End of the World? We Think Not! Happy New Oxlajuj Baktun

Posted on December 20, 2012


Well, folks, tomorrow is it:  the end of the Mayan calendar Long Count, or the World Age:  13 Baktuns, or 1,872,000 days, or 5125 years.  The Oxlajuj Baktun.

The Mayans were amazing astronomers and timekeepers, and created three complex, interlocking calendars to reflect the workings of the universe as they saw it from their observatories.  Interesting what the ancients could learn by watching the world, without the distractions of cell phones, television, and ambient artificial light.

Sadly, however, the people in 2012 do have those things, so we remain woefully unattuned to natural cycles – well, not our fault, really, since most of us live in light-polluted cities.  Instead, we tune in to our favorite tinfoil-hat websites or sensationalistic, fact-free TV shows and movies, and pretty soon it’s all about how the Mayans predicted the end of the world.  Panic and doom!  Armageddon and planetary destruction!  Run out and buy your apocalypse survival kits including… a can of fish and a bottle of vodka?  Not sure how this is supposed to stave off planetary destruction, but I guess fish and vodka are standard issue for any Russian emergency.

The kits might be meant as a joke, but Russians have really, truly been hoarding supplies and trying to “weasel out of debts,” citing the end of the world, reports RIA Novosti.  Nor are they alone in their panic:  as The Telegraph reports, plenty of Chinese and Americans are also buying up essentials, sales of expensive emergency shelters have boomed, and in France, “believers” are planning to converge on a mountaintop to be rescued by aliens.  Seriously, people?  Seriously?  I fear for the intellect of our species.

I just don’t get it.  Do we panic every year when we see 31 December approaching, until – oh, thank God! – new calendars have been printed!  The world can continue now that we have our new 12-month calendars!   Silly, huh?  And yet, that’s exactly what all the fuss equates to today.  Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised; after all, didn’t people prepare for the end of the world in 2000, not to mention a couple hundred other dates?   When the world doesn’t end, “believers” are far from dissuades of their beliefs; instead, they rationalize some explanation of the event and cling as ferociously as ever to the fantasy.

The Mayans never said the world was going to end in 2012. According to Mayan cultural expert Dr. David Stuart of the University of Austin, their calendars actually account for time and prophesied events far into the future:  “The Maya calendar not only doesn’t end, but it keeps going for eons and eons beyond 2012,” Dr. Stuart tells EarthSky.  Another name for the Long Count is the Great Cycle, the operative word here being cycle.

Isla Mujeres

The tip of Isla Mujeres, where the first rays of the Sixth Sun will arrive 21 December

So, while the rest of the world cowers with their sardine tins and vodka bottles in hand, let’s check out how Mayan descendants will bear witness to the turning of the Long Count:  a celebration beginning at sunrise on 21 December on the southeastern tip of Isla Mujeres, just off the coast of Cancun, which is where the first rays of the “Sixth Sun” will touch Mexico.  There will be dancing, singing, Mayan food and rituals, and Mexican celebrities and officials in attendance.  They will be there to welcome a new era.  No one said anything about the end of the world.

Happy New Oxlajuj Baktun!