Posted by: Johan Normark | June 10, 2011

2012: The Maya elders and 13 Baktun

While debating with 2012ers on this blog and elsewhere I usually encounter the argument that the Maya elders believe that the world will be transformed or end on December 21, 2012 and that they have been the guardians of this knowledge for millennia. The Maya elders are therefore the most reliable sources according to this reasoning. That is simply not true. After my recent comment on Jenkins’s review of David Stuart’s book I decided to pick up Jenkins’s latest book (The 2012 Story) that had been lying around in the “to read pile” for a couple of months. I wanted to know how his hostility towards Maya academia has emerged throughout the years. It must for sure be frustrating to always be misconceived and be blamed for creating (or participating) in the avalanche of nonsense that comes along the 2012 phenomenon.  I will deal with that in future posts.

In his book I soon encountered the way in which the 2012 phenomenon came into contact with the Maya elders. The 2012 phenomenon is all dependent on the GMT-correlation constant and since this black boxed concept reveals many assumptions that both academics and Jenkins share, so eloquently exposed by Gerardo Aldana, I have no longer much confidence in the various Gregorian dates given for a Long Count or Calendar Round inscription. Much of the so-called astronomical data supposedly encoded in the inscriptions (such as Jupiter and Saturn conjunctions) will be hopelessly irrelevant if the correlation is wrong. Hence, I also believe that the core idea of the winter-solstice alignment as seen from Izapa is flawed. This is because the GMT correlation depends on a continuity of the tzolkin count in the highlands of Guatemala. The main problem is that this count repeats every 260th day. Other sources must therefore be amassed in order to secure which tzolkin cycle is at stake. It is these sources that Aldana questions (the Venus table, the de Landa equation, etc.). Thompson simply correlated these other sources so that they would line up with the highland data. Some of these adjustments are quite questionable (see my posts on Aldana’s article). So when a Maya elder say that something will happen on or around December 21, 2012, you should know that all this depends on a particular correlation constant created by Western scholars that is about half to a century old, not millennia. In fact, the Maya elders encounter with the 2012 phenomenon only dates back a little more than 25 years.

Jenkins mentions Hunbatz Men and he is probably the first of the Maya that began to be affiliated with the 2012 phenomenon. Hunbatz Men came in contact with Argüelles in 1985. Hunbatz is a Yucatec Maya and had no tzolkin tradition to rely on and he began to rely on Argüelles own invented day-count system that had no relation to the true tzolkin. The next important infiltration of New Age ideas into the Maya area came with Ian Lungold’s visit to Don Alejandro Cirilo Perez Oxlaj in the fall of 1998. Lungold brought along Jenkins’s book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 and had portions of it translated to Don Alejandro. Apparently he was intrigued by Jenkins’s ideas and in January 2000 these ideas appeared in Don Alejandro’s own “prophecies”. On page 171 Jenkins says that “we’ve already seen a tendency, in the connections between José Argüelles, Hunbatz Men, and Aluna Joy Yaxkin, for a reinforcing interplay to develop between writers and Maya elders, especially when a popular movement driven by temple tours and New Age gatherings is at work.” As mentioned in an earlier post, Calleman, as a friend of Lungold, also relies on Don Alejandro for his own calendar correlation.

Don Alejandro

It does not stop there. Many of the 2012 prophets of non-Maya origin prefer to claim that they have received this wisdom from Maya elders (talk about circular logic). It is believed to give them more credit. Jenkins refers to an interview of the Maya teacher Carlos Barrios by Stephen McFadden where Jenkins ideas showed up but was instead attributed to Maya daykeepers. This distorted view was later adopted by Lawrence Joseph is his book Apocalypse 2012 where he says he received the wisdom and tradition from his visit to the Maya elders who actually told him whatever Jenkins had written.

One should also remember that the late Maya epigrapher Linda Schele led workshops for the Maya in Guatemala. This became part of the Maya movement, the revitalization movement that emerged in Guatemala during the civil war which I have covered elsewhere. Since Jenkins idea of the Galactic alignment partially goes back to Schele’s and the Tedlocks’ archaeoastronomical work from the late 1980s and early 1990s one can easily see how a ground already had been established for adopting these ideas. We can also see these processes in a much longer perspective that William Hanks shows for the Yucatan. He shows that the Colonial Maya language, Maya reducido, emerged to incorporate Christian ideas. I assume that similar processes occurred in the highlands of Guatemala. So when apocalyptic ideas come from a Maya elder it is most likely the effect of Christian influence (not syncretism) or the simple fact that the highlands of Guatemala was under the influence of Central Mexican ideas for centuries before the conquest (ideas that entered Popol Vuh which may not have existed in the Late Formative highlands).

In short, the supposed millennia old tradition of the 13 Baktun prophecies that comes from Maya elders goes back to the research by some Mayanists and Jenkins that are just a few decades old. Just the fact that plenty of 2012ers believe this is wisdom that has been kept intact for centuries show that they are easily fooled by money mongers that distort facts to be able to cash in on people’s ignorance. Then these 2012ers show up on my blog and calls me and other academics ignorant of this greater scheme. It just makes me laugh.


  1. It makes me sad…

    You go to school for several years in archeology an obtain a phd. Then Mr. WooWoo reads a 150 page book from Mr. Moneybags (who read a book from -notice pattern-) and all of a sudden you’re the one who is wrong….somehow?

    Basically, you are looking at a circle right in front of you, but the guy over the internet swears its a square because he read it online or from a book who was written by a guy who read it online. What a society we live in……..

    • Once a person’s mind has become infected by the conspiracy virus it is hard to remove it. It tells them to be sceptical to eveything, be afraid of everything, only trust the ones who tells the weirdest ideas since they are so weird that they cannot possibly be wrong.

  2. The Maya calender is only a very small part of the 2012 nonsense.
    There are many other calenders, Hindu, Muslim, Chinese, Romanian, Russian calenders. And Nostradamus, the I ching 2012 , And Dr Mark Sircus’ Blog / IMVA. and comet Elenin, etc.

    • Indeed, 2012 soon became detached from its original Maya context and is now about pretty much anything. Fatasies about a new and improved world in 2013 seems to be the main unified idea. This world will emerge either through divine disaster or transformation of our consciousness.

  3. yes,This Rush Of Presentism,Creates A Curious Web,And Many Factors Have Been Customized To Fit Many Personal Cosmologies.With Our Left-sided Beliver Brains Many Asume If It Is Written It Must Be Valid,
    Entering The Void Of All Potential,I’ll Follow My Heart And Cellular Instinct.
    Mucho Manos,Une Corazon.

  4. Yes, designing personal cosmologies or scenarios is what 2012 presumably is all about. I leave cosmologies to the philosophers that can create coherent ontologies, not pseudo-prophets mixing whatever comes to their mind..

  5. Hello Johan,

    I’m glad you reviewed JMJ. I’m sure he’ll be on here to “defend” himself and reference academia for being ignorant.

  6. Hopefully I will be able to write a comment on his use of perennial philosophy in his latest book before I go on vacation. He basically fails to see how this is an arborescent mode of thinking,built upon the same structure as the rational science that he dislikes. He blames scientists for creating straw men but his version of “modern science” is nothing but a straw man in itself. As is fairly well known today, in regard to Bruno Latour’s view of science: “we have never been modern”.

  7. Spot on analysis, Johan. I had a discussion a few years ago with Robert Sitler on this very subject. The 2012ers all believe in an essentialist “Maya” culture and therefore anyone with “Maya” blood flowing through their veins has a privileged insight into what anyone termed “Maya” was thinking, even thousands of years ago. By the same type of argument one could say that you should be an inherent expert on the Vikings and Iron Age occupants of Sweden, while I should have similar innate knowledge of how my Frankish ancestors felt when conquering and attacking my Saxon and Slavic ancestors. If only it was so easy.

    This isn’t a problem just restricted to 2012ers, though. Patricia McAnany’s new book “Questioning Collapse” promotes this essentialist view of Maya culture, and she questions the whole idea of a Classic Maya Collapse, and not a small part of her argument is because it insults the modern Maya. So she keeps using the loaded term “ancestral Maya society”, borrowing the phrasing from Southwestern archaeology where “Ancestral Puebloan Society” is now the term of choice for most archaeologists working in this region. The trouble is this means you can’t say anything about these ancient peoples without making a sociopolitical statement about modern peoples. Sometimes these connections are extremely tenuous. The “Maya elders” the 2012ers have supposedly consulted (the relationship, as you have noted, is the reverse of their claims) are either from Highland Guatemalan groups or Hunbatz Men from Yucatan. Hunbatz Men claims his ancestors left behind stories about the Crystal Skulls and Atlantis, so he can be dismissed as simply a Mexican who is playing on his indigenous biology in order to advance a demonstrably incorrect New Age line of thinking. The Highland Guatemala groups have been separated from the Lowland Maya for thousands of years and for the last 500 of those they have been exposed to heavy Christian and European influence. There is no evidence the Highland Guatemala groups even used the Long Count calendar, on which the whole 2012 idea is based, for the last 1800 years or more. Asking them for their perspective on 2012 and the Classic Maya appreciation of it is like asking me, of Germanic heritage, to comment on the Anglo-Saxon takeover of Britain. While I have studied that subject, I have no inherent knowledge of that subject due to my DNA and my cultural ancestors were cousins of the Anglo-Saxons, not direct descendants.

    The 2012ers go even further, though, and start bringing in the Hopi and Aymara groups. Because they are indigenous Americans their thoughts are supposed to be relevant. By asking these people, whose ancestors have been nominally Christian for nearly half a millennium now, what their thoughts are about the “end of the world” and then assuming that these ideas are: a) not simply reflections of their Christian heritage, and b) referring to 2012, the 2012ers have produced all the reams of nonsense that they have. Pseudoscience at its worst.

  8. The Maya culture as a concept is unfortunately a term that will be hard to remove since it is used in contemporary politics, tourist industy, etc. Like in your example above I have tried to explain to people that relating to supposed ancestral ties does not make you an expert on a particular culture. On my father’s side I have several ties to Sami but I virtually know nothing of them apart from the traditional stereotypes. Ethnicity in the past is a hot issue and most often badly mistreated, particularly when it comes to people with assumed special knowledge that can be used for modern Western prophecies by outsiders. It is ironic that Jenkins blames so many 2012ers for doing this and in the end he does exactly the same thing but all dressed up in a universalized perennial philosophy.

    A Good Website For The Intent And Aspect For The Days Of The Cholqij.Hope Your Reading Is Moving Along.

  10. We live in a techno-immersed, materially oriented society that seems somewhat bewildered by where rational, empirical science might be taking us. This may be why the mystical, escapist explanations of a galactic endpoint, replete with precise mathematical, historical, and cosmic underpinnings (masquerading as science), have such wide appeal. In an age of anxiety we reach for the wisdom of ancestors–even other peoples’ ancestors–that might have been lost in the drifting sands of time. Perhaps the only way we can take back control of our disordered world is to rediscover their lost knowledge and make use of it. And so we romanticize the ancient Maya. Aventi

    A Recent Warning From The Maya Elders?

    May Have More Info

    Good Link Please Delete Previous Comments

  14. […] who still follow the 2012-circus know that yesterday was the day when Don Alejandro’s prophecy was believed to be fulfilled (it may still be “yesterday” for those of you […]


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