The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs that cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012, which is said to be the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mayan Long Count calendar. Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae related to this date have been proposed.
A New Age interpretation of this transition posits that during this time Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Others suggest that the 2012 date marks the end of the world or a similar catastrophe. Scenarios posited for the end of the world include the Earth’s collision with a passing planet (often referred to as “Nibiru“) or black hole, or the arrival of the next solar maximum.
Scholars from various disciplines have dismissed the idea of catastrophe in 2012. Mainstream Mayanist scholars state that predictions of impending doom are not found in any of the existing classic Maya accounts, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar “ends” in 2012 misrepresents Maya history. The modern Maya do not consider the date significant, and the classical sources on the subject are scarce and contradictory, suggesting that there was little if any universal agreement among them about what, if anything, the date might mean.
Additionally, astronomers and other scientists have rejected the apocalyptic forecasts as pseudoscience, stating that the anticipated events are contradicted by simple astronomical observations. NASA has compared fears about 2012 to those about the Y2K bug in the late 1990s, suggesting that an adequate analysis should preclude fears of disaster. None of the proposed alignments or formulae have been accepted by mainstream scholarship.
The Long Count and apocalypse
There is a strong tradition of “world ages” in Maya literature, but unfortunately the record has been distorted, leaving several possibilities open. According to the Popol Vuh, a book compiling details of creation accounts known to the K’iche’ Maya of the Colonial-era highlands, we are living in the fourth world. The Popol Vuh describes the first three creations that the gods failed in making and the creation of the successful fourth world where men were placed. In the Maya Long Count, the previous world ended after 13 b’ak’tuns. The Long Count’s “zero date” was set at a point in the past marking the end of the previous world and the beginning of the current one, which corresponds to either 11 or 13 August 3114 BC in the Proleptic Gregorian calendar, depending on the formula used.[a] This means that it too will have reached the end of its thirteenth b’ak’tun, or Mayan date 22.214.171.124.0, on either December 21 or December 23, 2012.[a]
In 1957, Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that “the completion of a Great Period of 13 b’ak’tuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya”. In 1966, Michael D. Coe more ambitiously asserted in The Maya that “there is a suggestion … that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the thirteenth [b’ak’tun]. Thus … our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012][b] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.” In 1988, anthropologist Munro S. Edmonson added that “there appears to be a strong likelihood that the oral calendar, like the year calendar, was motivated by a long-range astronomical prediction, one that made a correct solsticial forecast 2,367 years into the future in 355 B.C.” (sic)
Timewave zero and the I Ching
“Timewave zero” is a numerological formula that purports to calculate the ebb and flow of “novelty”, defined as increase in the universe‘s interconnectedness, or organised complexity, over time. According to Terence McKenna, who conceived the idea over several years in the early-mid 1970s while using psilocybin mushrooms and DMT, the universe has a teleological attractor at the end of time that increases interconnectedness, eventually reaching a singularity of infinite complexity in 2012, at which point anything and everything imaginable will occur simultaneously.
McKenna expressed “novelty” in a computer program, which purportedly produces a waveform known as timewave zero or the timewave. Based on McKenna’s interpretation of the King Wen sequence of the I Ching, the graph appears to show great periods of novelty corresponding with major shifts in humanity’s biological and cultural evolution. He believed the events of any given time are recursively related to the events of other times, and chose the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as the basis for calculating his end date in November 2012. When he later discovered this date’s proximity to the end of the 13th b’ak’tun of the Maya calendar, he revised his hypothesis so that the two dates matched.
New Age beliefs
Many assertions about 2012 are a form of Mayanism,[c] a non-codified collection of New Age beliefs about ancient Maya wisdom and spirituality. In 1975, the ending of the b’ak’tun cycle became the subject of speculation by several New Age authors, who believe it will correspond to a global “consciousness shift”. In his book Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness, Frank Waters tied Coe’s December 24, 2011[b] date to astrology and the prophecies of the Hopi, while both José Argüelles and Terence McKenna (in their books The Transformative Vision and The Invisible Landscape respectively) discussed the significance of the year 2012, but not a specific day. In 1987, the year in which he held the Harmonic Convergence event, Arguelles settled on the date of December 21 in his book The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology, in which he claimed on that date the Earth would pass through a great “beam” from the centre of the Galaxy, and that the Maya aligned their calendar in anticipation of that event.
Established themes found in 2012 literature include “suspicion towards mainstream Western culture”, the idea of spiritual evolution, and the possibility of leading the world into the New Age by individual example or by a group’s joined consciousness. The general intent of this literature is not to warn of impending doom but “to foster counter-cultural sympathies and eventually socio-political and ‘spiritual’ activism”. Aveni, who has studied New Age and SETI communities, describes 2012 narratives as the product of a “disconnected” society: “Unable to find spiritual answers to life’s big questions within ourselves, we turn outward to imagined entities that lie far off in space or time—entities that just might be in possession of superior knowledge.”
A far more apocalyptic view of the year 2012 has also spread in various media. This view has been promulgated by many fringe or hoax sites on the internet, particularly on YouTube, and by the History Channel, with such series as Decoding the Past (2005–2007) based loosely on John Major Jenkins’ theories. However, Jenkins has berated the fact that a science fiction writer co-authored the documentary and went on to characterize it as “45 minutes of unabashed doomsday hype and the worst kind of inane sensationalism”. The show proved popular and was followed by many sequels: 2012, End of Days (2006), Last Days on Earth (2006), Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (2007), and Nostradamus 2012 (2008). The Discovery Channel also aired 2012 Apocalypse in 2009, suggesting that massive solar storms, magnetic pole reversal, earthquakes, supervolcanoes, and other drastic natural events may occur in 2012. Author Graham Hancock, in his book Fingerprints of the Gods, interpreted Coe’s remarks in Breaking the Maya Code as evidence for the prophecy of a global cataclysm. Evangelical Christian minister John Hagee has also suggested in his book Can America Survive? 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation that Earth may suffer a doomsday scenario on 12/12/12 (December 12, 2012). This book was publicly endorsed by conservative media personality Glenn Beck.