Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Non-End of the World, New Age Edition; or, Happy 14th B'ak'tun!

Once again, the world was supposed to end at a precise date and time. There were even disaster movies about it, including one big one. That time was the moment of the summer solstice (3:11 a.m. PST) on December 21, 2012. 12/21/12.

Sure enough, the world didn't end. Yet again.

That moment is when the 13th b'ak'tun of the Mayan calendar came to a close and the 14th began. A b'ak'tun is something of a Mayan counterpart to a millennium on the modern Roman calendar. If you remember, the world was also supposed to end at midnight on January 1, 2000. The only thing that happened that day was that some computers went haywire because it didn't occur to their mid- (and even late-)20th-century programmers that the 20th century would end, so the dates they used were two digits rather than four. This was the famous "Y2K bug" that people hoped would bring down civilization so Jesus could return. The difference between the turn of the Mayan b'ak'tun and the turn of the Roman millennium is that there never was a "14th b'ak'tun bug".

The Mayas, of course, are happy to collect the dollars from doomsday-minded tourists. They still exist, you see, and they even still speak their old languages in addition to their conquerors' language, Spanish (and sometimes English for the tourists). Mel Gibson even filmed his movie Apocalypto in the Maya language Yucatec.

So how did this all get started? I suspect it began with one José Argüelles, author of a book called The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology and organizer of the Harmonic Convergence of 1987 (disclosure: growing up in a New Age family, I took part in it). He took the Mayan calendar, added the I Ching and other esoteric influences, and you can guess the rest. Interestingly enough, he didn't live long enough to see the world not end (he died in 2011) — but then, he never said it would. (Trivia note: he was neither Mexican nor Guatemalan, but a Midwestern American: he came from Rochester, Minnesota, not far from where I spent much of my childhood in Mankato.)

Sure enough, memetic mutation took over. Somehow, even before the Harmonic Convergence, the date 12/21/2012 got mixed up in Theosophical expectations of the return of The Christ (i.e. the Theosophical version of the Gnostic Jesus) in the form of Maitreya, the next Buddha. Eventually, cults both New Age and Evangelical formed around the Eschaton they expected on that date. This is the kind of thing my favorite major New Age figure, Dick Sutphen calls "cosmic foo-foo".

And so here we are yet again, stuck in a world that never ended, just like we were last year, twice (no thanks to one Harold Camping, Evangelical end-time prognosticator). Once again, the world has been proclaimed Twitter dead. But Twitter death never stopped the celebrities; why would it stop the world? After all, the world has been about to end since Jesus' time; it never did, and it never will — unless, of course, our leaders manage to blow it up...

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