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

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe 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.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

El Salvador Bus Drivers Strike as Gang Violence Surges

Drivers demanding better security in wake of escalating attacks, leaving thousands of commuters stranded on streets of Central American capital
More

Brazil's Biggest Party Sticks With Unpopular Rousseff - For Now

Rousseff struggling to save her presidency amid worst economic downturn in 25 years and political crisis set off by massive kickback scandal at state-run Petrobras
More

Amnesty: Mexico Bodies Report Highlights 'Shocking' Crisis

Of the 25,000 people Mexican officials have listed as missing, more than 11,000 cases were registered since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office
More

Chile's Bachelet Asks for End of Dictatorship Silence Pact

President calls on citizens to break the silence that has covered up human rights violations during Pinochet-era
More

US Dominates Pan American Games

US won 103 gold medals and 265 medals overall after 16 days of competition in 36 sports
More

Mexico's Search for Missing Students Finds 129 Other Bodies

Bodies found in at least 60 clandestine graves, attorney general says; no remains have been linked to youths' disappearance in Guerrero state
More