by Seth Smith, Public Services Librarian
Originally published by Columbia Daily Tribune.
In October, superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast of the United States, wrecking much of the Eastern seaboard and causing billions of dollars in damage and human suffering. Was this a random event or one of the calamities prophesied by the Mayan Long Count calendar? To answer this question, let's first take a look at the prophets themselves.
The Mayan civilization is thousands of years old; many descendants still live scattered throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, encompassing southeastern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. From approximately 250 to 900 A.D.—known as the classic period—they built an innovative ancient civilization that collapsed almost as quickly as it started, leaving behind an elegant and intricately designed calendar, the Tzolk'in or Long Count Calendar.
There are two general books in our collection describing the Mayan calendar and prophecies. The first, “The Mayan Prophecies for 2012” (Watkins Publications, 2008), by Gerald Benedict, includes detailed commentary on each foretelling. Chapters include “Prophecies of Earth Changes, Ecology & Climate” and “The Prophecy of Transition to a New Age.” Referring to the latter, Benedict offers this analysis: “Humanity is fighting its battle on two fronts, the one being to prevent the collapse of our own civilization, the other to prevent the terminal spoliation of our planet. Hope lies in the evidence indicating that the prophecy of unity and reconciliation is already in the early stages of being fulfilled.”
The second, “The Book of Destiny: Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Mayans and the Prophecy of 2012” (Harper, 2009) by Carlos Barrios, is a richly researched and illustrated compendium of all things Mayan. Barrios' book details the origins of Mayan symbols, expressions and signs—otherwise known as “glyphs.” Characterizing the Maya as “one of the most mysterious and amazing civilizations ever to have existed,” Barrios, a Mayan descendant himself, analyzes each symbol, expression and prophecy. The book also provides a calendar table for 1900 through 2012 and a chapter about determining your Mayan sign.
The most famous examples of end-times literature are the prophecies of the 16th century Frenchman Nostradamus. His vague but devastating predictions dovetail nicely with those of the Mayan Long Count Calendar. The library has several compendiums, the most accessible of which is “The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus” (Crown Publishing, 1994). The book was translated, edited and interpreted by Henry Roberts, a man described as “the foremost American exponent of the celebrated soothsayer.” The most famous Nostradamus prophecy is the following: “Twenty years of the reign of the moon having passed / Seven thousand years another shall hold monarchy / When the sun shall resume his days past / Then is fulfilled and ends my prophecy.” Contained here is a prediction of the end of the world, Roberts says, when the sun will “destroy the Earth and again resume its undisputed sway.”
Now you might be asking: How do we survive the Mayan apocalypse and the end-times? Surely a bit of humor couldn't hurt. “Apocalypse Cakes: Recipes for the End” (Running Press, 2011) by Shannon O'Malley, includes recipes for Global Warming Hot Apple Pie, the Shifting Poles Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Nuclear Winter Ice Cream Cake and, perhaps most important, 2012 Mayan Chocolate Cupcakes, featuring a dash of cinnamon and white frosting. The library also has more serious books about survival. “How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It: Tactics, Techniques and Technologies for Uncertain Times” (Plume Publishing, 2009) by James Wesley Rawles discusses surviving global economic crises, environmental disasters and nuclear winter. Rawles' recommendations include living independent of government assistance and moving to rural retreats to stave off the worst calamities. The book also talks about food storage, so, if worst comes to worst, we'll know how to keep our Mayan Chocolate Cupcakes fresh.
This obsession with the Mayan prophecies is somewhat recent. According to J. Allan Denelak's book “2012, Extinction or Utopia: Doomsday Prophecies Explored” (Llewellyn Publications, 2009), “No date in recent history has become as popular with end-times proponents as has the year 2012. … It did not come into our modern consciousness until comparatively recently, making it something of a Johnny come lately in terms of prophetic date-setting.” In other words, perhaps we had to get over the hump of Y2K before civilization could concentrate on yet another collapse!
On a more serious note, it must be said that even if we are not at the end of the “age of the Fifth Sun,” the world climate seems to be changing—whether because of sunspot activity, solar flares or global warming. Also, we shouldn't forget that despite the Mayans' prediction of an “end of the world as we know it,” they prophesied a utopian world emerging after the end. It is, after all, possible that the planet we have now, although deeply imperfect, is as close to utopia as anything could be. We should, therefore, take better care of it.
If you would you like to learn more about the Mayan Calendar and its prophecies, please attend the presentation “End of Creation: A Mayan Prediction” by Robert Smales, associate professor of Latin American history at the University of Missouri, which will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at the Columbia Public Library.