As twenty-first century humans, we tend to see ourselves as the epitome of civilization. In a world rich with instant messaging technology, we often disregard the wisdom gained by ancient cultures. Yet particularly when it comes to having a long term understanding of our current climatic crisis, there is much we could learn from seemingly “primitive” societies. Among cultures with a deep knowledge of planetary cycles and how those cycles could affect life on earth, the Mayans stand out for their complex and highly accurate calendars, precise astronomy, and prophetic predictions of the future.
The Mayans, like most of all the pre- Columbian cultures of the region, had a very long memory of earth changes and the awareness that these events have a correlation with astronomical cycles within our universe. Their three different calendars were perfectly coordinated: The Haab (civil), Tzolkin (sacred), and an astronomical calendar which initiates the day the Sun passes perpendicularly through the zenith, a day between July 24 – 26 each year. It was calculated to be 365.2420 days long and was used to fix the position of the solstices, the equinoxes, the synodic revolutions of the planets in our solar system, the eclipse nodes and other celestial phenomena.
From their written and oral memory there also exists a longer cycle known as “Sun”. Each Sun has duration of 25,625 years, which is how long it takes for our solar system to go around what they identified to be the central sun of our galaxy. This cycle is very close in counting to what is known as the procession of the equinoxes.
Based on their understanding of these cycles, the Mayans developed a mythology which prepared them to deal with the probability of cataclysmic changes in the earth. In fact, it even enabled them to pinpoint when those changes would occur. According to Mayan myths, we have lived through five suns. Each sun is like an age, with a beginning and an end provoked by a different agent, causing upheavals on earth that have greatly challenged the survival of the existing life forms on the planet, including the human race. The Fourth Sun reached its end by water with a great deluge, a story that has many similarities with those found in most of the sacred books of major religions of this day. The year 2012 would mark the end of the Fifth Sun, which is said to come about by the agent of movement.
From their observations of the cosmos and its natural cycles, the process of birth, death and rebirth was fully integrated within the Mayan way of thinking. Earth changes, with the disappearance of landmasses, species and civilizations were perceived as part of this natural process and they could know with great precision when and why such events happen.
This understanding and memory has been lost in our modern society that is so disconnected from nature’s cycles, leaving room for fear and superstition in the face of such events.
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