In the mountains of the Western Highlands of Guatemala, there is a little town called Pachaj. The four thousand people who live there are primarily K’iche’ — a Maya people who have cultivated these lands for thousands of years. Chickens wander through terraced gardens of squash and potatoes. The women wear brightly colored woven skirts and blouses; the men wear t-shirts or collared shirts. An advertisement for a cell phone service is painted on a wall near the school.
On one of the many mountains that ring Pachaj, there is a holy site. A cross once stood here, but it was torn down, leaving only its concrete base. But the site is far older than that. Just a few yards away, a stone protrudes from the ground. It is covered in ancient Maya hieroglyphs.
The stone is old. The markings are eroded and lichen has crept into the cracks and crevices. No one can read it and the mystery of the stone reminds me of how mysterious the Maya themselves are. This week marks the end of the 13th b’ak’tun of the Mayan calendar, an auspicious date for conspiracy theorists, New Age believers and Apocalypse junkies who believe that the world will end (literally or metaphorically) on December 21, 2012.
As much as I hate to burst their bubble of misinformation, it simply isn’t true. Trust me, a real life Maya spiritual leader told me that the world isn’t going to end in 2012. Apocalypse averted.
You see, the Maya do not believe in the end of the world, at least not in the way all those end of days documentaries like you to think. Their beliefs center around respect for all life; the celebration of life. Nothing in their oral or written traditions dwells on the apocalypse. The hysteria around 2012 is an invention of the West — an excuse to scare people, sell books and fill hours of program time on the History Channel.
We would be wise to learn from actual Maya teachings (which I freely admit I only know a little bit about), which call us to respect one another and reflect on our lives and relationships. And on the morning of December 21, my friends in Pachaj will wake up, check their email and go to work on their looms like any other day.
Don’t let dates and prophesies and sensationalists control you. Don’t let them scare you. Plan for the future, because December 21 will come and go and the world will go on undisturbed. Turn off the History Channel, go live your life, tell your friends.
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Jonny Eberle (that’s me) is a writer, photographer and occasional world traveler in Flagstaff, AZ. Please comment, share, like and follow him (me) on the Twitter machine: @jonnyeberle.
Guatemala in the Rear View Mirror
Immortality and the Written World
One Month After Guatemala