Today – the longest day of the year for antipodeans like me – the early morning sunlight shining through my east-facing bedroom window falls on the canvases propped near the northwest corner. Over the last six months the sun has traced a path from the end of my bookshelf near the middle of the south wall. Of course it’s not the Sun but the Earth that’s shifted, tilting gradually on its axis. Ubiquitous satellite photos of our small blue planet, the veracity of which we don’t doubt, convey the idea that we live on a perfect sphere, not a squashed one that wobbles as it spins. Yet when do we see images, accurate or not, that contextualise our solar system?
Since the discovery that we orbit the Sun, scientific logic has become our guiding light. And, despite its shadow status, most Western astrology reflects this local (solar) mindset. The ancient Mayan world view took in a much bigger space–time continuum. During the years I made astrology my career (a word that deserves further scrutiny, career – implying a headlong rush more than a contemplative study of cycles), I became immersed in the new-age milieu that supplied me with clients and students. (Before that, I’d been part of the arts scene; the two milieus tend to overlap.) This fringe existence exposed me to a range of alternate world views defined by myth, magic and/or maths; world views based on grand narratives sans loose ends and suffused with love and white light; world views that could, in the eyes of those so inclined, pass for symptoms defined in the DSM-IV* (mainstream psychiatry’s bible).
One cornerstone of new-age philosophy soon to be stress tested involves the implications of the Mayan calendar, most notably explored by José Argüelles in The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology (Santa Fe, Bear & Co, 1987), in which Argüelles argues that Pre-History = Pre-Technological, History = Technological, and Post-History = Post-Technological. Whatever. But his version of history ends very soon: post-history begins on 21 December 2012.† Two+ decades ago this was easier to conceive of. Since then, his theories have been embraced by a counterculture unimpressed with apocalyptic millennial fearmongering. And now, few would deny Argüelles was right that: ‘As the year A.D. 2012 approaches, the planet will be humming and vibrating as never before.’ But here’s another of his predictions:
‘In addition to the improvement of sensual enjoyment, there will be an equal improvement of the capacity for psychic or what are now termed paranormal powers. Indeed, everyone will be a channel—a medium—and what we understand today to be psychic impressions or channeling will be but child’s play compared to our actual potential (p. 190).’
It’s as if Argüelles has anticipated the digital age in a symbolic way. The idea that the net grants its users equality is PC these days. But Mayan calendric sophistication, the basis for his philosophy, didn’t rely on modern technology. The decline of perceptual abilities in today’s digitally fixated humans, documented in a growing body of clinical research,‡ is the antithesis of Argüelles’ vision. He foresaw inner change:
‘Techniques and insights developed by the great mystic traditions will be at the forefront of our activities, and where once we sank in dread for fear of death, we shall come to know again that continuity of being that makes the same wholeness out of each and every one of us (p. 192).’
The rise of neuroscience (with its dogma that consciousness is a product of biology) has sped the erosion of Western belief in an immortal soul. And to ease its dread of death, our culture hides it from sight (as one would from a child), and pursues cosmetic age regression, hi-tech toys and virtual games, the conquest of all fatal ailments, and artificially prolonged fertility/virility (as if there were no population problem) etc. The sort of ‘wholeness’ to which Argüelles refers would require embracing the entire life (and death) cycle, as well as all life forms:
‘Living through our senses, we shall make conscious at last the collective dream-time venerated by the aborigines. As we ride the pulsation waves of our neural circuits, communion will be re-established with the other kingdoms: the mineral, the plant, the animal, and the higher orders of the electromagnetic sea (p. 192).’
Given the rate at which the representatives of these other kingdoms are hurtling towards exhaustion and/or extinction (via coalmining, clear-felling, overfishing etc.), we will indeed need to become channels or mediums to commune with them in the near future – unless we’re vacant enough to settle for virtual substitutes.
* Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition
† This date has been – and remains – hotly contested. Swedish researcher Carl Johan Calleman cites the Mayan calendar end date as 28 October 2011. Since the late ’90s his view has increasingly gained support, with Bear & Co publishing his book The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness in 2004. They’ve also published books by other authors besides Argüelles who cite the 2012 end date. Even if Calleman argues that you can’t have it both ways.
Intriguingly enough, both the Maya and their end date have surfaced, albeit in distorted form, in popular culture – the most notable examples perhaps being Mel Gibson’s brilliant but grisly, historically dubious Apocalypto and Roland Emmerich’s silly, CGI-reliant 2012, respectively. The former portrays the Maya as sadistic savages, ergo their lost culture holds no wisdom that might enlighten us; rather, their downfall sets an example we can’t afford to follow. The latter film is most memorable for its special effects and for plagiarising almost every disaster flick ever made. Apparently, some New Agers believe that the Earth will change polarities when the Mayan long count runs out (but that they’ll survive if they’re in the right place at the right time). 2012 supplies visuals of this: the Earth’s crust sliding around as loosely as a sock on a tennis ball (or the plot) while tsunamis engulf the Himalayas and every hot spot in the States starts erupting. (Wouldn’t clouds of ash preclude the plane flight on which survival hangs?) Predictably, technology (with the help of a failed sci-fi author who can hold his breath underwater) saves what’s left of the human race. No-one experiences any cosmic consciousness shifts; only heroic personality reversals driven by progressively escalating bursts of adrenaline.
‡ Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, Douglas Rushkoff (New York, OR Books, 2010) pp. 64–65. This book contains much practical wisdom for the masses who haven’t yet received messages from the galactic centre.