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December 21st. 2012 (2)

This is the second and final part of Professor Robert Sitler’s abridged article...

Gaspar González
Gaspar González (Click on image to enlarge)

As a senior member of the cultural revival movement known as the movimiento maya, a serious scholar, a native speaker of Q’anjob’al Maya and a former member of the Guatemalan Academy of Maya Languages, González has impeccable credentials as a Maya spokesperson. His specific references to the year 2012 undoubtedly are a result of academic study of the once-forgotten Maya Long Count calendar but they coincide perfectly with ancient prophecies among the Hach Winik and Macewal and highland Maya that don’t refer to a specific date.

Victor Montejo
Victor Montejo

Another Maya intellectual, the Jakalteko novelist, professor and cultural activist, Victor Montejo, echoes González’s emphasis on the active role of human beings in the coming age after 2012 when he says that:
“Prophetic expressions of the indigenous peoples insist on the protagonist [leading] role that new generations must play at the close of this Oxlanh B’aktun (thirteen B’aktun) and the beginning of the new Maya millennium. The ancestors have always said that ‘one day our children will speak to the world.’ ... This millennial or b’aktunian movement responds to the close of a great prophetic cycle ... the great prophetic cycle of 400 years in the Maya calendar.

Copal offerings, Guatemala
Copal offerings, Guatemala (Click on image to enlarge)

For the Maya, this is not the close of the second millennium or 2000 years after Christ, but rather the close of the fifth millennium according to the ancient Maya calendar initiated in the mythical year that corresponds to 3114 B.C.... The b’aktun includes the global concept of time and the regeneration of life with new ideas and actions. In other words, the theoretical b’aktunian approach leads us to understand the effect of human ideas and actions on all that exists on the earth and their effects on the environment and cosmos.”

Traditional Maya New Year offerings
Traditional Maya New Year offerings (Click on image to enlarge)

In very recent years, knowledge of the year 2012 has spread beyond the realm of internationally known Maya spiritual teachers and Maya intellectuals to include a few spiritual guides still living and working within their highland Guatemalan communities. Since the year’s significance stems from part of their ancient culture, their tendency is to incorporate it instinctively into long-existing prophetic traditions and hopes for a revival of Maya culture and indigenous political power. The K’iche’ spiritual guide Rigoberto Itzep quotes community elders in Momostenango who say, “You will still see many warnings. You will still see and hear strange things. You will still see great ruin. There will be many changes on Earth.” According to Itzep, these K’iche’ Maya elders never specified the year 2012 but for him, the potential for the year is obvious. ”The ideological power of the West in its entirety might expire forever in 2012,” words that undoubtedly represent the heartfelt wish of many Maya in the region.

Stone carving of ancient Maya ruler-prophet
Stone carving of ancient Maya ruler-prophet (Click on image to enlarge)

But even for Itzep, and other traditional Maya, the exact date itself in 2012 is not especially critical. Instead, they view the date as simply a temporal marker in the midst of vast cyclical processes that were set in motion long ago. As José María Tol Chan , an ajq’ij from highland Guatemala, recently told me: “It is an event that has already begun, there are already signs.... Humans more than ever should pay close attention to all the events that disturb balance. They are teachings that we living beings should extract from the stages through which we pass. It’s not that we are arriving at a zero hour in 2012, it’s already beginning.”

Destruction of the Patzicia district of Guatemala City by the 1976 earthquake
Destruction of the Patzicia district of Guatemala City by the 1976 earthquake (Click on image to enlarge)

Even though prophecies of world renewal have long existed among the Maya, the idea of a coming radical transformation has entered the contemporary Maya world most broadly through the teachings of the numerous fundamentalist Protestant churches that have grown rapidly in the region during recent decades. The disastrous 1976 earthquake that shook Guatemala not only killed tens of thousands of Maya; it brought a new wave of Christian missionaries pushing their religious ideology along with much-needed relief supplies. The cataclysmic violence of the earthquake was followed almost immediately by a particularly brutal military repression of the Maya of Guatemala during the late 1970s and early 1980s when as many as 200,000 Maya civilians died and hundreds of thousands of others found themselves wounded or displaced.

Maya spirituality infuses traditional Christian icons in a Guatemalan church
Maya spirituality infuses traditional Christian icons in a Guatemalan church (Click on image to enlarge)

Although there are several complementary explanations for the massive Maya conversion to fundamentalism apart from the civil war, when missionaries refer to the coming end of the world in accord with their interpretation of the Bible, one can understand how some Maya might be inclined to believe them. With the earth shaking beneath them, witnessing the wholesale slaughter of their families and friends, the perceived degeneration of their own religious traditions and experiencing the rapid degradation of their natural surroundings, it might be a challenge not to conclude otherwise.

The Bible and the Book of Revelation in Spanish
The Bible and the Book of Revelation in Spanish (Click on image to enlarge)

Fundamentalist groups focus on the biblical passages of the book of Revelation and, of course, do not refer to the year 2012. Although there is no evidence that Maya fundamentalists will embrace the 2012 date, global communication networks make it virtually unavoidable that the two “millennial” currents will eventually come into greater contact with one another. It seems quite possible that some Maya fundamentalists awaiting the end of the world will see the 2012 date as an attractive way to blend their new faith with the ways of their revered ancestors.

The ruined ancient Maya site of Palenque, Mexico
The ruined ancient Maya site of Palenque, Mexico (Click on image to enlarge)

Continued exchanges and links between contemporary Maya and New Age participants in the 2012 movement are inevitable and likely to increase, especially as more Maya spiritual teachers travel internationally, mixing with counterparts from a variety of world traditions. Many of these same Maya teachers also guide groups of New Age spiritual seekers on tours to various sites in the Maya world, often providing opportunities for participants to interact with at least some members of the local communities. There have already been events focusing on the 2012 date in Tikal, Momostenango and around Lake Atitlán in Guatemala as well as in Mérida, Tulum, Coba and elsewhere in Mexico. While most of these events are primarily in English, there are now a few Spanish language equivalents.

Lacandón ‘grandparents’
Lacandón ‘grandparents’ (Click on image to enlarge)

Apart from New Age tourism, global communication and Maya immigration to the United States will facilitate development of greater awareness concerning the 2012 date in today’s Maya population. The fact that the 2012 date has authentic connections to their ancient “abuelos”, their ancestral “grandparents,” will no doubt attract Maya traditionalists and those in the Maya cultural revitalization movement attempting to resuscitate key components of their heritage. Hopes are alive among nearly all Maya for the dawn of a new era, one based on justice and respect. In accord with their cyclical view of the world, many long for a fifth creation to follow the first four as described in their sacred Popol Vuh.

Rigoberta Menchú
Rigoberta Menchú (Click on image to enlarge)

For those with a more political agenda, the date takes still further relevance. The world’s leading Maya activist, Rigoberta Menchú, for example, may once again run for the Guatemalan presidency in the year 2011 as part of a Maya political party. This may not be a coincidence. If she wins the elections, she would enter office in the year 2012 as the nation’s first Maya president. Thus, even though little of the current speculation in the 2012 phenomenon has a genuine source in the Maya world, the year may turn out to be one of the most significant in Maya history.

The Maya and the burden of time?
The Maya and the burden of time? (Click on image to enlarge)

Long-standing Maya prophetic traditions linked to world renewal can now easily attach themselves to a specific date that has authentic roots deep in their ancient past. The region’s rapidly worsening environmental degradation, the growing influence among Maya of apocalyptic scenarios arising from Evangelical Protestantism, and an increasing awareness among Maya of the 2012 phenomenon outside the region, may coincide to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. These paths may very well lead to a period of radical change in the Maya world and hopefully to a brighter future for their children and the ecosystems they call home. So even though the 2012 date may, in truth, have relatively little historical significance in Maya culture, through unrelated environmental and cultural currents, the date make take on truly transformative dimensions for the Maya of today.

Olmec stone altar with human figures supporting the waters of the earth, Xalapa Museum of Anthropology, Mexico
Olmec stone altar with human figures supporting the waters of the earth, Xalapa Museum of Anthropology, Mexico (Click on image to enlarge)

For non-Maya, the December 21, 2012 date itself will likely be a “non-event” similar to the widely anticipated Y2K phenomenon. Fortunately, they need not necessarily keep non-Maya from reaping the benefits of Maya wisdom. While many involved with the 2012 phenomenon see the Maya as messengers from the stars, masters of time, or guardians of galactic tradition of human evolution, in truth, their most valuable message for the outside world comes from planet earth itself. The real teachings of the Maya road are the lessons they learned through a hundred generations of continuous living in intimate relationship with the same relatively small region. Such deep familiarity with nature and the various ecosystems that have sustained Maya for millennia have led to a collective understanding of their dependence upon what some of them refer to as “Our Mother.”

A sacred hill and Maya village, Guatemala
A sacred hill and Maya village, Guatemala (Click on image to enlarge)

The traditional Maya sense of intimacy with the living world gives rise to a broadened perspective on human life that has led to an enhanced sense of awe, respect and compassion all fostered by intensely nurturing and engaged parenting. As a simple consequence of their culture’s approach to life, many Maya still experience an on-going shared awareness of their bonds with one another and with nature herself. These practical, hard-earned lessons in living are the true gift of Maya culture to the wider world. As the much-heralded year 2012 approaches, the real lessons of daily living in the Maya world offer us a means to enhance the quality of our own lives and the health of the planet, regardless of the significance of the date itself.
(Emphasis added)

The World Tree emerging from the sacred body of the maize god, Codex Dresden (Villacorta edition), p.3
The World Tree emerging from the sacred body of the maize god, Codex Dresden (Villacorta edition), p.3 (Click on image to enlarge)

Picture sources:-
• Photos of dawn at Tikal and of Gaspar González by Robert Sitler
• Victor Montejo, from www.congreso.gob.gt/gt/comision_2.asp?id=30&tp=1
• Photos of Maya offerings and stone figure of Maya ruler by Robert Sitler
• 1976 Earthquake destruction in Guatemala, from Wikipedia
• Decorated church altar: photo by Robert Sitler
• Bible in Spanish: photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Palenque ruins: photo by Robert Sitler
• B/W photo of elderly Lacandón Indians (c. 1933-34) by Georgette Coustelle, from www.geocities.com/RainForest/3134/winik/soustelle/soustelle2.html
• Rigoberta Menchú, from Wikipedia
• ‘Maya and the burden of time?’, photo of bark paper painting by anonymous Mexican artist by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore (original design may be by Jean Charlot)
• Olmec stone altar, photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Sacred hill, photo by Robert Sitler
• World Tree image from Codex Dresden scanned from our copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1975

For more serious research on the issue...
Read some of Robert Sitler’s more recent comments...
A growing collection of articles on 2012 assembled by FAMSI
‘What You Should Know About 2012: Answers to 13 Questions’
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