MAYAN ANCIENT INDIAN CIVILIZATION
Is the world coming to an end? Hailing the solstice and telling time, Mayan style
AUTHOR: Tim Weiner, New York Times
PALENQUE, Mexico, Dec. 22 - Time ends here 10 years from now.
Born in Mexico in 1939, Mr. Argüelles brought the world the Harmonic Convergence, with simultaneous gatherings in 1987 of New Age tribes in places from the pyramids of Giza to Central Park, which aimed to save the world from destruction in 2012.
He says it is high time to overthrow the Christian calendar, based on the sun, and to replace it with a 13-month, 28-day calendar, based on the moon and the Maya.
If we harmonize time, "the effect on the human mind and nature will be of unimaginable consequence," Mr. Argüelles said in an e-mail message from his aerie on the slopes of Mount Hood in Oregon.
If we do not, Western civilization is "programmed for apocalypse" at the end of the Long Count - Dec. 22 (or 23), 2012. Circle your calendars.
This idea that time is out of joint, by most accounts, has thousands of adherents around the world. Mr. Argüelles says it rises from Pakal, who ruled Palenque from A.D. 615 to 683. His tomb, discovered in 1952, is regarded as one of the great finds in all pre-Columbian archaeology. Mr. Argüelles says he is a direct spiritual descendant of Pakal, who inspired him to create something new under the sun, or, rather, the moon.
Lest it be seen as lunacy, remember that the calendars of Chinese, Jewish, Islamic and other peoples run on the moon. The Christian calendar used today only began in 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII revised the calendar created under Julius Caesar in 46 B.C.
The problem was Easter, most mystic of Christian holidays, which must fall on the first Sunday after the spring equinox following the full moon. The Julian calendar had drifted off 10 days, so that the equinox was falling far too early. The English and their American colonies finally adopted the Gregorian calendar in the middle of the 18th century.
The Mayan calendar, on the other hand, is still accurate to within about three seconds - closer to the mark than the Gregorian.
Christopher Powell, 42, an archaeologist sitting atop Pakal's tomb at sunrise this solstice morning, said the accuracy came from "1,000 years of sky-watching and record-keeping to make the most sophisticated astronomical system of any ancient culture." The architecture of Palenque can be viewed as a chronometer that helped the Maya mark the passage of time.
But there is a hitch in the New Age idea of making time anew, though it has brought thousands of would-be visionaries to Palenque from all over the world. On this solstice, the temples and tombs of Palenque were towers of Babel, with English, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Japanese and many other tongues spoken by travelers clutching Lonely Planet guides.
The problem with the new calculus is both mathematical and moral. A modern apocalypse makes a good story for people living in millennial times, fearing for the fate of the world. "The more interesting the story, the better it sells," Mr. Powell said.
There is little doubt that Palenque is, as Mr. Argüelles says, "one of the power places" of the planet. Few who admire Mayan art, architecture and astronomy disagree. "I always feel my consciousness change when I come here," Mr. Powell said.
Enzo Iale, 57, of Rome, a self-described "researcher in human beings," has been coming here for 28 years. "It's a very powerful place," he said. "I'm here today because of the power of this place. This power could have been made by the Maya. Or it could have been here since the beginning of time. Why was Stonehenge built where it was? Why Rome? Why the Vatican? Why? Why?"
Outsiders have been telling stories about Palenque and imposing their ideas on the Maya for centuries.
The first Spanish military officer who explored Palenque, in 1784, thought it was a risen Atlantis, built by Rome or Carthage. A self-appointed count, Jean François Waldeck, lived in Palenque from 1831 to 1833 and wrote a best-selling book about Palenque that was almost entirely false.
In 1968, a Swiss hotelier, Erich von Däniken, sold millions of copies of a book, "Chariots of the Gods," contending that ancient astronauts built the place, and he continues to sell television audiences on that idea.
The grand old man of Palenque, Moises Morales, isn't buying any of it. Mr. Morales, 78, is a Mayanist, host of the Palenque Round Table, a gathering of scholars, and grand panjandrum of Panchan, an ethereal forest of cabanas and restaurants favored by world travelers. He once jammed a padlock at Pakal's tomb to keep Mr. von Däniken out.
The meaning of the end of the Long Count?
"It's nothing," Mr. Morales said. After all, the Maya say there were four Long Counts before.
"It means nothing for the Chinese," he said. "Nothing for the Jews. Two thousand-twelve is nothing but the completion of a cycle."
Nothing in the Mayan inscriptions at Palenque says this cycle is the last, and while Palenque was abandoned 1,100 years ago, the Maya live on, six million strong.
The last word goes to Mr. Morales, whose friends find something timeless in him.
"Palenque," he said, "is not a geographical or historical place. It's a beautiful toy to play with. It gives you whatever you want."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tim Weiner writes for the New York Times
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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The Rise and Fall of the Mayan Empire
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