What Actually Happened on December 21 2012?

Mark Heley | Reality Sandwich

We are now a year on from what was possibly the most speculated upon, widely discussed, prophesied about, and generally hyped-up date in the modern era ( at the very least since Y2k). Otherwise known as the end of the Thirteen Baktun cycle in the Mayan long count, December 21, 2012, came and went like any other day. Or did it?

I have to declare an interest here, as the author of a ‘2012’ book ‘The Everything Guide to 2012’, I have had a long standing interest in Mayan calendrics, especially from an astronomical point of view, as well as from a cultural point of view. I have been a speaker at events worldwide on the subject for a number of years. The essential point of view I was hoping to share in my talks- and in my book- is that the Classic-era Maya had a far more sophisticated and, in many ways, accurate calendar than the one we currently use. I envisaged this leading to the possibility of modern culture coming to a critical point of self-realization as it contemplated the evidence that our technology-rich, but temporally poor, society isn’t in fact, the ultimate pinnacle of cosmic and intellectual evolution. That, in actuality, previous cultures had demonstrated greater accomplishments in understanding their place in the universe. Instead, I repeatedly declared, our headlong rush into ‘the future’ was no more than a cultural byproduct from a decidedly wonky and medieval Catholic calendar system that had blinkered us to the essentially cyclical nature of time. In coming to that realization, I fondly hoped we might suddenly see the folly of our rapaciously ecocidal culture and on the very brink of that precipice, pulls ourselves up and  avoid the fate that had befallen even the great Maya themselves.


When I began my research into Mayan calendrics in the mid ’90’s, it was a fringe subject. Jose Arguelles’s ‘The Mayan Factor’ and the Harmonic Convergence had come and gone, although the Dreamspell was beginning to find a second wind in the global trance culture that was flourishing then. Terence McKenna was in full swing, but few people understood the hyperbolic intricacies of his Timewave Zero theory and John Major Jenkins ‘Maya Cosmogenesis’ was fresh of the press. 2012 was far enough away that it could be a speculative Rorschach inkblot test on the future of evolution of humanity. As Johnathan Zap has pointed out in his book ‘The Singularity Archetype’, it was just far enough away to be glamorous and intriguing, but also just far enough away that it didn’t succumb to reality testing. Those were the good old days of 2012’ology. It was esoteric, obscure, and inextricably interwoven with psychedelic culture- and we liked it that way!

Gradually, as we got closer to 2012, things changed. As if by morphogenetic resonance, the once fiendishly difficult to explain ‘otherness’ of the Mayan tzolkin calendar became more accessible to people I encountered. More people outside of Central America had heard about the end date of The Mayan Calendar and were growing curious, eager to see if this mystical date with destiny held a remedy for the vapidity of modern technological life. In the mid-noughties, 2012’ology hit what in retrospect was it’s golden peak. Daniel Pinchbeck’s synthesis of the subject in ‘The Return of Quetzalcoatl’ brought it to wider recognition in the awakening millennial culture, Geoff Stray had written and published the encyclopedic ‘Beyond 2012’, the first independent documentaries began to be made and aired, while my and Daniel’s talks at Burning Man were attended by vast throngs of eager and attentive listeners. It was as if our hour as a transformational culture was about to really hit on the world stage. It was the dawning of the age of Aquarius (all over again).

At the highpoint of the 2012’ological movement I was invited to speak to a group of Fortune 500 CEOS and business leaders at an intimate, private gathering in Amsterdam. I was whisked from the airport in an understated black Audi limo to what was obviously a very expensive, but understated Dutch hotel on the seafront. There, I gave the business leaders exactly the same presentation as the one I had made at Burning Man and countless other conferences and festivals. Afterwards we sat around a large dinner table and they earnestly asked me what they could do about 2012 and how best to prepare their corporations and employees. One of the leaders of the UN’s business leadership program asked me ‘What does it feel like to have the undivided attention of all these world business leaders?’. I pointed out that I wasn’t in the business of making predictions and that the information I presented needed to be internalized so that they could reflect for themselves about how this epic global paradigm shift would play itself out. They nodded sagely, but I got the distinct impression that they would have been much happier if I’d just told them what to do.

Then once again, ‘2012’ changed. It became a Hollywood action blockbuster and suddenly, every media outlet had to run their own article, every TV channel had to run a documentary. In the week before Roland Emmerich’s film came out, there were five different documentaries that premiered on US channels from the History channel to HBO. Each was complete with stock footage of CGI apocalypse from the ‘2012’ movie interspersed with talking heads. There’s Daniel Pinchbeck talking about a consciousness shift, followed by an aircraft carrier crashing into the White House. Here’s John Major Jenkins talking about the precession of the equinoxes, followed by a tsunami engulfing LA. Well, despite the best intentions and sincerity of the on screen pundits, guess what the take-home message was for the mass audiences? December 21 is the end of the world. All those insightful intellectual counterpoints effectively achieved was to add a veneer of pseudo-respectability to the backdrop of multi-million dollar digital mayhem.

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