By Drew Hayden Taylor
Originally published in January 2013
To quote the musical group REM “It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).” And I actually do feel fine.
As I am sure you’ve heard, according to doomsday enthusiasts, the end of it all was Dec. 21 (after press deadline). This was when civilization, reality, the world, mortgage payments, Christmas specials, were all to come to an end due to some apocalyptic sneeze that nobody seems to know much about.
I am sure you heard about it. It was in all the papers. They even made a movie about it staring John Cusack. And, as is usually the case, Native people have been given the blame, this time for the end of existence. See what happens when you take too long settling land claims!
According to rumour, the Mayan cyclical calendar, known as the b’ak’tun officially ended on this winter’s solstice. That’s certainly one excessive way to avoid Christmas shopping. Two thousand years ago, the Mayans created a number of highly sophisticated city-states throughout central America, where they had the time and intelligence to make brilliant astronomical observations and calculated amazingly accurate mathematics and calendars.
There’s even evidence that they created the concept of the zero all by themselves which to me and to you might not seem all that amazing, but supposedly to scientists that’s something pretty remarkable. So they bring some pretty impressive credentials to the art of calendar making.
Theories as to how the apocalypse would happen included a runaway planet suddenly smashing into the Earth. Unlikely, as it would have been spotted years ago as it approached. Then there’s the sun developing massive solar storms toasting us in our orbit. One NASA scientist responding to doomsday questions said this scenario was highly unlikely, that the sun was acting quite “wimpy” leading up to doomsday.
Other notions included the Earth’s magnetic poles might reverse or the world will somehow travel almost 30,000 light years and fall into a black hole at the centre of the galaxy. Those darn Mayans.
I wonder if Michael Stipes and the rest of the REM group were Mayan? I must check Wikipedia.
The problem is, Mayan and non-Mayan scholars were telling people to essentially ‘forgetaboutit’. As we headed toward doomsday, Guatemala and the Yucatan were not full of Mayans digging survival bunkers or bomb shelters in the jungle. The expiry dates on their milk went way past Dec. 21.
Remember how your mother always told you to wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident? Well, on Dec. 21 you could have worn your dirtiest pair ‘cause not much was going to happen on a planetary level. It was much ado about nothing.
They said the best way to understand this non-issue was to look at the calendar you have hanging on your wall or the daytimer on your desk, with your dentist’s appointment listed and the birthdays of your kids circled in red. Those calendars, called the Gregorian calendar, end on Dec. 31 (unless you’ve got one of those 16-month calendars, then never mind). So following the logic in this case, does this sudden lack of numbered days indicate the world will end on New Year’s Eve?
No, you are saying while rolling your eyes. It just means it’s time to get a new calendar. That is essentially the same concept as what happened with the Mayan calendar. All calendars are cycles and all cycles end, until a new one is started up. The Mayans never got around to developing that new calendar, what with the collapse of their civilization and all. Even though they were brilliant with calculations, they never anticipated the silliness that would happen centuries in the future when people with entirely too much time on their hands would notice the Mayan calendar was running out. How rude of the Mayans.
I guess the Mayans aren’t totally to blame. If anybody’s curious, the Ojibway have their own theories about when the end of the world will happen. There’s a short story called “The Nine Billion Names of God” that theorizes that the only reason we are put on this earth is to list all the names created to express God. And, in the story, when this super computer has accomplished this, in the sky, one by one, each of the stars started to disappear. The Ojibway believe something similar. When the last land claim is settled and signed, one by one, each of the government officials, each of the lawyers, each of the chiefs, will one by one disappear (or become a civil servant).