Once again the world is going to end. Or rather it most certainly is not. It's hard to tell in advance of course.
21 December 2012 is the predicted date of this epic event… or non-event as it may be. It comes down to this: an ancient Mayan calendar carved on stone at Quirigua, Guatemala, and in other Mayan cities, structured time not just for a year but for a long cosmic cycle of 5,126 years.
This began with the creation of humanity and the ordering of the world as we know it on what our calendars would identify as 11 August 3114 BCE. Repeating cycles of 52 years are depicted up until the end of this era on our 21 December 2012. The Mayan calendar records this as day 220.127.116.11.19. If this does mean the end of time for humans, earth and the cosmos, then there will be no merry Christmas. There will be no happy new year.
Many people are preparing for the end of the world. To be blunt, mostly they are panicking. Some are said to be contemplating suicide so they don't have to be around on the catastrophic day. It has been reported that others are more hopeful they’ll survive to use the food they’ve been hoarding.
Some people seem to think that erecting Mayan style architecture (arches or pyramids) will help. Perhaps these are meant to create portals to another dimension just as some Christians proclaim the existence of a heaven to which the faithful will go when the end does come.
The Mayan calendar carvings are interested in dates not prophecies. Imagination has therefore been employed. Happily (if bizarrely), there are authoritative declarations that the world certainly will not end on 21 December. The Russian Minister for Emergency Situations is reported to have insisted that he has been monitoring everything and can assure us that the end is not happening. A NASA Astrobiologist is said to have replied to over two thousand emails from people who need his assurance that the world will not end soon.
While it is impossible to be certain that the world will not end on a particular date, it is quite certain that the end of one Mayan calendar was not a deliberate attempt to predict the end of everything. Simply put, when one cycle ends, another begins.
Indeed, that is the chief point of the Mayan calendar. This is true of days, months, years, lifetimes, and long periods of time. The calendar that ends this year was understood by its carvers to be about the fourth such cycle. In fact, there are also a few temple carvings that predict events long after the end of this fifth cosmic age in which we live.
If these are correct, there will be a big anniversary party for a Mayan ruler on 21 October 4772. It seems likely that only the decline of Mayan city states prevented someone funding the work of carving another “long count” stone calendar. As 21 December is 18.104.22.168.19. on the existing count, so the missing one would have begun on 22.214.171.124.0. Life will go on.
If, however, 21 December should prove to be the end of the world, perhaps this is a suitable time for such a thing to happen. It is, after all, the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Throughout time, many people have worried that winter days might keep getting shorter and shorter until there is nothing left but winter nights.
In more than one culture people have thought that the sun cannot possibly continue giving out energy day after day, year after year. It (or he or she) needs help.
Maybe some of our cherished midwinter festivities have deep roots in ceremonies that offer encouragement and energy to the sun. Certainly, around the winter solstice is a good time to give gifts, to share food and drink, to light fires or candles, and to share warmth and light.
With family, friends and neighbours we express hope of longer, brighter days full of health and well-being. We try to improve life for all concerned. And maybe the sun (from which all our energy and vitality comes) joins in the celebration. This is worth a thought if only because it is better than worrying if the world will end. Happy holidays!