As part of the lead-up to Centre for Inquiry Ottawa's Eschaton 2012 conference, Celebrating Reason at the End of the World, we are pleased to present Apocalypse When, a series covering some of the many eschatological visions and scenarios that have gained or maintained popularity over the centuries.
- Islamic: Taste the Doom of Fire
- Buddhist: The Dwarf Somalia
- Raëlian: Waiting Room Battle Royale
- Zoroastrian: Hot, Sticky Justice
- Death by Comet Flatus
- The Surf Shop at the End of the World
- Norse: Wolves and Snakes and Eyjafjallajökull, Oh My!
- Y2K: Your Mother Smelled of Subroutines
- Left Behind: Romania Will Rise Again
- Revelation: Thrust In Thy Sharp Sickle
- Nostradamus: Unspecified Event at Unknown Time with Voluptuous Edith
- Mayan: This Magic Skull Goes All the Way to…Zero
Apocalypse #12: This Magic Skull Goes All the Way to…Zero
The giant earth crocodile with mouths at all of her joints.
Giant ape-men with backward feet and hanging intestines that waylay travelers.
The plumed serpent of the sun, wind, and mercy, who raped his human-shaped sister while divinely hammered and still got to keep the "mercy" portfolio, and is also the planet Venus for some reason.
Feeding the sun with the beating hearts of thousands of sacrifices.
And you thought Revelation was sick.
Maya mythology, containing the above mishmash of Mesoamerican traditions to varying degrees, holds that the "age" that began on 11 August 3114 BCE (on our calendar) is the Fifth Age. Each of the previous four ended in a particularly bizarre and disturbing way, here described with Aztec specifics:
- The First Age ended when the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl beat the Black Tezcatlipoca out of the sky, replacing him as the sun and ending life on earth with a swarm of jaguars. They must have been robot jaguars.
- The Second Age ended when Quetzalcoatl disposed of the world's rebellious, irreverent people with a hurricane and gave the sun position to Tlaloc. I think the themes are starting to repeat themselves.
- The Third Age ended when Tezcatlipoca seduced Tlaloc's wife Chalchiutlicue, causing Tlaloc to drown the world in tears followed by a raging rain of fire. I'm beginning to understand why so much old Mesoamerican paganism persists in Hispanic Christianity.
- The Fourth Age ended when the fourth sun, Chalchiuhtlicue, felt the sting of Tezcatlipoca's insults so badly that she cried blood for 52 years, drowning the world again. Just…wow.
- The Fifth Age was set in motion when Quetzalcoatl resurrected his repeatedly-destroyed people and gave the sun throne to Huitzilopochtli, otherwise known as the Aztec god of war, and would end when the gods of the stars, the Tzitzimitl, declare war on and defeat Huitzilopochtli. To keep Huitzilopochtli's strength up, the Aztecs fed him still-beating human hearts by the thousands, because the Aztecs make eating the body of Christ look sane.
Fortunately for the world, this aspect of Mesoamerican religion hasn't made it into 2012 fever, not that one can tell after looking at all of the meticulously inscribed skulls that fill Mexico's tourist traps. This apocalyptic undertone simply resonates underneath the steaming foundation of sensationalistic absurdity that is 21-12-2012 itself.
It's not uncommon to hear, and is entirely true, that the Maya devised one of the most fantastically accurate calendars in human history, complete with an elaborate base-20 place-value system. 20 December 2012 coincides with the end of one of the layers (the ~394-year baktun) and the changing of the next-highest one, making all the lower digits zero, on a calendar designed to continue for about 63 million more years. Kind of like how 31 December 1999 coincided with the end of one of the layers (999) and the increasing of the next-highest one (the millennium going from 1 to 2), making all the lower digits zero, on a calendar that could go indefinitely.
That's seriously it.
The Maya calendar has a bunch of zeroes in it that day, and a new-agey whackaloon named Anthony Argüelles forgot he wasn't Harold Camping and started spouting off gibberish about the Maya's fantastically accurate calendar and how it "ends" on one of the last good shopping days between my dad's 55th birthday and Christmas. His yarns about a "Harmonic Convergence" or wave of mind-changing radiation don't sound much like the rains of fire and blood that accompanied the other ages, but he couldn't get everything right, especially since he kept talking about 1987 and 1992 and a few other years instead of 2012. Sheesh. It's not like he's discovering an ancient prophecy that defines the future course of the world's important events or anything.
Then the tinfoil hats showed up and started pinning every non-specific prediction 21 December 2012, which admittedly does have a nice numerical cadence to it. Thanks to Argüelles, Nostradamus predicted 21-12-2012, Daniel of Revelation predicted 21-12-2012, comet-gas astronomers predict 21-12-2012, geologists predict 21-12-2012, whatever one calls people who follow made-up planets (Mormons?) predict 21-12-2012… Just about the only people who don't predict the end of the world for the 21st are…the Maya themselves.
Because, when the end of the 20th baktun rolled around, they were probably planning on having a party and then turning their Page-A-Days to the 21st, with only that whole "having the remains of their declining empire and most of their cultural heritage burned and pillaged by invaders from across the sea, allied with all of their old enemies from previous empires, reducing them to isolated, 'indigenous' status split across several countries with screwed-up politics for generations" thing making the occasion less than festive. You'd think, if they could predict the end of the world, they would have seen that coming, or at least used the magic crystal skulls that British archaeologists kept pretending they had to summon up anti-gravity machines from Atlantis and lay waste to the invaders with mystical death-curses and Martian flying saucers.
And there we have it. A small sampling of the world's weird and wonderful eschatons, and why they're, the silliest, best excuse for an event celebrating reason, science, skepticism, and critical thinking that the universe has ever known. Welcome to Eschaton2012, and let the festivities commence.