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Counting Down to Timewave Zero

Your friendly guide to the apocalypse

by Josh Potter on December 20, 2012 · 1 comment

This is the end. That much is certain. The end of what, though, remains to be seen.

Tomorrow, on Friday, Dec. 21—the winter solstice—the “long count” of the Mayan calendar is set to expire. For decades, Mayan scholars have argued over what significance this may have had for a people who themselves disappeared rather abruptly from a once-thriving and technologically advanced civilization. Meanwhile, occultists, psychonauts, spiritual seekers, conspiracy theorists, astrologers, transhumanists, Egyptologists, UFO enthusiasts, Burners and all manner of new-age thinkers have gravitated to the date as a mythological fulcrum for the inevitable shift in human destiny meant to transpire during our era.

Some strains of the theory are millennialist and apocalyptic in nature, doomsday scenarios seemingly plucked from the book of Revelation, while others are more abstract and optimistic that the date signifies a shift toward higher frequencies of human consciousness, the death of destructive human agendas and the birth of a more peaceable, unified human species. And along the spectrum you’re liable to find every conceivable theory in between: alien spacecrafts emerging from mountain caves, the activation of the Giza pyramids as spiritual superconductors, the discovery of anti-matter at the CERN particle accelerator resulting in the collapse of space-time, the opening of the Earth’s heart chakra, the massive release of DMT from everyone’s pineal gland resulting in one global psychedelic trip, and on and on.

In the past five or so years, as 12/21/12 drew nearer, these ideas have bubbled up from arcane websites and the books of rogue scholars to take their place in the global mainstream. The “metaphysical” shelf of bookstores is now filled with boutique theories, while the History Channel runs constant pseudo-documentaries on the more sensationalistic aspects of the theory. The idea has received treatment from Hollywood movies and major pop singers. Several world governments, including Russia, France and the United States, have had to issue formal statements on the subject to allay fears. And with the day nearly upon us, all manner of believers, skeptics, journalists and end-of-the-world revelers are descending on Earth’s holy sites at Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu, Giza, Stonehenge, etc., to meditate, pray, wait, observe and “will the transformation” about to take place. Meanwhile, bars and clubs in every city in the world will be hosting some manner of apocalypse party, nearly overshadowing this year’s holiday season (here’s your “war on Christmas,” Fox News), and there’s a slogan circulating on the Internet prophesying the 21st to be the “most annoying day on Facebook ever.”

If pop culture can be viewed as our collective psyche, dreaming up scenarios that have some basis in real human concern as well as the current news cycle, and then externalized through films, books and music to free us of our complexes and preoccupations, then the 2012 myth has become a sort of übermeme. After a decade of apocalypse and post-apocalypse movies, a fetish for zombies and superheroes, seemingly endless world wars, global financial collapse, environmental decay and intensifying weather patterns, technological supersaturation, as well as the proliferation of spiritual practice across the secular Western world, it’s possible to find pretty much any theory, idea or prophesy fulfilled in the Dec. 21, 2012 culmination. The apocalypse is appealing because it makes imminent the urgency and importance of any idea and helps the individual connect with the collective because they each share the same fate.

Like Y2K on ayahuasca, everyone is watching. And regardless of what you believe will happen, that much collective focus on anything is a demonstrably powerful force. Whether the world will cease to exist on the 22nd or one of our culture’s strangest ideas will quietly and uneventfully run its course, this is the end, and the world that awaits on the other side of the solstice will be brand new.

What You Need to Know:

The Mayan calendar is only one piece of the 2012 prophesy but it’s as good as any a place to start. Unlike the Gregorian calendar that the Western world—and by colonial extension through Catholic missionaries, the rest of the world—has been using since the 16th century, the Mayan calendar does not conceive of time as a linear ribbon, simply ticking the days, months and years off as they pass in perpetuity. In keeping with many Mesoamerican calendars, the Mayans believed that time was cyclical and so conceived of a system of concentric calendars to chart solar years, lunar cycles, the rise of other celestial bodies such as Venus, as well as mythological eras. It’s the “long-count” calendar that is of primary importance to 2012 thinkers.

The long count operates on roughly 400-(Gregorian)-year cycles and has been traced back to a creation date on Aug. 11, 3114 BCE. Dec. 21, 2012, will mark the completion of the 13th cycle—or b’ak’tun—since that date. While other cycles of the calendar continue past this date, and most scholars believe the long count too was meant to continue cycling on, the completion of this b’ak’tun was considered an astrologically auspicious event. Mayan cosmology, according to their creation myth the Popol Vuh, suggests that we are living in the “fourth world,” essentially the fourth attempt by the gods to create an enduring human species, after experiments with animals, mud and wood had failed. Humans are believed to be crafted out of corn but were originally made so wise and powerful that a mist had to be blown across our intellect to separate us from the realm of gods.

To some, the culmination of the 13th b’ak’tun and start of the 14th is a referendum on human evolution, our respect for nature and reverence for the gods. What the classical Maya believed would happen on that date, however, and what the fifth world would look like thereafter is unclear—especially since very few descendents of Mayan civilization remain today and the long count calendar had essentially been abandoned when Spanish conquistadors first arrived in the Americas. So the topic has become a great debate between academics, who vehemently downplay doomsday scenarios, and syncretic philosophers who have bundled the Mayan question with other indigenous prophesies and teleological spiritual beliefs.

The most important of the latter has been Terence McKenna. An ethnobotanist by training, McKenna’s research into psychoactive plants such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca, an Amazonian vine brew, made him the heir to Timothy Leary’s psychedelic missionary work. McKenna’s interests, however, trended more toward shamanism and the evolutionary message of these “plant teachers.”

In the early ’70s, these shamanic voyages led to his formulation of Novelty Theory as well as a temporal model of human evolution. He devised a computer program called Timewave Zero that charted “novel” events in human history, occasions of great historical consequence, according to a particular sequence of the I Ching. What the program produced was a fractal graph that found recursive resonance between every novel event and another in its historical past. McKenna had produced a model of time—essentially a calendar—that moved both in a linear and cyclical fashion. Most compelling though was what the timewave projected. As time moves forward, novelty (the complex interconnectivity of the world) increases, resulting in a moment of “singularity” when all information and meaning is available simultaneously, essentially collapsing the known laws of the universe. Furthermore, it is this moment, the “concrescence” or “eschaton” as it’s often called, that is actually pulling time toward it, like the big bang in reverse, the omega point that has always implicitly existed in the course of evolution.

McKenna first projected the date of conscresence to be Nov. 16, 2012, but later changed the date to Dec. 21 when he learned about the Mayan prophesy, assuming their system was more finely calibrated.

Due to McKenna’s prominence as a counterculture and new-age figure, his ideas are probably as responsible, if not more so, for the proliferation of the 2012 conversation as the Mayanists themselves. But there have been plenty of others who have put their own spin on the theme, such as José Argüelles, John Major Jenkins and futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard. Very few of them, though, suggest that wholesale destruction will befall the Earth on the solstice, favoring the notion of an evolutionary paradigm shift. Even while McKenna described the process as a “white-knuckle ride,” it’s only been in recent years that popular interpretations of the date have started to look like the Judeo-Christian apocalypse replete with fire and brimstone. Roland Emmerich’s 2009 disaster movie 2012 is probably the most responsible for this version of the story, but countless others have also cashed in on the fearmongering.

Since McKenna’s death in 2000 (a fittingly ironic turn of events, as he was famous for hedging his craziest bets with ideas of a giggling cosmos and even admitted that the whole timewave might just be his personal trip), the torch has been carried by author Daniel Pinchbeck, who, in addition to reporting on contemporary shamanic practices in his book Breaking Open the Head has helped catapult the post-new-age Burning Man community toward international collaboration with the website Reality Sandwich and social network Evolver.

If McKenna was an eccentric visionary, Pinchbeck is an expect synthesizer of ideas and motivator of people. One of his major contributions to 2012 theory is that the Mayans weren’t the only ancient culture that looked to these times as transitional. The Hopi, for instance, believe humanity to be on the cusp of the “fifth world,” while Hindus of most denominations believe we’re living at the end of the Kali Yuga, a time when material struggle and ignorance will give way to spiritual fulfillment. Invoking mythologist Joseph Campbell and psychologist Stanislav Grof among many others, Pinchbeck’s view in 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl is that humanity is undergoing a mythological birth or initiatory experience, a dramatic, potentially violent event that can open into a new era of life, vitality and wholeness.

Pinchbeck is famous for saying that whatever this transition is has already started happening. He points to environmental destruction and climate change as evidence of a potential cataclysm already in effect and notably predicted the 2008 economic collapse, all the while advocating new monetary systems, open-source community structures, and sustainable design and agriculture as remedial duties we’ve been tasked with in these critical times. Cataclysm, in his view, is only one potential outcome on the collective level, if individuals don’t take responsibility for their lifestyles and endure the mini personal apocalypse of sacrificed greed, hubris and ego. The idea is that crisis is actually a unifying force. Look at the world’s response and mass grief in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and Sandy Hook for evidence of this. Mutual suffering creates solidarity, the foundation for all revolution, and solidarity in thought, word and deed can be a potent tool for transformation.

It’s interesting to watch Pinchbeck’s Facebook activity in these final days before the solstice, commenting on U.N. climate change reports and urging people to let go of ego. He’s never proffered his own opinon of what exactly will occur, but said in his movie 2012: Time for Change that “this question of what’s going to happen in 2012 may just be the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking what we can bring about in this time.”

What Might Happen:

Occam’s Razor suggests that nothing, of course, may objectively occur. Yet, Murphy’s Law, in this case, demands total annihilation. The word “apocalypse” derives from the Greek “to uncover, disclose,” which means that a true apocalypse is a revelation of hidden truth, either through the destruction of some material veil or a more subtle process. Those with a spiritual angle on the solstice tend to insist that human will and directed attention have much to do with what will transpire; apocalypse, after all, is not a spectator sport. While throngs have flocked to Pic de Bugarach in the French Pyrenees, in expectation that UFOs will arise from the strange mountain to ferry people off the dying planet, others insist that “we are the one’s we’ve been waiting for” and urge us to visualize a rainbow bridge encircling the planet.

A common theory, proffered by astrologers and astronomers alike, is that the Earth will come into galactic alignment with the dark rift in the center of the galaxy, a rare occurrence. What this may tip off or synchronize with is the subject of further speculation. Some say a reversal of magentic poles, portended by the mass death of bird flocks and fish schools in recent years. Others suggest a massive solar flare, something Emmerich played on in his disaster movie, with neutrinos bombarding the planet to raise the Earth’s core temperature and tip off all manner of seismic and volcanic chaos. NASA has had to dispute theories that asteroids may pummel the planet on that date or that a dwarf planet called Nibiru or Planet X will suddenly appear on a collision course with Earth (as in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia).

Hewing closer to Mayan prophesy, Pinchbeck wrote at great length about the return of Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent deity that may manifest literally or in an archetypal fashion. Some believe that the pyramids of Chichen Itza are ancient particle accelerators and that, when synchronized with CERN in Switzerland, a great deal of cosmic energy will be channeled into the world. Similarly, the pyramids of Giza are thought to be zero-point energy machines, left here by an alien race to become active on this date (Pinchbeck will, incidentally, be spending the solstice in Giza). And there are myriad other extraterrestrial theories that roughly correspond to the return of the Mayan race.

And then there’s the transhumanist singularity, where all novelty occurs simultaneously, a mass information download to the human consciousness, triggering our transcendence into the age of wisdom or Noosphere, a kind of eternal present moment. This may or may not have to do with the release of DMT and activation of the human third-eye chakra.

Meanwhile, McKenna’s cosmic giggle is LOLing at the very conversation.

What We Can Do:

Don’t freak out. Even if you believe that this is it and Dec. 22 will never arrive, well, there’s not a whole hell of a lot you can do about it at this point. Take B.A. Nilsson’s advice (page 14) and cook up one slamming final feast, or do like horny teenagers in sci-fi movies and go out with an, er, bang. Clubgoing protocol is always to dance like there’s no tomorrow but here’s a chance to party like you mean it (refer to page 24 for suggestions). Might as well put on a good show for our alien saviors, flailing about in gold lamé and neon body paint. If you make it to the other side, take Erin Pihlaja’s advice (page 13) on how to stay alive in our new post-apocalyptic world.

It’s easy to make light of this stuff, as ridiculous and esoteric as it often sounds (irreverence will, no doubt, still figure into the great beyond), but the 2012 myth actually provides a rare opportunity for even the most calloused naysayer to connect through spectacle and shared attention. Think of how powerful a Super Bowl ad is, when viewed by several million eyes, or how quickly a presidential debate can be unpacked with millions live-Tweeting. This 2012 übermeme has that kind of effect on even higher orders of magnitude. Institute of Noetic Sciences researcher Dean Radin has been studying psychic phenomenon for decades, measuring the effect of mass spectacles like the O.J. Simpson trial on the results of random number generators and mass meditation experiements on local crime rates. There’s fairly conclusive evidence that synchronized awareness and intention has a demonstrable effect on collective experience.

By extension, many are calling for people to carve out a small amount of time on the solstice (preferably at the precise moment of 6:11 AM) to visualize an ideal future, meditate on their personal place within that scheme or offer a prayer. One of Pinchbeck’s core decrees is to “live mythologically,” that is, with meaning and in accordance with the great archytypal narratives of human history—to move against the defeatist, cynical notion that our actions and intentions are the fragmentary product of chaos and self-interested gamesmanship. By observing this 2012 phenonmenon, we are, perhaps unwittingly, co-authoring it. So, if the mythological end times don’t provide an opportunity to collectively imagine what comes next on a global level, and we continue to fixate on doomsday, then the prophesy becomes self-fulfilling. In the end, we deserve the fate we choose from one apocalyptic moment to the next.