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My Oh Mayan!

2012 may indeed be the end of the world as we know it

November 18, 2009, 12:00 am

As the sun sets on the day of love—better known as Thursday, Oct. 29—men and women file into The Ark, a bookstore specializing in crystals, tarot cards, world music and New Age tracts.

If some cosmic accident brought Sarah Palin through its doors, she would probably burst into flames. The magazine rack alone could boil her blood; it’s stocked with titles like EnlightenNext, Sedona Journal of Emergence! and UFO Magazine’s “deep summer reading issue,” which addresses the day’s rather urgent topic: “With less than 30 months to go, is our civilization on the brink of doom?”

To be precise, there are 1,149 days until Dec. 21, 2012, when something will—nay, must—happen. It won’t be the end of the world but, if it is, SFR regrets the error.

Two of The Ark’s best sellers concern this purportedly fateful date. But the popularity of 2012 theories in Santa Fe is a miniscule measure of this cultural virus. More contagious than swine flu, an obscure obsession with the ancient Mayan calendar spread from amateur archaeologists to New Agers and survivalists to the peak of pop culture with last week’s release of a $200 million Hollywood destruction fantasy.

So it is that on this day of love approximately 30 Santa Feans afflicted with the 2012 bug have come to hear from a speaker who claims first-hand knowledge of Mayan traditions. They sit quietly facing the guest of honor, Lina Barrios, a middle-aged woman from Guatemala who dresses in colorful Mayan garb. She stands in front of a table displaying the latest work by her brother, Carlos: The Book of Destiny. It is one of more than 500 such books; 2012 is the only year besides Y2K with its own entry in the Library of Congress’ catalog. Barrios’ book, endorsed by something called the “Council of Mayan Elders,” contains useful info such as the Mayan sign under which Bob Dylan was born.

First, the good news: “2012 is not a date of destruction,” Lina Barrios says. Rather, it will mark the start of a new astrological cycle, one that will usher in humanity’s return to nature.

Barrios belongs to a camp that believes the end of the current 5,125-year Mayan calendar cycle will accompany a planet-changing wave of energy. In this subset of the Mayaphile subculture, some see the beginning of new religious movements akin to Mormonism or Scientology. For this group, 2012 is to be welcomed—much like Barack Obama’s presidency, which Barrios says was foretold by the ancients.

Depending on one’s preferred reality, come 2012, either the stars will choose the next president or the voters will. For the growing numbers who trust anonymous bloggers more than silver-haired CNN anchors, an election is the least important thing 2012 will bring. After all, what is a little campaign next to mass extinction? In a country where polls say 1 in 3 people believes his or her chosen scripture is the “Word of God to be taken literally, word for word,” and another one-third believes the federal government participated in the 9.11 attacks, beliefs in ancient prophecy and apocalypse can’t be dismissed as “fringe.” A YouTube series purporting to expose NASA’s cover-up of the cataclysmic arrival of “Planet X” two years from now has been viewed more than 1 million times.

However divergent these visions of the near future may seem, they share a common cause and a common outcome. All feed a cottage industry, whether in solar-flare survival kits or aura readings or popcorn entertainment. More importantly, all are rooted in overwhelming public dissatisfaction with the present.

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