The end of the world, apocalypse, Armagedon… It seems like someone is always predicting global doom. Remember Y2K, or the famous doomsday prophet Nostrodamus? This fascinates me because there are so many people at the other end of the spectrum looking for ways to extend their lives (or at least look really young into old age), cheat death, or freeze their dead bodies for a return to life at a later date.
The end of the Mayan calendar in December, 2012, is the latest catalyst for apocalyptic forecasting, the idea being that then end of the “long form calendar” of the ancient Mayans predicts the end of the world. A few of you may have seen the shlocktastic movie, 2012, which is based on the concept and which one reviewer described as “cinematic waterboarding.”
On a recent trip to Guatemala, a country that is home to the world’s largest concentration of Mayan people (more than four million Guatemalans speak a Maya language), I asked a few real Mayans what they thought of the idea. Their responses ranged from bemused to philosophical. Some spoke of a “new age” of greater care for the planet, others said the changes have already happened with environmental degradation and also with our ever-connected world of communications. None thought the planet would implode next year. My general impression is that the Mayans of Guatemala have more immediate concerns like making a living, educating their children, and continuing to recover from a civil war that was truly apocalyptic for Guatemala’s indigenous people.
Robert Sitler’s The Living Maya, Ancient Wisdom in the Era of 2012, provides one of the best explanations of the whole topic. One of the points he makes is that the Maya aren’t an extinct culture found only in the ancient heiroglyphics and ruins of ancient cities that range through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. Instead, Sitler, who is a professor professor at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida and serves as Director of its Latin American Studies Program, looks at the culture and traditions of real, live Mayan people. I’d put this book at the top of reading list for anyone traveling to Mexico and Central America. And, for anyone really worried about what will happen in 2012, the folks at NASA offer a down-to-earth look at the 2012 topic from an out-of-this-world perspective.