2012: What is Really Ending?


Craig Chalquist, PhD

Each great epochal transformation in the history of the Western mind appears to have been initiated by a kind of archetypal sacrifice.
— Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind

In 2012 the Mayan calendar will start over but not really end. No rogue planet will hit the Earth, no magnetic pole shifts will cave in the ozone layer, no mysterious forces will reach across 30,000 light years from the center of the galaxy. Nope: no crossing of galactic planes, no entry into the Dark Rift, no worldwide apocalypse. So why all the fuss?

In part it seems to be displaced fear aroused by genuine earthly concerns like climate change, ceaseless warfare, corporate cronyism, and clean food and water running out as plutocrats convert what's left of the ecosphere into a literalized Underworld. Some find it easier to turn their anxious eyes skyward than to face up to what is happening down here. To many of us, the spreading devastation feels as though our Earth were indeed being smashed under the hammer of a rogue planet from nowhere. (In antiquity the notion of such a planet, called the Antichthon or Counterearth, sprang up in Ionia at a time when abstract reasoning had combined with material conquest to sever the original Greek sense of closeness to the natural world: Antichthon as shadow Earth, a return of the ecologically repressed.)

Too, Americans are particularly susceptible to the fundamentalist literalizing what should be held as symbolic and mythic. Seized by an activated unconscious, otherwise intelligent people spread astronomical misinformation they haven't bothered to check into as though it were obvious fact, forgetting entirely that prophecies of doom also sounded during Y2K (remember all those shoppers buying up macaroni and flashlight batteries?) and at many other apocalyptic times. At the end of 999, for example, Christians in Europe were flagellating themselves to prepare for the imminent return of Jesus because everyone knew that the calendar couldn't progress into a new millennium. On January 1, 1000, the sun came up, the world turned, and things went on as usual.

The 2012 frenzy can also be seen as a result of centuries of religious conditioning. We tend to think about religion in terms of its content or its objects of devotion and forget that religion is also a social and psychological process, as in eager discussions that frame technical invention as a form of salvation, ascension, or destiny. Strength of reactance to 2012 provides a barometer of the degree to which we are gripped by religious attitudes and messianic expectations even when we see ourselves as atheists, agnostics, or pagans.

Depth psychology has taught us to look even deeper below the surface to ask: When large groups of people fall into a trance together, what is going on in the collective unconscious? What is brewing in the cultural-historical psyche? There is nothing mystical about such questions. They inquire into the movements of collectively acted out fantasy. Just as individuals carry around a rich fantasy life, some of it unconscious, so do entire eras, civilizations, institutions. When scientists collaborate to upload a human consciousness into digitized virtuality, for example, we might recognize the persistent monotheistic fantasy of ascending away from the body toward heaven.

The old motifs repeat themselves endlessly; and one of them, the Archetype of the Apocalypse, is apt to resurface when something large is about to end. What could be ending is not the world, however, but a worldview.

When humanity began to shape nature to its own purposes 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and other busy places where the rise of monocrop agriculture led directly to centralized power, patriarchy, religion, fixed settlements, new technologies, mass transportation, and armies to guard newly spreading urban centers, we embarked on what could be thought of as the adolescence of our species. Certainly our way forward and outward has been marked by many of the characteristics of a troubled adolescence: defiance, aggression, separation, hyperindividualism, self-centeredness, absolute thinking, lack of empathy, idealization of in-group peers, reckless disregard of consequences....

After ten millennia of this turbulence, as new frontiers close and the space for expansion diminishes, it becomes increasingly clear that our Earth is not an all-bountiful mother who never tires of suckling us. Today we are forced to reimagine our relationship to our patient but troubled homeworld. We are forced to experiment with something quite new, collectively speaking: responsible emotional maturity of the kind that takes needs other than our own into account.

The citizen who sees the news on Big Oil's attempts to wreck yet more land and atmosphere for oil shale, on scheming and glad-handing in Washington, or on islands of plastic polluting the Pacific Ocean, and who pauses to let in the disturbing realization, "This can't continue, and I need to find out more so I can act intelligently," is feeling a moment of painful but necessary awakening on the road to psychological adulthood. For adulthood includes the capacity to face terrestrial facts squarely and realistically even though they are unpleasant.

So perhaps at a level even deeper than personal or collective frenzy, 2012 is a date the collective psyche has fastened on to mark a rite of passage. And perhaps a more appropriate response than either literalization or misinformation would be to organize a worldwide End of a Worldview celebration of a dawning time for humanity: the time to finally come of age and put away childish ideological, idolatrous, and materialist things that keep us from relating to ourselves, each other, and our Earth as fellow creatures bound by a circle of planetary destiny.


See also:
"'Doomsday' 2012 Prediction Explained: Mayan Calendar was Cyclical"
"Mayan Calendar Warns Of Cataclysmic Roland Emmerich Film"