Silver-level article2012 apocalypse

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The Apocalypse is ongoing. Please stay inside your homes.
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The 2012 apocalypse is the belief that civilization as we know it will come to an end in 2012. This bizarre idea was inspired by the Mayan calendar,[1] which completes a cycle on the day corresponding to our Gregorian calendar date of December 21st 2012 CE.

The belief that this is a prediction of the world ending is something akin to believing the world is going to end on December 31st 1999 because the year 2000 starts with a 2 instead of a 1. An even more apt description is that it is the equivalent of believing the world will end on December 31 because you have to throw away this year's calendar, and go out and buy a new one for next year. Modern-day Maya find this all utterly ridiculous, furthering the irony of anyone who submits to noble savage crap anymore.

A number of pop culture books and websites have tried to give this idea some scientific support,[2] but as per normal with pseudoscience, only the evidence that fits the belief is cited.

The idea is taken very seriously in China where elderly people have been persuaded to part with their life savings and also in Chile. [3]


How we know this is rubbish

Predictions of the end of the world happen, quite literally, all the time. No single one has ever come true, and no single one has ever been based on more evidence than the other. The date "predicted" by the Mayan calendar (though see below for why this isn't really right, either) has simply been shoehorned into existing doomsday predictions - from killer comets to apocalyptic planetary alignments. None of this is new - it's been said before and will undoubtedly be said again about another date which will also not come true. It's a pretty good, solid and reasonable inference that this trend will continue all the way up to 2013 starting without incident.

The Mayan calendars

To calculate the date of the supposed "end of the world", proponents (read: wackjobs) consulted three Mayan calendars :

  • The 260 day long calendar called Tzolk'in, which is used for religious ceremonies and is divided into 20 weeks of 13 days.
  • The 365 day long calendar called Haab', which is used for planting crops.
  • The Long Count calendar.

There is a fourth calendar based on Venus, but that calendar isn't important to the apocalypse.

Once every 52 Haab' cycles, the Haab' cycle and Tzolk'in cycle begin on the same day. This is known as a "calendar round." As a result the Maya could only record dates for 18,980 days (about 52 years),[4] one for each day in the round, which should have seen the average Mayan through most of his or her life. However, being extremely pedantic people, this wasn't enough days for the Maya, so they created the Long Count calendar.

The Long Count calendar counts the number of days since Creation (described by Maya mythology as August 11, 3114 BCE) in base twenty, with two exceptions.

The Maya were highly advanced mathematicians who used their toes when counting.
  • August 11, 3114 BCE is on the Long Count.
  • August 12, 3114 BCE is
  • August 30, 3114 BCE is
  • August 31, 3114 BCE is

The second number from the right, the uinal, only goes to 18. As 18 times 20 is 360 days, or 1 tun represents approximately one year.[5] The fifth number or baktun,, is numbered 1 - 13 for no clearly obvious reason. Upon reaching, the calendar then ticks back over to

The official use of this calendar began December 20, 2012 CE will be and December 21st 2012 CE will be (shock horror) - the completion of one "Grand Cycle".

According to the Mayan creation myths, we are living in the "4th world." The third is said to have ended on, and likewise, according to the apocalyptomaniacs, will the fourth. This is the origin of the notion that something will end on this date.

The Maya themselves thought it was important enough to record events, such as eclipses, that would occur after December 21st 2012 CE, so they didn't seem worried. In fact, the Maya had a unit of time - the alautun - which corresponds to about 63 million years, or on the Long Count (told you they were pedantic). Other temple markings seem to indicate that this may be a short-hand version of the calendar, as at least one temple puts August 31, 3114 BCE as If this number is days since the universe began, the Maya had a much higher estimate than what is currently agreed upon. (In case you haven't noticed yet, the Maya were dead keen on the numbers 13 and 20.) What a coincidence, the year after the Mayan end of the world is 2013. But that makes no sense, therefore we must not notice this fact. They definitely did not expect the world to end in 2012.[6]

Interestingly enough, although not coincidentally, 11:11 December 21, 2012 UTC is when the Winter (or if you don't live on the Mayan side of the equator, Summer) Solstice will occur; so you might want to have a quick look up at the sky at that point.

Modern Maya

Modern Maya — the descendants of the people who made the calendar in question — do not believe this whole story about a doomsday. They simply consider this year to be the beginning of a new era in a manner comparable to the calendar going from AD 1999 to AD 2000. Like rational people from other cultures, they probably expect lots of parties and a general lack of planes falling out of the sky.

Maya scholars, who actually specialise in Mayan culture, consider the woo merchants to be a bunch of scammers and are looking forward to December 22, 2012, when they can stop answering bloody stupid questions from idiots.

The apocalypse claim

Origins in proper anthropology

In 1966, Michael D. Coe, an anthropologist, "ambitiously"[7] stated in his book The Maya[8] that:

There is a suggestion...that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the thirteenth [b'ak'tun]. Thus...our present universe [would] be annihilated when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.

Coe's date was December 24, 2011. He revised to "11 January AD 2013" in the 1980 second edition of The Maya, settling on December 23, 2012 in the 1984 third edition. The first person to match to December 21, 2012 was Robert J. Sharer in his 1983 revision of The Ancient Maya by Sylvanus Morley.

Coe's assertion that the end of the Maya calendar was a prophesy of the end of the world was accepted by other Maya scholars through to the early 1990s. However, other researchers (e.g. Linda Schele and David Freidel in 1990) came to the conclusion that while the end of the 13th cycle would perhaps be a cause for partying like it's the Maya 1999, it did not prophecise the end of the world. The notion passed from scholarly acceptance. And that's where it should have ended.

Adoption by the New Age

Unfortunately, the psychedelic end of the hippie culture had already picked up on it. Terence McKenna wrote about it in The Invisible Landscape - Mind Hallucinogens and The I Ching (1975), a book about the stupendous quantities of drugs he and his brother were taking at the time. Frank Waters, in Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness, tied Coe's 2011 date to Hopi prophecies and astrology. José Argüelles (who later originated Earth Day) wrote of it in The Transformative Vision and listed the currently popular date, 2012-12-21, in his 1987 book The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology. He claimed that, on this date, Earth would pass through a great "beam" (of some sort) from the centre of the galaxy, and that the Maya had aligned their calendar to predict this event.

The 2012 notion was visible in the fringes of New Age and anyone who could get a coherent sentence out of McKenna for many years. It went more mainstream with Daniel Pinchbeck pushing the idea as hard as possible since 2003, culminating in his 2006 bilge 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, tying the earlier theorists' work into crop circles,[9] alien abduction, and channelling entities whilst on drugs. The History Channel also cemented its reputation for hard-headed factual exposition with a 2006 show on the subject.

Once it had gained some momentum by the mid-2000s, it was all-in. Even Dan Brown used it (in The Lost Symbol), the truly objective measure of a conspiracy theory having jumped the shark.


Various unlikely, if not completely impossible, geological and astronomical events have been put forth as possible causes of the apocalypse, such as: the return of aliens who supposedly made the pyramids;[10] magnetic pole reversal;[11] near miss by hidden planet;[12] or astrological alignment with the galactic center.[13] The only common threads are scientific ignorance and wishful thinking.

The "Planet X" hypothesis may be the most laughable. Any blurry, slightly round object in an astronomical photo is claimed to be an image of the elusive world. Apparently, the near-miss of Planet X will cause the Earth to stop rotating for several hours, then re-start. Gravity (and angular momentum, for that matter) can do whatever you want it to... when you're batshit insane.

The pole reversal hypothesis is based on very real evidence of magnetic pole reversal in the past. Volcanic rocks are regularly observed to have magnetic field lines not pointing in the direction they should if the north magnetic pole had been where it is at the time of their formation. By dating rocks, it's been determined that the poles have reversed numerous times in the past. This process is poorly understood, but it's generally assumed to take hundreds to thousands of years for a reversal, not overnight. Doomsayers, however, predict that the reversal will be sudden, and that various ill effects will take place, such as increased influx of solar radiation (plausible) or, once again, that the earth will stop rotating for several hours, then re-start in the opposite direction (a violation of the law of the conservation of angular momentum).

The galactic center thing is pure bullshit astrology. Something about the earth, the sun, and the galactic core making a straight line at the solstice. "Planetary alignments" such as these are not terribly uncommon events on the cosmological timescale (in fact, many are inevitable due to orbital resonance), and the solar system has never collapsed in on itself because of them.[14]

NASA scientist Dr. Tony Philips predicted large solar storms in 2012.[15] However, the world was not destroyed last time these occurred in 1958, nor did Philips suggest that it will this time.

Terence McKenna suggested that the key to understanding 2012 is "timewave zero," a numerological formula for "novelty," defined as increase in the universe's organised complexity over time. Apparently, the universe has a teleological attractor at the end of time that increases interconnectedness, eventually reaching a singularity of infinite complexity in 2012, at which point anything and everything imaginable will occur simultaneously.[16] McKenna achieved this insight over several years' consumption of psilocybin and DMT in the 1970s.

Scientific proof

Unlike most pseudoscientific beliefs, the 2012 Apocalypse contains a falsifiable prediction that can be tested by the scientific method. For practical reasons, scientists have been unable to perform this test as yet. Scientific evidence is, however, expected to be available in the near future.[17]

Outside science

Pop culture

A major film was released by Columbia Pictures in November 2009, imaginatively titled 2012.[18] Unfortunately, it was quite successful. It was directed by Roland Emmerich (known for also directing Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow), so it is an understated, character driven romance against the backdrop of a well researched and realistic scenario of political intrigue and upheaval... well, maybe not.

The viral marketing for the film was criticized for lending too much weight to crackpot conspiracies about the end of the world.[19] The reason behind the apocalypse according to the film's "science" was that neutrinos coming from the sun had somehow mutated,[20] although curiously this sort of explanation is absent from most predictions about the 2012 end-of-the-world will occur. Now, the fact that this "mutating neutrino" stuff is total bullshit[21] - or, at least, "mutation" with respect to neutrinos certainly isn't as depicted - is beside the point; the film depicts neutrinos managing to heat up the Earth's core and boil underground water reserves, much like microwaves do, yet the human bodies standing around it (which are mostly made of water) don't seem to adversely affected. Don't worry, the finale of Batman Begins makes pretty much the same mistake.

"Mockbuster" film studio The Asylum - most famous for its film Mega Shark and its horrific knock-offs of popular movies including The Day The Earth Stopped and Transmorphers - did not just one, but three knock-offs of 2012 for your bad-movie-night-viewing pleasure. 2012: Ice Age ripped off The Day After Tomorrow, 2012: Supernova seemed to tear apart (actually decent sci-fi) Sunshine and 2012: Doomsday was a straight up Mayan apocalypse-of-epic-but-low-budget-proportions. There's a good case to be made that these three films are the very worst thing that the 2012 apocalypse phenomenon has caused.

The film The X-Files notes 12/21/12 as the day aliens return to Earth, foreshadowing an unknown doom. This did not prevent producers from releasing a not-nearly-as-good sequel.

Occultist/comic book writer Grant Morrison has regularly referenced the possibility of a 2012 apocalypse in his work, although usually in an Age of Aquarius-style paradigm shift rather than a literal end-of-the-world scenario - it was the major plot device used in The Invisibles, appears in his work on Batman and is at least referenced in nearly everything else he writes. In interviews, Morrison has admitted that he finds the idea of anything at all happening unlikely, but finds the idea compelling from a creative standpoint.[22]


A much more dire apocalypse would've been triggered by the election of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin or Minnesota congressthing Michele Bachmann to the White House in 2012. Luckily, that didn't happen.

Some idiot,[23] who claims he is a "trend forecaster," is predicting an economic Obamageddon will occur in 2012.[24]


Jack Van Impe, fresh from his success predicting the rapture in Y2K, now says the Great Tribulation will start in 2012.[25]


The Pleiadians, a purportedly friendly bunch of aliens with an intense interest in the planet Earth, will arrive and their mission is to help us. All this evil disaster stuff is the type of nonsense that frightens children.[26] Referring to Edgar Cayce's opinion, the Pleiadian interest in Earth stems from the following:

Cayce is informing us that in a previous time cycle, humanity had a level of consciousness and relationship with the Creative Forces that allowed us to live at higher levels of material, mental, and spiritual activity in the Earth and beyond. Unfortunately, we misused this consciousness and the power that came with the close relationship to the Forces. This misuse brought on the destruction of our great cultures and a long, karmic soul journey through the pain and confusion that resulted from our selfishness and self-centered focus on our will without regard for the will of the Creator and others. Now, as the cycles come around again, we are nearing a time when the level of consciousness and relationship with the Creative Forces will allow us once again to regain these powers.

Which all sounds very impressive, but the plot of Battlestar Galactica is much better.


Prophecies, such as the prediction of a coming apocalypse, apparently have no place in Odinism - but swap a few vowels around and apparently they can place a central part of Wodenism.[27] According to Woden's Folk - a border-line racist, English neopagan sect - 2012 will see Ragnarok and the coming of the Hooded Man and Heimdall, and the brave will go to Valhalla.[28] One poster on the Woden's Folk board was pretty adamant that the apocalypse would have a very Anglo-Saxon-cum-Norse flavour:[29]

Ragnarok comes in three years... We prepare for the coming of the Hooded Man and Heimdall, reject the 'hobbyist' Odinist/Asatru gorups who want to 'dress up' as Vikings.

It looks set to be a very crowded apocalypse.

What will really happen

The Olympics were held in London, and the worst thing that happened were a few empty seats after some sponsors didn't bother using their tickets. There was an election in November, again uneventful. Economic basket-case Greece didn't blow up. "Snooki" - whatever one of those is - apparently reproduced.[30] The Hobbit movie was released, no impending doom there either. All-in-all, 2012 was a bit shitty, but we're still here. The Earth will definitely and definitively end sometime within the next 7.5 billion years.

A major side-effect of the doomsday predictions have little to do with what external forces could actually destroy the planet, and everything to do with the very human and naturalistic reaction to such panic. Some scientists, most notably David Morrison who works for NASA, have predicted that the 2012 apocalypse predictions may lead some people to get so worked up that they may contemplate killing themselves - and so the suicide rate will increase as a self-fulfilling prophecy.[31] This isn't entirely unprecedented, as it was seen with the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider,[32] the May 21st rapture prediction,[33] and there was one case of a man killing himself and his entire family allegedly over the fear that Barack Obama would be re-elected.[34] Primarily, the issue is that fear-mongering prays on people who are most vulnerable, possibly triggering them to do things that normally they may not - predictions of the world ending on December 21st, 2012 are more widespread and well-publicised than any of these previous events, so the concern about increased suicides may well be warranted.

The future

Once December 2012 is past, we can all start to worry about The End coming in 2013 instead.[35]

See also

External links


  3. ‘2012 End of the world panic’ sweeps across China
  4. 18,980 days being the lowest common multiple of 365 days (ignoring the more modern concept of leap years) and 260 days. 52 Haabs (analogous to years) and 72 Tzolk'ins.
  5. Mayan long count explained.
  7. That's the word Wikipedia uses, and we're sure they know their stuff.
  8. Coe, Michael D. (1966). The Maya. Ancient peoples and places series, no. 52 (1st ed.). London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0500050619. OCLC 318157568
  9. Thus, the 2012 apocalypse will be brought about by two drunk pranksters with ropes and planks stashed in the back of their Skoda.
  14. Planetary Alignments: Fact or Fiction?
  16. We couldn't beat the Wikipedia phrasing, again.
  17. Church of Critical Thinking
  18. IMDB - 2012
  19. The Guardian - 2012: a cautionary tale about marketing
  21. “2012″ –– The movie, the physics
  22. As quoted in Callahan, T. (2011) Grant Morrison: The early years.
  23. His name is Gerald Celente, for the record.
  24. YouTube video of said idiot.
  30. It's yet to be seen whether this causes a problem.
  31. - NASA Scientist Says Many Young People Contemplating Suicide Over 2012 Doomsday Rumors
  32. Telegraph - Large Hadron Collider fears 'prompted Indian suicide'
  33. Fear of May 21 Causes Woman to Kill her Kids and Other Stories
  34. Man Kills Himself and His Family Out of Fear that Obama Would be Re-elected
  35. End of the world in 2013? New book recalculates Newton's endtimes clock
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