Within the multi-disciplinary world of 2012ology, theories span the gamut from serious academic discussions of astronomical alignments by glyph-deciphering Maya geeks to theorists who think that, on December 21, 2012, the sun will cause a magnetic phenomenon triggering all human pineal glands to release a hallucinogen causing a mass humanity-wide transcendent trip.
Other non-Maya–based theories predict Atlantis will rise, solar flares will explode, and extraterrestrials will return to Earth to beam away the chosen ones. (That last one is supposed to happen in the village of Bugarach, France. Seriously.)
The various branches and stems of 2012 studies are presented in hundreds of books and documentary films by academics, independent researchers, modern explorers, spiritualists, novelists, and curious armchair 2012 observers.
This extensive field is made more intriguing (and confusing) by the wave of global rumor and hype that has carried the story. It has turned into a global meme, especially since the sensationalistic blockbuster film 2012 (released in 2009) soundly blasted the 2012 idea out of the hands of the Maya and into Hollywood and the mass media.
The beginnings and endings of cycles were big news for the Classic Maya—the bigger the cycle, the bigger the news. The b’aktun is an important unit, “used for describing the creations of humans and of the world,” writes Gaspar Pedro González. Thirteen is a sacred number for the Maya as well, giving even more weight to the ending of the 13 b’aktun Long Count.
The fact that the Maya pegged the end of the Long Count to the winter solstice is, for some, additional evidence of a prophecy or at least some intention by the ancient Maya.
Physical evidence of the Long Count (the 2012 date) is found inscribed on a monument at Tortuguero and in astronomy-based symbolism at Izapa  and Copán . Some point to the Armageddon-like line in the Popol Vuh, the sacred Maya book, which reads, “It will rain fire, burning stones; the Earth will lift up; there will be floods that will put an end to humanity, to those who have vitiated the Earth.”
Even though these horrible events are not tied to 2012 in the Popol Vuh, it’s still tantalizing stuff, especially for survivalists selling gas masks and custom bunkers.
Some simplify the 2012 prophecy debate as “believers vs. non-believers,” or “those who think something will happen vs. those who don’t.” Academics and Maya scholars acknowledge that the Maya Long Count exists and does indeed end on December 21, 2012. But they scoff at the mention of asteroids, solar flares, extraterrestrials, or Planet X, to list a few popular doomsday theories.
After the 2011 Maya Meetings in Austin, Texas, which addressed the 2012 discussion, lecturer Dr. Robert Sitler reported that “the academic community has consistently described the international interest in the year 2012 and Mayan calendrics as a poorly informed product of misguided New Age ideologies with few substantive connections to the Mayan world.” He continues, “Scholars are especially upset with extremist claims that 2012 will mark the end of the Mayan calendar and even the end of the world itself.”
These thoughts are echoed in Mayanist scholar Mark Van Stone’s book, 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya. “There is nothing in the Maya or Aztec or ancient Mesoamerican prophecy,” he writes, “to suggest that they prophesied a sudden or major change of any sort in 2012.” He argues that 13 b’aktuns was nothing, and points to even longer counts at Palenque , including one indicating that 20 b’aktuns rather than 13 is the actual length of the Long Count.
Another text at Palenque is inscribed with a date correlating to A.D. 4772. Van Stone says this proves that the people of Palenque not only expected to survive 184.108.40.206.0 (December 21, 2012), but to worship their kings and gods for thousands of years more.
“This is about the clearest message they gave us,” Van Stone says, “that they (like us) could not imagine the End of their Culture, they expected it to live forever. Perhaps you could call this a static-cyclical conception of time. I call it normal human self-awareness.”
For the most part, the Maya of today are too busy with day-to-day living to worry about the latest theory regarding 2012. Most grew up with no living reference to the Long Count or the ending of 13 b’aktuns, only learning about these things from outside archaeologists and epigraphers.
A friend who works in a small community in the Yucatán told me that the Maya of her village were “not particularly interested in nor do they care about the 2012 event.” Other Maya are just as intrigued with the rediscovery of the Long Count and 2012 references as anyone else.
Still, too often the Maya themselves are left out of the 2012 discussion. As December 21, 2012, approaches, some communities in Mexico and Guatemala are taking matters into their own hands by sending delegations of Maya elders abroad to address global concerns about 2012. I attended one talk by a K’iche’ elder in a community center outside Denver, Colorado, in 2011. He had come, he said, as a messenger from his grandfathers in the mountains of Guatemala with this message about 2012:
“A better world is possible! That is my grano de maiz” (my grain of corn), he said, “as we enter the age of the fifth sun.” He told us about a school they were building in his village and of the ceremonies they were performing to prepare all of humanity for the upcoming transition.
“You are invited,” he told the crowd of about 200 people. “The elders have opened the doors for whenever you’d like to come. Maya spirituality is for everyone. It is universal, it is not just for one group.”
Dr. Jaime Awe, Director of Belize’s Institute of Archaeology and part Maya himself, says that 2012 “represents the ending of one cosmological cycle, and the beginning of another. It’s very much the way most people would look at the end of one year and the beginning of another, but over a very, very long period of time. It is a time for reflection, and for considering future direction.”
Another Quiché elder, don Alejandro Cirilo Pérez Oxlaj, made this prediction: “With a new social order there comes a time of freedom where we can move like the clouds, without limitations, without borders. We will travel like the birds, without the need for passports. We will travel like the rivers, all heading towards the same point…”