Editor’s note: The Nicaragua Dispatch first published this article 18 uinal and 5 kins ago, back in the 15th solar sun of our first creation. So I apologize to those of you who have already read this. But let’s face it, if the world really does end on Dec. 21 (fingers crossed), then I’m glad I didn’t spend my last day on earth reporting on something new.
COPÁN, Honduras—For those who still mark the passage of time with the precision of the Maya Long Count Calendar, Friday is 188.8.131.52.0. (Hard to believe it has already been 7885 solar years since the beginning of the thirteenth baktun—where has the time gone?)
For the rest of us who have switched to the sloppier Gregorian Calendar, which has to cram a leap day into every fourth February to make up for its slapdash astronomical calculations, Dec. 21 is the day the Maya Long Count Calendar ends.
That’s when something big is supposed to happen.
The Maya, who were marvelously astute stargazers and mathematicians, predicted thousands of years ago that the world would end preciously at 11 p.m. on Dec. 21, 2012, according to some modern interpretations of the Maya calendar and codices. But what’s supposed to happen then is anyone’s guess.
Despite their mathematical exactitude, the Maya were a little vague when it came to some of the other seemingly important details about the end of time. Allegedly, there are references in their codices to the sky falling to earth, portals opening to another spiritual realm, the return of the Jaguar Moon God, droughts, war, upheaval and other potential unpleasantness.
Self-styled “2012 experts”—a curious collection of authors, academics, cyber shaman, opportunists, Internet marketeers and cross-eyed lunatics —forecast a wide range of events. The gamut runs from the cataclysmic—a hellish meteor strike from the constellation Sagittarius, deadly sun flares, devastating tidal waves, a pole shift, a reversal of the earth’s magnetic field, or the “Nibiru” collision—to the boring: the beginning of a new era of spiritual awareness.
As 2012 survivalists heeded Internet gurus’ calls to preparedness by stocking their bunkers with gasmasks, radiation suits, Slim Jims, fruitcake and Tang, in Central America the Maya’s end of times has been spun into a business and marketing opportunity.
In the magnificent Copán ruins in Honduras, The Honduran Tourism Institute this year ran a yearlong “Countdown to the End of the Maya Calendar.” And at Guatemala’s Tikal ruins, some shameless shamans exploited the situation in less spiritual ways.
“There are lots of charlatans,” says Tikal park guide Abel Monteroso, who has been giving tours of the Guatemala’s Tikal ruins for 21 years. “Some shamans go off into the park with people and promise to perform private Maya ceremonies. But then they tell the women to get naked and start touching them.”
Monteroso, however, does believe that something dramatic will happen tomorrow. As a 47-year-old indigenous Guatemalan with a Maya bloodline that he claims can be traced back to former kings, Monteroso says a powerful spiritual awakening or transformation is coming. But he doesn’t think everyone will be ready for it.
Monteroso says he received his sign of preparedness for the spiritual leap during a recent encounter with a traditional Maya healer who performed a ceremony in which he briefly turned melted wax into a snake, which disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
“Some of us saw it and others didn’t; only four of the seven people in our group saw it,” Monteroso says. “I am preparing myself.”
Monteroso expects that the end of the Long Count calendar will be a special moment for many Maya descendants to reconnect to their history.
“Now many Maya speak English, wear Levis and Nike, drive pickup trucks and listen to Britney Spears. But on the inside we are Maya, we are still connected on a spiritual level because that is our spirituality,” Monteroso said.
When pressed on his claim about many Maya enjoying Britney Spears’ music, Monteroso caved. “I like Madonna better,” he said with a laugh.
At sunrise on Friday, Monteroso said he will be sitting atop Temple 4 at Tikal, waiting to see what the first sun of the New Creation brings.
The idea of 2012 having a meaning lost on non-Maya is shared by Saul Montoya, a historian at Honduras’ National Museum.
“2012 is the end of the Maya world, not the end of humanity,” he says. “I feel there will be a political or social or even geographical change, but not the end of humanity.”
Still, after spending years studying the Maya’s extensive knowledge of math and celestial movements, and the temples they built with shadows that align perfectly on the vernal equinox, Montoya admits he feels a little uneasy about the exactitude of the end date.
“Of all the civilizations that predict an apocalypse, the Maya were the only one that put a date on it,” he said. “The Mayas were excellent astronomers, very exact in their measurements. The Maya calendar has a margin of error of minutes, while the margin of error on the calendar we use now is so big it has to be compensated with a leap day. The Maya were much more exact.”
Montoya fidgets as the logic of his own argument seems to lead him towards a conclusion he’s trying to avoid.
“If there were going to be an end date, the Mayas would have known better than anyone else,” he says.