Global Politics

Guatemala Looking to Cash On 2012 Doomsday Theory

The trailer for the Hollywood film "2012," includes a newscaster announcing that a "mass suicide adhered to the Mayan calendar, which predicts the end of time to occur on the 21st of December of this year."

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It's not just Hollywood. According to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, civilization as we know it only has about 11 months left. December 21, the winter solstice, is the end of a 5,125-year cycle known as the "long count" in the Mayan calendar.

A crescendo of New Age books and websites has helped fuel the rumor that this day will also be our last.

But in Guatemala most people say, forget about it.

"This is an Anglo perspective of the world," said Ernesto Arredondo Leiva, a Guatemalan archaeologist.

He said some misinterpretations and careless predictions have morphed into a 2012 doomsday tale, which he attributes to some pseudo-scientific types engaging in spiritual sport.

"They have their own ideas, and then they use pieces of articles that they've read or parts of knowledge that we know from science, and they just grab it and make a soup with it," Arredondo said.

Mayan scholars and archaeologists agree there's not much evidence showing the ancient Maya predicted a cataclysmic event for 2012.

In fact, the date is mentioned only once — on a 7th century Mayan monument in Mexico. According to one modern translation, the Mayan hieroglyphics carved into that monument mention December 21, "as a time when one of the Gods will come back and he will be present in a big party or a big event," Arredondo said.

That seems to be where a lot of the rumours got started. Some people don't take gods coming back to earth lightly.

The problem is the scholar who translated the glyphs later said he thought his interpretation was probably wrong. After all, the monument was broken and part of the text was missing.

But what do modern-day descendants of the ancient Maya have to say about it?

In a walled-off corridor alongside a busy road on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Carlos Cajchun Osorio recites Mayan prayers as part of a traditional fire ceremony. He's a member of the Association of Maya Priests of Guatemala.

The Maya priests have "offices" here — side-by-side concrete cubicles, facing a row of chimneys. People with marital problems or just in need of a spiritual lift come to request private ceremonies where a priest will pray, and burn sugar, incense and candles as offerings to the creator.

According to Cajchun Osorio, there's nothing in the ancient Mayan texts – at least, the few that survived the Spanish conquest – to suggest the world will be ending this year.

He said it's all a big lie driven by foreign beliefs; it's all about business.

And some people do hope to make money off of the 2012 craze. Moon Travel Guides has produced a special Maya 2012 guidebook covering celebrations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.

In Guatemala, government ministries and tourism industry reps have formed a 2012 committee to promote tourism around the event. They've published a slew of glossy booklets and maps of routes where tourists can experience ancient and modern Mayan culture.

"We saw it as one-time opportunity," said Maro Avecedo, executive director of the Guatemalan Tourism Chamber, and a member of the committee. "We hope it'll be an opportunity for national and foreign visitors to come to Guatemala and learn more about Mayan culture."

The group is also educating tour guides about ancient Mayan calendar cycles. On December 21, government-sponsored celebrations will take place at ancient Mayan ruins across the country.

Modern-day Maya who follow their traditional religion are also likely to celebrate that day, but not with good-bye parties.

Cajchun Osorio, the Mayan priest, said if anything, he hopes the end of this era — and the start of the next — may signify a positive change. He said it's the awakening of the human race, but in a good way.