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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 But, noooooo, they called it, after which, like a clock at midnight, the Calendar reset to (or perhaps, again like a midnight clock,, which preceded the era, followed by, 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, with a “Calendar Round” of 2 Lamat 1 Kumk’u. In late December 2012, we will arrive again at  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:

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:

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.

An Atheist Celebrates Xmas —er, the Solstice … Part 1

December 22, 2009

21st December, 2009 (cue background music: Paul Winter Consort)

Well, the “End of the Maya Calendar” is exactly three years away.  Roland Emmerich’s computer-generated-apocalypse-fantasy “2012” has swept through like a tsunami, and we are confronted, like it or not, with Christmas.  Luckily, I like Christmas music, or I would be forced into a hermitage for six weeks every year, away from shopping malls, television, radio, and Main Streets cheerfully blaring their music and bustling with cars sporting felt antlers.  Actually, that sounds like a capital idea. Bah, Humbug…. Except I really do like harmonizing with all those upbeat, major-key carols.

The politically-correct phrase “Holiday Season” was coined, ironically, by that epitome of conspicuous consumption and planned obsolescence, the fashion industry.  This highly intelligent, articulate, and largely non-Christian population refers to itself, with supreme cynicism, as “the Schmatte trade”.  “Schmatte” is Yiddish for “rags”.  (Their Capital is 7th Avenue in Manhattan, not far from 34th Street, home of Macy’s, Gimbel’s and the eponymous “Miracle”.  If you haven’t seen the film with the 8-year-old Natalie Wood, sarcastic and cute as a button, do so.  We call it a Classic for good reason.)

But back to “Xmas”.  This abbreviation offends some Christians, who see it as “taking Christ out of Christmas”, but in fact Xmas was the original spelling of the word.  (For a brilliant example of this, Google-image the 8th-century Book of Kells.  Folio 34 is arguably the most famous masterpiece of Celtic art, in a book filled with extraordinary masterpieces.  The first words of the Christmas story in the Gospel of Matthew, it begins “Xpi autem generatio”, “Christ was born in this way…”, Fig. 1 below)

It is only since the secularizing Renaissance that we have developed the habit of spelling out “Christ-mass” in full.  Ancient scribes, influenced by the Third Commandment, never wrote out the names of God completely.  They always abbreviated the Nomina Sacra, the Holy Names.  In Latin, this means Deus or Dei (“God” or “of God”) was abbreviated to DS. or DI.Dominus (“Lord”) was written DNS., and Spiritus Sanctus (“Holy Spirit”) was SPS. SCS. (The Early Medieval scribal convention for contraction usually consisted of a horizontal stroke above the abbreviated letters.  This gradually transformed into an apostrophe, or to a dot, indistinguishable from a period, at the end.)  And the Latin abbreviation for Iesus Christus is IHS. XPS. (Also IHU. XPI., Iesu Christi, “of Jesus Christ”, or IHM. XPM., Iesum Christum, “to Jesus Christ”, etc.)  The peculiar spelling is an echo of Greek, the original language of the New Testament.  The Greek letters H (eta), X (chi), and P (rho) are identical to Latin H, X, and P, and somehow the Greek abbreviation (which at the time looked like IHC XPC) migrated into Latin scribal practice.  (This linguistic migration mimics that of bicultural individuals, and the Spanglish we hear, here in the Border region between Tijuana and San Diego.)

Whatever the reasons, spelling the Latin “Christi” as Xpi, and English “Christmas” as Xmas, predates the fully-spelled-out words by over a thousand years.

(Using capital letters to indicate proper names is also a recent invention, coming into wide practice only in the 15th or 16th century.  In fact, the capital letters themselves were the only letterforms used in the early Christian era.  [Check out any Ancient Roman Inscription like we see on the Arch of Titus or the Trajan Column.]  Minuscules [“small letters”] slowly evolved out of Majuscules [“capital letters”] throughout the entire first millennium AD, and the two were never used together until about the eighth century.  It took several centuries more of scribal experimentation before we settled on our modern conventional Double Alphabet, with fairly specific roles for the two kinds of letters.)

(I know, I’m old-fashioned, I still use the old AD [Anno Domini “year of our Lord”] and BC [“Before Christ”] to denote dates, instead of the more-politically-correct CE and BCE [“Common Era” and “Before Common Era”].  Old habits die hard, even in an old atheist.

In future essays, I plan to tackle the extraordinarily-quirky history of the calendar itself… Or, rather, the calendars themselves, because we use at least seven —not counting the Jewish, Muslim, Chinese, Zodiacal, and, of course, the Maya Calendars.  For more on this,  see my website <;, and download Part IV – Appendix: Technicalities of the Calendars . And stay tuned….

XPI autem generatio

Fig. 1. Book of Kells, late 8th century AD/CE

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 <> 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.  < >.

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!

Why 2012? The Drunk Taxi Driver Model

November 2, 2009

Inaugurating a weblog, 1 November 2009

Whoever said “Well begun is half done” was thinking of someone like me. Except my grasshopper-mind offers such monumental impediments to getting started on large projects, that my version is more like, “Well begun is about 85.714286% done.” First impressions being so important, I’ve been dithering for days about the topic of my very first blog. I finally overcame the inertia with the comforting thought that only about six people in the world will read this, and three are family. You, dear Reader, are in very select company.

Like many questions, “Why 2012?” has answers on several levels. I shall address two here:
The first, the most specific: What did the Maya say to make us think that 2012 was the end of the world, or something?
And second, more generally: Why are people attracted to Apocalyptic prognostications like this?

I’ll speak to the latter issue first:
Interviewers always ask, “Harmonic Convergence in 1987, Y2K, and now 2012. So why do people keep predicting The End of the World As We Know It?
I think it springs from Christian ideology, coupled with a sense of helplessness and frustration. The former permeates our culture, religious and secular. Like our ubiquitous year-calendar, the visions of Revelation color all our thinking. Whether we be skeptic or Mennonite, these Apocalyptic visions resonate with us; they are saturate so deeply into our mental landscape we hardly ever notice them. We almost never consider what the world would be like, if as, say, in ancient Greece, we had no concept of End-Times.

(No doubt some alert Reader is going to quote some obscure bit of Diogenes to prove me wrong. Good. I welcome contributions of this type. But no way did Athenians spill as much ink about the End of the World as we do.)
Since Nero’s pogroms in 64 AD, Christians have been comforted by the notion that This World is not the one that counts. We shall be rewarded in the afterlife, if not in direct proportion to our suffering in this one, at least by eternal happiness. (Or, in some circles, 72 virgins.) Most apocalyptic prophecies embody this idea: at least a chosen few will be saved to start afresh in a cleansed world, or carried off in a silver spaceship, or perhaps we all shall be initiated into a Galactic Brotherhood. This comforts us, since we cannot escape tribulation, neither here and now, nor in a coming Deluge.

What is particularly frustrating to most of us is that WE can see the train wreck coming, and are helpless to stop it. From strip-mining forests to overfishing to bovine streroids to selling weapons to rogue states, we are aghast at stupid, stupid choices by powerful people. Those with their hands on our world’s steering wheel, and their feet tromping the throttle, are impervious to our cries of warning. We are riding in a taxicab whose driver is drunk, crazy, heedless. Despair seems our only option.

Along comes a soothing prophecy:
“Don’t worry; in 2012 this will all change. Powers set in motion, millennia ago, will rebalance the world. It’ll be OK.”

Who wouldn’t welcome this Deus ex machina? I wish I could. But I happen to believe that, if there are Creator Gods watching over us, they designed us to solve our own problems. They’re not about to step in and clean up our mess, like Noah’s Flood or the Popol Vuh destructions. Not this time.

The more specific answer to “What did the Maya say about 2012…” is a bit more technical, but simple enough. Bear with me:
1. The Maya had several calendars, as we do. Most are cyclical, again like ours.
2. Their uncyclical calendar, the Maya Long Count, counts time from a specified “zero date”, like our A.D. year-count.

So far, so good?  Nine more factoids:

3. While we count in a decimal system (“base 10”), based on our ten fingers, the Maya counted time in a vigesimal system (“base 20”), because these barefoot tropical-forest dwellers counted their fingers and toes. Our year “2009” counts years since the birth of Jesus (not exactly correctly, but never mind); the Maya counted the days since the gods “Manifested the Hearth”.  (Their metaphor for building World was building a house:  and a place to cook is foremost.)
4. While the Christian/Common beginning date was “1 AD / 1 CE”, we write the Maya “Era Date” as  4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u. They, of course, wrote it in their sublime hieroglyphs; our version is only a crude, convenient echo. They sometimes abbreviated the date to “End of the 13th Pik,” or, more usually, “4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u”. Don’t worry what all the Maya terms mean; I’ll explain them on a need-to-know basis. We call this latter abbreviated date a Calendar Round, or CR.
5. Like a clock just after midnight going to 12:01, then on to 1:00, the Maya Long Count apparently began this Creation at, then, and on up, but reset to instead of
6. The Maya and Aztec myths of Creation both describe several iterations of this world. We are in the fourth Creation, according to the Maya Popol Vuh (the most complete surviving Maya Creation mythology). But we are in the fifth Creation, according to the Aztec Leyenda de los Soles (“Legend of the Suns”: the Aztecs called each Creation a “sun”). Each of the previous Creations ended with annihilation of the population, of the sun and moon, perhaps of Time itself. This implies that they believed this World, too, —our world— was destined to end sometime.
7. The Leyenda de los Soles specifies that each Sun began on a specific cyclic date, such as 4-Jaguar, or 4-Water. This date itself prophesied the character of the era.  Each previous Sun ended on the same cycle date: the “4-Jaguar Sun” began and ended on the day 4-Jaguar, and the “4-Water Sun” began and ended on 4-Water. Likewise the “4-Wind Sun”, and the others. These beginning-and-ending dates were separated by multiples of 52 years, either 6 x 52, 7 x 52, or 13 x 52 years. (It is no accident that 6 + 7 = 13.)
7a.Specifically, the day-name of each Sun foretold the method of its destruction: at the end of the 4-Jaguar Sun, its population was devoured by jaguars. The 4-Water Sun ended in a massive flood. And our Creation, the 4-Earthquake Sun, will end … you can guess. The Mesoamerican calendar was more than a mere method to track Time; it was Destiny.
8. The Aztec Calendar clearly parallels many features of the much older Maya calendar. (Unfortunately, we know much less of the Maya Creation cycle story.) For example, the Maya Long Count begins on a 4 Ajaw date, echoing the 4-Water, 4-Jaguar, etc. (Note, however, that none of the five Aztec Creation dates are 4-Flower, which corresponds to 4 Ajaw. For some reason, the date got changed in translation….)
8a. Also, the Maya Long Count’s begin-date suggests a Creation cycle of 13 Pik (a Pik is 20 x 20 Maya ‘years’ of 360 days), which, perhaps, transformed into the Aztec 13 x 52-year cycle. Another feature distorted in translation. Unfortunately, the Popol Vuh, which details the four Maya Creations, neglects to date any of its events.
9. Combining the peculiar Maya Creation date of with the notion of multiple Creations, many people have deduced that the Maya Long Count has an “end date” of And the End is Near; the upcoming falls on 21st December 2012. (Its CR is 4 Ajaw 3 Uniiw, also known as 4 Ahau 3 Kank’in.)

Combining these three stories, the Maya Creation date with the Aztec and Maya Creation cycles, modern scholars —and others— have deduced the foundation of the 2012 “end date”. This is everything we know. All the rest of the kerfuffle is extrapolation, imagination, wishful thinking.

For a more detailed and colorfully-illustrated account of what the Maya tell us about these Creation cycles, as well as several related issues, please visit my FAMSI website: .

FAMSI has also kindly installed links to archived radio interviews and news items featuring scholars’ voices here: .

For a small fee, I will send you a link to download a digital copy of my 170-page book  2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya.  For a larger fee, you can order a printed copy.
(The book comprises mostly material from the FAMSI website, but in a much more user-friendly format. At this writing, the book is still in press, but will be available soon, soon!)  Order by writing me at .

Please direct comments, questions, reflections, raves, or rants to the same e-dress.

Note: By the way, Nero’s persecutions, which first popularized feeding Christians to lions, led to his characterization as the Antichrist. I read somewhere that his name, rendered in Greek letters (which are also Greek numerals, from 1 – 700), added up to 666. However, when I sought confirmation of this by Googling “666 Nero Beast”, I found several candidates for names with numerological values added up to 666 (including “the Romans”), but Nero’s wasn’t among them. So I added up the letter-values for NERON KAISAR, his usual moniker in Greek, and they only reached 487. His full name, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, has a value far in excess of 666. How anticlimactic.