Friday, December 21st, it’s said that the Maya calendar will end and some terrible cataclysm will befall the earth. As it turns out, the calendar doesn’t end; it merely rolls over to the next baktun. December 20th will be 188.8.131.52.19 in the Maya calendar, and December 21st will be 184.108.40.206.0. So on one hand, there’s nothing to see here. But on the other hand, there is a fascinating story behind the significance of 220.127.116.11.0 and the start of the 13th baktun.
The Popul Vuh, which is the Maya Book of the People, tells the story of four different creations. The two most important gods in the story are Heart of Sky and Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent. Another of the gods is called The Framer and The Shaper. Together, these gods are known as the Forefathers. Heart of Sky is himself described as a trinary god, made up of Thunderbolt Huracan, Youngest Thunderbolt, and Sudden Thunderbolt. Plus there are also other gods called She Who Has Borne Children and He Who Has Begotten Sons. Great White Peccary also has a minor role among the Maya gods, but that’s not really relevant to the end of the world.
In the first creation, Heart of Sky, together with Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent, created animals. But the Forefathers wanted to be praised for their work, and the animals had no voices. As much as the Forefathers cajoled the animals, all they could do was grunt and growl. This wasn’t good enough, so the Forefathers created people out of mud. The problem was that these mud people were too delicate. They washed away in the rain, and they dissolved when they fell into water. Thus, they were also unable to praise the Forefathers. Eventually, the Forefathers grew tired of this, and they destroyed the mud people.
Next, the Forefathers created wood people. The wood people were more durable, but they lacked intellect and they refused to praise the Forefathers. When the Forefathers grew angry with the wood people, they were destroyed in quite a gruesome manner. Their limbs were broken and they were burned with fire. A great flood of resin rained down upon the wood people, and when they tried to escape, their houses collapsed on top of them. Even their own cooking utensils rose up and crushed the faces of the wood people. There is more face crushing in the Popol Vuh than there is eye gouging in King Lear.
After the destruction of the wood people, there was a bit of an interlude where the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque defeated Vucub Caquix (Seven Macaw). They also defeated both sons of Vucub Caquix, the second of whom was Cabracan, the wrecker of mountains. Even more importantly, they tricked the Lords of Xibalba (the Maya underworld) into allowing themselves to be killed. Thus, Hun-Came (One Death) and Vucub-Came (Seven Death) were defeated, leading to the downfall of Xibalba. An interesting side note is that the mother of the Hero Twins was herself the wife of Gathered Blood, who was one of the minor Lords of Xibalba. But, I digress.
Finally, the Forefathers created corn people. The corn people were strong and handsome. They praised the Forefathers. They built cities, formed nations, and established a civilization. As you can see, the corn people pleased the Forefathers much more than the mud people and the wood people ever did.
Oh, by the way, we are the corn people.
What does all this have to do with the 13th baktun? Quite a bit. The destruction of the wood people and the creation of the corn people is recorded as being on 18.104.22.168.0, but this date is also recorded as 22.214.171.124.0 because the calendar was reset after the new creation. This has generated speculation that the destruction of the mud people and creation of the wood people also occurred on a date of 126.96.36.199.0, at which point the calendar was reset to 188.8.131.52.0 again.
According to some Maya artifacts, it seems like the Forefathers usually give their people until the start of the 13th baktun to prove their worth. And at that point, if the Forefathers are displeased, they destroy creation and start over again. That’s where the December 21st, 2012 story comes from. The calendar doesn’t end then, but it is still a very important date in Maya mythology.
So, considering the fact that most of you are hearing all this for the first time, and have probably made the Forefathers quite angry in one way or another, you’d better hope that The Framer and The Shaper is still pleased with the actions of the Maya people, because if he isn’t, there are going to be some very angry kitchen appliances coming to get all of us on Friday morning.