World of Swirl

National Geographic reports that, "Researchers have discovered astronomical calculations on the wall of an ancient Mayan site that suggest dates thousands of years beyond 2012". The find came at the Mayan ruins known as Xultun in Guatemala, where archeologists discovered a small room used by 9th-century record-keepers. In RV III, I wrote of the European marginales awaiting shelter from the end of the world (indicated in some interpretations of the Maya calendar) in the civilization they imagine beneath Bugarach mountain. Meanwhile, the fey Elizabeth van Buren is readying herself to access the underground city complex of Agartha, a portal to which she believes she has located in her landscape zodiac around Renne-le-Chateau. Now, in light of this calendric reappraisal, Science reports that, "We keep looking for endings. The Maya were looking for a guarantee that nothing would change. It's an entirely different mindset." Its official: the end of the world (at least in the year of our Lord, 2012) has been cancelled.

OK, the elephant in that sweaty little room, with faded murals and scratched calculations, is called Cosmogony. The Mayan world view was supported by multi-layered, cosmic calendrics. These were being parsed to establish the beginning of a new cycle of time. It was past due: by around 900 A.D., the classical Mayan world was crumbling, their jungle mega-cities, confronted with their inherent unsustainability as the diminishing returns of slash-and-burn reduced the maize yield, were collapsing back into the steamy grip of tropical rain forest.

The Mayan version of the 'hopey-changey thing' was based on prognostications of temporal renewal, of a resetting of the great cycle of time. In the event, their faith in cyclical renewal was misplaced, for their civilization, already dwarfed, was in terminal decline, defeated by environmental calamity and the intra-city conflict so engendered. Their great cities, their temples, ziggurats, canals, highway system and this little time-keepers office were swallowed up by the fecundity of the Central American bio-mass and disappeared into the leaf litter and the chlorophyllic tendrils of the endemic plant community. Theirs was an urban wildland returned to the wild, their civilization engulfed by biota.

The Irish-Spanish adventurer Juan Galindo originally stumbled upon the Mayan ruins early in the nineteenth century while fighting for Central America's independence from Spain. He led the charge against the Caribbean fortress of Omoa, the last Spanish stronghold in that part of the world, and was rewarded with the governorship of a large swathe of Guatemala. He went on to write descriptive accounts of the ruins at Palenque and Copán. John Lloyd Stephens, an American travel writer and explorer and Frederick Catherwood, an English artist and architect, popularized this re-discovery of the lost civilization in their books, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán, 1841 and Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, 1843. Stephens, incidentally, was sponsored in his explorations by Martin van Buren, the eighth president and Elizabeth's ancestor, and was made the United States Ambassador to Central America.

After a century and a half of intense archeological exploration (and looting), there still remain mysteries to be discovered and treasures to be revealed. A team led by William Saturno from Boston University unearthed the intricate calendar calculations on the crumbling walls of the day-keeper's room in Xultun just this month where computations about the moon, the sun and possibly Venus and Mars involve dates stretching some 7,000 years into the future. Interviewed by Bruce Gellerman, on Its Living on Earth, Saturno claims,

"The Maya calendar has no end. The Maya calendar was a series of circles. And, like a circle, one could say ‘where is the beginning of the circle, where is the end of the circle?’ Well, the whole point of the circle is that it has neither beginning nor end, and it just goes around and around and around. And for the ancient Maya, that’s how their calendar worked....."

For some cultures, and this list would include Australian aboriginal, Mayan and Chumash, time and space are woven together in a kind of Einsteinian four dimensional continuum. So it was, that for the Chumash, time does not move forward from past to future but is, instead, recursive. The 'antap were cosmic time-keepers (Space and Practice II) for the purpose of scheduling ritual and ceremony, markers within a multi-layered universe in which its inhabitants sought stasis, the steady state of an eternal now. Calendrical notation existed in this Southern California stone age world, at least for solstice observances, and this cosmic knowledge lent prestige to its recorders, who acquired their power based on the ability to prognosticate and schedule significant rituals in accord with astronomical events.

The Chumash world was a place where characters, events and spirits, that existed outside of the quotidian world, could be accessed by culturally prescribed rituals and dreams and, on a more ad hoc basis, by shaman who utilized datura to speed their journeys to this parallel dream world. But these worlds were not conceived of as separate: they were parts of a whole, enfolded, like time and space, in a ubiquitous present. Nevertheless, as Michael K. Ward notes in his Timoloqinash: Interpreting Chumash History, OCB Tracker, Glendora, Ca., Fall 1998 thru Summer 1999, the local tribes were cognizant of an origin mythology, but this genesis was understood to be a recurring phenomenon - their continued existence was perceived to be dependent on a recreation of these circumstances. "Such events occur and forever afterwards exist, on a continuous plane of subjective understanding, both for each individual person and collectively for the entire community of language speakers" (Ward).

Clearly, when considering these cosmogonies, we're not in Kansas anymore. Rituals existed, in the Chumash world, as markers measured out in a kind of paleolithic sidereal time, where the Earth is a fixed point in the universe, the stars journey overhead, and the sun continues to revolve around the planet in symbiosis only with the correct performance of ritual. Like the Maya, the Chumash were not looking for change, and certainly not an ending, unless caused by their carelessness in acts of propitiation; continuity was the ever present ingredient in a timeless world.

While the Mayan decline is marked by their increasing architectural ineptitude (viz. Tulum), and thus their civilization's collapse was very publicly recorded (albeit successfully hidden deep in tropical jungle for several centuries), the Chumash culture was evanescent rather than monumental and their decline afforded no such parallel record. A flurry of archeological artifact gathering (and looting) in the late nineteenth century has resulted only in a slim representation of their meagre material culture moldering, for the most part, in museum storerooms.

Their cultural destruction can be measured out, instead, in Spanish missions - architectural markers placed along El Camino Real - each signaling a step along a death march towards oblivion. Towards a pathetic end to a vibrant, pre-colonial, native American World of Swirl. The end date of this world has been precisely recorded. It was 1769.