2012: What Can Native Americans Teach The World?
by Three Blade Jaguar
There is always a chance the world – or at least its present Age – will come to a dramatic conclusion on the Winter Solstice of 2012.
If it does, though, it is most unlikely that ancient Mayan prophets can claim credit for calling the Big Day correctly. They never much expected the end of the world as, in their long experience, each age was followed by another.
Nonetheless, those Mesoamerican Indians built a civilization that was mathematically, technologically and spiritually brilliant. And their modern descendants can still show us a thing or two about forecasting on a personal level – the art of divination – using some of the same calendrical tools. I’ll give you a brief idea how to do that. First, though, let’s talk about the end of time – as well as its beginning.
That took place on Aug. 13, 3114 BCE, according to the fi rst engraved stone records (which only date to the time of Christ). Like the Hebrew and Chinese calendars, the Mayan Long Count, as it is called, has a starting date more than 1,000 years before true civilization, with cities and writing, appeared in its area. By the Classical Era, it was rigorously standardized and abstract, designed to measure vast passages of time beyond personal experience or historical records. This is the Long Count that will undoubtedly end on Dec. 21, 2012 as most scholars reckon it.
The Long Count is actually two calendars in one: secular time, measured roughly by the sun, and sacred time, measured by the human body (numbers derived from gestation and the joints and digits on our extremities). It is a totally non-lunar calendar; months matter not at all. Neither is it seasonal. It never reflects annual cycles of weather and agrarian life. The fi rst “year”, or haab, lasts for 365 days, no more, no less, divided into 18 “months” of 20 days, with five uayeb days left over. The second “year”, or tun, lasts for 260 days, divided into 20 uinal of 13 days each. No intercalary days have ever been counted.
Mesoamericans – the founders of civilization in the New World – have long sought in the intricacies of this fi nely-woven calendar a tool for prophecy and prediction similar to the Old World astrologies of the Middle East and the Orient. Rarely, though, did their interests take them far beyond the concerns of their own lifetime.
That’s because all prophets play to the seats in the back of the hall. And the back of the hall is only interested in what will happen to them and (perhaps) to their children. Actually to conceive of the “seventh generation”, and to act on its behalf, is a highly-evolved spiritual exercise that only a few are ever capable of. If, for some reason, they do, and can write it down … still, nobody ever saves those books, because no book-savers care that much about the far-distant future.
For that reason, Paul’s and John’s prophecies 1950 years ago about the Coming of Christ surely were meant to apply to the social and political issues of the Mediterranean world in the 1st century CE. Nostradamus’s prophecies 455 years ago surely were meant to apply to European current aff airs in the
Often, people of later generations reach back in time to use “ancient scriptures” as scrying tools. Without fail, they pepper these texts with questions about their own near future and ignore what the Ancients themselves must have cared most about. Everyone assumes the Ancients couldn’t care less about the intervening 500 years, or 2,500 years, before Your Favorite Body was born; however, we trust them to have written down in great detail what will happen to you and your friends, in your lifetime, in particular. It is human nature to be spiritually self-centered.
Oddly enough, one Mayan prophet may have shown an interest in times to come long after him – although this is not clear. Various writings during the period 1700-1900 are attributed to one individual, Jaguar Priest (Chilam Balam). They use one cycle of the Long Count, the katun (20 tun, or about 19½
years) as a handy measure of what we might call “generations”; and they strive to characterize the sociopolitical experience of society as a whole in terms of these katun. Jaguar Priest seems to have made a prophecy about an entire baktun (almost 400 years), beginning sometime during this period.
Jaguar Priest was very popular in his time. But he was not very hopeful when predicting the future of mankind. He called for four generations with drought, three featuring moral turpitude, and three of bad luck.
For one katun, however, he predicted good news. Th at should kick in on Dec 21, 2012 with the return of Plumèd Serpent (Kukulcan or Quetzalcóátl), who brings peace, prosperity and intellectual progress to all. Let’s hope it’s true! Nevertheless, we’ll still get only 19½ good years, after which drought, sexual depravity and losing lottery tickets will set in once more….
However, modern Mayans are just as clued into the Zeitgeist as modern North Americans are. And they get around. You can hear Mayan languages spoken today in the fields of Pennsylvania, by migrant farm workers.
Mayans in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize actively practice calendrical divination along with other shamanic arts. Most of it is everyday stuff intended to help individuals sort out their lives in the short run. But their practitioners are well aware of the global buzz about 2012 and they are even participating in it, to a measured and sensible degree.
The notion of a Mayan epochal wrap sometime around the beginning of the 21st century was first spread by white men. Eric Thompson, the doyen of Mayan studies in the early 20th century, deduced this event from some inscriptions he found at Cobá in Yucatán. Michael Coe first popularized this idea with a book in 1966, during the Summer of Love.
By the 1980s, a couple of American Indians helped spread the idea into mass culture. José Argüelles, a Mexican-American, was one of the prime drivers behind the enthusiasm for the “Harmonic Convergence” that took place (perhaps) on Aug. 17, 1987. Tony Shearer, a Sioux from Colorado, also played a role in this phenomenon. Neither gentleman was society. They gleaned some ideas about old Mesoamerica from current anthropology and applied them to the mystical concerns of the international “New Age” movement, relying strongly on personal vision.
In so doing, they were no different from any other person who comes to Four Quarters, no matter what their background. Indian spirituality has always been dynamic and evolving. Since 1492, it has had plenty of reasons to evolve. It has interacted with Old World faiths, as they have with those of the New. All contemporary New World Earth Religions are, by definition, post-Columbian. They are constantly being enriched by new visions pursued in old ways, new understandings of old laws. They are meant to function in a diverse, multicultural society, because that’s what Indians as well as whites, Blacks and Asians live in.
Most scholars and shamans agree, though, that Argüelles and Shearer got their date wrong, at least as far as the Maya are concerned. Mesoamerica is a huge, ancient area with different ancestral civilizations, with different languages and different twists to their common heritage. (Think “Europe”.) To all this, the first New Age guys were outsiders and didn’t run the calendar right. In the Maya heartland, that calendar has been running uninterruptedly, sustained by elders of living Earth Religions. The new End of an Era in 2012 is correct, according to their understanding.
Some of them have weighed in on this subject. As a rule, they welcome world attention to their Earth Religion. They disagree on many points. They do, however, agree that the end of an age is metaphorical, not literal. Properly understood, the world is always ending and always beginning.
In Guatemala, a National Mayan Council has recently been formed. Don Alejandro Cirilo Pérez Oxlaj is its spokesman. This body of 440 delegates works to represent the majority of Guatemalans who are Mayan. Even after all these years, almost as many Guatemalans – 4.5 million – speak one of 47 Mayan languages as speak Spanish, the language of state ever since Córtez conquered Mesoamerica.
For centuries the Mayans of Guatemala have been an oppressed majority. In the 1970s and 1980s they were subjected to genocidal massacres by the national army. But public affairs have turned around for them. The current President of Guatemala, Alvaro Colom Caballeros, is supportive of Indian rights. Don Pérez Oxlaj has consecrated him as an “honorary shaman”. Colom’s term, coincidentally, will end in 2012. But the Mayans of Guatemala are still planning for the future. Don Pérez Oxlaj has released internet messages urging the planet to prepare for a new era after the end of the old.
In Mexico, a Yucatec Maya religious leader, Hunbatz Men, has more aggressively asserted the role of Mayan spirituality in an international confraternity of Earth Religions. His view is that the planet is dotted with sacred places linked by a common energy. He has helped organize an international calendar of ceremonies at sacred sites like the Pyramids, Stonehenge and Chaco Pueblo in high New Age style, all leading up to 2012. Modern Mayans are proud, shrewd, sensitive and observant observers of the present age. “We are the indigenous Mayans. We have something to give to humanity,” comments Hunbatz Men.
He is riding a spiritual wave of his time, trying to make sense of his life on this planet – just as his ancestors in Yucatán did 600 years ago. If he can cast a little light on fellow-travelers in other lands who are peering into the future just like him, he is happy to do so.
About his ancestors, though, he emphasizes, “Their calendars do not END in 2012. After every cycle, life begins anew.”
With any luck, you and I will both still be able to divine the future on Dec. 22, 2012 at Four Quarters Sanctuary after the Mayan Long Count ends. That’s why we build for the Seventh Generation.