There is a lot written about 2012 but what is the real history of the Mayan calendar? We can discern a lot through the connections between the Maya creation story, their calendar, astronomy and the ancient temples and archaeological sites that span thousands of years.
The Maya were amazing people with very advanced mathematic and writing systems. Many consider Maya art of their Classic Era to be the most sophisticated and beautiful of the ancient New World. Ancient Mayan astronomers were brilliant, able to calculate thousands of years ahead, hence the famous Mayan Calendar. The Maya described human evolution in terms of advancement through sequential world ages. The goal? A properly respectful human being. What does this mean to you and me?
To begin, here is a very brief historical overview. The Popol Vuh, translated as the Book of Council, records ancient oral traditions, chronicles the creation of man and the actions of the gods. It is comparable to the bible. The significance of this book is enormous since it is one of a small number of early texts, often considered the single most important piece of Mesoamerican literature. The three surviving Codices (latin for books) give charts and tables that have helped to interpret most of what we know about the Maya. One of these codices, the Dresden Codex, contains astronomical tables of outstanding accuracy. It is most famous for its Lunar Series and Venus table. The codex includes almanacs, astronomical and astrological tables as well as religious references, auguries (omens) for particular cycles along with pictures and names of the attendant gods.
The Paris Codex is considered a zodiac and a picture of Creation. The archeological sites give many indications of the coherency and integrity of ancient Maya thought including architecture designed to both give astronomical data and promote interaction between the people of the day and the gods above and the lords of Xilbaba. Maya history and mythology is very interrelated and integrated. The Popol Vuh speaks of four creations, of which we are the fourth. The preceding three creations did not work out. It was only the fourth creation, ‘people of corn’, that met the criteria of beings who could and would honor, obey, nourish and sustain their Creators.
Ancient Maya astronomers had the capacity to determine a ‘zero’ date of the current cycle to 3114 BCE (Before Common Era or BC) on the Gregorian calendar and then project more than 5,000 years forward to a cycle closing date on a winter solstice on December 21st, 2012, approximately 5,125 years. There are five Long Count cycles that fit into a larger 26,000 year cycle called The Great Cycle, also called the “Precession of the Equinoxes”. We are currently in the last long count cycle (also known as a baktun) of the Great Cycle. Within the Long Count are two smaller calendar cycles called the Tzolkin and the Haab. The Tzolkin and the Haab work independently to record ceremonial, agricultural and religious events and when meshed together, they work as a 52 year calendar. On the date, December 21, 2012 (and there is controversy around accuracy) all of the calendars will have come full circle at the same time moving us to the beginning of a new Great Cycle, Long Count, Tzlokin and Haab cycle. It is somewhat like an odometer reading on a car that just sprung back to zero, looking like this, 126.96.36.199.0. Logically, the first date in the Long Count should be 0.0.0.0.0, but as the baktun (the first component) are numbered from 1 to 13 rather than 0 to 12, this first date is actually written 188.8.131.52.0.
Why is this important? Well, first of all, the recognition that the “end” of the cycle on the Maya Calendar is just that, an end to a cycle which implies the beginning of another. You might ask, what is the significance of shifting from one cycle to another? The Popol Vuh, the calendar, archeology and surviving Mayan traditions, beliefs and lifestyles indicate the importance of the connection to all of Creation, the Gods and Xilbalba. The Popol Vuh describes what it means to be a ‘properly respectful human being’ and the temples of the past show how this respect was exhibited. The hieroghyphs indicate how the constellations reflect the dates of big events and alignments between the gods and men. All this indicates that mankind has an effect on the Cosmos… that the new cycle is influenced, at least in part, by our participation, or lack of in the preceding cycle.
What can we learn from the ancient Maya about making a positive influence on our future? Many, if not all, ancient Mayan sites have a ball court, evidencing the importance of the ball game in ancient Maya culture. The Popol Vuh describes two sets of twins that play ball confronting death, evil and disease. The ball game represents life, death, transformation and sacrifice and is the interaction with the Gods and Xiblaba, the Underworld… the place of fear. It is a metaphor for life. We are in the ballgame.
In our culture, metaphors are often set aside in favor of concrete historical facts and yet psychotherapy today is often successful through the use of metaphors. It is time to question our culture’s reliance on rational, linear and logical understanding. It could be equated with using only one side of the brain and missing the information received through the other. The Maya believe that dualities in general are complementary rather than opposed and that they are interpenetrating rather than mutually exclusive. This actually allows for greater assimilation, integration and inclusiveness. This is not necessarily something we practise in our culture, where we tend to hold dualities in place by defending one aspect over the other, creating polarization.
The Xibalbans were defeated in the ball court by the twins who “were their equals in strength and made many plays, since they only had very good thoughts”. The first set of twins were not successful because they were not alert enough. The twins also won by “submit(ting) knowingly to defeat and sacrifice in order to win the larger game”.
As astonomers and record keepers of huge cycles of time, the Maya must have had incredible foresight and focus. Compare that to our cultural mind set that can’t see forward more than a bit or bite, much less than many, many generations.
The teachings gleaned from the ancient Maya inform us of the importance of a larger perspective… to see a bigger picture. This perspective is not only more vast in distance and time but also with respect to linear and logical vs mythological rational, transcending duality. To know how to ‘win the larger game’ we have to be able to see it. Once we see it, we have to be alert, paying attention to our thoughts and our investment in fear. The ballgame is about paying attention. The metaphors point to the power of our thoughts and to our power struggles with fear. Weakness, guilt, disease and sickness are all vehicles for the Xibalbans, from the place of fear.
The reason the prior three creations did not work out was because the people created did not “respect their Creators and reciprocate their love and care by returning nourishment”. When the people of wood of the third creation met their end, even their possessions rose up against them for past mistreatment. To prepare the world for the fourth creation, the twins had a mission to “defeat each one of those who engaged in self-magnifcation”. This reveals that our design as people is to eventually become co-creators working together with our Creator. To reach this destiny we need to be diligent at keeping our ego (self magnification) in check and to take complete and total responsibility for our actions even with respect to our possessions.
To sum it up, we are co-creators of our destiny. Pay attention and don’t fall into the false lull of limited ego perspective. Choose to step up to the plate and act with responsibility and integrity in each moment. Recognize that our every thought and action has impact. Set your gaze further than current culture would encourage and act on what you see challenging your every fear and weakness. When you encounter paradox, you will know you are on the right track as dualities are harmonized and truths are integrated in a grander fashion. Keep your focus on a future you wish to be in. Do not let guilt be your guide. Allow for increased expansion and connection.