Posted by: Johan Normark | August 14, 2012

An onticological response to New Age nonsense

I make use of Levi Bryant’s onticology and his writings about apocalypticism and media ecology in an upcoming article and book on my blogging about the 2012-phenomenon. Apparently he has been busy dealing with a New Ager as well. I feel that his response to this individual can be applied to most 2012ers. However, they accuse me for misrepresenting them as well but that should not come as a surprise if we follow Bryant’s own work on communication.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 13, 2012

Colonial architecture in Semarang

Since I am affiliated with the project on the early modern town my family and I strolled through the old Dutch quarters of Semarang on the northern coast of Central Java.  Semarang came into Dutch control in 1678. The octagonal Blenduk church dominates this area. It was built in 1753 and is the oldest church in central Java.

There are a plenty of other colonial buildings in this part of the town. I am not sure how old they are.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 13, 2012

Sand dunes in Vietnam

If Java had the volcanoes, Vietnam had sand dunes, particularly those at Mui Ne.

Sunrise at the white sand dunes

Same, same but different

The red sand dunes, good for sledding

Wading in the Fairy Spring


Posted by: Johan Normark | August 11, 2012

2012: Information needed about the real galactic alignment

It has come to my attention that one of the proponents of the so-called galactic alignment theory, John Major Jenkins (JMJ), is putting together information about people that have different opinions than he has. It seems that he has gone from pseudoscience to pseudodetective work. JMJ will use these “dossiers” to publicly bash his opponents with details from their private life. As far as I know, he has not made one of me yet. I am rather disappointed, what does it take to be “honored” a dossier?

Anyway, for my future book on blogging about the 2012-phenomenon I will include a chapter on the galactic alignment idea(s). Who came up with it first for the Maya area? Was it the private investigator JMJ or was it the fortune-teller Mardyks? Who actually cares? Apart from describing various claims made in the “theory” itself I am also interested in describing how JMJ has publicly appeared while debating his position. I do have plenty of stuff from this blog, his “review” of David Stuart’s book, his facebook page, etc. If you, reader of this blog, has any additional information regarding the public debate of the galactic alignment, please send them to me. The “JMJ dossier” may appear on this blog in an extended version.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 10, 2012

Volcanoes on Java

During the vacation we visited a couple of volcanoes and their surroundings. Here are some pictures.

This is either Sindoro or Sumbing, seen from the road to the Dieng Plateau.

Sikidang crater on the Dieng Plateau

Telaga Warna on the Dieng Plateau. Lake with many colors.

Bromo and other volcanoes at sunrise (Bromo is the low “grey” crater on the left). In the background is Java’s highest peak/volcano, Semeru (3676 m.a.s.).

Bromo seen from the hotel. One of the best hotel views I have ever had.


Posted by: Johan Normark | August 7, 2012

Beaches in Vietnam and on Java

Whale Island, Vietnam

Mui Ne, Vietnam

Pantai Bandengan, Jepara, Java

Pantai Nirwana, Karimunjawa, Java

Pulau Cemara Kecil, Karimunjawa, Java

Pantai Tanjung Gelam, Karimunjawa, Java

Although Vietnam has loooonger beaches than Java, Java wins the competition of most beautiful and “unspoiled” beaches.


Posted by: Johan Normark | August 5, 2012

Hindu temples in Vietnam and on Java

During the past vacation my family and I visited a couple of Hindu temples in Vietnam and on Java. The first complex we visited was the Po Nagar Cham towers in Nha Trang, Vietnam. These brick temples were built by the Cham people between the 7th and 12th centuries.

A week or so later we decided to spend two nights at Ninh Chu Beach outside the twin cities of Phan Rang and Thap Cham. This is the site of four brick towers called Po Klong Garai, built at the end of the 13th century and the early 14th century.

The most impressive surroundings, however, are held by the Hindu temples in the Dieng Plateau in central Java. These temples are located 2093 m.a.s. They were built between the 8th and 9th centuries and around 400 temples are believed to have existed at the site. Only nine are visible today.

Posted by: Johan Normark | August 3, 2012

Brief update

I am just back from a 6,5 weeks long vacation in Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. That is the only reason why I have not posted anything during this period. I have only moderated the comments on the blog but I have not found time and energy to respond to them. On one occasion I did not have proper internet access for two weeks (in case you are one of the commentators). Next two weeks are busy as well so there will probably not be much activity on this blog until the end of August.

Posted by: Johan Normark | June 18, 2012

2012: The cosmological trap

If there is some connection between academic Mayanist research and the New Age/pseudoscientific field that Hoopes calls “Mayanism” it is within the “cosmological field”. An academic would claim that Maya cosmology is a cultural or social construct, etc. A New Ager, like Jenkins, sees Maya cosmology as revealing some sort of truth, ancient wisdom, and file it under “perennial philosophy”, etc. I usually do not agree with any of these positions as they simply are mirror images of each other. New Agers undermine objects. Graham Harman describes undermining as a form of reductionism. It destroys objects in favor of something more fundamental, something spiritual that is more “true” or “real” than simple objects. Academic Mayanists more often overmines the object where it becomes a nickname for social or cultural relations. Neither approach really care about the objects themselves which actually interests me (and please do not make the mistake of labeling me “materialist” because of this since even an idea is an object). If we skip the object-oriented ontologies discussing these issues, how are objects treated among the Yucatec Maya today? Can we learn something from them (the ethnographic analogy problem set a side for this post)?

The part of Mayanist academia that focuses on cosmological issues has unfortunately been influenced by Eliade’s ideas, ideas that straddle the border to ideas prevalent in New Age literature. A good example here is “Maya Cosmos” from 1993, a book that has influenced Jenkins. In Mayanist and New Age literature alike Maya artefacts, buildings, places and calendars are described as divine, holy and sacred (from different perspectives I must add). Eliade set up a binary distinction between sacred and profane. However, the contemporary Maya make no such binary distinction. Their emphasis on location has to do with ritually quadripartioning everything. Yucatec words like kich, k’ul and k’uyen are glossed as sacred but actually mean “something good, of good character, pleasant, and well-behaved in humility and personality” (p 21). K’uyen refers to humans, objects and processions and is associated with the movement of the sun after passing zenith.

Eliade upheld an “incredible fixation on what he called sacred space, sacred time, sacred symbols, sacred myths, sacred this and sacred that, whereupon, according to him, all human actions concentrate on seeking divine hierophantic manifestations” (p 7). The baggage of Eliade’s armchair research and connection to fascist ideology is something one also should confront. Eliade’s “shamanism” is therefore seriously flawed. The Maya did not have any supernatural portals that corresponds to Eliade’s axial “doors of the gods”. In his model, shamans in an altered state of ecstasy master and control spirits through the cosmic portal that Eliade calls axis mundi. This view has been filtered through into Jenkins’s “galactic alignment” theory where Eliadean ideas remain strong. Given Jenkins’s aggressive attitude towards people disagreeing with him and demands that other people should be censored, we can sense how this particular form of Deleuzean microfascism works. Jenkins wants to be the only dictator in his own narrow territory. This may be the reason why Jenkins has misunderstood most of what “Maya cosmology” is about.

Contemporary ritual specialists communicate with non-corporeal persons by tethering them to objects. Astor-Aguilera describes a contemporary ritual in the Cochuah region in which pigs are sacrificed. The heads of the pigs are indexes of the sun, moon and Venus. During this ritual the sun person is brought down to earth whereas its physical part remains overhead.

The smashing of pottery or termination of buildings in the past were most likely the untethering of incorporeal persons. Some nonhumans are stronger and have better skills than others so for this reason it is no problem in discarding or breaking communicating objects that one seeks to disassociate oneself from. Thus, buildings, caves and perhaps even sites and timeperiods were “untethered” this way.

When Jenkins claims that December 21, 2012 involves transition to a new era, transformation and renewal, this is nothing new at all. Contemporary Maya do this all the time. Objects are transformed and are being renewed through the tethering of incorporeal persons. Transitions to new eras/periods occurred and still occur. When Jenkins claims that the transition demanded a sacrifice of a “deity”, what the Maya probably meant was the untethering of a incorporeal person (Bolon Yookte’ K’uh). Remember that the “deity” is said to descend. I suspect the people of Tortuguero expected Bolon Yookte’ K’uh to become tethered to an object (statue or human impersonator?) and perhaps sacrificed/untethered at some later point, perhaps during the same ritual. There is nothing particularly sacred or important with this event that make it different from the baktun ending in AD 830 (apart from the additional effects from centuries of Colonialism, capitalism, etc). Same, same but different. Jenkins is trapped in cosmology and cannot escape. He will not even chew his leg off.

Astor-Aguilera, Miguel Angel (2010). The Maya World of Communicating Objects: Quadripartite Crosses, Trees, and Stones. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque.

Posted by: Johan Normark | June 12, 2012

2012: It began with Columbus

2012 expert John Hoopes talks about the origins of the 2012-phenomenon and Mayanism in general. Misconceptions regarding the Maya and other Amerindian people goes back to none other than Columbus himself. Hoopes has written an article about this as well and I will cover it during the fall.

Posted by: Johan Normark | June 11, 2012

The 819-day count at Xultun

Barbara MacLeod and Hutch Kinsman have made an analysis of the tables found at Xultun and they have discovered that it is evenly divisable by 819 (7x9x13). Check it out here.

Posted by: Johan Normark | June 4, 2012

2012: Calleman on the transit of Venus

Since the end of the Callemanian calendar and the supposed transformation of consciousness that occurred on October 28 last year, Calleman continues to explain away his failed prophecy by claiming that extraordinary things happened anyway. He says that “the Ninth wave, and the energy opening that was created when all nine waves were in the day mode last year, has made an indelible impression on humanity, and after some time of reflection new avenues to move forward will be sought by people more broadly. Thus, the 9th Wave continues to grind unity consciousness into existence…” Indelible impression on humanity? Really?

In hindsight, he claims that “we have no reason to expect that any shift in consciousness will take place automatically on a global scale just because there is a special date”. One wonders how that even remotely fits his own ideas of quantum leaps that occur at an instant moment? It does not work at all and instead of admitting  that he has been wrong the whole time he accuses the ”December 21 2012ers” for making statements “without any foundation whatsoever except for the dreams of those pronouncing them. Thus, by themselves both the Venus Transit and the Winter Solstice are like Y2K dates without any inherent energetic meaning and I think it is just as superstitious to associate them with some automatic birth of a new world as the end of the world, which is the big media favorite.” Yes, Calleman is probably unhappy that his made up end date did not become a great media hype. He should have set his end date two tzolkins later and he could have continued the “transformation of consciousness” circus a little bit longer than the galactic alignment people.

Still Calleman believes that the transit of Venus on June 6 and this year’s winter solstice are of importance because both involve the sun as a common denominator.  He asks “if this is more than a coincidence that the Mesoamerican traditions have been talking about the arrival of a new Sun. Maybe then, even if nothing will happen automatically, we may be able to intentionally bring about a shift in consciousness with one event leading up to the other. This raises the question what kind of shift would really generate an opening to a future that we would like to have.” Since the winter solstice occurs every year (along with the summer solstice and the equinoxes), only the Venus transit is unusual this Gregorian year. So, apparently “one more” sun related event is enough to see a connection to the “arrival of a new Sun”. Someone is grasping at straws here. However, Calleman once argued that because the transit occurs on June 6, on the National day of Sweden, Sweden has an important role to play in the transformation of consciousness.

Calleman claims that people have been led to believe that the shift in consciousness will happen automatically. By whom I wonder? Calleman has himself led people to believe this with his quantum leaps and waves. Is he talking about himself? Anyway, now Calleman proposes that “the shift in consciousness on the Venus Transit and the Winter Solstice of 2012 we should bring is to shift the center of our world from being the nation to being the sun. This can be done by establishing a connection of our third eye, which is our own center, with the sun and would truly be a shift in consciousness.” Oh, it was that easy? Why did we not think of that before?

Posted by: Johan Normark | May 31, 2012

The divine inexistence vs living with the ancestors

I have been struggling with how to combine realist ontologies from the continental philosophical tradition with that of the Maya. That is not an easy task as the ontology/ontologies of the Maya (ancient and contemporary) tend to be seen as “social constructions” of some non-specified reality “out there”. However, the problem is even greater than that. The continental philosophical tradition is “Eurocentric” as well and one can easily find problems and issues that these ontologies focuses on that is of little to no relevance outside this “cultural sphere”. What anthropologists often uncover in “non-Western” collectives are different ontologies that of course can be described as various sensual profiles of real objects but I believe the problem is deeper than that.

On occasion I have made use of the anthropologist Göran Aijmer’s “ontology of ontologies” where he outlines at least three different coexisting ontological orders (realist, discursive and iconic). Aijmer created these different orders to describe different modes of existence. For example, someone carves a temple mask (an activity that can be described by metric information if needed). What the carver believe is being carved (the discursive order) is different from the reproduction of non-linguistic “messages” manifested in the mask (the iconic order). However, Aijmer has created this ontology of ontologies from readings of Wittgenstein and his language games. The attempt to describe different modes of existence has also been proposed by Etienne Souriau which is outlined by Latour in The Speculative Turn. I will discuss that alternative approach in another post. In this post I want to emphasize how a “Eurocentric” ontology may be problematic to combine with a Maya ontology, if we want to maintain a flat ontology.

Today I was reading Graham Harman’s summary of Quentin Meillassoux’s English articles in his book about this philosopher. The article Spectral Dilemma is sort of an appetizer for Meillassoux’s unpublished book The Divine Inexistence (which also is summarized in Harman’s book). A specter/phantasm is someone who has died unjustifiably and therefore has not been properly mourned. There are paths of despair for both the theist and the atheist that create these specters. The spectral dilemma is that if there is a God, why did he/she let it happen and if there is no God there is no redemption for the victim of injustice. In order to solve this dilemma, the thesis of the divine inexistence is needed. What Meillassoux shows is that both theism and atheism claims to exhaust the field of possibilities. This is wrong because both believe that their position is true, they also commit themselves to the idea that this truth is a necessity. For an atheist it not only a necessity for God not to exist but also that he cannot exist. To the theist God’s existence is of course a necessity. Instead of this dilemma Meillassoux launches the idea of a virtual God, currently inexistent, contingent and unmasterable. God may exist in the future (this conclusion follows several lines of thought which I do not have time to cover here, but I will). Let’s just hope someone does not believe this God emerges on December 21, 2012 in the form of Bolon Yokte K’uh.

Even though I find Meillassoux’s ideas intriguing I see this spectral dilemma as something of relevance in a “Western” theistic/atheistic tradition. It is completely irrelevant to contemporary Yucatec Maya (and perhaps to other contemporary and ancient Maya as well). Despite centuries of Christian influence, the Maya have “stubbornly” maintained a very different ontology. To use Aijmer’s terms, the iconic order has remained fairly intact as non-human objects are crucial ingredients in this order. The discursive order has changed.

To the Maya a person never dies (and I wonder if they ever are born?). As Astor-Aguilera writes, the body (human body, pot or building) is simply a container for non-corporeal persons that are tethered to this container for as long as the container is usable. It can be discarded through what we call biological death, smashing of pottery or a termination ritual. To the Maya there are no gods, divinities, etc., these are Christian overcodings. Only non-corporeal persons/ancestors exist and they are tethered into various objects and phenomena but these ancestors do not live in a separate realm. They are within earth, on earth and in the sky and the trees link these non-discrete realms. They are still communicating after the “death” of the object. The Maya both undermine and overmine objects, which exactly is what materialism does according to Harman. In any case, the theistic/atheistic spectral dilemma is no dilemma for the Maya. The Maya are simply living with their ancestors.

Astor-Aguilera, Miguel Angel (2010). The Maya World of Communicating Objects: Quadripartite Crosses, Trees, and Stones. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque

Harman, Graham (2011). Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making. Edinburgh University Press. Edinburgh.

For a long time I have planned to post something about the results from Rathje’s Garbage Project and since he passed away last week I decided to write a blog post now.

The Garbage Project distinguished between different types of waste. Trash refers to dry things like paper and cans. Garbage is wet waste like leftovers. Refuse is both wet and dry. Rubbish is a collective term for all refuse and construction debris. The distinction between wet and dry dates back to the days when wet waste was given to pigs, but today the difference lacks importance.

The project focused on contemporary landfills and fresh garbage that came directly from households. There were two reasons behind the landfill excavations: to see if the fresh garbage taken out of garbage trucks could also be evaluated from landfills, and to see what happens with the garbage formation.

The excavations showed that the items people think are the baddies in the mountains of waste, such as plastic bottles, diapers and fast food packaging, really are not there. Although the number of plastic items has increased in the garbage, the total volume or weight has not increased since plastic bottles have become lighter. Paper products had become a major problem since phone books were important components of the landfills (at least in the late 1980s, probably not anymore). At that point in time computerization had not led to reduced use of paper, on the contrary. Anyone could print out loads of paper. I guess the situation is similar today although phone books have reduced in quantity.

Contrary to what we may think the organic material does not deteriorate inside the landfills, it is mummified. Even inside two thousand year old landfills in Rome the trash has not been completely deteriorated.

Rathje, W. L. & Murphy, C. 1992. Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage. New York.

Posted by: Johan Normark | May 29, 2012

RIP William Rathje

One of the most influential archaeologists and Mayanists has passed away. William Rathje (1945-2012) began as a Mayanist and later in his life he initiated what has been known as garbology, the archaeological study of contemporary garbage. If you can get hold on Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage (1992), read it and your view of garbage will never be the same again. I have discussed some of Rathje’s later ideas regarding the Maya in one of my earlier blog posts. Rathje was also an early proponent for trade being an important factor in the history of the Maya region, ideas that still are valid as seen in a recent article on the Maya collapse. I met him when he visited the University of Gothenburg 6-7 years ago and he even attended the now dormant Microarchaeological seminars where I gave a talk about my “brand” of archaeology.

Update. Michael Shanks writes about Rathje on one of his blogs.

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