There's a lot of talk going around right now about the end of the world tomorrow, with accounts of what's supposed to actually bring about that end, and efforts to debunk the myths and reassure everyone that nothing is going to happen, but the big question (as far as I'm concerned) is why? Why tomorrow? What's so special about December 21st, 2012 that it is supposed to mark the end of life as we know it?
It all started with the Mayan civilization, which is well-known as one of the most advanced civilizations in the ancient world. They had advanced concepts of astronomy and mathematics, and they had an intricate system of calendars. They also had some rather bloody religious practices involving human sacrifice, and it is the mythology behind their religion, along with their 'long-count' calendar, that has brought us to tomorrow's 'end of the world' prediction.
According to Mayan mythology, as detailed in the Popol Vuh text, their gods created the Earth, and the plants and animals, and then made three attempts to create a race of beings that could properly worship them. They first formed beings from earth and mud, but these absorbed water and quickly dissolved. In their second attempt, they fashioned beings from wood, however these creations lacked a soul or mind, and they ultimately ended up destroying them. The third attempt created humans from maize (corn) dough, and this was the one that stuck — and Mayan mythology is very closely tied to the lifecycle of maize.
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Now, when the Maya chronicled their mythology, they set a specific creation date for when their gods finally hit upon the perfect building material for their loyal human worshipers.
This date was written as 126.96.36.199.0 in their calendar notation and the entire calendar works like an odometer. Starting at 188.8.131.52.0 — which scholars have found that the equivalent date of the start of the Mayan calendar (184.108.40.206.0) is August 11th, 3114 BC in the Gregorian calendar used today — it then rolls over to 0.0.0.0.1 on day one, 0.0.0.0.2 on day two, and so forth. The end of the first winal looked like 0.0.0.0.19, and the next day was 0.0.0.1.0. The end of the first tun (or year) was 0.0.0.17.19, and the start of the next was 0.0.1.0.0. This continued on and on, until it reached 220.127.116.11.19 today, and 18.104.22.168.0 coincides with tomorrow — December 21st, 2012.
However, that doesn't mean that the world is supposed to end. The confusion comes from how the Mayans organize their numbers. To them, writing 22.214.171.124.0 for the day of creation was simply using 13 as a place-holder.
Okay, so tomorrow is 126.96.36.199.0, but it's not the end of the world. It's basically the Mayan "New B'ak'tun", and it's a time for celebration. However, just so you keep your calendars right, it doesn't all roll over to zeros on Saturday. There are still 20 b'ak'tun in a piktun, so Saturday will continue on as 188.8.131.52.1, and we'll continue counting up to 184.108.40.206.19, which will correspond to October 12th, in the year 4772, at which point we'll advance up to the 220.127.116.11.0.0 and start the next piktun. That's when the real party is.