The End of The World as We Know It?

What if the end of the 13th b’ak’tun really had been the end of the road?

Friday 21st December 2012 has been dubbed the ‘worst apocalypse ever’ (although I have to say, I would like to meet whoever has survived one to come up with this comparison!), with the Mayans being accused of getting it oh so very wrong.

The fact is though, dear reader, they didn’t get it wrong; we did.

21st December 2012 marked the end of the 13th b’ak’tun and the end of a 5,125 year long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar. It represented changes in human consciousness, not the end of humanity, and the idea that the Long Count Calendar ended in 2012 misrepresented Mayan history.

Mayan inscriptions frequently referred to dates beyond the end of the 13thb’ak’tun and in 2012, researchers announced the discovery of a series of Mayan astronomical tables in Xultun, Guatemala, which plot the movements of the moon and other astronomical bodies over the course of 17 b’ak’tuns.

According to one of the archaeologists at Xultun, ‘the ancient Maya predicted the world would continue – that 7,000 years from now, things would be exactly like this. We keep looking for endings. The Maya were actually looking for guarantees that nothing would change.’

The ‘2012 Phenomenon’, as it became known, was a belief that cataclysmic or transformative events would occur around 21st December 2012; that the Mayan calendar prophesised an apocalypse and that mankind would face Armageddon.

So, what is it with our preoccupation with the end of the world? Why do people obsess about the arrival of the next solar maximum (an interaction between the earth and the black hole); or with the earth’s collision with a planet called Nibiru (Planet X)? Are we, as a race, so pessimistic and Doomsday obsessed?

So it would seem, but, for a change, it isn’t a modern day disorder. At the turn of the Sixteenth Century, Christopher Columbus believed that his discovery of ‘most distant’ lands (including the Maya themselves) was prophesised and would bring about the Apocalypse.

In the early 1900s, German scholar Ernst Forstemann interpreted the last page of the Dresden Codex as a representation of the end of the world in a cataclysmic flood, although he made no reference to the 13th b’ak’tun or to 2012.

The link to the Mayan calendar was made in 1966 when Michael D Coe wrote, in The Maya, ‘there is a suggestion…that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13thb’ak’tun. Thus our present universe would be annihilated in December 2012 when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.’

Coe’s statement was repeated many times by other scholars, but later researchers said that the end of the 13th b’ak’tun was a cause for celebration as, for the Maya, getting to the end of a whole cycle warranted such festivities. It certainly didn’t mark the end of the calendar.

On a creative level, our fascination with the end of the world knows no bounds and a multitude of films have been made on the subject over the years.

Whether the cause of the apocalypse be viral (Daybreakers, 28 Days Later, I am Legend); climatic (2012, The Day AfterTomorrow, Waterworld); or the result of a nuclear attack (Threads), it is apparent that since the early days of cinema, the subject of the world ending has been forefront in the minds of film makers.

One of the earliest examples of this is a 1916 Danish science fiction drama called ‘The End of the World’, which tells of a world wide catastrophe due to an errant comet passing close to earth, causing natural disasters and social unrest. A more recent venture, the rather aptly named ‘2012’, includes references to the Maya, the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar and the 2012 phenomenon, with the apocalypse being brought on by changes in solar activity, causing cataclysmic earthquakes and tsunamis.

Whichever the disaster movie and whatever the cause of the disaster, they all have one thing in common – an enemy. This enemy may be zombies (28 days Later); vampires (Daybreakers); mutated human beings (I am Legend); pirates (Waterworld); the ‘list’ (2012); or nuclear fallout (Threads), but there is always an enemy. Quite often though, this enemy is far from sinister or scary, but simply your fellow man, fighting to survive in a world that is no longer recognisable.

So, with this in mind, what if the end of the 13th b’ak’tun really had been the end of the road? How many of you will admit to wondering, just a tiny little bit? How many of you will admit to holding back on your Christmas shopping?

If there HAD been an apocalyptic event on Friday 21st December 2012, what kind of new year would those of us lucky (or unlucky, depending on your viewpoint) enough to survive be facing now?

Let’s take the scenario of a great flood, referred to above. It is kind of feasible that this could happen. After all, we have had an unprecedented amount of rain recently, the planet is warming up and, if the bible is to be believed (and I am not saying that it is), it has happened before – ask Noah.

Imagine then, it is Saturday 22nd December 2012 and you get up and open your front door. All around you, as far as you can see, is water. What do you do? Depending on where you live, will depend on your answer. But, I ask you, dear reader, to imagine you live on the top of a hill. If all you can see is water, then it is a safe bet to assume that everyone and everything living at a lower altitude is dead or dying; all the shops where you could potentially get provisions are under water; any vegetables etc. that you have grown yourself have been destroyed. All you have is what is in your house and you need to protect that to survive.

You think about leaving the house. You need to see if anyone else has survived – it’s human nature – but why? Why do you need to see if others have survived? Chances are they will have, but will they welcome you with open arms? Think about it. They may only have what’s in their house to survive on, or they may have nothing. Either way, they will be looking to protect what’s theirs or steal what isn’t. Fellow survivors are not necessarily your friend; they are more likely to be your enemy. So, if you are going to leave, you need to secure what’s yours and you need to arm yourself. Now, in the UK, we don’t have guns (well most of us don’t) and so you will need to turn to your kitchen knives or other tools for protection.

So, you’re armed and you’ve secured your house and you are determined to see what’s out there. How do you propose to do that? It is highly unlikely you have a boat or even the means to build a raft. You think about swimming, but you have no idea how far you will need to swim and you have no idea what is in the water.

The water that surrounds you is also your enemy. In it float the decomposing bodies of people you may have known; carcasses of animals; dangerous predators that were once confined to the sea or to rivers (depending on where in the world you are) and what about fallen electricity cables? It is unlikely any would still be live, but do you take that risk?

As you stand on your doorstep, questions flood your mind – What am I going to do? Where am I going to go? How long can I survive on what I have? Then what – starve to death or adapt?

Human beings have a phenomenal capacity to survive against the odds, but not everyone is a survivor.

So, dear reader, I ask you to ponder this – as you stand on your doorstep staring at the sea that surrounds you, what will you do? Do you have what it takes to survive the end of the world?

Sobering thinking, isn’t it?

May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

Til next time.