceptual understanding of the xibalba be includes birthing. Caves, serpent mouths, thrones, and birthing portals were apparently conceptually related in the minds of Mesoamerican thinkers. In the Tzotzil language, Chen means both cave and birthing passage. Caves were entrance points to the underworld. Do you understand that we can approach a general understanding of the Mesoamerican “portal to the underworld” complex through this kind of interdisciplinary synthesis? Evidence that the dark-rift was conceived as a birthplace: The most compelling evidence comes from Izapa in roughly the first century B.C., the place where distinct episodes from the Popol Vuh are portrayed on dozens of carved monuments. Norman, Lowe, Schele and others have shown that a great deal of astronomy is on these pictographs. For example, Izapa’s Group A alignments to the Big Dipper are compatible with Group A’s pictographic content: Seven Macaw (the Big Dipper) is shown rising and falling. Notice that modern ethnographic information among the Quiché also associates Seven Macaw with the Big Dipper — a continuity of some 2000 years! Another example: Stela 25 contains a caiman-tree that symbolizes the Milky Way (this is similar to David Kelley’s model of the Milky Way with the mouth at the base of the tree being associated with the dark-rift in the Milky Way). Izapa Stela 11 has an upturned frog or toad deity, and a solar lord is being birthed from it. As Lowe pointed out, this appears to be a prototypal “upturned frog-mouth” hieroglyph, translated by David Kelley in 1976 to mean “to be born from.”  Here, the mouth of the caiman, frog, snake, or jaguar are loosely interchangeable references to the concept of the “road to the underworld,” thus likely associating them in Izapan astronomy with the dark-rift in the Milky Way. Our scrutinizing and discriminating intellects might not like this kind of broad-brush association, but the Maya mind was more interested in conflating categories, in synthesizing the underlying meaning of different labels. (An example of this is the fact that the very same astronomical feature might have many different mythological identities.)


Another important factor at Izapa that supports the thesis is its alignment to the dark-rift, the solstices, the Milky Way, and the Big Dipper. Here observe that you are asking good questions, ones that I have already addressed in my book. I cannot rewrite that book, but I would direct you there if you want the evidence. And there is a great deal of it.    


Open letter: This demonstrates that the Maya understood the region of the Galactic Center as a source-point or birth place.


S. Davies:  If the “birth canal” statement above is valid, then it does demonstrate [this] as you say it does . . .  tautologically, for the dark-rift is the center of the galaxy. This, however, makes it all the more important for you to show that the Galactic Center was a “birth canal” in the minds of the ancient Maya.


JMJ: The dark-rift POINTS TO the center of the galaxy. I’ve shown that the Galactic Center region of the sky was understood by ancient Mesoamerican thinkers as a birthplace, through the identification of the nearby dark-rift as a birthplace. The other factor in my open letter is the crossroads, providing another complex of symbols that indicate "center," thus supporting my thesis from an entirely separate direction. [Crosses denote “center” in Mesoamerican iconography.] One set of evidence might be dismissed as coincidence. But two?


Open letter: The cross formed by the Milky Way with the ecliptic near Sagittarius has been identified at Palenque and elsewhere as the Mayan Sacred Tree.


S. Davies: That appears to be the case. But I don’t think a great many people have found that that identification has been cogently and convincingly argued to the point that one can say it is established. Rather, I think one can only say that the identification has been suggested.


JMJ: That’s because you aren’t aware of the larger body of evidence. The cross of the Milky Way and the ecliptic as a “cross” or “tree” is demonstrated in Girard’s ethnographic work among the Chortí. Related work by Milbrath utilizes the Milky Way-ecliptic cross as an important key to understanding astronomical information in the surviving Maya codices and in Aztec sources. Evidence likewise exists in the sixteenth-century Popol Vuh, modern Quiché ethnography, and even in Olmec symbology (see essays by Schele and others in The Olmec World, 1995). Ballcourt symbology, double-headed serpent bar imagery, throne crosses, and of course the clearest representation at Palenque. But it’s not just Palenque. Without trying to overemphasize, my book assembles all this evidence into a coherent whole. Or check out some of the sources at


SD: Frankly, I think your work cannot be proven correct. The Mayan calendar was in existence prior to 120 AD, the earliest recorded date (that I know of). So, whatever culture brought that calendar into being was the culture that would have designed it to end at 2012. What is the extent of our knowledge of the intellectual life of that culture? Zero. We do not know where or when or how or by whom the Mayan calendar was designed.


JMJ: These questions are answered. Long Count dates start appearing in the archaeological record during Izapa’s heyday—first century B.C.  We know a lot about the intellectual preoccupations of the Izapan culture by way of its archaeoastronomical alignments, its carved monuments, its shamanism and local ecology.  When you say “Mayan calendar” you need to distinguish between the Long Count and the much older 260-day calendar. Michael Coe has written that “. . . the priority of Izapa in the very important adoption of the Long Count calendar is quite clear cut . . .”[3] Other scholars agree. It’s also a fairly straightforward probability when you consider that the Long Count calendar starts appearing in the archaeological record at the same time Izapa was experiencing its heyday, and in the same region.


S. Davies: So even if the Palenque Mayans knew all about the ecliptic and thought it was a really really big deal and organized their principal artistic designs in reference to it (all of which I strongly doubt) that tells us virtually nothing about the culture that, hundreds of years earlier, invented the calendar.


JMJ: Well, I think that doubt is based in the limited view of Maya genius that has plagued Maya studies for a hundred years. Look at Izapa, the culture that invented the Long Count and carved the earliest distinct episodes from the Hero Twin Creation Myth, and you will find sophisticated astronomy. You will find the Milky Way-ecliptic cross and the dark-rift.  If the sum-total of my work on these questions amounted to a two-page open letter, it would be easy to dismiss it as you have. However, that two-page letter was intended as a common-language summary of evidence showing that the ancient Maya conceived of the region of the Galactic Center in a way that is consistent with its true nature as a center and source. This was merely an assemblage of the evidence from academic sources. When I describe what is present in this data, very little of it is my own subjective argument; it’s just setting the pieces out for all to see. This is what amuses me the most. It's based in factual evidence but the resistance among evidence-seeking scholars is the most extreme. And the reason for this, I believe, has to do simply with the implications. But the implications of assembled evidence, no matter how unsettling to the superiority complex of modern science, must be faced if we want to progress. It’s 2 AM and I should be sleeping . . . [end of exchange]


From my perspective, a large amount of data/evidence/information should result in similar conclusions—even among different thinkers— if common sense and reason are being applied. What I have observed in the response of S. Davies and others is resistance to drawing the appropriate common sense and logical conclusion. This step is not taken because the rationalist anticipates intractable admissions that must follow upon making the leap, namely, that the Maya calculated precession and were aware of the location of the Galactic Center. Likewise, the astronomer at Johns Hopkins could not accept my concise and brief open letter, and simply stated emphatically that it was impossible for the Maya to have known where the Galactic Center is located. So, the fact that in their mythology and cosmology they think of the region of the Galactic Center as a birthplace and a center must be a total coincidence. This is the least scientific position I could imagine.


Another Aztlan listero (D. M. Urquidi) followed up my lengthy exchange with S. Davies:


D. M. Urquidi: The debate between S. Davies and John Major Jenkins was lengthy to say the least. With all the arguments presented, I am prone to agree, not with JMJ but with S. Davies. It seemed to me that ALL arguments led to ALL  symbols being the “road to Xibalba” or the “underworld” or the Galaxy “birthing canal.”


I think it is a bit much. Every element of every symbol has its  own nuance that tells us another aspect of something. but for all  to refer to “road to Xibalba” or the “underworld” or the Galaxy “birthing canal” does not seem feasible. What does “death” mean to the Meso-Americans? What does “life” mean? Where are/were the  dead buried? The answers we think we know, but do we? Where is  the Cosmic Tree? At the junction of the Galactic and the Elliptic?  Or is it somewhere completely different? Why is a bird connected  with the tree and with the twins? Too many questions still to be  answered. In the [Popol Vuh], the twins became stars and the 400 youths became stars? Who/what else?


JMJ: Many of these questions have been addressed and sufficiently answered to satisfy a healthy level of skepticism. And the answers are not all my own, but come from the wider context of academic studies previously referred to. While it is certainly easy to inappropriately associate iconographic and conceptual elements with one perceived reference, i.e., the dark-rift, it is also possible to push back a little our understanding of just how overarching the “birthing place” concept was to Mesoamerican thinkers. If we accept this, then the ubiquitous presence of the dark-rift reference in many Mesoamerican traditions will not seem quite as imaginary.   


D. M. Urquidi: This would indicate that there was no poetry, no literature, no  games, no thought in Meso-America, only religious astronomy and  religious wars. Not a very likely occurrence. The Mesos wanted the  same things we want today. . . a good life, good food, a happy,  healthy family and probably a quiet death. Where does the family  fit into the picture? As the “birthing canal” symbolism in the  Milky Way? Why? Why not lactation of the heavens instead. Humans  do have to be fed as infants.


JMJ: I’ve been concerned with the astronomical level of ancient Izapan thought. This does not preclude the obvious reality that they were living, breathing human beings. [end of exchange - the authors of the exchanges above gave permission to use their names]


Note the ease with which D. Urquidi identifies the primary concerns of Mesoamerican people with her own—a most unfortunate yet common reflex. I think it is possible at this stage to understand my point, and there’s no need to report all of the exchanges that are in essence similar to these. Many other dialogues with writers and researchers occurred during this time, and my website contains, without selectively editing any serious critiques, more detailed exchanges. However, we are still left with the perplexing question: “Why such obscurantism and resistance?”


D. M. Urquidi’s accusation that all of my arguments lead in a roundabout way to the dark-rift / birth canal motif is similar to Munro Edmonson’s comment (in personal correspondence, 1997) that my identifications were “free-floating” and could “land just about anywhere,” which was not his “cup of tea.” Here we encounter a basic difference between approaches to the data. My work, without compromising rational thought, has sought to identify parallels of meaning, an association of motifs by way of analogy and metaphor. We could call this comparative iconography. To me, this reveals the deeper associations that a cultural mindset might encode for a given motif.  The linear, rationalist mind needs to find factual links for an association to be valid; metaphor and analogy have no place, and to approach the data with an eye to actually synthesizing the inner meaning would be heresy.


Most interestingly, Edmonson’s critique of my approach, echoed by D. M. Urquidi, is exactly the same as  Umberto Eco’s critique of René Guénon’s analogical/symbolist approach. Between the 1920s and the 1950s, French philosopher and Traditionalist writer René Guénon published scathing (and entirely on target), indictments of the errors of Western science. But his integrative analogy-based insights into the esoteric undercurrents of the modern world were baffling to the Western intellect. Eco deconstructed, in his introduction to Maria Pia Pozzato’s The Deformed Idea (1979), Guénon’s book The Lord of the World, calling it a classic example of the “slipping away” of saying anything meaningful because everything is perceived via a relationship of analogy, unity, or similarity with everything else and so nothing meaningful can be concluded. In other words, the inter-related complex of ideas is free floating and so can apply to (or “land on,” as Edmonson said of my approach) any argument. On one level this assumes that the interpreter is undisciplined and incapable of discernment. But this is also, essentially, a problem of differing approaches; we might call these approaches “analogical” versus “logical.”  The  analogical or “synthesizing” approach of myself and Guénon is clearly more capable of accurately languaging the deeper currents of the body of information being examined. For it is in the relationships between categories (categories kept separate in the linear/logical/specialist mode) that provides meaning. And understanding. Assuming an integrative ability or intuitive intellect on the part of the reader—and assuming that the reader reads the entire document or book being critically evaluated—the meaning is implicit in the revealed connections, rather than explicit and concrete as required by minds accustomed to memorizing data sets and historical trivia.


In  the foreword to Julius Evola’s  The Mystery of the Grail, H. T. Hansen addressed Eco’s “picking to pieces” of Guénon’s approach, writing:


In a scientific, semiotic mode of thinking, such traditional analogies naturally have no place. However, they do have they capability to move deeply. And if, as Jung says, reality is that which is effective, then myths are also reality. Here, of course, completely different definitions of reality come into play.[4]


Science is limited to the realm of physical material which it seeks to explain as well as  the framework of historical assumptions in which it finds itself. In Guénon’s own words:


. . . itself born of the very special conditions of the present period, this science is all too obviously incapable of conceiving other and different conditions, incapable even of the mere admission that anything of the kind could exist; thus the point of view which constitutes the definition of modern science establishes ‘barriers’ in time, which it is as impossible for science to break down as it is for a short-sighted person to see clearly beyond a certain distance; a true ‘intellectual myopia’ is indeed thoroughly characteristic in all respects of the modern and ‘scientistic’ mentality.[5]


Modern profane science is the degenerate descendant of an ancient sacred science that long ago perceived and embraced many dimensions of reality, including supra-sensory realms that lead into a higher integrative consciousness that is not anti-intellect, but transcends the intellect and is within reach of all human beings. These realms, according to Guénon and others, were more open to human beings in the remote past and were preserved as part of an ancient Primordial Tradition. 


And so, I ask, if the ancient Maya participated more in the mindset of a Primordial Tradition than in the logic of the Western scientific method, then isn’t it more appropriate to interpret their doctrines with the principles and methods of their own mindset? In the end, I don’t even think that Guénon’s approach can even be accused of being anti-rational. In the prerational-rational-transrational levels of consciousness discussed by thinkers such as Ken Wilbur, the approach of Primordial Traditionalists like Guénon is clearly trans-rational; that is, capable of rational interpretation—and going beyond it—without getting stuck in limiting dualisms and misplaced allegiance to the superiority complex of modern scientific methods.  Pre-rational interpretation characterizes much of the New Age literature, with its ineffective nonsense appealing largely to an emotional substitute for authentic spiritual experience. Or, perhaps we should say the experiences may be authentic but the integration into daily life is lacking.


My dilemmas in engaging in productive discourse are based in these fundamental differences of approach. My detractors want to interpret through the filters of Western deconstructionism; I want to interpret and understand through the perspective of integrative synthesis. Notice that the latter is not anti-rational. For example, in my open letter piece, I identified important (and widely accepted) elements in Mayan myth and astronomy indicating that the region of the Galactic Center was conceived as a center and birthplace. None of that assemblage of evidence rests upon my own interpretations, or on irrational fantasies. The simple conclusion, as straightforward as it is threatening to the Western Intellect, is this: The Maya thought of the region of the Galactic Center as a center and source place. They recognized the true nature of that part of the Milky Way. And their ideas are backed up by the location of the dark-rift and the fact that the Milky Way is bright and wider in that region — empirical observation at its best. 


A great deal of the issues around the “end of the world” in AD 2012 map directly onto commentary on Y2K and the Year 2000 hoopla. To defuse (and mock) all millennial madness, so-called experts have tended to disallow any empirical importance attributed to Year 2000.  One thing is clear: University institutes and celebrated spokesmen for rational common sense are simply unable to acknowledge that the solstice-galaxy alignment does make Year 2000 empirically unique. This isn’t even good science. It’s selective perception of the empirical data available.


Stephen Jay Gould published a book in 1997 on the millennium called Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist’s Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown. Given its title, we would not be wrong in suspecting it to be mistaken about the “uniqueness” of the Year 2000 millennial turning. In this little volume, science populizer  S. J. Gould muses over the meaning of the approaching Year 2000, and what’s the big deal anyway? While discussing the various debates such as “when does the millennium really turn” (2000 or 2001?) and “why are even-numbered millenniums considered more millennial?”, Gould’s main viewpoint emerges: Year 2000 is not special or unique in any empirical sense.


Science is supposed to acknowledge facts and base provisional conclusions on those facts. But Gould did not report the scientific fact that a rare alignment of the solstice meridian with the galactic equator became most precise in 1998. It is an astronomical fact that this alignment takes place roughly once every 13,000 years. As described earlier, the alignment is caused by astronomical precession, and calculations made by the U.S. Naval Observatory and European astronomer Jean Meeus calculate dates of October 27, 1998 and May 10, 1998 respectively. The rarity and empirical quality of this alignment, as well as its conceptually compelling nature, should be factored into discussions of the Year 2000 “phenomenon.” At the very least, scientific commentators are factually unjustified in labeling Year 2000 as a completely ambiguous and somewhat silly artifact of historical processes and primitive attempts at calendar making.


Gould examined when the millennium really should have turned, pointing out that Jesus was apparently really born in 4 B.C. (which would be written -3 in calculational terms, because there was no “zero” year).  He also draws from Bishop Usher’s infamous calculation of the world’s creation on October 23, 4004 B.C., and how both facts point to an adjusted millennial turning of October 23, 1997 A.D. Usage of the October 23rd date here is an ambiguous artifact of Usher’s fallacious calculations, but we might consider 1997, in this adjusted accounting, to be the “real” last year of the millennium. As such, the new millennium would dawn on January 1, 1998. Now, if we take the average of the two scientific calculations for the precise solstice-galaxy alignment (given above), we arrive at August 1, 1998. This is a mere seven months after the corrected millennial dawning. Given that the calculation of the solstice-galaxy alignment is subject to spatial and precessional vagaries that must allow for at least a plus-or-minus 1-year range, the true millennial dawning, exactly 6,000 years after the Biblical Creation, occurs right on the target of an astronomical alignment that so rare that it occurs only once every 13,000 years! This is an error of .0000958 percent in 6,000 years! Under one ten-thousandths of a percent. But of course for the die-hard defender of scientism, this must be a complete coincidence.


With great rationalist acumen we could just as easily write a treatise on Bishop Usher’s amazing insight into the 6,000-year Shemittot cycle of Jewish eschatology, subsequently integrated into Christian chronology, with a fixed end-point on the solstice-galaxy alignment of era-2000 AD. However, in official commentary such as we find in Gould’s book, the application of logic is conveniently limited to the domain where all conclusions safely affirm modern man’s illusion of historical supremacy. The most important “law” of Western science appears to be that any facts or data or ideas that challenge cherished notions must be treated as fantasies or something worse, as the following experience suggests.


Just prior to the release of MC2012 in 1998, I was in contact with several respected Maya scholars, trying to discuss my work and gather comments, criticisms, or even endorsements. One scholar, an astronomer by degree who has contributed progressive insights into Maya astronomy and ritual warfare, told me he did not want a free review copy of my book, and would rather not be exposed to or influenced by the ideas it contained. And thus the conversation dwindled. This struck me as exceedingly prejudiced yet not untypical of the general attitude of scholars to my work (out of sight, out of mind), and I was reminded of a humorous anecdote from the history of astronomy.


When Galileo discovered celestial bodies revolving around Jupiter, a world that “knew” everything revolved around the earth was shocked, not believing it could be true. He invited his critics—various intellectuals and Church officials—to peer through the new telescope and see for themselves, but they all refused. They were afraid they might be infected by demons.[6]    


Positive Responses


These daunting exchanges, though revealing of a generally intractable dilemma among a certain sector of intellectuals, were not universally experienced across the board. In fact, even before my book was accepted for publication I was invited to present my cutting-edge reconstruction at the prestigious Institute of Maya Studies in Miami, Florida. This was arranged by now-President Jim Reed, took place in August 1997, and was well-received. Since then I’ve had the good fortune to teach workshops and classes at Naropa University, The Esalen Institute, in England and Mexico.


I received continuous support and encouragement from mathematician and Maya scholar Stephen Eberhart, who welcomed the deeper implications within Maya cosmology that I was fleshing out. Mayan scholar Gordon Brotherston, a long-time proponent of precessional knowledge among the ancient Maya, reiterated his conviction of this and even suggested that my New Fire interpretation might explain certain intervals in the Aztec Festival months. Encouraging words from an astronomer in Australia, from Peter Tompkins, John Anthony West, Robert Bauval, Dr. Willy Gaspar (author of The Celestial Clock), and many others provided validating confirmation that my work was not to be summarily dismissed, and deserved an honest and comprehensive appraisal. The late Terence McKenna, who wrote the Introduction to Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, called it “a revolutionary work of discovery and synthesis.” Robert Lawlor, co-translator of Schwaller de Lubicz’s monumental The Temple in Man, and one of the most brilliant minds of our day, had this to say:


In Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, author John Major Jenkins has combined his gift for incisive, mythic and symbolic interpretation with rigorous research, to reveal the Mayan calendar as a world cosmology and spiritual philosophy, firmly grounded in precise observations of celestial patterns and rhythms. According to Jenkins’ in-depth yet accessible and often poetic analysis, the Maya had reconciled a number of planetary and sidereal cycles to accurately define the passage of our earth and solar system, as it moves through millennia, in and out of alignment with the galactical core and equator. This vast, celestial conjunction, so central to the Mayan sages and astronomers, holds profound transformative implications for individuals and civilization today.[7]  


There is no need to belabor these exchanges and endorsements. Suffice it to say that my work has been carefully assessed and recognized by many progressive thinkers who are not blinded in their judgments by the dictates of scientific materialism and institutionalized prejudice masquerading as rationalism. It is true that the scholarly community that I had directed my research towards was generally unreceptive, but that helped me identify a more interesting community of conscious, intelligent, and discerning minds. 


Again I feel limited by space, and constrained by recapitulating in short order a book that was the culmination of ten years of research. As an old adage goes: Each book has its own destiny. I would add that each book is one node in a long succession of books that extends beyond the life of any particular author. I trust that MC2012 will be judged by its own merits, on its own internal consistency, and on its honest approach to the truth.


Notes for Chapter 3


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