Archive for the ‘Prophecy’ Category

A new Maya-interest conference debuts: “Maya at the Lago” in Davidson, NC (North of Charlotte)

April 6, 2011

Mat Saunders, creator of the excellent conference series “Maya at the Playa” in Palm Coast, Florida, is launching another archaeology-for-the-masses conference in North Carolina. The debut of this event comes a week from this writing, from 14-17 April 2011.

 The lectures and workshops bring first-class Maya scholars and archaeologists into contact with the interested public, in a friendly and informal setting.  This is a great opportunity to meet  and learn from world-reknowned experts in the Ancient Maya such as National Geographic archaeologist George Stuart, the eminent Norman Hammond, and Marc Zender, a rising star in Maya Decipherment, co-author of the just-published “Reading Maya Art” (highly recommended)… and of course, Yours Truly, promoting my own book. 

Mat, the organizer, has some powerful friends.  He has the support of Archaeology Magazine, and has attracted to earlier conferences the likes of Bill Saturno, discoverer of the San Bartolo Murals; reknowned and beloved explorer Merle Greene Robertson;  justly-famous Michael D. Coe;  Jaime Awe, Director of Archaeology for Belize; and fine European epigraphers like Harri Kettunen and Christophe Helmke.  And many more, too many to list.  I heartily approve of Mat’s democratic and inclusive atmosphere, aiming to elevate and educate the general audience, and humanizing the greats of archaeology for us all.  Our field is full of fascinating people and fascinating stories, and Mat deserves special recognition for exposing them to the world. 

Check out his website and links at

 http://www.mayaatthelago.com/index.php/program . 

My own lecture, “What the Maya Really Told Us About 2012” closes the conference. 

Here’s an unedited blurb about it:

What is going to happen in December 2012? Did the Maya really predict the end of the world? Does their calendar really come to an end? Why is everyone so worried? It is almost impossible not to have been confronted with these scary rumors, especially in High School, and the clamor is rising to a climax. What should we do?
Dr. Mark Van Stone has spent the last few years examining everything we know about Ancient Maya beliefs about prophecy, their calendar, and their concepts of Time, Creation, Re-Creation, and especially their ideas about 2012. His book, “2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya” explores this topic in thorough and entertaining ways. His lecture will explain the way their complex calendars work — a little, just enough to help you follow their logic— and will examine all the relevant evidence they left us. You will be reassured to learn that, just like us, the Ancient Maya really did not predict, nor did they even expect, an “end” to their calendar.
But be not disappointed! Even if they were not Purveyors of Doom, The Maya are a fascinating people, with surprisingly different attitudes about Truth and the Cosmos, about Time and Reality, and about the Cosmic connections between geography, colors, trees, birds, time, and mythology.

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About Time: A New Film on 2012 That Gives a Balanced, Scientific Perspective

March 10, 2011

Inside page and blurbs for my 2012 book

Blurbs for my book and one inside page

Breaking news, as of 6th March 2011:

Finally, a television documentary to counter the Hysteria Channel’s constant refrain of Doom, Death, and Destruction about 2012! Respected filmmaker Graham Townsley (NOVA, National Geographic) has just inked a contract to produce a three-part documentary film about the Maya and 2012.
How do I know this? I am delighted to report that he has asked me, Yr Obt Svt, to appear and provide expertise in the first segment, which will focus on the Ancient Maya and what they actually tell us about their view of the upcoming “End of the Calendar”. As I write this, Graham is readying his crew to depart to Chichén Itzá, where he will film the popular Equinox festivities there (for a different segment, about modern beliefs about the Maya Calendar).

The modern idea that the Maya Calendar “ends” on 21st December 2012 derives entirely from a single peculiar fact. The Maya counted Time (in days) from a fixed point far in the ancient past, just as we count years from the Birth of Christ (supposedly; our calculations are actually off by a few years… Jesus was actually born sometime in 4 – 6 BC, which when you think about it, is a self-contradiction worthy of an Isaac Asimov story). We call this calendar the “Long Count”. They have been counting up for some 5,125 years, and by all rights, their “Day Zero” (also called “Era Day”) should be numbered 0.0.0.0.0. But, noooooo, they called it 13.0.0.0.0, after which, like a clock at midnight, the Calendar reset to 0.0.0.0.1 (or perhaps, again like a midnight clock, 13.0.0.0.1), which preceded the era 1.0.0.0.0, followed by 2.0.0.0.0, and so forth. This implies an even *earlier* Era date 5125 years or so *farther* back in the past, and maybe another, and another… But unfortunately the Maya record is entirely silent —so far— about what might have happened, calendar-wise, in 8239 BC.

The Maya penchant for dating *all* events, even mythological ones, provides us with some entertaining reading. Around the last Era Day the Three Palenque Patron Gods performed some peculiarly godly acts: One of these, whom Linda Schele nicknamed “Lady Beastie”, gave birth at the tender age of 754 years….

As I write this (on Thursday 10th March 2011), the Maya Long Count date is 12.19.18.3.8, with a “Calendar Round” of 2 Lamat 1 Kumk’u. In late December 2012, we will arrive again at 13.0.0.0.0.  I guess we will know soon if this ushers in a New Age or not. I prophesy a rancorous American presidential campaign and even higher gasoline prices.

I used the Maya date conversion program online at: http://research.famsi.org/date_mayaLC.php

If you want to learn how to understand the Maya Calendars, I explain them in some detail in Part 4 of my downloadable slide-shows at:
http://www.famsi.org/research/vanstone/2012/index.html.

I should also remind y’all that this website comprises a rough draft of my vastly improved book, “2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya”. In the book you will find a much-improved and -expanded examination of the cloud of issues surrounding this popular meme. There are now over 1000 books published about the Maya 2012 phenomenon, and only three or four even attempt to be scientific, or faithful to what the Maya themselves believed. Mine is the only one of the lot in full color, the only one that might be termed an art-book.

Discovering a parallel colleague is a little like suddenly finding Nibiru

January 8, 2010

Before I was a professor (that is, certified with a Ph.D. and a tenured teaching job), I was a professional calligrapher.  It takes some doing to earn the title of “professional educator”.  But unlike education, calligraphy in this country is completely unregulated; there exist no respectable institutes to grant us professional credentials, and all one has to do to qualify as a “professional” is to charge money for lettering something for someone.  (At least in the eyes of the IRS!)  The simplest regular work of this type is hand-addressing envelopes, beautifully, for a wedding or other fancy event, and it pays anywhere from a dollar an envelope to five dollars a line.  Higher-ranked scribes work for Hallmark or American Greetings, or letter book jackets for publishers (who do you think produces all those gushy titles for romance novels, or the manly lettering for Tom Clancy books?); or, in California, letter movie titles.  Now, calligraphy is a tragically undervalued art, and very few of us do it full-time, simply because we would starve to death.  Few towns have the critical mass of lavish parties, like Washington DC, New York, and Hollywood, to support a steady stream of envelope gigs.  And type design, an honorable and well-paid profession when Hermann Zapf was in his prime —you use Palatino or Optima or even Hunt Roman?— now is going the way of investigative newspaper reportage.  (Adobe, which used to employ a large stable of type designers, has laid off all but two, last I heard.)  So, like aspiring actors or painters-in-a-garret, most calligraphers do something else, some *real* job, to pay the rent, and practice their art, their passion, only part-time.

I write this by way of preface to introducing an “amateur” astronomer.  Professional astronomer jobs are far rarer than art-history professor positions; probably fewer than one for every hundred people called by the siren song of the telescope.  So, it is with some embarrassment that I am forced to refer to Bill Hudson as an “amateur” astronomer, because he is far more serious about it than, say, the average “Sunday painter”, or model-railroader, or the others we refer to as “amateurs”.  Like spelunkers, or car-customizers,  “Amateur” astronomers are a breed apart.  They occupy a kind of intermediate position between heaven and earth:  If professional astronomers like Carl Sagan are gods, the ranks of these serious amateurs are their genies or angels.

Like most such stargazers, Bill Hudson volunteers in schools, sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for the heavens with wondering children.  He often does this for free, simply because, in the infinite wisdom of our tax-supported educational system, celestial knowledge is esteemed about as highly as type design, and there is no budget for honoraria to visiting astronomers.

And, he tells us, a few years ago his audiences started asking him frightened questions about the End of the World in 2012.  So he started posting FAQ’s to his regular blog http://astrogeek.us , and eventually founded http://2012hoax.org , which has become a clearinghouse for astronomically-correct information about all the crazy claims made for the 2012 “event”.  He and his colleagues are willing to call a spade a spade, and I recommend this large and knowledgeable website with the highest praise.  Like the best informational websites, it is compendious and dense.  Sit down to it as you would the Sunday New York Times, with plenty of time to spend and refreshment close at hand.

Bill defers most of the credit for this site to his many colleagues, and lists contributors in this order:

*Bill Hudson, amateur astronomer and a professional computer geek,
*Alene Y., chemist,
*Emma T., astrophysicist,
*Dave M., student,
*PoshNinja, at NinjasAnswerbag@gmx.com ,
*Physicist Kristine Larsen at CCSU,
*Archaeologist Johan Normark,
*Astronomer Phil Plait,
*Astrobiologist David Morrison.

Highly recommended!

All you need to know about Nostradamus!

December 6, 2009

Perhaps the most notorious of European soothsayers is the 16th-century French apothecary, Michel de Nostredame, better known by his Latinized name, Nostradamus.

(His surname, like the Paris cathedral, simply means “Our Lady.”  His Jewish grandfather converted to Catholicism on Our Lady’s Day, 1455, and, like many a new-born [and ancient Mesoamericans], adopted the name of his “birthday” as his own.)

His famed Prophecies purportedly predicted pivotal and tragic events in Europe and America such as World War II, Princess Diana’s death, and the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center Towers (nobody claims they predicted any events in Asia or Africa, as far as I know).  Lately they have been applied to 2012.

He composed his prophecies over eleven years for an annual Almanac that he first published in 1550.  (This tradition continues, in such publications as the Old Farmer’s Almanac, whose long-range weather predictions are reputed to be better than the US Weather Service’s.)  He selected about a thousand of these to re-cast as 4-line rhymed poems (called quatrains), and they were published in many editions.   Due to the casual standards of 16th and 17th-century typesetters, no two copies are exactly alike.  Most English translations are based on later, increasingly corrupted, copies of copies.  Very few versions of his prophecies can be trusted.  But the worst of it is, his own obscurantist compositions are impossible to pin down.

This is partly due to Nostradamus’s own paranoia.  This was the age of Inquisitional pyres and suppression; he may have deliberately obfuscated his quatrains to keep them “safe”.  A perfect Da Vinci Code intellectual!  Written mostly in French, the quatrains are vague, full of multiple-entendres, and larded with esoteric references and vocabulary, some of it in Latin, Greek, Italian, and Provençal.  They are hideously difficult to translate.  A careful, annotated edition of his prophecies would demand commentary ten or twenty times as long as the quatrains themselves.  (A glimpse at the voluminous websites of his latter-day interpreters seem to be moving in this direction.)

He himself carefully rejected the title “prophet”.  Perhaps he did so simply to maintain his friendly relationship with the Church.  Also, note that most of his prophecies were translations into French of older predictions, largely from a popular Latin book of 1522, the Mirabilis Liber.  (He lifted 139 of his surviving 942 prophecies from here.)  Quoting the fine Wikipedia article “Nostradamus”:

“Nostradamus was one of the first to re-paraphrase these prophecies in French, which may explain why they are credited to him.  It should be noted that modern views of plagiarism did not apply in the 16th century.  Authors frequently copied and paraphrased passages without acknowledgement, especially from the classics.”

Peter Lemesurier’s excellent Nostradamus website <http://www.nostradamus-repository.org/> contains careful English translations from sources as-original-as-possible, and also includes the original French versions, so you can translate and decide for yourself.  Lemesurier also answers a few Nostradmic Myths and Frequently-Asked-Questions.

I recommend particularly his FAQ’s regarding Nostradamus and 9/11.  < http://www.nostradamus-repository.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=32:911-attacks-and-nyc&catid=7:terror-related&Itemid=6 >.

The misunderstandings, mistranslations, Procrustean interpretations, and deliberate fabrications addressed here epitomize what we might term the two “Nostradamus Problems”.  These Problems lie chiefly with (1) the source and (2) the recipient.

The first : He was a master Oracle: he couched his “prophecies” in universally-interpretable language, phrased so that one could read anything into them.

The second: Our proclivity for projecting our own fantasies and fears thereon.

Quoting from his 9/11 FAQ’s:

Q. What about “In the year of the new century and nine months, from the sky will come a great king of terror…the sky will burn at 45 degrees. Fire approaches the great new city…In the city of york there will be great collapse, twin brothers.  Torn apart by chaos while the fortresses fall, the great leader will succumb; the third big war will come when the big city is burning.”?
A. It’s a garbled mixture of carefully selected lines from two different Nostradamus quatrains (X.72, which in the original doesn’t even mention a ‘King of Terror’ — see third website listed below — and is about *1999* [!!]; and VI.79, whose ‘new city’ on 45 degrees is Villeneuve in SW France, not New York, which is on 40 degrees 40 minutes) plus a bunch of other lines that are not by Nostradamus at all. …

Q. How about: “Earth-shaking fire from the center of the earth. Will cause the towers around the New City to shake, Two great rocks for a long time will make war, And then Arethusa will color a new river red. ”
A. A more reliable (and artistic) translation of I.87 (which doesn’t mention towers at all) would read:

“Earth-shaking fires from the world’s centre roar: About Villeneuve (=“New City”) the earth shall be a-quiver. Two leaders long shall wage a fruitless war, Till Arethusa reddens a new river.”

Line 3 is in fact based on a French expression (‘faire la guerre aux rochers’ — ‘to make war on the rocks’) which in fact means ‘to struggle fruitlessly’. ‘Deux grands‘ means ‘two nobles’.
——- ——– ——-
The First Problem: Nostradamus follows a venerable tradition established by successful Soothsayers, Sibyls and Prophets thousands of years ago.  This involves phrasing one’s prophecies ambiguously.  The Oracle at Delphi, for example, routinely intoned such gems as this one, delivered to Croesus: “If you attack Persia, a great empire will be destroyed.”  A prediction guaranteed to succeed, no matter who won, eh?

Modern newspaper horoscope-writers employ the same stratagems, describing a person’s character, or the prognostication for the day, in terms that are so general as to be likewise guaranteed.  “You have good intentions, but tend to procrastinate.” “A day full of opportunity.”  “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.”

For a clear demonstration of this, collect the twelve horoscopes from any daily newspaper.  Don’t read it.  Have a trusted (and tolerant) friend cut the dates off the horoscopes, and secretly make a Key, linking which dates go with which predictions.  (To be truly double-blind, the friend must seal the Key in an envelope, hand the slips of paper to a third friend, who has not seen the originals, and that friend should deliver the shorn horoscopes to you.)  Then you decide which horoscope applies to you.  Then unseal the Key and check your guess.  Record your results.  No cheating!  Do this a few dozen times.

I guarantee, I prophesy, that you will be right 8.333% of the time.  More or less.  This is because horoscope texts are full of generalized characterizations, adjectives and adverbs that tend to describe everyone. Everyone.  You can devise similar ways to test the more complex, more specific —and more expensive— personal horoscopes, delivered by professional astrologers.

The other Problem: we all tend to be narcissists.  In art-history classes, I remind my students that we respond most strongly to works of art that are “mirrors”, pictures (usually) in which we recognize some aspect of ourselves.  Prophecies are works of art, if nothing else, and we always see ourselves there.  Simple as that.  We also instinctively seek connections and patterns, and we are such complex, multi-faceted characters that there exist few characterizations that do *not* apply to us.

We usually consider the test of a prophecy to be whether it comes true.  I propose a more rigorous test: can it help us make better choices?  If Caesar had listened to that guy who told him, “Beware the Ides of March” and stayed home, he might have become Rome’s first Emperor.  But he didn’t.  They never do.  Not believing our prophets is so common as to be a cliché.  The Ancient Greeks personify this penchant in the unhearkened prophetess Cassandra.  Nostradamus was, at best, a Cassandra.  None, I repeat, *None* of Nostradamus’s prophecies have helped *anyone* avert, avoid, or mitigate a disaster.  What good is a prophecy that no-one can use beforehand?  I assert that a “prophecy” that helps no-one, is no prophecy at all.

This is also true for 2012.  Aside from selling us nuke-proof bunkers stocked with water-purifiers and freeze-dried food, the millions of 2012-prophecy websites don’t really offer us any advice on what to *do* about it.  How do we surf this wave, instead of drowning in it?  Those few who offer it, advise you to Clean Up Your Act, Forgive and Forget, Get Right With God, Set Your Sights On Higher Matters, and Open Yourself To Opportunity.  These are good suggestions.  So good, I think I’ll not wait till 2012.  So good, some people have been living them for years already.  We should implement them even if nothing happens in 2012, no?

By the way, has anyone noticed that Nostradamus was born either 14th or 21st December, 1503?  If the latter, then the 2012 Period-Ending would fall precisely on his 509th birthday.  509 is a prime number!  There is even a parallel in the date-uncertainty, because some scholars fix the Great Maya Period-Ending on 21st December, and others the 23rd!  Could all this be a coincidence?

My book, “2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya” is almost ready, and will be ready for upload before the end of the year… Stay tuned!