END OF WORLD NEWS FLASHES
FROM SPIRITUAL WANDERER,
GLEE, THE VATICAN, NASA
AND THE NEW YORK BAR SCENE
AS WE ALL COLLIDE WITH
SOLSTICE, YULE, SOYAL, YAIDA
SATURNALIA & PANCHA GANAPATI
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21: At 11:12 a.m., the Sun reaches its highest point relative to the Earth’s equator—a moment when the ancients said the Sun seemed to stand still. Thus, Sol (Latin for Sun) and sistere (to stand still).
But the big question in 2012 is:
Will the world end?
All we can say at ReadTheSpirit online magazine is: Thank goodness for friends like Spiritual Wanderer Rodney Curtis, who sent cheery family greetings to our magazine offices just in time to give us hope on the verge of the Mayan Apocalypse! Like millions of other Americans, we had watched the new Mayan-themed holiday episode of the TV series Glee—in which two worried teenagers decide to get married even though they are still in high school. If the world does end on December 21, these kids reason, at least they will have a few days of wedded bliss.
Every where you look, tongue-in-cheek anxiety is rising—including the trend-setting New York City bar scene where “Last Call” will take on a whole new meaning this week. At least that’s true according to a report in the New York Daily News.
VATICAN ‘RUBBISHES PREDICTIONS’
Things are getting so crazy that the head of the Vatican Observatory was forced to weigh in—via the Vatican-run newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. You can Google the original Rome-based report, but it’s much more colorful to read British newspaper reports on Father Jose Funes’ assurances. The Vatican astronomer rubbishses such reports!
LOOK AT YOUR OWN CALENDAR!
Father Funes is not alone, among serious scientists. NASA has posted a page explaining away Mayan anxieties with a very practical way of pointing out the error that produced these fears: Simply look at your own calendar! NASA writes, “Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then—just as your new calendar begins again on January 1—another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.”
AND, GO ASK THE MAYANS
That’s what HarperOne did—three years ago—in publishing The Book of Destiny: Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Mayans and the Prophecy of 2012. Talk about an ultimate Spoiler Alert! This comes from page 2 of the book, written by Guatemalan author and Mayan spokesman Carlos Barrios:
Just as the world did not end in the year 2000 at the start of the new millennium, it won’t end with the advent of Job Ajaw in 2012. An unfounded fear was created before based the new millennium by religious leaders who based their theories on misguided interpretations of ancient religious texts and predictions made by famous prophets. The same fear is rising again. The true guardians of our tradition have never been consulted about this date, but we are here to say: December 21, 2012, will not be the end of the world or the end of humanity. In fact, it will be the start of a period in which harmony, undersanding, peace and wisdom can reign.
Note that Job Ajaw is one of the Mayan cycles of time that, according to Barrios, last thousands of years. So, December 12, 2012, is an auspicious date in the Mayan cosmic calendar—but it actually carries optimistic predictions of a global movement toward a more “harmonious natural order” between “Earth and humanity,” Barrios writes. Our Recommendation: Click on the book cover and order a copy from Amazon now. If you do it today, you should get your book well before December 21. The 356 pages are packed with a fascinating introduction to Mayan culture—plus enough intriguing chapters on “Mayan Signs” to rival your favorite volume on Nostradamus.
SERIOUS CONCERNS AMID THE FUN
As Americans, we love to scare ourselves silly—and the world apparently loves to be scared by American movies and television shows. That’s what happened a few years ago when John Cusack and a wild-eyed Woody Harrelson starred in the special-effects-laden 2012: We Were Warned. If you’re planning a Solstice party, you might grab a copy of the film, turn down all the lights and enjoy screaming with your friends.
But seriously—the world’s population is not as media savvy as most Americans have become these days. News reports from some regions of China and Russia say that 2012-disaster hysteria has gripped entire towns and, in some cases, institutions. Apparently, in one example, the inmates of a Russian women’s prison became so crazed with end-of-the-world rumors that officials had to bring in counselors to dispel the myths. If you’ve got lots of time to explore the wide range of 2012 predictions, Wikipedia has a truly engrossing page about the many facets of this frenzy. Again, bottom line: Wikipedia says any claims of a Mayan end-of-world prediction are a complete misreading of Mayan culture.
DECEMBER 21: THE SOLSTICE
Humans have been in awe of the Solstice throughout our entire history on the planet. No one knows the exact origins of Stonehenge, but the arrangement of enormous stones dates back at least 4,000 years. While the official UK guardians of the site restrict where visitors can walk around the great stones, the Winter Solstice is one day when greater freedom usually is permitted. While December 21 does mark the return of ever-lengthening daylight—ancient peoples recognized that months of deep winter and often famine were arriving with the year’s shortest day. It’s the sort of annual milestone that naturally makes humans fall to their knees in awe and prayer.
DECEMBER 21 AND YULE OR JUL OR JOL? OR SOYAL?
Modern pagans across the U.S. and northern Europe often celebrate various Yule (or Jul or Jol) customs. Most of these new “traditions” have been re-created in recent decades to approximate festivals that pagan groups say were once popular from what is now America across the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. A host of individual pagan organizations promote festivities, rituals and invocations to nature’s ancient spirits. While the history and authenticity of pagan rites can be debated, the timeless roots of this response to the Solstice still can be seen in the Zuni and Hopi communities of the American Southwest. In those cultures, the ceremonies are known as Soyal.
THE REST OF THE WORLD: SATURNALIA, YALDA and PANCHA GANAPATI
Most American churchgoers are aware from annual TV specials, news media and even occasional sermons that the date of Christmas is related to the Solstice—and ancient Christian efforts to replace the Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia with something more appropriate to their faith. Catholic pilgrims to the Vatican, for example, also like to tour the ruins of the Roman Forum where the Temple of Saturn once stood—the ancient focus of Saturnalia in the imperial city. (Wikipedia has much more about Saturnalia.)
Solstice taps into the world’s deepest spiritual traditions—one of which continues to blossom from Persia, now dominated by Iranian Muslims. However, that branch of Persian culture still expressed in the Zoroastrian faith and the ancient Roman-era mystery religion known as Mythraism still marks the Solstice festival of Yalda. (Once again, Wikipedia has an entry.) The mythology revolving around Yalda focuses on the other-worldly power of light. Candles and sweet fruits are part of enduring Yalda customs.
Finally, Hindus in the U.S. have tried to promote their own Christmas alternative, known as Pancha Ganapati: That’s now a five-day festival from December 21 to 25, focused on the elephant deity Lord Ganesh—and on promoting harmonious time among Indian families who find themselves with time off work, school and other commitments. Wikipedia has a page on this, but the best source of information is a free, full-color PDF you can download and print from Hinduism Today Magazine.
The colorful Hinduism Today introduction to the festival begins with these words: Think of this as the Hindu Christmas, a modern winter holiday full of family-centered happenings, but with five days of gifts for the kids, not one. From December 21 to 25 Hindus worship Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed Lord of culture and new beginnings. Family members work to mend past mistakes and bring Ganesha’s blessings of joy and harmony into five realms of their life, a wider circle each day: family, friends, associates, culture and religion.
AND NOW—we have truly circled the globe, sketched the many-faceted traditions that will surface in hopeful displays of light at the Solstice. Aren’t you less worried, now?
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.