News / Americas

Mysticism, Internet Fuel 'Armageddon' Fears

A Maya priest sounds a note on a conch shell horn during the Oxlajuj Batz ceremony to celebrate the end of the Maya calendar in the ceremonial center of Kaminal Juyu in Guatemala City December 12, 2012
A Maya priest sounds a note on a conch shell horn during the Oxlajuj Batz ceremony to celebrate the end of the Maya calendar in the ceremonial center of Kaminal Juyu in Guatemala City December 12, 2012
Reuters
A few words by an American scholar, a crumbling Mexican monument and the love of a good yarn were all it took to spawn the belief that the world could end this week.

December 21 marks the end of an age in a 5,125 year-old Maya calendar, an event that is variously interpreted as the end of days, the start of a new era or just a good excuse for a party.

Thousands of New Age mystics, spiritual adventurers and canny businessmen are converging on ancient ruins in southern Mexico and Guatemala to find out what will happen.

"No one knows what it will look like on the other side,'' said Michael DiMartino, 46, a long-haired American who is organizing one of the biggest December 21 celebrations at the Maya temple site of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula.

It is not the world but "the way we perceive it''  that will end, said DiMartino, who pledged his event at ground zero for 2012 acolytes will be a "distilling down of various perspectives into a unified intention for positive transformation, evolution and co-creation of a new way of being.''

A mash-up of academic speculation and existential angst seasoned with elements from several world religions, the 2012 phenomenon has been fueled by Hollywood movies and computer  games, and relentlessly disseminated by Internet doom-mongers.

Mass hysteria in a Russian prison, a Chinese man building survival pods for doomsday and UFO lovers seeking refuge with aliens in a French mountain village are just some of the reports that have sprung up in the final countdown to December 21.

Robert Bast, a New Zealander living in Melbourne who wrote a book called "Survive 2012'' on how to cope with the possible catastrophe, believes the Maya may have sent out a warning.

"The most likely thing for me is a solar storm, but that's not going to kill you straight away. It's more of a long term disaster,'' said Bast, 47, noting a flu pandemic could also strike the planet. "I feel the world isn't as safe as we think it is. The last couple of generations have had it very cosy.''

When dawn breaks on Friday, according to the Maya Long Count calendar, it marks the end of the 13th bak'tun - an epoch lasting some 400 years - and the beginning of the 14th.

This fact would probably have languished in academic obscurity had not a young Maya expert named Michael Coe written in the 1960s that to the ancient Mesoamerican culture the date could herald an "Armageddon'' to cleanse humanity.

Since then, the cult of 2012 has snowballed.

Among the sun-bleached pyramids, shaded mangroves and deep cenotes of the Maya heartland, there are hopes December 21 will bring a spiritual rebirth.

Nobody seems quite sure what to expect on Friday, but it has
 not stopped people getting their hopes up.

"This is the Arab Spring of the spiritual movement,'' said Geoffrey Ocean Dreyer, a 52-year-old U.S. musician wearing a sombrero and mardi gras beads. "We're going to create world peace. We're going to Jerusalem and we're going to rebuild Solomon's temple.''

People raise their arms towards the sun while standing in front of the Kukulcan pyramid in Chichen Itza March 20, 2011.
People raise their arms towards the sun while standing in front of the Kukulcan pyramid in Chichen Itza March 20, 2011.


Anxiety Attacks

The words of Coe, a highly respected Maya scholar, were published in 1966 at the height of the Cold War, stirring fears in a world haunted by the prospect of nuclear holocaust.

Coe could not be reached for comment for this article, but friends and academics who know him insist he never meant to inspire a vision of apocalypse when he committed them to paper.

Stephen Houston, a Maya expert at Brown University in Rhode Island and student of Coe's, said too much has been read into the end of the 13th bak'tun, which was little more than a `"dull mathematical declaration'' used to bracket dates.

"I see it all as an expression of present day anxiety and not much more than that,'' Houston said.

Few remaining inscriptions refer to the event, and the best known one is part of a monument recovered from a Maya site in Tabasco state called Tortuguero - much of which was torn down in the 1960s to make way for the construction of a cement factory.

Still, the mix of religion, ancient inscriptions and media-driven speculation about impending doom remains potent.

"I got an email the other day from a mother who was contemplating taking her own life, because she didn't know what was really going to happen, she didn't want her children to live through this ordeal,'' said David Stuart, a Maya expert at the University of Texas. "We can dismiss it as a kooky idea, which it is, but they're still ideas and they still have power.''

U.S. space agency NASA has sought to allay fears of impending catastrophe, noting that `"our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.''

Nothing has given the 2012 theories more oxygen in the run-up to the big day than the Internet, noted John Hoopes, a Maya anthropologist at the University of Kansas.

"Computers come straight out of the same people who were smoking pot and protesting at Berkeley and Stanford,'' he said, referring to U.S. student movements in the 1960s. "This Maya calendar stuff has been part of hacktivism lore
 for 40 years, since the beginning, and with every significant change in computer technology, it's gotten another boost.''

Many of those gathering in Chichen Itza praised the Internet as a discussion forum and organizing tool for New Age events.

 "We don't need leaders now we have the Internet,'' said Muggy
 Burton, 66, who had traveled to Mexico from Canada with her 15-year-old, blue-haired granddaughter, Talis Hardy.

The two, who communicate with each other by whistling, plan
 to live in Mexico for six months, according to Burton, who is going to homeschool Hardy. "`It's the end of the world for her, and the beginning of a new one,'' she added.

An indigenous woman prepares a sacred fire during the Oxlajuj Batz ceremony to celebrate the end of the Maya calendar in the ceremonial center of Kaminal Juyu in Guatemala City, December 12, 2012.
An indigenous woman prepares a sacred fire during the Oxlajuj Batz ceremony to celebrate the end of the Maya calendar in the ceremonial center of Kaminal Juyu in Guatemala City, December 12, 2012.


Maya skeptics

Mexico's federal government is not officially marking the phenomenon, but the country's tourism agency has launched a `"Mundo Maya 2012'' website with a countdown to December 21.

Up to 200,000 people are expected to descend on Chichen Itza alone for the night of December 20.

Among modern descendants of the Maya, the idea it could all come to an end on Friday generally raises a wry smile - but they are happy to play along if it makes money.

"It's a psychic epidemic,'' said Miguel Coral, 56, a cigar salesman in Merida, a colonial town and capital of Yucatan state. "It's all about business, but that's fine. It helps our country. I think it's excellent we've exported this idea.''

 Nearby, workers built a pyramid of spray-painted polystyrene blocks for the opening of the town's Maya festival.

"If people who believe in this joke want to come, let them,'' said Jose May, a Merida tourism official of Maya descent. "Nobody here believes that. Those people were sold an idea.''

Hazy rumors have helped feed the sense of anticipation.

A few hours' drive south of Merida in the remote Maya town of Xul, which means "the end,'' media reports began circulating as early as 2008 that a group of Italians were readying themselves for impending doom by building apocalypse-proof bunkers.

Today, the settlement dubbed the "end of the world resort'' is open for business as "Eco Spa Las Aguilas.''

"There's no truth in it,'' said deputy manager Andrea Podesta, 45, referring to speculation it was a cult.

"Some people came here, took some hidden photos, and published some very unpleasant articles about us,'' he added, noting the glistening new spa was booked up well into 2013.

Inside, a group of elderly Italians, mostly dressed in white, were watching the path of an asteroid on a giant screen. A black-and-white image of Christ's face hung from the wall and a large stone statue of a robed woman greeted visitors.

Whatever lies in store for the planet, even Maya academics who have fought to play down the hype surrounding the passing of another 24 hours feel there could still be some surprises.

"I think there may be some mischief on December 21 because the
 whole world is watching,'' said Hoopes in Kansas, citing rumors hacktivist group Anonymous was planning a stunt. `"It's a very fertile opportunity for a tremendous prank.''

You May Like

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Fyodor from: Haifa, Israel
December 19, 2012 5:07 AM
Bandar-log: "We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true." (Kipling R. The Jungle Book)

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Video Galapagos Volcano Eruption Threatens Pink Iguanas

Nearly 1.8 kilometer-high Wolf volcano on Isabela Island is home to world's only population of pink iguanas, as well as variety of plants, animals
More

Video Extreme Weather Wreaks Havoc in Texas, Mexico

More than 1,000 homes damaged or destroyed in Texas, thousands of residents displaced; Tornado cleanup continues near Mexico border
More

Colombia's FARC Says End of Ceasefire a 'Step Back' in Peace Talks

Speaking from Havana, Cuba, where talks have been taking place for two and a half years, FARC Marxist leadership says peace would be unattainable if offensives intensify
More

Relatives Doubt 42 Men Died in Mexico Ranch Shootout

The lopsided death toll and photographs from the scene in which bodies appeared to have been moved have raised questions
More

Pope Beatifies Murdered Salvadoran Archbishop

Hundreds of thousands of worshippers converge on Salvadoran capital to witness papal declaration for late Oscar Romero - now one step from Roman Catholic sainthood
More

Scores Killed in Western Mexico Gunfight

Officials say almost every person killed in Michoacan state shootout was a suspected gang member
More