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In December 2012, at the winter solstice, when the sun and the earth precisely align with the galactic equator, the Mayan Long Count calendar will come to an end. Its beginning points back to a time five centuries before the pyramids, 1,500 years before the Exodus. The midpoint came around the time Daniel spent a night in the lions’ den. Two full millennia have passed since the birth of Christ, and still the long count continues. But now, according to this calendar, the end of this world cycle is in sight.

You may wonder what difference it makes. After all, aren’t the Mayas long gone? Actually, although the Mayan civilization came to an end long before Columbus’s first voyage, the Maya as a people still exist in Central America. I discovered this personally some years ago, when as a young man, I bargained with an Indian woman over the price of some woolen capes at a marketplace in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. As we haggled, I slowly realized that her Spanish was no better than my own few words. Later I learned that she spoke Quiche (KEE-chay), one of the Mayan dialects that still live in the mountains of Central America.

A few weeks later, walking through the vast complex of Mayan buildings at Copan, Honduras, I found it impossible not to be impressed with the achievements of this people who lived so long ago. I also understood why some people would credit them with prophetic insight. The magnificent structures, including temples, were vast man-made mountains of stone aligned precisely with the movements of the sun. There was a “ball court” with its stone goal ring, where victory and defeat determined who would be sacrificed to the gods and who would live. I saw stelae, their rectangular columns taller than a man, intricately carved with images of great leaders and covered with numbers representing dates.

Always dates. The Mayas were obsessed with time.

What we know

The Mayan civilization emerged around 500 B.C., and it dominated Mesoamerica for centuries. Yet nearly everything we know about them came to light during the last century.

The Mayas kept records on tree bark, which they formed into books by folding the leaves accordion-style. But their great cities were abandoned, their civilization replaced by the Aztecs and others before the arrival of the Spanish. Unfortunately, most of their books were destroyed by Cortez and the priests that accompanied him during the Spanish conquest in A.D. 1519. Only four of these ancient Mayan books are known to exist today. With the books gone, most of the remaining evidence of their civilization exists in stone carvings lost in the jungles of Mesoamerica. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that explorers for the Wrigley Company, seeking sources of chicle for chewing gum, stumbled upon the remnants of the Mayan civilization overgrown by rainforests.

Lacking the knowledge contained in the lost books, archaeologists faced the task of reconstructing the history and culture of the Mayas based on the stone carvings in these ruins. Unfortunately, many of these structures had been defaced by time and nature, and some had even crumbled and been scattered. It took time to piece together these carvings, discover their meaning, and assemble a picture of the ancient Mayan culture. But then, the Maya people would have appreciated that.

Mayas and time

The Mayas saw time as an ever-changing river, not of water, but of energy, ebbing and flowing, full of crosscurrents and eddies, making a sort of music as it flowed along. Their weeks, which consisted of thirteen days, were known as “tones.” For the Mayas, dates designated both a point in time and the “energy signature” of the universe at any one point in time.

Their fascination with time led them to devise at least 17 calendars, many of them far more accurate even than the Gregorian calendar we use today. Viewing time as a river of energy, the Mayas considered their calendars to be prophetic, describing the energy state of the universe past, present, and future. And they took a long view—a very long view.

The Mayan sacred calendar, called the Tzolkin, consisted of the 26,000- year cycle of the Pleiades that was then condensed into 260 days.

The 260-day Tzolkin used 13 numbers or “tones” and 20 “glyphs,” which represented various things in the real world. Children were named after the tone and glyph of their birth, such as “1 Monkey,” or “12 Storm.” The Mayas believed that the day of a person’s birth was the day he “stepped into the River of Time,” and it described who he was and defined his relationship to the universe.

This sacred calendar is still being used for divination by the traditional Mayas all over the Yucatan, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras.

The Long Count calendar. But the calendar exciting all the interest these days is the Mayan Long Count calendar. Twenty days in this calendar made a uinal, the Maya equivalent of a month. Eighteen uinals made a tun, the Mayan civil year of 360 days. Twenty years made a katun, and 20 katuns made up a baktun. After 13 baktuns—5,200 years— the numbers reset. At that time, in the Mayan view, the level of energy changed and the world with it. And while the tones and glyphs repeat, the Mayas believed they did so at a higher energy level each time.

This would be similar to the musical notes on a piano. Starting at middle C and progressing up the scale, every eighth white key is another C an octave higher, vibrating exactly twice as fast as the previous C. On the Mayan Long Count calendar, every baktun is a new octave.

The Long Count calendar began its cycles, its first baktun, in the year 3114 B.C., so the energy has been building up for a very long time. According to Maya belief, at the end of the thirteenth baktun, this cycle of the world’s history will come to an end, and the discharge of that accumulated energy will occur at the winter solstice, on or about December 21, 2012.

What does it mean?

You’ve no doubt heard about the year 2012, when cataclysmic and apocalyptic events are predicted to occur, possibly precipitating the end of the world. Numerous books have been written about 2012, and Hollywood has produced a science fiction film called 2012: We Were Warned that’s set for release in early November this year. It depicts global disaster on a massive scale. And it’s all based on the Mayan Long Count calendar.

Surely the sophistication and complexity of Mayan mathematics— they were the first to discover and use the digit zero—make their predictions difficult to ignore. And, for all our differences from the Mayas, we moderns share a fascination with the future and a desire to control events, or, failing that, at least to foresee them.

What the Bible says

How does all this relate to the Bible’s prediction of the end? Actually, there are some similarities. The Old Testament book of Joel, using imagery the Mayas would have recognized, warns of “wonders in the heavens / and on the earth, / blood and fire and billows of smoke. / The sun will be turned to darkness / and the moon to blood” (Joel 2:30, 31).

Jesus declared that at the end of the world, “ ‘There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. . . . Signs in the sun, moon and stars’ ” (Luke 21:11, 25).

Nor will all of these miraculous signs originate with God. Paul warned the Thessalonians that “the work of Satan [will be] displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). And Revelation depicts a false prophet who is empowered to perform “great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. . . . [In order to deceive] the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 13:13, 14).

Will all of this take place at the end of the Long Count calendar? Certainly, we would all like to know. The twelve disciples asked Jesus directly, “ ‘What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? ” (Matthew 24:3). In His reply, Jesus warned, “ ‘Watch out that no one deceives you’ ” (verse 4). Then, after describing a series of events close to the end, Jesus declared, “ ‘When you see all these things, you know that [My return] is near, right at the door’ ” (verse 33). Many Bible students agree that we live in the times described by Jesus; that His return is indeed “near, right at the door.”

But what about December 21, 2012? Jesus also cautioned us that “ ‘no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ ” (verse 36). “ ‘Therefore keep watch,’ ” He said, “ ‘because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. . . . You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’ ” (verses 42, 44).

Notice that Jesus said neither we nor even the angels in heaven know when He will return. So if the angels do not know the time, then neither did the ancient Mayan priests and astrologers who devised the Long Count calendar. The Long Count calendar of the Mayas—with its precise calculation of the positions of heavenly bodies over a span of more than 5,000 years—is a remarkable human achievement, but it is not prophetic. The Mayas demonstrated great knowledge about mathematics, but God “determines the number of the stars / and calls them each by name” (Psalm 147:4). The Mayas may have observed the Pleiades and based a calendar on their movements, but God “ ‘is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, / the Pleiades and the constellations’ ” (Job 9:9).

Will the world as we know it end? Certainly! Will it end on December 12, 2012, as some believe the Long Count calendar predicts? Probably not. It is God who set the planets and stars on their courses. He determines their movements; they do not determine His. But the Bible is clear: we know that His coming is “near, even at the door,” and that “in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay’ ” (Hebrews 10:37).


On December 21, 2012, the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, a 5,125-year cycle calendar system designed by the Mayas, will come to an end. When something ends (even something as innocent as an ancient calendar), people seem to think up the most extreme possibilities for the end of civilization as we know it. A brief scan of the Internet will pull up some of the more popular ways some people think—with little logical thought—that humanity will evolve or be wiped off the face of the planet.

Author John Major Jenkins proposes that the earth, the sun, and the center of the galaxy will come together in an extremely rare cosmic alignment, with the foot of the “Dark Rift,” a band of black dust clouds that the Mayas called “Xibalba Be,” or the “Black Road.” Jenkins believes this marks the precise center of the Milky Way Galaxy, and when the alignment takes place, it will result in a profound spiritual shift for humanity.

Barbara Marx Hubbard, writer and president of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution, believes 2012 will see an “accelerating pace of evolution” and that by altering our DNA, we may literally transform into a new species.

The Timewave Zero theory of the late Terence McKenna proposes that on December 21, 2012, “novelty” will reach its maximum, and anything and everything imaginable will happen simultaneously. Other theories include that the earth’s magnetic field will reverse— north switching poles with south; extraterrestrials will officially show up to bring peace to Earth; Huge volcanos will erupting filling the atmosphere with ash, blotting out the sun and plunging Earth into a 15,000-year winter; and even that earth will collide with a planet called Niburu—which astronomers deny exists.

2012: Is the End Written in Stone?

by Ed Dickerson
From the October 2009 Signs