Will it bring a galactic alignment? A dark rift in the Milky Way? A reversal of the poles? The end of the world as we know it? According to the one in 10 Americans who believe in the importance of an ancient Maya calendar and messages found on ancient ruins in Mexico and Guatemala — heck, yes! According to skeptics and many experts — Maya scholars and scientists alike — not a chance.
I used to be certain what the answer was. When I started researching my new novel, 12.21, it was nearly impossible for me — a hyper-rational science devotee — to grasp how, for so many millions of people around the world, an arbitrary date mentioned by an ancient culture a millennium ago could inspire so much fear.
But then I started to learn more...
Here's how the intellectual and spiritual stew of the 2012 phenomenon was cooked up. Before the beginning of the first millennium, the ancient Maya created their Long Count calendar, which has an important cycle that turns every 400 years. The Maya revered and feared calendar turns, and the end of a major ba'ktun was always significant. Then, in the early 20th century, archaeologists discovered an inscription at Maya ruins in Tortuguero, Mexico, that ominously names the date of the end of the 13th of these 400-year cycles: December 21, 2012.
Then the 1970s brought the weird ex-hippie mix of environmentalism and the search for meaning, and when charismatic new leaders in the New Age community started to preach about a major change coming, they looked back to the indigenous people of the Americas for wisdom about when that might happen.
Suddenly the end of the 13th Maya b'aktun was imbued with new meaning. In these circles, it became a byword for spiritual renewal, a return to basic human values and abandonment of technology (the irony being that word of the importance of 2012 would later spread fastest over the Internet). Eventually, more aggressive adherents came to believe that on 12/21 the earth and sun would drift into "galactic alignment" on an equator in space, that the earth's poles would reverse — leaving the planet vulnerable to radiation — or that an alien race would absorb our planet into their evil federation. Yikes.
Google it and go down the rabbit hole. I dare you — it'll blow your mind, I promise. Mine was blown, and I kept writing about it for years. Plus, one thing is certain: there is definitely an end approaching on 12/21 — at the very least, all the hype will end. The growing frenzy surrounding the calendar turn reminds many non-believers of the hype around Y2K.
If the 2012 phenomenon started with a desire to imagine a better world, in which we questioned progress and technology and reconnected with nature and the people around us, that seems pretty reasonable, doesn't it? Plus, from nuclear weapons to unknown diseases to economic collapse, it sure feels like we live in a very fragile time. Every day another news story reminds me of what a challenging and imperfect world ours is. So, maybe I'll just say this, with four months left to go before we get an answer: I sure hope the end of the Long Count cycle brings about some kind of change.
What kind? You'll have to read 12.21 to find out.
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Dustin Thomason graduated from Harvard College and received his M.D. from Columbia University. He is the co-author of the international bestseller The Rule of Four, and has written and produced several television series, including Lie to Me. He lives in Venice Beach, California. 12.21 is his second novel.
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