Tom Hooten, who also teaches physics, engineering and astronomy, got married Dec. 12 and embarked with his bride this week on a special “Not the End of the World Cruise” excursion to see Mayan ruins and hear experts talk about the predictions.
The actual trip to the ruins will happen Friday — the day the Mayan calendar runs out — and Hooten said he is not worried because he does not expect the prophecies to come to pass.
“This (idea) has been going around for years, and it is incorrect,” Hooten said, adding no one expects the end of the world to happen.
East Texas scholars and other academicians said last week the only thing that will happen Friday is the winter solstice. They do not believe the world will come to an end.
“Much has been made of the fact that the Mayan calendar ends on Dec. 21, and this has been used by nonscholars for self-promotion in much the same way our new millennium date of Jan. 1, 2000, was,” said Dr. Thomas Guderjan, assistant professor of anthropology at The University of Texas at Tyler.
Guderjan said that the Dec. 21, 2012, date is significant for several reasons to the Mayan culture. The Mayans kept two calendars, which ran in synchronization, he said. There was a round calendar, which has the same dates on it that come around every year, similar to our yearly calendar with Christmas and Thanksgiving, Guderjan said.
“This date (on the long calendar) is the most future date the Mayans ever wrote — we don’t know what they were referring to — they wrote that date sometime in the future, and it could be Captain Kirk’s birthday,” Guderjan said, referring to the character from Star Trek.
“The crazies have picked up on it and said it meant that the world is ending on that date,” he said.
He added that the Mayans did not have a calendar on the wall, and that the modern-day people of Mayan descent did not pay much heed to the end-of-the-world warnings. “They think it’s crazy — the Mayans use our calendar — they think it works just fine,” Guderjan said.
Guderjan has helped put together an exhibit inside of the Center for Earth and Space Science Center at TJC, which runs in conjunction with the planetarium show, “Tales of the Maya Skies,” which runs through Jan. 27.
The Dec. 21 date happens to be the end of a “great cycle,” which in the Mayan calendar, is 5,128 years, said Dr. Leslie Cecil, assistant professor of anthropology at Stephen F. Austin State University. The calendar will reset again after Dec. 21, and another “great cycle” will begin again, she said.
Dr. Cecil explained that there are two additional calendars in the Mayan culture besides the long calendar; the ritual calendar, which is 260 days, and the planting/annual calendar, which is 360 days, which can be a little confusing, she admitted.
“It is the people in the U.S. and Europe that are making the biggest deal about the end of the world,” she said.
“The Mayans were deeply religious — caught up in a world filled with invisible powers and forces — they related to that through their religion,” said Dr. Robert Hunt, director of Global Theological Education and professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.
The Mayans believed that through their many religious rituals, that they helped make the world turn, Hunt said. “In the Mayan world view, rituals were very important,” he said.
And the use of calendars was especially important to the Mayans, he said. “Calendars, they help us predict things that will happen, they allow us to plan (important for agricultural purposes), and they allow us to mark history. For the Mayans, their calendar served all three purposes — allowed them to plan agriculturally and to remember their kings,” Hunt said.
He added that there are many cultures that have cyclical calendars in the same way the Mayans do, such as the Hindu and the Chinese. And the Aztecs used the same calendar as the Mayans did to mark the change of seasons and the migration of certain birds, Hunt said.
Americans are fascinated with the end of the world and disaster, Hunt said, and he points to popular movies such as the 2009 science fiction film “2012,” along with the “Airport” series and “The Poseidon Adventure” from the 1970s.
Hunt said that many evangelical Christians look for an apocalyptic ending to the world, which has always been a view of American Christianity. The teachings of Jesus, he said, say that we won’t see the end of the world coming.
Continuous predictions of apocalyptic language have become part of our thinking, Hunt said. “We write our own hopelessness into other people’s calendars.”