Email Mark Van Stone with questions, comments or suggestions about the Maya prophecies for 2012. Interesting and insightful questions or comments may be posted to this website by the author in the interest of disseminating information and sharing theories.
Like thousands of other people, I'm stupid enough to get into the 2012 hype. I came across what you wrote about Mayan predictions on the FAMSI website. What you wrote answered many questions for me, and really made me understand the Mayan civilization better. However, one problem still puzzles me greatly. It's said that in 1904 Ernst Wilhelm Förstemann wrote in his "Commentary on the Mayan manucript...", perhaps regarding page 74 of the Dresden Codex, that the codex fortold the end of the world. All over the Internet, there are other similar claims about the last page of the Dresden Codex being a prophesy of calamities. What I don't understand is: how does the Dresden Codex correlates to the Mayan calendar? I did some research and most scholars seem to treat the Dresden Codex as a astronomical table. But does that correlate to actual date somehow? And does Ernst Wilhelm Förstemann and other people have a point in saying that the last page of the Dresden Codex corresponds to the end of the Long Count? I really don't have any knowledge Mayan civilization until I became interested in the 2012 subject, and please forgive me if my question was ammateur and childish. In any case, Thank you very much for posting that wonderful presentation regarding 2012 on the FAMSI website!
Mark Van Stone answers:
Thanks for your thoughtful inquiry. Thanks especially for going to the sources whenever possible and finding out what you can on your own. As much as possible, try to recognize (and avoid) other people's filters. Linda Schele ordered all us grad students to Question Everything. "Our interpretation of Maya Thought, Culture, and everything has to be completely rewritten every decade or so," she said, "Every dig exposes new data, and often overthrows whole theoretical edifices." More or less.
Better minds than mine have collected the history of the "2012 meme", and I defer to them. I recommend my colleague John Hoopes at Kansas University; he is the authority I always go to with questions like this. He was the first, I think, to discover the Förstenmann reference in this context, and probably could give you a better answer as to what Förstenmann was thinking. He has also traced most of the latter-day "2012ologists'" ideas about the "end of the world" or the "turn of the cycle" back to Michael D. Coe's first edition of Maya (1966)
I believe it was Mike, there, who first calculated the coming 184.108.40.206.0 date as 2011 (I think he may have forgotten that our calendar has no Zero year), later corrected to 2012.
(Mike, by the way, still holds firm to the Lounsbury/GMT+2 correlation [along with the late Linda Schele, Marc Zender, and a few others], which sets the 220.127.116.11.0 date on 23rd December 2012 instead of 21st Dec. Most of our latter-day Doomsayers and Prophets prefer to ignore that, since the date's falling on a Solstice would be ever so much neater if one believes Zodiacal horoscopy. Along with Dennis and Barbara Tedlock, I happen to prefer the GMT correlation [along with the Doomsayers et al.] because it fits with the reckoning of the calendar-keepers in the Highlands of Guatemala who have never lost touch with the Tzolk'in. But the matter is far from settled.)
In any case, p. 74 of the Dresden does indeed appear to be a Flood, maybe even the one described in the Popol Vuh. (You know that you can download a high-res copy of the Dresden from the FAMSI website, don't you? Also the other three Maya codices.) Except there are no people being washed away, nor other indications of destruction, except the black warrior God L, who also presided at the 4 Ajaw 3 Kumk'u Creation (3114 BC) on the Vases of the 7 Gods and of the 11 Gods (portrayed in my FAMSI article).
(By the way, Mary Miller first proposed a cool idea, and I think she's right: In the 17th century, many Pirates of the Caribbean sheltered on Cozumel Island, previously sacred to Chak Chel, the snake-haired Old Moon Goddess who stands above God L here, pouring out a vase of water. Her skirt is usually blazoned with three emblems: skulls, disembodied eyeballs, and crossbones [you can see the last two of these here]. Mary notes that the first pirates to fly the Jolly Roger flag were headquartered at Cozumel, and she thinks that it was actually a Maya garment stolen from a Chak Chel temple.)
Moreover, the ophidian Skyband arching over the scene is streaming water from three places: its mouth, and two Eclipse glyphs, a Sun and a Moon. I should probably check this to make sure, but I believe that neither the last 18.104.22.168.0 (3114 BCE) nor the *next* one (2012 CE) falls anywhere *near* an Eclipse station. <http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html >. Their tables only go back to 2000 BCE, but the coming eclipses around 2012 will fall on:
2009 Dec 31 19:23:46 Lunar|
2010 Jan 15 07:07:39 Solar
2010 Jun 26 11:39:34 Lunar
2010 Jul 11 19:34:38 Solar
*2010 Dec 21 08:18:04 Lunar
2011 Jan 04 08:51:42 Solar
2011 Jun 01 21:17:18 Solar
2011 Jun 15 20:13:43 Lunar
2011 Jul 01 08:39:30 Solar
2011 Nov 25 06:21:24 Solar
2011 Dec 10 14:32:56 Lunar
2012 May 20 23:53:53 Solar
2012 Jun 04 11:04:20 Lunar
2012 Nov 13 22:12:55 Solar
2012 Nov 28 14:34:07 Lunar
2013 Apr 25 20:08:38 Lunar
2013 May 10 00:26:20 Solar
2013 May 25 04:11:06 Lunar
2013 Oct 18 23:51:25 Lunar
2013 Nov 03 12:47:36 Solar
2014 Apr 15 07:46:48 Lunar
2014 Apr 29 06:04:32 Solar
2014 Oct 08 10:55:44 Lunar
Note that there WILL be a lunar eclipse on 21st December *2010*, but those in 2012 fall three and five weeks earlier. So, if one is to posit the Dresden "Deluge" page as representing a World-Ending Flood, it cannot be the 2012 one. The damaged, half-missing text above the picture does mention "Black Sky" and "Black Earth" and a couple other recognizable phrases, but nothing, I think, alluding to any Destruction or Inundation. It's a little hard to interpret because in Mayan languages the verb comes first in a sentence, and most all the verbs are missing here. But the text on this page and those preceding it definitely do NOT refer to any date near the "end" of the Long Count (If you chart the dates on a graph, you'll quickly see the patterns: Solar Eclipses are always preceded or followed [or both] by a lunar eclipse fifteen days away. Each year the pairs of eclipses come about ten days earlier than the previous year. Maya astronomers doubtless noticed this pattern very early. The solar eclipse in "Apocalypto" would have surprised *nobody* atop that pyramid.)
In any case, neither Förstenmann nor Coe had any basis for linking the final page of Dresden with 22.214.171.124.0. Both were writing pretty poetically, allowing their fancy a little flight. Remember, back in those days, scholars knew so little that one could safely posit almost *any* conjecture (except to claim the glyphs contained phonetic data, a theory which none of the Big Boys believed Mike did, but his fame was yet to come), and these conjectures tended to reflect Western ideas. The most famous Maya scholar of the 20th century, Eric Thompson, constantly larded his explanations of the Maya with quotes from Shakespeare, Milton, et al. It was he who portrayed the noble "calendar priest" as a kind of Episcopalian pastor. Sorry my sentences are so convoluted!
I hasten to assert that the Dresden Codex contains more references to 126.96.36.199.0 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk'u than all other Creation texts combined. But none to the later 2012 date. Further, *none* of these affirm or repeat the Creation stories we read elsewhere (you have seen my collection of these, right?). In Dresden, they usually refer to the date simply as an anchor, or, most interestingly, appear to describe the invention of Time itself (or its units, anyway: Day, Winal, Tun, K'atun, Bak'tun, and Piktun
.) In the very next sentence, the Dresden counts backwards 34,000 years or so to a previous date. This violates not only the (modern fantasy) assertion that the previous four "Ages" were all 5126 years long (5 x 5126 is only 26,000 years), but also completely appears to contravene that the time-units themselves were invented just before 3114 BC. This puzzle is the kind of problem we encounter when we try to use Western logic to understand Maya philosophy or science. The rules are waaaaaay different! They're not even completely backward, like Alice's Looking-Glass world, just...different.
The Dresden does contain some astronomical tables :notably Venus cycle and Eclipse Tables, for example: and some mysterious tables such as the Serpent-Numbers (those dealing with 37,000 BCE), but most of them are auguries, based on cycles of the Tzolk'in divided by 5, or 6, or 7, or 18, or other numbers of days. About 14 years ago, Linda Schele and Nikolai Grube presented and published readings of many of these auguries at the Texas Maya Meetings. A copy of the Workbook costs about $45 from the UT Press. If they are out, order a copy of the "Proceedings" of the same meetings from Phil Wanyerka in Cleveland; which contains in addition a transcript of Linda's & Nikolai's discussion of these readings at those meetings.
I hope this answers most of your question. I do appreciate your time in seeking to educate yourself on these matters. You are precisely the audience for whom I wrote that FAMSI slide-show. Do write again, please, with more questions, as your understanding grows.
John Hoopes adds:
As Mark notes, I've been involved in a "behind the scenes" dissemination of information on these topics, mostly through my contributions to the following entries in Wikipedia:
2012 phenomenon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_phenomenon
Hunab Ku http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunab_Ku
Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_%C3%89tienne_Brasseur_de_Bourbourg
While I'm also working on some scholarly MSS. on this topic, I've been trying to take advantage of Wikipedia as a method of reaching a larger, popular audience for whomas with youthere are a lot of questions about 2012 and its associated mythology.
To give credit where credit is due, Ernst Forstemann's remarks were first brought to my attention by astrologer Ray Mardyks, and individual who remains preoccupied with the idea that the ancient Maya were given estoteric information by extraterrestrials. There is a full facsimile of Forstemann's 1906 commentary on the Dresden Codex online that's available through Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=iuUwT_cYQ30C
If you scroll to the last paragraph of his text, you'll find his remark, "This page can denote nothing but the end of the world..." The idea that the last page of the Dresden Codex indicates a cataclysmic flood has a complex history. As Mark Van Stone notes, it was Michael Coe who first linked 188.8.131.52.0 with the concept of "Armageddon" in 1966. Here are some remarks from two unpublished MSS. of mine:
"Coe's work echoed that of pioneering scholar Ernst Förstemann, whose interpretation of the Pre-Columbian Dresden Codex suggested that some of its calendrical texts pertained "to the destruction of the world" and offer "the genesis and the apocalypse of all the mythologies" (1906: 263). In particular, Förstemann thought the imagery and text on its last page "can denote nothing but the end of the world" (1906: 266). This theme was elaborated upon further by Sylvanus Morley, in the first edition of The Ancient Maya (1946), which drew upon comments from Alfred Tozzer's extensively notated translation of Bishop Diego de Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatan (Tozzer 1941)."
"Morley inadvertently contributed to the idea that the ancient Maya foresaw a future destruction. A careful reading shows that his analysis switches back and forth between discussions of Landa and beliefs collected in Colonial Yucatan, a description of the last page of the Dresden Codex, and a description of the beliefs of the 'modern Maya.' His description of the Dresden image (following Förstemann's lead) concludes, 'The whole picture vividly symbolizes the destruction of the world and mankind by water, in agreement with the tradition reported by Landa' (Morley 1946: 214)."
However, in making this assertion, I think Morley conflated Landa with Tozzer's *commentary* on Landa, with the original flood reference coming from Tozzer (to track this out, you need to look at the footnotes to Tozzer's 1941 edition of Landa).
"In his discussion of 'modern' beliefs that relates (without citation) a specific story collected by Tozzer near Valladolid about the successive destructions by floods of three previous worlds (Tozzer 1941: ff. 633, 136), Morley adds a paraphrase of Tozzer, 'This last deluge was followed by the present, or fourth world, peopled by a mixture of all the previous inhabitants of the peninsula [Yucatan],' cryptically adding, 'and this too will eventually be destroyed by a fourth flood' (Morley 1946: 215). What most readers miss is that this last account concludes the paragraph of what the 'modern Maya of northern Yucatan believe,' not the ancient Maya."
It's my own hunch that the flood stories of the Yucatan do not come from pre-Columbian traditions at all, but the syncretistic adoption of elements of the story of Noah's Ark and the Great Flood from Genesis as taught to the Yucatec Maya by Fransciscan missionaries within a generation or two after the Spanish conquest. The Yucatan--a vast limestone shelf riddled with caves and sinkholes--is not susceptible to flooding. I also suspect (but haven't yet traced out the details) that associations of Maya myths with flooding and destruction were further emphasized in speculation about "Votan," which linked Maya stories particularly to those about the Tower of Babel and the Great Flood in the Bible. If you read the Wikipedia entry on "Votan," you'll see that speculation about relationships between the ancient Maya and the story of Noah were a major theme of discussion by the 18th century.
As for Chak Chel, without going on too much of a tangent, I'm skeptical that the image on the last page of the Dresden Codex represents her participation in a flood. A flood is more about water filling up, saturating, and even sweeping away, not falling down. It's important to be mindful of Chak Chel's identification as a midwife, whose associations would include ones with the rushes of amniotic fluid (water "breaking") and blood that accompany birth. I suspect that what has been interpreted as "flood" imagery may in fact be "birth" imagery that is also associated with sacrifice. The following article presents *some* of my ideas on this topic, as well as some intriguing associations between crocodiles and birth as motifs in myths of creation and cycles of birth-death-renewal.
Hoopes, John W. & David Mora-Marín (2009) Violent Acts of Curing: Precolumbian Metaphors of Birth and Sacrifice in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Illness "Writ Large." In Blood and Beauty: Organized Violence in the Art and Archaeology of Mesoamerica and Central America (Heather Orr and Rex Koontz, eds.), Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA.
I suspect that some of the complex mythology about birth has to do with the fact that many of its specifics were probably mysteries to men, who may well have been excluded from direct participation in the process (birthing mothers were assisted by midwives). Explicit images of birth in association with Creation mythology include the spectacular images of "bursting babies" in a Late Preclassic mural at San Bartolo.
I have a hunch that the gourd from which a deity emerges amidst splashes of blood in the San Bartolo mural may have a closer relationship to what Chak Chel is doing with her vessel on p. 74 of the Dresden Codex than anything having to do with a Biblical-style "Great Flood," but this is a topic that remains to be explored in detail.
Thanks in advance for your additional attention! (And that of Mark and friends at FAMSI!)
Click here for interactive date conversions