Posted by: Johan Normark | December 15, 2010

2012: Geocentric vs galactocentric Maya cosmology

One of the main figures in the 2012 circus is John Major Jenkins. He is the one who launched the idea that the Long Count basically is a countdown to December 21, 2012 when the winter solstice sun (the First Father) will rise in the galactic center (the First Mother) and initiate the beginning of a new Long Count cycle and plenty of other changes as well. This was encoded in stone at the highland site of Izapa more than two thousand years according to Jenkins. I will not go into details about his galactic alignment theory but I will mainly focus on a couple of passages in his article in the edited volume The Mystery of 2012: Predictions, Prophecies, and Possibilities.

In his article, “The origins of the 2012 revelation”, Jenkins shows that he still is a child of the late 1980s and early 1990s. This is the time when the works of Linda Schele, David Freidel, Barbara and Dennis Tedlock and others began to view Maya cosmology as largely based on celestial phenomena and entities. Not only the sun, moon, and Venus were important now but also various constellations, the celestial pole, zenith, but above all – the Milky Way. In the mid 1990s Maya cosmology was largely believed to be that of the heavens and this is the time when Jenkins launched his ideas about three different cosmological centers (polar, zenith, and galactic).

Since then epigraphers have become aware that much of the supposedly astronomical data associated with various calendar inscriptions were more of wishful thinking. Apart from the Lunar Series and the fact that the sun always is present in the calendar since it also is the name of the shortest time unit (k’in-day), there are few astronomical data that correlates with recorded dates (if we follow the GMT correlation that is). Venus plays little to no role in Classic period inscriptions. There is, in fact, no single hieroglyph for the Milky Way and Jenkins idea of five Long Counts equaling the precession cycle of roughly 26,000 years is basically a mixture of Postclassic Aztec cosmology with the Late Formative Izapan cosmology. Jenkins believes that the Izapans formulated the true astronomical based cosmology that the Classic period Maya corrupted when they became decadent (p 39). Apparently, he has no problem in projecting even later non-Maya sources (the Postclassic Aztec Five Sun mythology) on those earlier Izapans. Even worse is that he on p 41 also includes the five elements from Greek/”Indo-European” cosmology in his own version of Maya cosmology.

Did the Maya have a “profound astronomy-based cosmology” (p 40) as Jenkins claims? In epigraphic and iconographic studies during the past decades it has become increasingly apparent that caves played a crucial role. This is further evidenced by archaeological data. Caves are frequently found within settlements, sometimes included and covered by architectural features. Caves were the centers of Maya cosmology, not various astronomical constellations. In the Maya geocentric world the heaven also played a role but it was secondary to the Earth and the cave. A substantial and important portion of the creation in Popol Vuh takes place in the Underworld. Ballcourts were these places, sometimes sunken into the plazas where they are located. For Jenkins ballcourts represent celestial cavities, the dark rift of the Milky Way, etc. There is little substance to these ideas nowadays. The Maya focused their ritual and ceremonial attention downward not upward.

In short: Jenkins galactic alignment theory, popular in the 2012 movement, is simply an artifact of research that had its best-before date more than a decade ago. If I compare his book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 (1998) with the article above the main change is that he has begun to include much more non-Maya stuff and more esoteric mysticism in his text in order to make his old discoveries more relevant for contemporary New Agers. Jenkins often expresses a disappointment with academia that has not accepted his ideas. This article will not help him getting accepted.



  1. Good read Johan. I just finished reading 2012 Story by Jenkins as well as Geoff Stray’s book which contained a foreword by Jenkins. It’s obvious how much Schele and Aveni motivated his work. However, I find it disturbing that he incorporated the 5th world Aztec philosophy into his research. As the novice I am it wouldn’t ordinarily bother me, however, he often chides other 2012 researchers for their “lack” of hard Maya research. To be honest, I found Geoff Stray’s book to be better put together and far less politically charged.

    Thank you for the article Johan,

  2. Jenkins book is the next one that I will read (and probably the last one that is on the 2012 prophet side). I should also read van Stone’s and Sitler’s books before I finish up my 2012 project.

    • Johan, please read John Hoopes’ rather negative review of my book first along with my comments before reading my book. In truth, my book doesn’t haven’t that much to do with 2012 as you’ll see.

      • So I have been told. Is Hoopes’ review on Amazon?

  3. Hello Dr. Normark,

    A week ago, I did a YouTube video showing how Jenkins’ own documentation of what the sunrise looks like on Winter Solstice day at Izapa debunks his claims about the astronomical uniqueness of 21 December 2012.

    I’d be happy to read any comments you might have on this video, and I hope it’s helpful to others.

  4. Jenkins made a comment on this blog a while ago (or by someone using his name):

    In that comment he claims that he never have said that the Maya calculated the alignment that accurately. This is not true since he clearly has stated so in his past books. As you show, there is no such alignment on the winter solstice as seen from the ballcourt.

    The whole obsession with alignments is also an artifact of archaeoastronomical research. The Maya appears to have been far more concerned with broad perceptual fields something pointed out by Stephen Houston (crucial here is the concept of ichnal – see my article here:

    Exact alignments between astronomical bodies and buildings are ill-founded (the E-Groups are not that exact oriented towards the equinoxes and solstices). Caves on the other hand appear to have been crucial in layouts of sites. My own research at Ichmul suggests that a possible cave/cenote below a later church was the central focus for the so-called triadic causeways at the site.

  5. Hello again, Dr. Normark,

    I have little doubt that it was indeed Jenkins who made the post you linked to in your reply to me. The accusation of “sophistry” is characteristic of him, and is also seen in the last comment by “Aaron” regarding this book review:

    “Aaron’s” first comment was made just after Jenkins became aware of that review. for that and other reasons, “Aaron” was likely to have been either Jenkins himself, or someone close to him who was writing with input from him. The tone and style of the argumentation in the reply to you was also much like Jenkins’ in his reply to Steve Tonkin:

  6. Jenkins is always eager to post his correspondence with scientists (and other 2012ers) on his website. In any case, Jenkins is probably the best informed of the 2012ers (regarding the ancient Maya) and had he just claimed that the alignment was a possible part of the Maya cosmology (not THE TRUTH) it could have been of interest for “mainstream” Mayanist research (at least 15 years ago). Jenkins references to New Age stuff will never make him respectable in Mayanist research (as long these references are included in published articles and books). However, some Mayanists/Mesoamericanists are mormons ( and are well respected in the field. Their trick is not to let their beliefs affect their scientific interpretations. Jenkins does not do that. He let his belief come first.


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