Waiting for the End of the World in 2012

For nearly twenty five years, December 21, 2012 has been the talk of soothsayers and oracles, all of whom forecast a worldwide event that will, in one way or another, change the face of the planet.

This has led people of every religion to envision their own idea of what may or may not happen at this juncture in time. Christians, of course, presuppose that December 21 could be their long awaited rapture, perhaps ignoring a simultaneous view that the Lord said no one knows the day or the hour.

Similarly, New Age philosophers project that this might just lead to a new wave of metaphysical consciousness, though they remain entirely vague about what this actually means. Alas, with so many people paying attention to their calendars, 2012 has surpassed its status as merely a cultural phenomenon, becoming one of the most anticipated dates in human history.

Certainly there have been widely discussed predictions in the past (Harold Camping’s May 11, 2011; the Y2K scare of January 1, 2000; Pat Robertson’s assurance of an apocalypse in November 1982), but few dated prophecies have truly kept the people of the world on edge for so long or managed to spawn a deluge of viral scenarios about what might happen.

Nostradamus, writing in the Sixteenth Century, was one of the first men to put a specific date on doomsday catastrophes. Through a translation interpreted by Henry C. Roberts in 1969, the elder prophet claims:

“In the year 1999 and seven months, from the skies shall come an alarmingly powerful king, to raise again the great King of the Jacquerie, before and after, Mars shall reign at will.”

It is believed that Nostradamus used his mystical knowledge of the New Testament and Revelation 8:18 to flip the number of the beast (666) upside down, thereby clumsily drafting a specific year for the Lord’s return (i.e., 1-999).

Within only a century, Archbishop James Ussher earned tremendous notoriety for his biblical and well documented mathematical calculations of a 4,004 year history for mankind prior to the birth of Christ (though to be clear, he was not calculating a history of earth itself).

Ussher followed an Old Testament proverb by David, found in Psalm 90:4 and repeated in II Peter 3:8, stating that “one day” would be like a thousand years in the eyes of God. As a lifelong historian, Ussher came to believe that human history would only extend 6,000 years (aka, six thousand-year “days” in view of God’s Creation), culminating in a 1,000 year heavenly kingdom as prophesied in Revelation 20:1-7 (aka, the seventh “day” of God’s rest).

According to his calculations, once mankind reached 6,000 years, on October 23, 1997, either the rapture of the church or the millennial kingdom would begin.

Nevertheless, all of these predictions from Nostradamus to Camping have come and gone, leaving us to be more and more skeptical about anyone who claims to have a date for the end of the world. And this is how we arrive at one of the last great prophecies of the modern era: December 21, 2012.

In August 1987, a gifted painter by the name of Joseph Anthony Arguelles published a book entitled The Mayan Factor, which outlined not only his belief that the Mayans were from outer space (I know what you’re thinking), but that their calendar should replace the Gregorian version used throughout North America.

The only catch, according to Arguelles, was that the Mayan calendar was not indefinite. He claimed, much to the derision of scholars and academics, that his new calendar, which he called Dreamspell, could be calculated with an end date of December 21, 2012. No one was ever quite sure how he arrived at this date, since none of his work had been held accountable, but he was not to be deterred.

As a young man from Minnesota, Arguelles took time to visit the Mayan pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico. A child of the 60s and 70s counterculture, there are those who were close to him who suggest that his ideas and his fascination with ancient symbolism were, in part, a product of LSD and alcoholism. And yet, with every reason to oppose his ideas, people still embraced his cause.

Around the time of his book’s publication in 1987, Arguelles led a global initiative called the Harmonic Convergence, an event that would lead to thousands upon thousands of people gathering at sacred and symbolic locations throughout the planet, all hoping to fend off worldwide destruction. The idea, formed from a vision he had in 1983, garnered such incredible attention that even Johnny Carson took time to poke fun at the so-called convergence during his late night talk show.

Laughs or no laughs, Arguelles had started an international trend among the peace-loving citizens of the earth, many of whom continued to have similar events from year to year, whether he was able to participate or not. And as the World Wide Web took shape in the mid to late 1990s, Arguelles was gradually replaced with the internet’s version of a cultural phenomenon.

No longer did it matter who came up with the theory of 2012. What mattered was that we all had a date for the end; a reason to imagine every possible scenario, however grand or extravagant our collective and individual ideas might be.

In website after website, there was plenty of speculation, but Arguelles was hardly mentioned.  No one knew who he was anymore. And why did it matter? We had an imaginary date for the end of the world; a point in time that we could all affix our attention.

I was first introduced to the growing theories of 2012 while I was attending a small church in Southern Oregon, just outside of Ashland in 1999.  Transfixed by a study of Revelation and caught up with fears of Y2K, the congregation had tunnel vision, focusing on anything and everything that related to “end times” prophecy.

Interestingly enough, Arguelles retired to Ashland, OR until his death in 2011, so there may have been some strands of communication between his New Age theories and those in the church who were clearly mesmerized by each and every clue that might unravel the secrets of the end.

Yet, regardless of his geographic proximity or the source of the church’s prophetic teachings, some of which were biblical and others which were clearly extrabiblical, I left the assembly within just a few months, exhausted from thoughts about the future.

In later years, as I discovered more about the origins of the 2012 theory, part of me felt a close connection with Arguelles. He was born on January 24 in Rochester, Minnesota. I was born on January 24 in Rochester, New York. He had lived in Ashland, Oregon around the time I had lived in Talent, a small town just a few miles down the road.

Perhaps we had crossed paths. Perhaps we had talked and never known it. But try, try as I might, there was simply no way that I could stay entirely on board with his theories. Arguelles believed that 2012 might bring about some sort of intergalactic battle between the Mayans, who were from outer space, and all of humanity, who were subject to the boundaries and limitations of this world.

He believed that global chants, known as “ohms”, might somehow delay the end. And as I studied his ideas over the years, certainly I was prompted to several grand imaginations about what could happen on this eventual date in 2012, but after a while, even the most prophetically minded individuals have to accept that what will be will be.

Today marks an official end to the Dreamspell prophecy, otherwise known as one man’s interpretation of the Mayan Calendar. If Arguelles was correct, then you can be sure you’ve read my final article. If, however, we all wake up unchanged on December 22, the long awaited spell of 2012 will most certainly be over and we can go back to waiting for the end of the world.