Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists


Does the Mayan Calendar recommend opening your Christmas present early?

Monday 17 December 2012

Here it comes, the 21st of December 2012 - the last known recorded date on the Mayan Calendar and for years people have wondered why the Mayans never got around to extending beyond 2012. What did the Mayans know that we didn't and should we be thinking about opening our Christmas presents early this year? The answer is most definitely a

resounding 'sure why not'.

The film '2012' took a leaf out of the Mayan calendar and extended it into a 'doomsday prophecy' offering that I've been asked about quite often. Rather than let me tell you to panic or yawn, here's a little background:

The Mayans (like many other peoples around the world) had develop incredible insight into keeping time long before the industrialised world created clocks or heaven forbid, a military calander based on seasonal adjustments to what uniforms to wear. The Mayan's Calendar wheel marked off a 'Kin' (one day) all the way out to a Baktun (400 years). In between you could track a Katun (a period of around 20 years).

And so this coming 21st of December 2012 marks the last recorded date of their last created Baktun calendar of 400 years. Let's take a few things into consideration here - a society with the insights to consider and plan for a period of 400 years ahead makes our so called 'western' approach of quarterly reports look childish. The key question then is 'What can we learn from the last Baktun Mayan Calendar - is it really the end of the earth as we know it?' 

The Mayans were a hugely successful society with a population far bigger than any European city at the same time, using advanced agriculture and technology with strict rules for societal management. And yet, despite their success, within a relatively short time it had all but vanished. The Mayan way of life was dictated on what many today would refer to as 'tribal superstitions' with core 'prophecies' to appease the deities they worshipped. In modern times we have our own deities - economists, priests of market forces, purveyors of technological solutions, all designed to ensure a successful way of life. Is our reliance on our own modern day priests of prophecising a clue?

It is likely that as part of their way of life, the idea of 'noble sacrifice' was strong - humans were offered to the gods in ritualised murder. When you get belief systems based on human observation and not on understood scientific testing, you have a potential for disaster. For the Mayans it appears that the result of their belief structure and human sacrifice was an eventual poisoning of their fresh water supplies. As more people began to get sick from drinking tainted water, the powers that be called for 'more sacrifices' and as more people were sacrificed, the water problem exacerbated. As death swarmed through the population eventually the remaining people did what they knew was the right thing to do - leave the city, flee the wrath of the gods. And eventually, the jungle reclaimed its territory. 

Any clues there for the way we currently operate? We certainly face a severe water shortage around the world - whilst we may have smartened up and stopped sacrificing each other, we've shifted the sacrifice onto other species or parts of the planet. I wonder whether earth spots the difference?

Which all comes down to the question 'should I open the presents early?' No. The Mayans did not prophecise the end of the world. When you plan 400 years ahead, you don't need to do a calendar too often. Their final one was just the last one they had gotten around to doing before their world went pear shaped as a result of what they believed in. But given our beliefs and approach to our own environments, it might be a different story next year...

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