By Anna-Claire Bevan
GUATEMALA — From Nostradamus to Y2K, end-of-the-world prophesies are nothing new. This year, the ancient Mayans find themselves at the center of the Doomsday hype with conspiracy theorists and New Age authors all profiting greatly from the belief that the world will end on December 21, 2012.
However, it’s not the apocalyptic vision that Hollywood has projected onto moviegoers that native Mayans anticipate. Rather, it’s the awakening of a new era of hope that Mayans believe is signaled in the sacred Mayan calendar, as the 13 B’Aktum cycle comes to a close.
Today, February 22, marks the start of the Mayan New Year – the last one ahead of the aforementioned date – and celebrations are taking place across the country to commemorate the occasion.
After five days of meditation, purification and gratitude to prepare for the New Year, Mayans will gather together with their elders to feast and recite stories about their past. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina is even travelling to Iximché, Tecpan Chimaltenango, to participate in events there.
According to scholars, the Mayans never spoke about the end of the world, but of a transformation that will start next December and bring about the end of a period of sun that has lasted for over 5,000 years.
“Unfortunately the world is accustomed to liking the morbid concept of the final apocalypse – these themes sell and many people have made money off of this type of declaration,” says Mayan priest, Julio David Menchú. “But it will be a new era, which will bring with it a unity between mankind and Mother Nature; she will support us and we won’t contaminate her anymore.”
Dating back to 2000 BC across Mesoamerica, the Mayan civilization was one of the most important in history. Famous for their impressive knowledge of astronomy and math, the Mayans kept what many believe to be the most accurate calendar in the world.
Through observing and noting the movement and position of the sun, they left written messages charting the change of each era, and it is with these messages that archaeologists and anthropologists have been able to uncover important dates in the sacred Mayan calendar.
“This date [December 21] is based on inscriptions or hieroglyphics, which were found in Quiriguá, Guatemala,” says Menchú.
Close to 10 million descendants of Mayans still live in Central America and the majority of them are expected to celebrate the New Year today.
“The day before the change, you clean and tidy your house, decorate the altar, change tablecloths, decorate the floor with pine needles and burn incense,” says Menchú. “On the day of the change we get together with ajq’ijab’ (spiritual guides) and have a big ceremony where we dance to the sound of the marimba, burn materials in a sacred fire, share food and discuss how to behave in the coming year.”
Mayans reportedly follow three types of calendars: the sacred calendar that has 260 days, the agricultural or civilian calendar that has 365 days and a 5,125 year cycle. It is this final cycle that will be coming to a close on winter solstice, December 21, 2012.
Anna-Claire Bevan is a Guatemala-based freelance correspondent for Latina Lista.