The Mayan Calendar ends in 2012 and some people believe that this means that catastrophic events are in store for the world. A tepid movie was recently released about the 2012 “end of the world” and the media churns out frequent tales of people stocking up with survival gear “just in case.”
All of this panders to the superstitious vein we harbor deep inside (although we hide it from our friends).
The thought of possible world catastrophe sends a chill up our spines no matter how many times we tell ourselves that 12/12/2012 holds no significance beyond a coincidence of numbers. Like 1/1/2001 this date stems from a manmade calendar.
My first comforting thought is that the Mayan Calendar probably ends where it does because the dedicated Mayan calendar recording artists simply ran out of space to chisel any further on the rock.
If I took the time to chisel a calendar that covered more than 5,000 years, I would probably feel that was an adequate accomplishment to bequeath to my offspring. The calendar in my present-day appointment book probably only shows a few years ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the world will end in a few years.
My second reassuring thought is that the mighty Mayan civilization collapsed long before 2012 so apparently they weren’t very good at predictions.
Truth be told, the Mayans used an astronomical phenomena known as the Transit for Venus as a basis for many of their astronomical calculations and one of the key cycles of the Transit of Venus comes to a close in 2012. In my opinion, the Mayans ended their calendar at a logical place, in much the same way that a desk calendar ends on December 31.
A Transit of Venus is astronomical shorthand for a “Transit of Venus across the Sun” which takes place when the planet Venus passes directly between the Sun and Earth. The full pattern repeats every 243 years, with transits occurring eight years apart, followed by a gap of 121.5 years, then a gap of eight years and then another long gap of 105.5 years.
This complicated astronomical event is currently in the eight year gap period, with the last Transit of Venus on June 8, 2004 to be matched by the next one occurring late on June 5, 2012 (not December 2012).
If you wish to see all of the specific dates when a Transit of Venus across the Sun occurred NASA has posted a calendar called Six Millennium Catalog of Venus Transits: 2000 BCE to 4000 CE (but please note, this probably does not mean that the world ends in 4000 CE.).
Interestingly, the voyage of Captain Cook to Tahiti was one of many scientific expeditions that took place in 1769 to observe a Transit of Venus. Cook’s Tahiti observations of Venus (as well as those of a Transit of Mercury) provided valuable information to navigators of the time. Cook’s astronomers used the results plus highly complex astronomical calculations to determine Longitude. This was an international project, when astronomers from eight different nations traveled all over the globe, to observe and record the transit of Venus on 3 June 1769. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (of Mason-Dixon Line fame) were members of teams who made observations during the 18th century Transit of Venus.
To digress further, in 1769 Latitude was relatively easy to calculate, but without an accurate method to calculate Longitude sailors were often thrown off course. The book, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, by Dava Sobel tells the compelling story of the myriad problems in calculating Longitude using clocks, and includes information about the Board of Longitude that was formed to solve this puzzle. The observations of the Transit of Venus helped scientists calculate the AU (astronomical unit) which was necessary to calculate solar system distances and decipher one of the mysteries of Longitude.
To add fodder to superstitious theories that chill late night bones it is interesting to note that some people say that if you draw a picture of the Transits of Venus across the Sun during its 243 year cycle you would create a five pointed star, or a pentacle, a figure of significance in religious and pagan symbolism.
The Mayans were very good observers of the night sky and tracked this pattern of Venus crossing the Sun, and recorded it for future generations, although whether they made scientific advances into navigation is unknown.
However, it is intriguing to learn that the deity Itzamna is frequently credited with bringing the knowledge of the calendar system, as well as writing, to the Maya. This god was thought to reside in the sky and was also known (by another name) by the Aztecs. This god seems to be mysteriously interchangeable with a bird deity and is sometimes depicted with wings or as transforming into a being with wings.
In Chariots of the Gods published in 1968 by Erich von Däniken, the author speculates that the ancient Nazca lines etched into the high desert lands of Peru were only viewable from outer space and may have comprised a signal to ancient astronauts. Perhaps ancient Mayans were visited by beings from outer space who gave them the ability to calculate their calendar.
It is just as reasonable to suggest that the Mayan Calendar ended in 2012 because that is when the ancient astronauts are expected to reappear as it is to suggest that the end of the world will occur in 2012.
Astrologically, there is nothing to suggest that the world will end on 12/12/2012 or even on 6/5/2012 when the next Transit of Venus occurs.
This astrologer predicts, however, that on 12/13/2012 there will be a lot of disappointed people who will still need to get up, eat breakfast, and go to work.
My the stars be with you,