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Just the Facts: Will the World End in A Couple of Weeks?

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Mayan Calendar
scientificamerican.com

As many of you know, December 21, 2012 will be the day when everything ends.

This belief has become a relatively widespread aspect of popular culture. Most conspiracy theories tend to be believed by only a very small portion of the population, but the 2012 apocalypse theories have been met with a surprising degree of acceptance. Twelve percent of the population in the United States believes the world will end this year; in China, 20% of the population believes this.  Furthermore, NASA has received 5000 questions about the topic since 2007, and at least one suicide has been directly linked to the phenomenon. But beyond the general premise of the world ending, most people probably don’t know the details of these theories or how they got started.

So, how did these theories get started?  This particular theory has its basis in something called the long-count calendar.  This was invented by the Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica, but is most closely associated with the Mayans, a later Mesoamerican civilization. The long-count calendar is a 5,125 year long calendar starting in the year 3114 BC, which is when the Mayans believed the fourth world age to have started. Many believe that when this long-count calendar comes to an end, on December 21, 2012, the apocalypse will occur, ending the fourth world age and humanity along with it. This interpretation of the long-count calendar, which originated in Michael Coe’s 1966 novel, The Maya, has been heavily disputed by many sources. Mark Van Stone, a Mayanist scholar, said, “There is nothing…to suggest that [the Mayans] prophesied a sudden or major change of any sort in 2012. The notion of a ‘Great Cycle’ coming to an end is completely a modern invention.”  Sandra Nobel, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, commented, “For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle.”  There are many other scholars who dispute the very idea that the Mayans predicted an apocalypse. Rather, they believe that the Mayans simply made the long-count calendar to serve as a calendar marking a new period in their history, and nothing more. The Mayan Apocalypse theory began entering mainstream culture with the rise of the New Age Movement in the 1970s. Books such as Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness, by Frank Waters, and The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology, by José Arguelles, spread this belief.

There have been hundreds of predictions of the apocalypse before the Mayan “prophecy” was “revealed.” Many in western civilization center upon the Christian idea of the Rapture, described in the Book of Revelations. The most recent date the rapture was predicted to fall upon was May 21, 2011, according to Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping. Isaac Newton predicted that the Rapture would occur no sooner than 2060. But even though some of these predictions are famous, none have gained popularity to the degree of the Mayan Apocalypse. But why is this? It could be that mysticism and superstition hold a great degree of weight in society. Much of the modern mysticism movements have their roots in the belief that foreign (non-western) cultures possessed “secret knowledge” passed down from ancient times. Think about the prevalence of psychics (who are usually Roma people), traditional herbal medicine (like the Acaí berries from the Amazon, or Kombucha, which is mold-tea originating from China that is claimed to cure a wide range of ailments), or the popularity of yoga (which originated in India). The Maya is a foreign, mysterious, and exotic culture, and so this is probably why their apocalypse gained the most traction.

Now that you know the origins and reasons behind the popularity of the Mayan Apocalypse, the question must be asked: what exactly is supposed to happen on December 21, 2012? The Mayan Apocalypse believers are not content with an asteroid impact or nuclear holocaust or global epidemic; that is, they want unique apocalypses. That’s why they have devised theories including the Galactic Alignment. This theory states that when the Earth passes through the galactic plane, the combined gravitational effect from the sun and the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy will destroy the Earth.  Alternatively, the Earth will be exposed to gravitational forces that will dislodge comets from the Oort cloud, thus increasing the chances of a comet impact that will destroy us all.  Another theory is Planetary Alignment, which predicts that multiple planets will align with the Earth, and this gravitational effect will wreak havoc on Earth.  Lastly, there is the Planet Nibiru theory. In 1995, Nancy Lieder claimed to have contacted aliens from Zeta Reticuli. She claimed that they warned her that in 2003, a planet called Nibiru would approach Earth, causing a magnetic pole shift, or cause the Earth’s rotation to stop, causing devastation on Earth. When 2003 passed, her supporters changed the date to December 21, 2012.

Do any of these hypotheses have any truth to them? Regardless of what occurs on December 21st, at least you’ll understand the history behind this predicted doomsday!  Happy Holidays, High School West!