Posted by: Johan Normark | November 12, 2009

2012: The 2012circus for dummies

Tomorrow Emmerich’s ultimate disaster movie has worldwide premiere. Most reviews have already given it thumbs down and based on what I have seen of the movie so far I am not likely to give it a positive remark. For those not acquainted with what the 2012circus is about here follows a short summary of the main issues that I have covered on this blog so far.

For a small but still growing group of people December 21, 2012 will be a fateful day. Several made up prophecies will not fulfill. Some of these people will probably say “never mind” and search for a new doomsday in some ancient text. Hopefully most people will feel betrayed and fooled. The market for books, websites, blogs and forums concerning 2012 authored by self proclaimed prophets and experts, along with good old Nostradamus, have increased tremendously, especially in the US. Most of these prophets make a living out of people’s search for the meaning of life or the wish for a better world. Ancient societies are ascribed several noble qualities and knowledge we are supposed to learn from. However, most of the prophets focus on people’s fear and emphasize the end of the world and appear in classy magazines like Playboy. But it is a Christian apocalypse these people visualize.

The 2012 circus is a mish mash of pseudoscience, new age, creationism and conspiracy theory. No homogenous frame exist and the field is full of false dichotomies, like when it is argued that we have to choose between a perverted creationism or a cold and dead science. With this logic it is sometimes argued that aliens and/or Atlantis are relevant alternatives.

What is 2012?

This modern phenomenon has only a superficial connection to the ancient Maya ”culture” (I use exclamation marks since I dislike the culture concept as such but that is beyond the topic of this post). It is mainly the date that the Maya has contributed with. The prophets link this date with other myths and cosmologies from other parts of the world and argue that there is an ancient global reason why all these calendars and cosmological systems end on the same date (which simply is not true). A problem that these prophets avoid is that not even professional Mayanists agree upon the correlation between the Gregorian/Julian calendars and the Maya calendar(s). A competing correlation sets the date two days later (December 23, 2012).

Whatever correlation we use, why is this date so special? First one need to understand how the so-called Maya Long Count (LC) calendar works. It usually has five levels or periods: k’in (1 day), winal (20 days), tun (18 winals or 360 days), k’atun (20 tuns), and baktun/pik (20 k’atuns). Wherever we find the LC mentioned it is always followed by two other calendars: tzolk’in (260 days) and haab (365 days) that both together form a cycle that takes 52 years to repeat, the so called Calendar Round (CR). The LC, CR plus some additional calendars form the Initial Series which begin many dated monuments. We leave these other calendars for now since the LC works in another way but it should be pointed out that the CR also is known in other parts of Mesoamerica, such as among the Aztecs.

If we take tomorrow’s date in the LC it is transcribed like this: This means that it has gone 12 baktuns/piks, 19 k’atuns, 16 tuns, 15 winals and 4 days since the beginning of the calendar ( This occurred in 3114 BC, but this date coincides with the end of a preceding “cycle” of 13 baktuns. is therefore the same as Since a preceding “cycle” ended on 13 baktun it is believed that the current “cycle” also should end on 13 baktun.

Only Monument 6 at Tortuguero in Mexico mentions the future (4 Ajaw 3 K’ank’in in tzolk’in and haab). The monument says that “The Thirteenth “Bak’tun” will be finished, (on) Four Ajaw, the Third of Uniiw (K’ank’in), ? will occur, (It will be) the descent(??) of the Nine Support? God(s) [Bolon Yookte’ K’uh] to the ?.” The question marks show where the epigraphers are unsure of the meaning of the glyphs or where the inscription is unreadable. We simply do not know what this inscription means. It is particularly the deity/deities Bolon Yookte’ K’uh that is the target for various interpretations. This deity is related to warfare, conflicts and the Underworld. Such associations fit like the hand in the glove (Swedish expression) for catastrophe theorists. This descending divinity is interpreted as either aliens or Jesus. However, the inscriptions may not even relate to 2012 but rather to the dedication of the monument in AD 669.

It is important to emphasize that no inscription support the idea that the LC would end in 2012 and begin anew. It is the projection of the “creation date” to its end that is the basis for this belief. The five leveled LC began at 13 baktun/pik (3114 BC) and hence it should end on the same date according to not only the prophets but also to for example Anthony Aveni, a well known archaeoastronomer. However, this is just a guess. What often is left out of the picture is the fact that in the Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque in Mexico there is a date mentioning the 80th CR anniversary of king Janaab Pakal’s death in AD 683. This is AD 4772 and transformed into the LC system this is in fact in the next piktun which is the level above baktun. One piktun equals 20 baktuns. This is a good indication that the Maya never saw something extraordinarily ending or beginning in 2012. Not only did the calendar begin in 3114 BC since inscriptions at Coba sets the date of creation to roughly 2.7 x 1030 years ago.

It is also misleading to say that the Maya had a cyclical view of time. The tzolk’in and haab calendars repeat and together they also form the recurring CR of 52 years. But the LC works differently and its periods are not cyclical but are cumulative. In inscriptions the periods are stacked on top of each other with the longest and “heaviest” periods at the top, literally creating a burden of time.

The 2012prophets

The above data is either distorted or ignored by most 2012 prophets. All agree that the timeframe of 5126 years (3114 BC – AD 2012), is significant on a global level. The beginning of the calendar roughly coincides with the first dynasty in Egypt, early dynasties in Mesopotamia, etc. These are not coincidences according to them. It is usually seen as the result of a cataclysmic event when Plato’s imagined island of Atlantis sank and its survivors spread knowledge to other places. All civilizations have the same origin, what we in archaeological terms call hyperdiffusion, a school of thought abandoned by serious archaeologists more than a century ago. This imagined island is used to explain why there are “pyramids” here and there, such as the imagined pyramids in Bosnia (the proponents neglect that the “pyramids” all have different form, emerged at different times and that they in all cases are preceded by a local development from smaller buildings).

Another version is that alien astronauts from another planet in our solar system (Nibiru), called Annunaki (which the ancient Sumerians called gods according to Zecharia Sitchin), used humans as slaves and instructed them to build monumental buildings. This idea, along with the Atlantis theories, is ethnocentric, reminiscent of the “white man’s burden” ideas during the European colonialism. The Maya, Egyptians, Sumerians, Incas, etc. are simply not believed to have been able to think, plan and construct something pyramids, ziqqurats or any other monumental structure. This is one of the worst tendencies among the 2012ers and symptomatically these proponents tend to have poor knowledge of the specifics of each “culture.” These old age ideas are far from the 2012ers aspirations of thinking outside the box.

In fact, few 2012 prophets have bothered reading up on the Maya. An exception to this is John Major Jenkins, but his version of Maya cosmology, originally influenced by “real Mayanists” such as Linda Schele and David Freidel, is still a distortion of the available data. He argues that the LC is a kind of countdown to the “end date”. His main argument is that at the winter solstice on December 21, 2012, the Earth and sun are aligned with the centre of the Milky Way. The problem is only that this phenomenon has occurred for several years and will continue to do so for the years to come. The Maya had great astronomical/astrological knowledge but what Jenkins says is that the Maya knew about the precession of the equinoxes, a cycle that takes 25,800 years to complete. Today the Earth’s axis points towards the Polar Star but it has not always done this since the Earth’s axis wobbles and the night sky change through time. It is probably not impossible that ancient astronomer’s could have calculated the length of this so-called Platonic year. The main problem is that his “evidence” actually boils down to a multiplication of the LC’s five lowest levels (5126 years) with five. This gives us a period of 25,630 years which roughly correlates with a Platonic year.

Why five? Here we find yet another common fallacy of the 2012ers and that is because this idea actually is based on Aztec mythology. According to the Aztecs they lived in the fifth Sun/creation and that four earlier creations predate the current one. There is no evidence that the Classic and Formative period Maya believed in these four creations (when the LC was in use). It is true that the much later Colonial book of Popol Vuh mentions earlier failed attempts to create human beings but there were never four cataclysmic events associated with this. However, one often sees the so-called Aztec calendar stone representing the Maya LC, the 2012 “end date” and the five creations. However, the Aztecs never used the LC, there is no “end date” of the current Aztec creation (2027 is the next time it may end). This calendar stone is not even a real calendar and its circular shape “supports” the illusion of the cyclical nature of Maya LC prevalent among 2012ers. Robert Bast, the founder of the largest 2012 forum on internet, says that the Aztec calendar stone has a higher aesthetic appeal than the Initial Series of Maya monuments and that this justifies its use in 2012 literature! It would be like having a statue of an Assyrian king to represent an Egyptian pharaoh. Another problem with the Aztec creations is that they all had different durations, being multiples of CRs. However, for Jenkins’ model to work all of his five Maya creations must have the same length (13 baktuns). This is a common pattern among 2012ers: they pick bits from here and there that superficially support their predetermined ideas and they ignore associated pieces that don’t support it. Hence they always come up with neat and perfect models that never are supported by actual evidence.

Terrence McKenna, Sergey Smelyakov and Carl Johan Calleman represent those “2012ers” who argue that the LC has something to say about the evolution of the universe, life and consciousness. McKenna’s novelty theory is used as a tool to predict when something novel will occur. It is a graph based on the Chinese oracle instrument called i-ching (it says ka-ching in McKenna’s cash register) . He used this to show that an event occurring at one time is related to an event occurring at another date. Time is fractal, an idea also championed by Gregg Braden, and these events repeat at a higher intensity and speed the closer we get to the “end time”. At one point only change will occur and this will occur on December 21, 2012. McKenna originally used the Hiroshima atomic bomb as the beginning of the last fractal period of 67.29 years (a periodicity that does not exist in the Maya area). But 67.29 years from the Hiroshima bomb ends up in November 2012. This was not good enough so he corrected his own theory to make it end on December 21, 2012 instead! That is a clear sign of fraud.

Calleman is a similar designer of a personal comsology and argues that the LC reflects evolutionary periods/durations in the development of the universe, life and consciousness. Basically, he says that the ancient Maya knew that the universe is billions of years old since a higher level of the LC roughly fits the length of the current universe. He apparently rationalizes away the extremely long LC at Coba. Another major problem is that the other LC levels not always fit other important “phases” of the emergence of the universe, such as the formation of the Earth, the emergence of life forms, the earliest vertebrae animals, the first terrestrial tetrapods, the first mammals, etc. He is also arguing that the Maya got the “end date” wrong! It should be in October 2011. Recently he has predicted that money will loose its value sometime after November 7 this year (five days ago). Bad news for Emmerich, no one will be able to pay for his spectacle.

Neither Jenkins, McKenna or Calleman belongs to the catastrophic/end of days faction which Emmerich’s movie represents. This faction is the most problematic and harmful if one is to believe the anxiety some people expresses on the 2012 forums. Patrick Geryl is most popular and he argues that the magnetic field of the sun will generate enormous solar eruptions that will affect the magnetic field of the Earth. The magnetic poles will shift at an instant moment and this will cause giant earth quakes, tsunamis and intensive volcanic eruptions. The whole surface of the Earth will change its face and continents will move several hundred km. This has of course already been predicted by Atlantis and the knowledge was handed down to the Maya. Lawrence Joseph argues that a Supervolcano at Yellowstone will erupt and it is possible that terrorists will ignite the whole volcano by detonating a nuclear device. I hope Al Qaida does not read Joseph’s instructions.

Zecharia Sitchin’s fictional planet Nibiru/Marduk is by some believed to return in 2012. Burak Eldem suggests that this planet (or sun?) will cause disasters of unheard of consequences. But this has of course already been predicted by the ancients since the planet already have caused made up disasters earlier in history. This is all related to Atlantis. Atlantis and/or Nibiru are also component parts of the frequent conspiracy theories. These theories argue that the knowledge of the return of Nibiru is known by the leaders of the world and that NASA tries to hide information about the upcoming disaster. Politicians want to let us live in ignorance, not knowing anything about our inevitable death. The mighty have already built bunkers to survive the catastrophes and a new world order will arise after the apocalypse. Bast argues that the pyramids throughout the world actually are bunkers from earlier disasters. There is even a Swedish man who wishes to use the small Swedish mountain Kinnekulle to build bunkers for 144,000 people (this is as many days as there are in a baktun…). This place is to be called swEden. Sect like tendencies like this can be found at many places, particularly in the US.

The sect-like tendencies of the 2012circus doomsday fanatics should not come as a surprise. The whole 2012circus is full of Christians and Creationists. Sweden’s own Saint Bridget (Birgitta) is related to the 2012 apocalypse. This is usually combined with Jewish/Christian numerology and gematria nonsense as well. December 21, 2012 can, according to some, be transformed into 666, the number of the beast (but if you use December 23 or the Orthodox calendar you will get another number…). This is yet another example of the ethnocentrism that permeates the circus. Worst of the bunch is the hardcore creationist David Jay Jordan who calls the Maya a bloodthirsty savage race (I guess he has seen Apocalypto, directed by yet another Christian). He argues that since the winter solstice 2012 occurs on 11:11 AM GMT, this is significant since number 11 is important according to God’s plan. He, along with other numerologists, ignores the fact that the Maya used a vigesimal number system based on 20 and that they only used three signs to represent numbers (shell for “zero”, a dot for one and a bar for five). One cannot simply transform one numerological system into another. Perhaps I do not even need to comment his emphasis of GMT time in the UK and that the lowest time period the Maya had was one day, they could not possibly calculate a solstice down to the minute.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I have not even discussed ideas developed by Pinchbeck, Arguelles, Tsarion and Wilcock. These people and others will be covered on this blog (as will a more in-depth critique of Jenkins). There are plenty of other topics related to the 2012circus (but not to the Maya) that will be discussed in the future three years.

In conclusion, the 2012 circus has only to do with our present. It has nothing to do with an ancient Maya prophecy since none exist. Extremely few contemporary Maya are involved in this and most of them understand that this has a US-Christian apocalyptic new age origin. However, some Maya elders have been seduced by non-Maya new agers who have found their worldview of interest. But these elders never mention December 21, 2012. Even if the talk about the end of days one should always keep in mind that the Maya area have been under Christian influence for over 450 years. As with many other phenomena, even their view of time has changed to a substantial degree.

The LC ceased to be used in the early 10th century AD. Although one find LC dates in later codices these codices are Postclassic copies of older manuscripts. On monumental inscriptions we have no date after AD 909. During the Postclassic period the Maya used the Short Count, a 13 k’atun cycle called the may (which some Mayanists argue is the origin for the name Maya). However, 2012 has become important to the contemporary Maya as well. It has become important in the light of the 2012circus. The date is to be “reclaimed” from the 2012hoaxers who exercises a new colonialism of both the ancient and contemporary Maya. The calendar(s) have become important ethnic markers and it is in relation to this politicization that the Maya interest of the LC should be seen. Even Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto was more accurate than these prophecies of nonsense.

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  1. Great synopsis – thanks for all the info.
    I agree that it “has only to do with our present”. I just think that is a totally valid thing. For our present-day entertainment? Wonderful.

  2. I find the whole circus both amusing and annoying at the same time. It is amusing to see how far people are willing to stretch their fantasies of past and present phenomena. It is annoying that it once again is the Maya (or any other “exotic” people) that is exploited for these Western/gringo fantasies.

  3. You write “His main argument is that at the winter solstice on December 21, 2012, the Earth and sun are aligned with the centre of the Milky Way. The problem is only that this phenomenon has occurred for several years and will continue to do so for the years to come.”

    A more accurate statement is that this phenomenon has NEVER occurred and will NEVER occur at any time in the future. This is because the Earth’s orbit is 5-1/2 degrees off the center of the Milky Way, so the Earth will never be exactly aligned with the center of the galaxy.

    What does happen is that the Earth, Sun, and center of the galaxy ALMOST line up twice a year, in the Summer Solstice (June 21) and the Winter Solstice (December 21). The 2012ers claim an EXACT alignment causes the problems, so it is important to point out the difference between what does happen twice a year (the partial alignment), and what doesn’t happen twice a year, or at all for that matter (the 2012ers “exact alignment”).

  4. Thanks for clearing that up. I would have less problem with Jenkins’ idea if he just argued that the alignment is almost exact (and that the Maya were content with that). As far as I know Jenkins is not the one claiming that an exact alignment would cause huge tidal effects, etc. But at the end, he (and others) claim that this event in 2012 would have been so important and exact that it was the basis for the whole calendar and much more. That is simply wrong.

  5. Great Article.

    I’m sure to come back and check more quality content in this site.

  6. nice article.. thanks for share..

  7. The End of the World Arrives Three Years Ahead of Schedule
    I had an interesting pre-cursor while going in to see 2012 . I was with a small group of three, and I handed my tickets to the doorman, who, after ripping them and handing me back the stubs, said: “ Enjoy this graphics , this isn’t the kind of movie you go and see for the dialog.” My friends and I looked at each other and laughed. We were also a bit worried. Did we just drop about $15 bucks each to watch another disaster movie with vacant plot and characters? Are we foolish to expect more than a vacant plot and characters in a disaster movie?
    Fortunately, my answer is “No.” The answer from one of my friends who was with me is “Sort of.” But this isn’t my friends review, it’s mine. All mine! So, the answer is decidedly…”No” on both counts. 2012 proves that you can actually have an entertaining disaster movie as well as a few emotional chords to strike.

  8. [...] nice explanation of where all the 2012 silliness comes [...]

  9. So yeah. I see your point.
    I can take a bunch
    of differnt stories mix in some
    ‘facts’ sound somewhat credible to
    a lot of uneducated people.
    What I can’t do is explain why
    all of these ancient civilizations
    and peoples all tell stories
    that have similar themes
    considering the communication
    technology of their time.
    I have played telephone before
    and couldn’t get a straight story
    after 20 people passed it on.
    I have no college degree.
    I am far from highly educated.
    Can someone please answer this
    convincingly for me so I don’t h
    ave to think about it anymore?
    Thank you for your time.


  10. Well i found the 2012 movie to be pretty rubbish. In saying that though, I think that everyone should inform and research the topics about the 2012 prediction for themselves and make up their own minds on such matters.

    • I am not sure which “2012 prediction” you refer to.There are millions of them…

  11. “I can take a bunch of differnt stories mix in some
    ‘facts’ sound somewhat credible to a lot of uneducated people. What I can’t do is explain why all of these ancient civilizations and peoples all tell stories that have similar themes considering the communication technology of their time.”

    The simplest way to put this is that they don’t, actually, tell stories with similar themes. What you read is what people have written (i.e., “made up”) about these stories, which is not the same as reading–and directly comparing–the original stories.

    General themes (floods, disasters, end of the world ideas, etc.) can’t be construed as “some form of communication we don’t understand between the cultures” because they occur everywhere. Its like claiming that two river delta cultures having a “worldwide Flood” myth hasn’t got anything to do with the fact that their land regularly floods (sometimes killing a lot of local fauna and people), it has to do with “psychic communication” or “alien influence.”

    Of course, the main point is that the Mayan Story does not match up at all with any of the other stories, both in dates used and what would happen when a siginificant date arrived. Since the Mayan Story is used to link all the other stories together, this is the inherent and catastrophic flaw in all of the Mayan 2012 nonsense.

    The Mayans did not “predict the end of the world” in December 2012. They merely noted that the 13th b’ak’tun (5120 year period) would end, and the 14th b’ak’tun would begin. The Mayans themselves have important dates on their calendar stretching out past (on our calendar) 4700 C.E., showing they didn’t think “the world would end” in 2012: if you know for certain you are going to die at 1pm, you don’t schedule a massage for 4pm.

    • Indeed. Floods and end of the world stories tend to be very local. “Sun cults” and water deities are prevalent throughout the world but does this mean that the “knowledge” about the sun and rain came from an ancient mysterious civilization from outer space or does it mean that people simply experience the sun and rain where they live? What seems most likely?

  12. [...] for millions, than any sudden cosmically induced calamity. Blogging Mayanist Johan Normark’s 2012 postings are an excellent place to start for more informed readings of the whole 2012 phenomenon. (And see [...]

  13. [...] for millions, than any sudden cosmically induced calamity. Blogging Mayanist Johan Normark’s 2012 postings are an excellent place to start for more informed readings of the whole 2012 phenomenon. (And see [...]



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