Not a book review, cont’d: more thoughts on Barbara Hand Clow’s The Mayan Code and the need for order and meaning…

Two posts back I ran out of time to pursue my line of thought through to a conclusion (assuming that one will be forthcoming). Is this a sign that time is speeding up? Or is my brain slowing down? This might be an interesting question to put to Barbara Hand Clow. Can you or I find evidence for her assertion that time sped up twenty-fold when the period 5 Jan 1999–28 Oct 2011 commenced? Her claim that ‘most people have been feeling very peculiar since 1999 (p. 100)’ doesn’t seem worth debating. (By ‘most people’, does she mean those she knows personally and/or who attend her workshops – group rituals can tend to induce altered states – or is she speaking for the wider world?) Yet, who would deny psychotherapist John C. Woodcock’s assessment that ‘Symbols, or images, or structures that bring order and meaning to our lives … are being destroyed at an accelerating rate’?

How might Hand Clow be resisting this destruction (deconstruction?) of meaning? Firstly, she’s come up with a grand narrative to end all grand narratives (these being a genre that went out of vogue with the advent of postmodernism). The version of the Mayan calendar myth that Hand Clow proffers here encompasses not just Earth but cosmic history (16.4 billion years, according to her sources; the official guess is 15). And, as if the prospect of human enlightenment en masse weren’t enough to absorb, some other truly radical ideas get sampled on fast forward in what Whitley Strieber (the horror writer) calls ‘the definitive book about 2012’. Subtitled ‘Time Acceleration and Awakening the World Mind’, it samples the theories that pulsars are ET information signalling systems, that Christ was Enoch reborn via a process of controlled soul-passage, that angels begat giants of human females before the Flood (9500 BC), and that post-traumatic stress syndrome caused by that cataclysm is blocking human intelligence and locking us into catastrophic thinking. While these skimmed ideas fail to prove her proposition that time will end soon, they do challenge the reader to keep an open mind – in a way that a fictional treatment of the themes could not. Hand Clow cites the success of The Da Vinci Code – the book and the movie – as evidence of the public’s readiness for ‘the truth about everything’ (how might she explain the popularity of Harry Potter?), but adopting the research of others wholesale, and adapting it into a plot, doesn’t make Dan Brown a credible historian.

The spell that The Mayan Code casts over me, despite (or because of?) its gaps and contradictions, can be explained in part by Marina Warner, a genuine historian (and novelist and critic). In her landmark work From the Beast to the Blonde (1994), Warner writes: ‘Fairy tales typically use the story of something in the remote past to look towards the future, their conclusions, their “happy endings” do not always bring about total closure, but make promises, prophecies. … The genre is characterized by “heroic optimism” [Hand Clow’s heroes are new paradigm researchers / modern philosophers]... The prodigies… [disguise] the stories’ harshly realistic core… The enchantments also universalize the narrative setting, encipher concerns, beliefs and desires in brilliant, seductive images that … [make] it possible to utter harsh truths, to say what you dare. [Hand Clow is suitably scathing re the Bush administration!] The disregard for logic, all those fairytale non-sequiturs and improbable reversals, rarely encompasses the emotional conflicts themselves: hatred, jealousy, kindness, cherishing retain an intense integrity throughout (pp. xvi–xvii).’

Having been raised on such hypnotic tales, I want to believe Hand Clow’s. And my doubts don’t stop me spinning a few of my own; I’ve reopened a fairytale project that’s ripened in my bottom drawer. As compact as short stories, they can rival novels in scope and/or plot; minimal detail makes such compression possible. Characters are defined only by archetypal features: the youngest, the most beautiful, the wickedest, the third or thirteenth. More than one reversal or metamorphosis tends to occur. And all within an internally consistent alternate world.

This is one of the prodigious tasks the novelist takes on: the creation of a world that’s convincing by virtue of its internal consistency, with a coherence that the outer world lacks, and which therefore, however complex, grossly simplifies lived reality. When I sloughed the skin of astrological consultant, whose job (from the clientele’s viewpoint) is to map order onto a chaotic universe, I turned to the challenge of how to order a fictional narrative; harder than writing about current world events or case histories, narratives grounded in objective facts. Myth is the history of the soul, according to cultural historian/poet William Irwin Thompson in The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light (1981). As that title implies, his themes (if not his style) overlap with Hand Clow’s (a topic that might be fun to come back to). And it turns out that by making my own history grist for the fiction mill, I give form to a personal myth that reflects a universal one. As I dramatise, say, a descent into madness, Persephone, Hades and other gods surface to constellate in one of infinite possible, yet distinct, variations; a version of my own past yields an archetypal scenario with its attendant scope for recognition, catharsis and integration (the antithesis of commercial fiction churned out for consumers who just want escapism). But hey, I’m an introvert.

An extrovert, Hand Clow has authored a saleable, formulaic, one-size-fits-all What-If with lots of bells and whistles obscuring a fast-approaching use-by date. Her neatly packaged myth would suit new-age seekers who lack time to do their own research, because it fits history no better than the glass slipper fitted the ugly stepsisters; Hand Clow revisions the past no less than Perrault tweaked ‘Cinderella’ – ‘history’ being a narrative strung together from endlessly shape-shifting facts (and so the fancy coach of, say, hardcore Darwinism is fast becoming a mouldy old pumpkin). Like many a romance (or a Dan Brown novel?), The Mayan Code fits the fairytale genre: Once upon a time, three wise researchers unearthed (and published masterworks on) the Mayan calendar’s meaning, initiating a race against time and the forces of darkness (warlords, Big Pharma). And if we wake from our sleep on cue, we’ll all live happily ever after. Hand Clow envisions the return of the feminine, not the coming of a rescuing prince. An enlightened state, for her, means communion with nature.

There’s a way you can test the premise of Hand Clow’s text without even reading it. Today – 11 Feb ’11 – marks the start of the last of nine cycles of time, all of which will allegedly end on 28 Oct ’11. As of now, time should quicken by a factor of 20 – enough that it’s unlikely you wouldn’t notice. So if you don’t, one or more of the following may apply:

a) Mayan researchers have miscounted
b) They’ve misinterpreted ancient inscriptions
c) You’re too sceptical to experience the flow of time directly
d) You’re vibrating so fast, you’re already enlightened
e) Other

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One Response to Not a book review, cont’d: more thoughts on Barbara Hand Clow’s The Mayan Code and the need for order and meaning…

  1. Pingback: Conspiracy theory & magic realist fiction – metaphor made literal | observer of times

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