December 21st, 2012. That’s the date when the Mesoamerican/Maya Long Count calendar is supposed to end, and a new era begin. Various New Age and “end-of-days” doomsday peddlers have created a cocktail of various belief systems to invest this date with some looming significance, either for a new dawn, or an end-times scenario. This is despite the fact that actual Mayan spiritual leaders (and the academics who study Mayan culture) have long disputed the pop-cultural consensus, and the appropriation of their cultural heritage for profit.
“Guatemala’s Mayan people accused the government and tour groups on Wednesday of perpetuating the myth that their calendar foresees the imminent end of the world for monetary gain. “We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit. They are not telling the truth about time cycles,” charged Felipe Gomez, leader of the Maya alliance Oxlaljuj Ajpop.
Now, as a flood of tourists stream in to see various Maya sacred sites before and on December 21st, Mexico has barred present-day Mayan spiritual leaders from performing rites at Mayan ruins and temples.
Despite the generally festive atmosphere at the ceremony, there was some discontent that the government won’t allow Mayan priests and healers to perform their ceremonies inside archaeological sites like Chichen Itza, Coban and Tulum that their ancestors built. “We would like to do these ceremonies in the archaeological sites, but unfortunately they won’t let us enter,” Manrique Esquivel said. “It makes us angry, but that’s the way it is … we perform our rituals in patios, in fields, in vacant lots, wherever we can.” Francisco de Anda, the press director for the government’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, which oversees archaeological sites in Mexico, said there were two reasons for the ban on ceremonies. “In part it is for visitor safety, and also for preservation of the sites, especially on dates when there are massive numbers of visitors.”
John Ahni Schertow at the indigenous activist/news site Intercontinental Cry disputes the Mexican government’s reasoning, saying that it has far more to do with tourist money than preservation.
“The government would much rather keep the Maya on the sidelines since they are orchestrating a massive commercial spectacle for tens of thousands of people, many of whom are are clinging to delusional hopes and irrational fears about what’s going to happen at the end of 13 Baktun–December 21, 2012.”
In short, modern-day Mayan will have to visit their heritage like everyone else, as tourists. While some Maya will be involved in official state-run events, they are not the ones who are making decisions, nor are they directly benefitting from the growing number of unscrupulous individuals who are profiting from their exploitation. As Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Florida, said: “To render Dec. 21, 2012, as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting is a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”
“The 21st is for giving thanks and gratitude and the 22nd welcomes the new cycle, a new dawn.” - Pedro Celestino Yac Noj
For those modern Pagans who wish to pursue a course of solidarity, communication, and friendship with the indigenous peoples of the Americas, we have to take extra care to listen to actual Mayan voices during this time. To reject the profiteering and exploitation of the New Age and survivalist industries, and chart a course that privileges authentic wisdom over wishful thinking. I have seen too many of my co-religionists get entrapped in the 2012 hype, and I would remind them of the many “awakening” or “doomsday” moments we’ve survived in the last 20 years, and note that the world will still be here on December 22nd, and that it will be up to us to save or destroy it.