The Seating of the New Bak’tun in Yaxhá National Park on December 21, 2012.

2012-12-21 04.58.12By now we’ve all just about forgotten the hoopla and excitement about the winter solstice in 2012 and the supposed last day of the Maya calendar. As the world moves on to the next apocalyptic meme, I thought I’d take a moment to write about the ceremony I  had the great honor to witness marking the end of the last Bak’tun and the seating of the new one.  My friends at Yaxhá National Park in the Petén, Guatemala invited me to witness the ceremony with them and I am deeply grateful for all the generosity they have shown me over the last few years. The ceremony was performed part in Spanish and part in Mayan. It was very simple and staid. At times it was almost like being in church, only this church had the star-saturated sky as its ceiling. Although a much larger event occurred at Guatemala’s largest tourist site in Tikal the night before, one that included a light show, dancing and music, at Yaxhá things were much more subdued. The crowd and the location seemed better suited to contemplation.

We hiked up to the site arriving at the plaza in front of Temple 216 at about ten minutes to 5:00 am. Already a fairly large group of people was gathered watching the Shaman and his assistants prepare the ceremony.

The Shaman dressed all in white. He wore red kerchief around his head and a Maya style belt swirling with colors. With him were four assistants, another shaman in white, two boys and a girl no older than 14 or 15.

In the dark, using only the light from a burning piece of husk, the Shaman drew a circle made of sugar in the center of the altar. Then he divided the circle in half with a line down the middle, also made of sugar. He then covered the sugar with round blocks of copal incense.  Again he made a line through the circle with sugar going the other direction. After completely covering the circle with blocks of copal he placed the four candles at the four cardinal points (red to the east, yellow to the south, black to the west, and white the north). A green candle marked the center of the circle.

I saw what I thought were large cigars, but I never smelled any tobacco so I can’t be certain they were in fact cigars.

At the side of the altar he placed bottles of Fanta (yellow & red), vodka (white) and coca cola  (black) along side the candles of the same colors.

When the Shaman lit the candles and the copal incense in the center, he asked us to make a large circle around the altar in a single line so no one would be in front of anyone else.

The smoke was dark and heavy, but not impossible to breath around.2012-12-21 06.05.50 Smoke

The Shaman told us that he would perform his ceremonies at the base of the temple, not at the top.  He explained the Maya believed that the sun, at that moment was making its passage, through the underworld and that it would soon rise. He compared each stage of the sun’s passage through the sky to the life a human being. Infancy, youth, wise elder and death.

The Shaman first knelt toward Temple 216 said some prayers in Maya (which I could not understand) and kissed the ground. He then began by explaining the intricate interlocking nature of the calendar and how the Maya paid very careful attention to the movements of the sun and the stars. Then, beginning with the first day name he explained the word’s meaning, which god ruled over that day and all the gifts that god is responsible for sharing with human beings. Then he offered thanks to the god, and as we all counted to 13 together, the Shaman threw a pinch of ajonjoli (sesame) seeds into the fire with each number. He explained that we were naming each of the gods and thanking them for having stood steadfastly for the last 13 Bak’tuns.

At different points, the Shaman gave each of us a handful of seeds to throw into the fire.  At other times he and his assistants passed out small candles of red and yellow (some people received black and blue) to throw into the fire.

We listened as he went through each of the day names and we solemnly helped him count to thirteen. Occasionally he would kneel toward Temple 216, behind which the sun slowly rose, and muttered prayers in Maya that I did not understand

The ceremony lasted about an hour and a half, and the Shaman spoke almost continuously, the whole time, explaining what he was doing and why.

As the sun came up he explained that the new era would begin at the moment of dawn. The new day would be numbered zero, not 1.

The shaman came from a nearby village and had been invited by Yaxhá to perform the ceremony for them. He told me that he often performed ceremonies at the site.

When I returned to the base of Temple 216 later in the day, the altar was still smoking.2012-12-21 06.58.12 View from the temple

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Tulane Opens An Exhibit highlighting the Extraordinary Accomplishments of the Ancient Maya

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Just had to share these: Your Maya Travel Photos — National Geographic

Your Maya Travel Photos — National Geographic.

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So Maybe the Maya weren’t actually all that worried, after all

This recently announced discovery in Guatemala will, hopefully, calm some of the fears. Not even the kings who talked about the 2012 Solstice Date thought anyone needed to worry. Read about the New Maya 2012 Inscription found in Guatemala at  Spread the word. You can stop stock-piling canned goods.

The more amazing thing about this ancient culture, though to my mind, is the precision with which they mapped the stars and planets. Imagine what the night sky looked like to them. When you live in a light-soaked city, it’s hard to visualize how densely packed the stars are. But the scribes and priests of the Maya could accurately follow the movements in the sky of a single, tiny point of light and they built an entire calendar around what they saw. That is no easy feat.

So if you are up early in the next few weeks (July 2012), you just might be able to spot The Morning Star (Venus, the star of Hun Hunahpu, one of the Hero Twins’ fathers) as it makes its way up from the underworld before the sun. Enjoy the show.

And the Maya did this all with no calculators, telescopes or computers. Is it any wonder people find them so fascinating?


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Just what will happen on December 21, 2012?

Chances are, nothing. That’s right folks. The hype is just that, hype. But the Maya calendar is not meant to predict future events, but to keep track of the amazing pantheon of gods that ruled their lives.

What is really amazing about the calendar, though,  is that the Maya were able to create it in the first place, Without the use of calculators or telescopes the Maya were able to calculate the exact position of the planets and the stars to a level of precision that is remarkable. But of course you don’t need a telescope to see brilliant stars and spot the planets when sky watching among Maya ruins in Guatemala, Belize or Mexico. The stars look so close it seems you could pluck them from the sky. Maybe that’s why I love it so much there.

So the question is what did the Maya say about December 21, 2012? Well, not much, actually. There are two, maybe three places, were the date is mentioned. One is on a monument in Totugero, Mexico, and that one isn’t even entirely readable. For a very intelligent discussion of what the Maya believe about time and the 13th Baktun end date, check out this blog by Norbert at It will calm all your fears.

Another stone monument recently discovered in Comocalco, Tabasco, Mexico, says the  last day of this baktun is December 23, 2012.

Either way, the day should prove to be just like any other. A day that, even for the modern Maya, will me one more day to get out of bed and get on with life.

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Graphic Novel Preview

The Graphic Novel Art by Sergio Drummond. Coming soon!

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Celebrating the release of The 2012 Prophecies: Heir of the Jaguar

Looking for information about the release of L.P. Simone’s new book.

Check out


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