Perhaps you've heard: A lot of people out there are saying that December 21, 2012 is the “end of the Maya calendar” or "the end of the world." This simply is not true, in my humble opinion! Let me try and explain why.
The ancient Maya used a lot of calendars, relying mainly on a 260-day Lunar calendar, which was interlocked cyclically with a 365-day Solar Calendar. The 2012 date refers specifically to what’s called the "Long Count Calendar". Similar to our Western method of keeping time, the Long Count calendar is linear, and it has the ability to express any date in the past or in the future.
Many ancient inscriptions on stone monuments found at Maya sites refer to dates well beyond 2012, notably one with a date corresponding to October 21, 4772, where the King of Palenque predicted that people would be celebrating the 4,160th anniversary of his coronation. I hope he was right! The gorgeous temple complex at Palenque today draws tourists from around the globe to southern Mexico.
Similar to the ages of Western astrology, the ancient Maya had a World Age doctrine. As it happens, the current ages of both systems are coming to an end at around the same time. Whereas there is no official agreement about when the Age of Pisces ends and the Age of Aquarius begins (I’ve read that the latter began 600 ago, and then that it doesn’t start for another 600 years –– which averages out to now), the ever-accurate Maya were extremely precise about when their "Era of the Fifth Sun" would end and the "Era of Sixth Sun" would begin: during the December Solstice at 11:11AM on December 21, 2012.
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When the ancient Maya created the Long Count calendar, they set up the current World Age to begin on a very specific date 3,000 years in their own past, which coincided with a Zenithal passage of the Sun. This astronomical event signified “New Year’s Day” to the Maya, because it was the day where one would “cast no shadows.” Thus, the Fifth Sun retroactively began on August 12, 3114 BCE.
According to Mayanist John Major Jenkins, the ancient Maya viewed an epochal cycle to be akin to a cosmic pregnancy, where the most important part was at the end or the “birth.” Academics who specialize in Maya culture are virtually unanimous in their assessments that, from the ancient Maya perspective, the most important aspect of 2012 was that it marked the beginning of a new era.
Jenkins believes that we should consider the transformational opportunities that are presented by the ending of the current Maya cycle at this time in human and Earth history. He stresses the importance of our own participation in this pivotal moment, as a grand opportunity for humanity to take stock of our ways and to make responsible decisions for our future.
Not a bad idea!