A New Day and a New Year: Happy 14 B'aqtun!

A recreation of a Maya ritual at the ruins of Lubaantun
in southern Belize. Photo by douglas reeser.
by douglas reeser on 12-21-12
Well, here I am, sitting at my desk on the Winter Solstice in 2012. It's sunny and nice, although the storms that came through last night had me a bit concerned. For many, this day has been anticipated with excitement, wonder, and fear for at least a few years now. Much has been made of the supposed ending of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, with some seeing it as the end of the world as we know it, others debunking that popularized belief, and still others seeing it as a transition to a new era. On one extreme, so called "Doomsday Preppers" have reportedly gone into hiding in anticipation of something - anything - happening that might cause mass chaos. On the other, more common extreme, are the majority of people going about their daily lives as if this day has no significance, as if nothing is happening, and nothing is changing. In my mind, both extremes have their faults.

The anthropology magazine Savage Minds has had a recent series on this Mayan Apocalypse, and in the third piece of the series, Clare Sammells describes two aspects of this day that the popular press has picked up on:
One is scientific proof that the apocalypse will not happen, such as astronomical data that Earth is not on a collision course with another planet, Mayan epigraphy that shows the Long Count does not really end, and ethnography that suggests most Maya themselves are not worried about any of this. The other scholarly theme the press circulates is the long history of apocalyptic beliefs in the west. In the logic of the metanarrative of western progress, this connects contemporary Apocalypse believers to the past, nonmodernity and “otherness.” 
In the strange world of the mass media, the idea seems to be at once to discredit the possibility of a "Doomsday" and even marginalize such beliefs, while at the same time, promoting them for their entertainment value as seen in the various television shows currently being aired on the topic.

Another piece in all of this that hasn't received much attention is what Maya people, themselves, are doing today. My Maya friends in Belize have been celebrating the turn of their Long Count Calendar since early in the morning with traditional dancing, music, foods, and other rituals. They've also tried to share their experience, their knowledge, and their message with the rest of us:
The world is watching the Maya region. Many people believe that the end of the world is coming because of a prophecy foretold by ancient Maya scribes, part of a civilization that has collapsed and a people who have disappeared. Yet we will mark the transition from 13 to a new B’aqtun (December 21-22, 2012) by sending three messages to the world: 
 - The Maya people are not gone—and you don’t have to look to the ancient past to learn from us. 
- Maya livelihoods have much to teach the world—but are under threat and should be defended and celebrated. 
 - If the apocalypse is coming, its cause isn’t Maya prophesy—it’s the damage to our planet caused by industrial capitalist societies. 
We invite one and all to join us for the following events that we have planned to mark our transition from 13 to a new B’aqtun:
Thursday, December 20: symposium at the Maya community of Santa Cruz (2-5 PM) followed by a vigil.
Friday December 21: ‘mayehak’ (6 AM – 9 AM) performed by the spiritual guides, followed by a march from the community of Santa Cruz to Uchbenka where we will stage a press conference and celebration at the ruins with traditional music, food and cultural events.
Saturday, December 22: a public educational event (10-11 AM, Punta Gorda) entitled “We’re still here! Maya livelihoods today: threats and opportunities.” 
From southern Mexico to Guatemala and Belize, Maya communities face daunting struggles against an array of companies and governments that wish to exploit their land and labor. In southern Belize, the government has ignored domestic and international laws as it continues to violate the Maya community’s land and natural resources. Still we persist. Our success has been as a result of our communities’ capacity to self-organize and mobilize – for instance through the Alcaldes – and to achieve unity within our communities. These are the source of our strength and organization which brought the successful 2007 and 2010 Supreme Court judgments for Maya land rights.
In the end, I think there is a clear message in all of this. Whether you're in your safe-house bunker, sitting in your office like me, or able to be celebrating the turn of the ancient Mayan calendar, you can rest assured that the world is changing. It might not be happening as quickly or radically as you had hoped or desired, but it is happening. The world is always changing, and it always has been changing. A shift in temporal perspective, and we can see the earth and our world has radically changed in just the last 100 years. Within change comes ending and death - some things come into being, while others cease to exist. We can't know exactly how these changes are going to continue, and this is probably the basis for apocalyptic beliefs - a fear of the unknown and unknowable. I would suggest that you sit back and enjoy the day and give thanks for the life you do have. Enjoy the apocalypse, because it is happening, it has always been happening, and it will continue to happen. Happy B'aqtun 14!
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  1. Anonymous4:19 PM

    Finally. Some non-sensationalized perspective on the Mayan New Year. What the f*** is all the hype about? Are we that starved for entertainment?

  2. Anonymous8:02 PM

    It's only 8pm on the east coast. The days not over!

  3. Agreed with Anonymous #1.

    Also, well put:
    "I would suggest that you sit back and enjoy the day and give thanks for the life you do have. Enjoy the apocalypse, because it is happening, it has always been happening, and it will continue to happen."

    It's all what we make of it. For those prone to fear, then fear is what they'll know/see. Likewise, for those that encourage positive change...will find positive change.

    Power of thought is king.

  4. I love the bullet point number three. If the apocalypse is coming it is because of the damage we are doing to the earth. Nothing makes more sense then that. Thanks for the more scholarly approach that the national media lacks.


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