01/12/2012 12:07 pm ET

2012 and the Spirit of the Age

Whether the ancient Mayans intended it or not, the end of their calendar coincides with a profound turning point in human civilization.

This comprises what Carl Jung called a synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence.

Synchronicities are, by their very nature, impossible to ignore. They are unexpected coincidences that seem to hint at the existence of some hidden order to the universe, an acausal orderedness, as Jung labeled it. They are meaningful coincidences because they link inner psychological-spiritual states to external physical events in such a way that something new is created -- a new relationship between inner and outer realities, a new range of possibilities, a new sense of the Whole and our place in it.


The beginning and ending dates of the Mayan Calendar were intended to be symbolic, not historical. By tradition, the current calendar began on August 11, 3114 B.C.E., when the previous calendar ended and the gods created this world of human beings. This is a symbolic Founding Date, setting in motion the calendar that comes to an end on December 21, 2012. Because tradition dictates that another 5,125 year calendar follow the one that is ending, this Winter Solstice of 2012 marks the Founding Date of a new age of creation.

In other words, endings are established in order to initiate times of Starting Over. This is an important psychological and cultural need, marking the mature ability to recognize when mistakes have led us in the wrong direction and decisions must be corrected by making a radical and positive departure from the past. This is simply the modern practice of "making New Year's resolutions" embodied in a deeper order of psychological-spiritual complexity: recognizing a dead end when we come to it, we exercise the only real choice we have and reverse course to look for a living road. By means of the sacred calendar, the ancients formalized endings so that symbolic beginnings could renew the human spirit and restore social cohesion.


Today, we are dying of history. Our collective story is one of wrongs and revenge that cannot be forgotten or forgiven. We are imprisoned in a collective vision of pain and grieving for what we have lost when the prison cells have all been unlocked and the walls collapsed long ago: the will to keep up the cycle of revenge is becoming more difficult to sustain when we see what we could be creating instead.

Whether the ancient Mayans intended it or not, the end of their calendar coincides with a profound turning point in human civilization.

The Spirit of the Age has been Reason -- which has come to mean The Age of Materialism -- and it is Reason that appears to be the focus of our present turning point. The logic of the intellect has given us a scientific materialism full of technological wonders capable of large-scale harm to the environment and society both: not only are species and their habitats disappearing at an alarming rate but people are alienated from nature and one another in ways unimaginable just a few generations ago. Governments declare wars that people do not want, armies stockpile nuclear and biological weapons too horrible to seriously contemplate, speculators ruin economies and people's well-being, people are starving world-wide and lack potable water when neither is necessary, and basic health care is withheld by modern practitioners who simultaneously do everything in their their power to discredit traditional forms of medicine. Politics and religion simply polarize people instead of bringing them together and personal liberty increasingly comes under pressure from the demands for security. This is not, in a word, the world any of us want to live in.

The intellect can justify anything, can rationalize any type of behavior, can explain away anything we are doing.

But it cannot make us happy.

Because human happiness occurs despite reason, despite the intellect's unending parade of excuses to accept dwelling in misery.

And human happiness is an ideal that more and more people across cultures are holding dear.


The 2012 meme really came into being with Jose Argeulles and subsequently Terence McKenna, both of whom lent their considerable intellectual and creative capacities to the envisioning of a more positive and harmonious world. Arguelles was responsible for organizing the first Earth Day, for example and McKenna was once introduced by Timothy Leary as one of the five or six most important people on the planet. Both men were instrumental in bringing the 2012 date to public awareness and tying it to their own efforts to transform human consciousness and, thereby, civilization in a positive way. For this reason, the 2012 meme became early on associated with the the New Age movement.

These ideas surfaced as the works of Carlos Castaneda were really taking hold in popular awareness, his tales of the Yaqui shaman Don Juan introducing Western readers to the lifeway of Native American shamanism in present-day Mexico. Interest overall, in the U.S. and Europe both, increased in regard to Native American beliefs, especially regarding shamanism, drumming, sweat lodges, journeying, and soul retrieval. The underlying worldview of animism -- that all matter is imbued with spirit -- began pervading popular thought just as the environmentalist movement began to blossom: people began feeling their kinship with nature instead of merely thinking about it. This formed a perfect confluence of great rivers of thought as the nature mysticism of ancient Taoism and Zen also captured hearts and imaginations.

The monotheistic religions that had held sway for so long began to lose their appeal as people began turning to more traditional earth-centered belief systems. Esoteric traditions from the Old World were finding their way into popular culture, reviving wide-spread interest in Astrology, Tarot, the Cabala, Magic, and Wicca. All this arose as the feminist movement gained ground, spurring interest in cultivating personal power instead of expending external force. Tibetan Buddhism entered our consciousness in a very real way as monks escaping the Chinese invasion began actively teaching in the West. The Dalai Lama embodied a new model of how someone titled His Holiness ought to think, believe, and act. The West was rediscovering the Heart.

The idea of real democracy, not one nation's copyrighted definition of democracy, has sunk in and is proving difficult to uproot: in a world of peers, how can the disparity of wealth by justified? when all cultures are created equal, can might really equal right?

Popular culture has changed. What had seemed exotic had become natural, the new normal. People form communities across vast distances, tied together by common ideals and purposes instead of physical proximity. Invention, creativity, beauty, elegance, and spirituality have become ideals and purposes rather than self-interest, competition, nationalism, and religious zealotry.

The momentum of change has intensified and its direction is away from empty promises and dead rituals and inhumane logic.


Whether the ancient Mayans intended it or not, the end of their calendar coincides with a profound turning point in human civilization.

The issue at hand is not whether the end of the Mayan Calendar predicts anything. The real issue is that it coincides with so much change on a global scale.

Civilization itself is changing. Instead of engaging in a culture war with the antiquated worldview of religious extremism and national militarism and fetishized capitalism, people worldwide are simply moving on with life. Letting go of the past, forgiving the wrongs done them, hoping for forgiveness for the wrongs they have done, envisioning a better world rising from the mistakes of the Age of Reason -- the worldview of the global counterculture is constructive and filled with goodwill toward all. It is a counterculture poised to become the global culture.

The whole "world ends in the year 2000" was simply too full of fundamentalist trappings to capture this culture's thinking. But the Mayan Calendar, filled as it is with mystery and mathematics, steeped in the Pre-columbian civilization of the Native Americans of ancient Mexico, expressed with such magnificent artwork! This is a symbol that excites and inspires the Spiritual Left to compassionate action, one that infuses animists and nature mystics with the promise of restoring the natural balance between humankind, nature and spirit, an umbilical cord tying the lifeway of indigenous peoples to the lifeway of modern peoples.

The Winter Solstice of 2012 will pass, a symbolic milestone that initiates another 5,125 year period of human civilization. The world will be a completely transformed place when next the 13 baktuns of the Mayan Calendar come to an end. Be assured, people will celebrate that milestone, for the Mayan Calendar is one of the great achievements of the human spirit -- what, if anything, of these days, of our deeds, will those people 5,000 years from now remember?

If the years leading up to this point are any indication, they will remember us for founding an age of peace and prospering for all.

* * * * * * *

The Toltec I Ching, by Martha Ramirez-Oropeza and William Douglas Horden, is published by Larson Publications. It recasts the I Ching in the symbology of the Native Americans of ancient Mexico and includes original illustrations interpreting each of the hexagrams. Its subtitle, "64 Keys to Inspired Action in the New World," hints at its focus on the ethics of the emerging world culture.

Go to the main site to see sample chapters, reviews and the link to Larson Publications for ordering the book.

Two companion volumes, The Five Emanations, and The Spiritual Basis of Good Fortune, have recently been published that expand on carrying the practices forward in the modern world.