Posted by: Johan Normark | March 8, 2011

2012: Calleman’s purposeful universe. Pt 2 – Hunab-ku

In my second post on Calleman’s book The Purposeful Universe: How Quantum Theory and Mayan Cosmology Explain the Origin and Evolution of Life (2009) I will focus on the common New Age myth that the ancient Maya had a belief in a god similar to the Christian God. This has primarily been advanced by José Argüelles.

Calleman believes that there is a central rotating axis in the universe and that this is what has been labeled the Tree of Life in the Jewish tradition, the “Wakah-Chan” among the Maya and Yggdrasil among the Vikings. He suggests that the existence of this Central axis “shows that there was structure in the universe from its very inception, which puts the whole randomness philosophy and purported purposelessness of our universe in question” (p 10). This assumption is based on Calleman’s interpretation of measurements of cosmic microwave background when the universe was already 300,000 years old (or 0.002% of its current age as Calleman points out). What Calleman believes is that the Big Bang was a manifestation of the creation emanating from the Tree of Life. This Tree of Life is a Platonic essence that exists beyond any physical manifestation.

Yes, this structure, if it exists, can perhaps be documented fairly early in the universe’s existence. However, 300,000 years had already passed since the Big Bang and any structure that had appeared by then can most likely be explained by complex systems theory as well (something that Calleman dismisses elsewhere in the book). In complex systems theory structures emerge from self-organization without any preexisting design. In any case, by claiming that 300,000 years after Big Bang is the same as the “very inception” of the universe is to confuse things since the Big Bang itself occurred at an instant moment (I will return to Calleman’s treatment of the philosophy of time in a later post).

Calleman’s hypothesis is that “the Central axis is the fundamental space-time organizer of our universe. Its discovery […] may point out a way to recognize the universe as purposeful and endowed with a creative intelligence that in ancient times were taken for granted by most peoples on this planet” (p 9). All evolution is believed, by Calleman, to emanate from this Central Axis that the ancients described as a World Tree. Calleman sees Hunab-Ku as the activator of the Tree of Life. He describes Hunab-Ku as “the One Giver of Movement and Measure or the One Giver of Energy and Boundaries” (p 11). Calleman uses a “Mayan symbol” of this World Tree, created by Argüelles, and says that it features “a separation between light and darkness; a yin/yang polarity; and a spiraling, or corkscrewing, movement” (p 11). Never mind that the symbol looks nothing like something from Maya iconography. This is pure fantasy and it comes from a person who claims to be a scientist.

What is Hunab-Ku and why does it share similarities with the Christian God? Hunab-Ku is unknown from Prehispanic sources (at least under that name). The name means One God/Lord and Calleman claims it equals Hun Ahau/Ajaw (Hunahpu in Popol Vuh). However, Hunahpu was not anything like the Christian supreme God. No, the origin of Hunab-Ku is to be found in the Colonial context, at least two centuries after the Spaniards incorporated Yucatan into their empire and the Catholic Church.

It is in the Books of Chilam Balam we find this name and it is always in a Christian context. For example in Chumayel we can read: Hunnab ku tusuhuyil hunab yglesia (One God in his holy one church) (Hanks 2010:355). It is clearly the result of two centuries of Christian influence that we see here. The authors of the Books of Chilam Balam were maestros in the colonial system. They were well acquainted with the Christian beliefs. For example, “it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Tizimin […] is a statement about Christianity and the Chilam Balam is telling Maya people to convert. The lost and abandoned gods to be forgotten are none other than the Maya divinities labeled false and idolatrous by the missionaries, and the ‘true God’ is the triune God […]. The author of these words was either Christian or intimately familiar with the language of Christianity” (Hanks 2010:356).

In short: in the genre of Colonial period literature where we find the references to the divinity Hunab-Ku we can see that the authors urge people to follow the true/Christian God and abandon the old gods (the ones much closer in resemblance to the ancient Maya divinities). Hence, Hunab-Ku is simply a Maya name for the Christian God and this God had nothing to do with yin/yang or the Long Count that Calleman uses to explain evolution. Put simply, Calleman argues that a divinity that did not exist in Prehispanic times initiated the Big Bang and the evolution of consciousness which can be understood from his so-called periodic system of evolution (what Mayanists call the Long Count). Seldom have I read so much nonsense in so few pages. And this is just the beginning of the book…


  1. In your first quote of Calleman I think you meant to say ‘purported purposelessness’ instead of ‘purported purposefulness’.

    I’m sure you are correct in your point of view of 2012. But, really, what could be more fun than the stuff they come up with? You need it as much as they do.

    • I have corrected the quote.

      Yeah, it is fun (and easy) to point out the logical fallacies in their ideas. It will be a sad day when we reach 2013…


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