The news is reporting panic in some parts of the world caused by predictions of the “Mayan apocalypse” on December 21. Baktún 13 falls on this date, the end of the 5,125-year “Long Count” Mayan calendar of 394-year periods called baktúns. In far-flung places like Russia, China, France and the U.S., Baktún 13 has provoked increased sales of survival shelters, food provisions, and emergency gear. Doomsday theories have surged too, along with monetary scams. Authorities as diverse as NASA and the Vatican have appealed for calm, concerned that frightened children might lose sleep, or that depressed teenagers might turn suicidal. Scholars have been busy debunking rumors about planetary collisions, giant solar storms, or a flipping of the Earth’s magnetic poles. Meanwhile, mystics and occult experts relish the focus on cosmic mysteries and a new era of enlightenment. One New Age campaign is Birth 2012, which has organized 40 events around the globe in the hope that Baktún 13 will launch a spiritual reset of international kindness and hope.
In Guatemala, the cradle of Mayan civilization, this occasion, which also coincides with the winter solstice, hasn’t generated much fear about the world’s end. Pracitioners of Mayan spirituality view Baktún 13 as a cycle of renewal and positive change, and have been igniting sacred flames on altars at well-known ruins. Neither Catholic nor Protestant churches seem to sense a need to challenge the religious basis of this event, which is widely regarded as a celebration of Mayan roots, a way to attract tourists and, perhaps, raise consciousnes about climate issues. Hotels have long been sold out for the later parts of December, and tourism reportedly has increased 12% over last year. However, the influx of foreign visitors hasn’t met expectations, and Guatemala is seen as having been out-maneuvered by Mexico. Guatemala’s Tourism Institute has organized concerts, astronomy conferences, and cultural and religious acts at archeological sites around the country. The most prominent events will take place at Tikal (seen in photo). On the evening of December 20, Tikal’s central plaza will be illuminated by hundreds of flood lights, and activities will be broadcast live by satellite around the globe. On December 21, when the dawn ushers in the new baktún, over 100 spiritual guides and ethnic leaders will participate in what’s billed as the “largest and most significant Mayan ceremony of the contemporary era.” Government officials in the Petén, where Tikal and other major Mayan temples are located, have declared a “yellow alert” to ensure public safety.
Some indigenous groups complain that the event has been too commercialized, and that they’ve been sidelined in the planning by the government and tourism industry. Mayan political organizations have pointed out that, despite the renewed attention given to their culture and ancient religious worldviews, the government has refused this year to enact legislation that would protect their rights and develop their communities. Instead, 2012 has been marked by a massacre of indigenous protesters, evictions of peasants, and land grabs in indigenous areas by foreign mining companies.
Post-Apocalypse Update: The Baktún 13 celebration/apocalypse came and went. Special events took place at archeological sites around the country. Our family looked for some meaningful way to participate in this cultural event in the Guatemala City area, but we didn’t find one. Although government employees got the day off, life carried on as normal for most of Guatemala. No one appears surprised or disappointed that the earth wasn’t destroyed. At dawn on Friday, over 7,000 people gathered at Tikal to watch Mayan priests mark the beginning of new cosmic era with ancestral dances and light ceremonies. Months ago it was hoped that movie stars like Mel Gibson and big-name musical acts, like Bono, Bruce Springsteen, and Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona, would made appearances. However, they were no-shows. Meanwhile, criticism was unabated about how events catered primarily to tourists caught up in the frenzy about “the end of the world.” Most of the indigenous, who are Catholic or Protestant, seemed disconnected. Finally, one of Tikal’s most famous structures, Temple 2, was irreparably damaged by crowds of tourists that ignored signs forbidding them to climb the ancient stairs, causing the stones to crumble under their feet.