Posted by: Johan Normark | November 26, 2012

2012: The history of Mayanism and the 2012 phenomenon, pt 1

In two blog posts I will cover the basic history behind the current 2012 circus. Here I basically rely on an article by John Hoopes and another article by Kevin Whitesides and John Hoopes. This first post will take us from Columbus to the 1960s, before the 2012 mythology emerged. Mayanism is a term coined by Hoopes to describe an eclectic corpus of ideas that attempts to ”marshal scientific evidence for spiritual and religious goals through the invention of sacred tradition” (p 39). The Maya and their calendar are appropriated and interpreted in order to access what is believed to be archaic or primordial wisdom. This is then used to promote a worldview where a New Age will transform consciousness. Mayanism “thrives on the conflation of astrology with astronomy, alchemy with chemistry (usually biochemistry), numerology with mathematics, and archaeological discovery with mystical revelation” (p 42). The history of Mayanism can be traced through Spiritualism, Freemasonry, and Christian eschatology. Most of the ideas in Mayanism are of European origin. When New Agers appropriate Native American traditions their Native sovereignty is de-emphasized or ignored.

Hence, Mayanism is an esoteric “system” of knowledge. Science and the esoteric knowledge began to separate during the modern era. Whereas science seeks to understand phenomena from objective, systematic and empirical studies of the objects of the world, the esoteric tradition seek spiritual enlightenment through subjective and unsystematic interpretations of metaphysical phenomena. The esoteric tradition considers itself immune from the standards in science. Truths that are revealed through dreams etc. need no other validation. This kind of knowledge also stands outside history since this is irrelevant because truths are eternal. They seek deeper understanding of what already exists whereas science seeks new knowledge.

A typical characteristic is that non-Maya beliefs are presented as ancient Maya beliefs. These beliefs are used to reject mainstream authority and science in order to embrace esoteric and occult traditions. The only authority that is maintained are those that finds validity by metaphysics. In this esoteric thought there is no distinction between the physical and the metaphysical. Such a separation is believed to depend on Cartesian dualism. The impending apocalypse less than a month from now is not only a physical phenomenon but also a metaphysical phenomenon that the ancient Maya understood but which is unknown or rejected by science.

Hoopes traces the origins of Mayanism to Columbus. Around 1500 he began to look for quotations in the Bible and in Classical texts in order to prove that his “discovery” already had been foretold in ancient sources. With the wealth from the New World he hoped that Ferdinand and Isabella would be able to reconquer Jerusalem and this would also usher the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world. Columbus never encountered the Maya as far as we know but he heard about them and it was he who first named this culture “Maia”. Hoopes (p 44) says that “the initial and ultimate mystery of the ancient Maya was how they fit into Biblical history and the destiny of Western civilisation, an unconscious but sustained theme of Mayanism.”  

Emmanuel Swedenborg is the first person to coin the term “New Age” during the 18th century. Even back then it referred to a metaphysical enlightenment.  The term was first associated with the dawn of the Age of Aquarius in an 1899 pamphlet of the Theosophical Society. Since the 1960s the term New Age has referred to a countercultural interest in astrology, shamanism, divination, alchemy, psychic phenomena, made up stories about lost continents and aliens.

Hoopes argue that Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), co-founder of the Theosophical Society, has been highly influential in the later 2012-phenomenon. She was influenced by Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s ideas of an occult Aryan supersociety. In her work she argued that a hidden master race served as spiritual teachers. According to her, history has been a succession of cycles of destruction and creations. Each time a new superior form has been reborn. Ancient cultures had paranormal abilities.

Another influential character was Augustus Le Plongeon (1825-1908). He was fascinated by Atlantis and he argued that he had lived at Chichen Itza in an earlier life. According to him both ancient Egypt and the Freemasonry derived from the Maya by way of Atlantis. Jesus’ last words on the Cross were also spoken in Yucatec. Much of Le Plongeon’s work has reemerged in the writings of the Bosnian pyramid inventor Semir Osmanagic.

Ideas like these created the fertile ground for the later 2012-phenomenon which was triggered by the publication of Michael Coe’s first edition of The Maya in 1966. We will begin there in the next post on this issue.

Hoopes, John W. (2011). Mayanism comes of (New) Age. In 2012: Decoding the Counterculture Apocalypse (ed. J. Gelfer). London & Sheffield: Equinox, pp. 38-59.

Helena Blavatsky



  1. Very informative, still doesn’t make me feel any more or less confident the world isn’t coming to an end! 🙂

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