by David Clement-Davies
Just six months to go to the end of the world, universe and everything! But don’t panic. If you have already dined imaginatively in Douglas Adams’ satirical "Restaurant at the End of the Universe," from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, perhaps 2012 is your last chance to see, or instead to dine elegantly, off a self-serving, sacred cow.
The prophet of doom is of course that much-discussed Mayan Long Count calendar that ends this year, 2012, and a partial inscription on the Tortuguero Stele – also called the 6th Monument – in Honduras, South America.
There Mayan glyphs relate to the practice that priest astronomers used in counting huge time cycles (in this case in units of 140,000 days) called Ba’k’tuns, in at least one of their several calendars. The Mayans had them for both secular and religious use. One commentator has translated what is inscribed there, associated with December 21, 2012, as reading “Then it shall happen, the darkness…” There are also symbols relating to the Mayan Monkey God of War, Bolon Yokte Ku.
Hundreds of years before Archbishop James Ussher set the creation of the world as 4004 BC, the Mayans – at once practitioners of ritual human sacrifice and a sophisticated culture that calculated the Universe as at least 90,000,000 years old – believed in various created worlds, or Universes. Their fourth world is supposed to have begun in 3114 BC, with the eclipse of Venus in the heavens by the Pleides. Since the number 13 was so significant in Mayan mythology (i.e., there are 13 Gods of the Upper World), the impending end of the 13 Ba’k’tun cycle has been associated with the end of everything. Apocalypse!
The appropriate ‘moment’ when the darkness might happen centers around that obviously pivotal interplay of dark and light, the Winter Solstice, but according to the Lounesbery Correlation, it may be December 23rd. From Stone Henge to Chitchen Itza, this year’s great Solstice Sun show should be a heart stopper, for believers anyway.
Yet if energy cannot be created or destroyed, and only changed from one form into another, pause to breathe out, then in again. As for the Mayans, recent discoveries in Guatemala certainly give us another happy breathing space, referring to the significance of a 17th Ba’k’tun instead. A Mayan exhibition at the Penn Museum on the subject of this year’s World End was perhaps inevitably described in the U.S. press as a 'damp squib,' since it gave the game away: No Apocalypse. Perhaps the organizers had been reading T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, and “this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”
For all the Nostradamuses, crazy Milarianists, or US Christian preachers who conveniently change each passing date, there is another, much happier off-the-wall camp playing in the fields of space-time. They say that 2012 really heralds the start of a new age of awareness for all mankind: A fifth Mayan world age and a new spiritual dawn.
Of course, those leading the field in higher science, like prominent UK physicist Professor Brian Cox, sometimes come up against theorists trying to unite spiritual ideas with the supra-rational insights of science itself, that often appear to defy supposed logic, in New Age concepts like Holistic Relativity. Cox, in pointing out that Heisenberg's much misquoted "Uncertainty Principle" actually means physical reality is far more stable than the perceived reality that often swirls around in many imaginative heads, and in the face of the hoped for miracles of religion, regards talk of the Mayan calendar as absolute garbage.
That is perhaps not quite the point of its relevance in a world story, though, since so many people are fascinated by it and also find the search for different kinds of awareness or spirituality increasingly important. Supposed scientific rationalism and space-time can be very off-the-wall indeed; Einstein said “Reality is an illusion – though a persistent one.”
Perhaps the yawning science-faith divide then, although maybe ultimately unbridgeable, needs to be more urgently addressed in the world today – a world challenged by the very scientific discoveries that have so liberated us from ignorance and superstition. What increasingly seems logical or even inevitable, in our financial and political systems, many very serious commentators see as completely unsustainable.
If this year’s clock really is ticking down to Doomsday, like some hit man suddenly on your trail, perhaps it is no bigger a reality than what we all ultimately face in our own individual lives: our own mortality. So if a dark thriller is coming this December, with so many crises on the planet, might it not be a chance for all of us to open our eyes a little more?
Of course, various religious prophecies abound about the Apocalypse, as do more historically minded predictions of pundits like the Cambridge academic Nicholas Boyle, who talks about watershed moments in the second decade of each century, such as the Congress of Vienna or World War I. One Jewish Orthodox tradition sets the end of the world as 2030. Assuming we are not all blown to smithereens this December, or swallowed by a hungry Black Hole, maybe it would not be such a bad idea to have a new scientific but also ‘spiritual’ debate.
The great talent of Cox is to share the amazements of science and the Universe so brilliantly, yet a writer and a storyteller’s desire is to listen to a different kind of world narrative, and to explore the meanings of language itself, and inner worlds as well. Perhaps then the spiritual and the scientific might be seen as two different kinds of language and not so mutually exclusive either.
Yet as Einstein also said, knowing the dual nature of language, and its practical but also metaphorical use, “You can either see everything as a miracle, or nothing as.” Paradox is a great road to truth, too. This year we might all start to wake up to new miracles on both sides of a sometimes painful divide and most especially the living miracle all around us.
As for the Mayan End of The World, we’ll find out this December!