The Craft of Distraction and the Hermeneutics of Debunkery
in the 2012 Critiques of Anthony Aveni

 

John Major Jenkins. October 2009

 

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Maya scholar Anthony Aveni has recently produced a book, seductively titled The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012. Many of the 2012 books, whether they are produced by scholars or mystics or doomsday peddlers, utilize sensationalized titles such as this. It’s a good marketing strategy, even if the title reinforces stereotypes and incorrect notions of the ancient Maya concept of time. Aveni spends much time in his book exposing the conceptual and factual errors of popular writers, and roughly sketches the various players in this field since the 1970s. Like E. C. Krupp’s recent article in the November 2009 issue of Sky & Telescope, Aveni neglects to point out that the doomsday-2012 association was first enunciated in Christian Armageddon parlance by the great scholar Michael Coe in his 1966 book The Maya (first edition, page 149).

Maya epigrapher David Stuart has also gone so far as to attribute the origin of the doomsday-2012 meme to “New Age hacks,” an irresponsible, incorrect, and contentious assertion.[ http://update2012.com/responsetostuartsblog.html] When I tried to briefly correct Stuart’s assertion on the academic e-list group called Aztlan, which I’ve belonged to since 1996 and which is sponsored (ironically) by The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, my post was rejected. It’s ironic because advancement is in the name, but not in the practice. These recent events are sketched to give the reader a sense for what is really going in academia in regard to factually approaching the complexities of the 2012 topic.

I’ve  been studying Maya cosmology and traditions for almost twenty-five years, with a special focus on the Maya calendar and 2012 since the late 1980s. Aveni’s critique of the highly idiosyncratic and often factually incorrect ideation of popular writers like Jose Arguelles and Carl Calleman is sufficient enough, and superficially echoes my own critiques of these authors, some of which goes back to 1991.[ http://alignment2012.com/ACCESS%20Tzolkin%20HERE.html ] Aveni is a late-comer to the critique of 2012 authors. He also evinces no interest in doing what scholars are suppose to do --- which is to investigate the possibility that 2012 is a true artifact of the calendar by accurately assessing the information that helps us understand how the ancient Maya thought about 2012.[ http://alignment2012.com/Six-essential-points-Tulane.html ] An entry point for engaging a rational investigation into this interesting and productive pursuit is to note that the famous cycle ending ends, according to the most widely accepted correlation, on a winter solstice. This should highlight, for any rational investigator, the possibility of intentionality. It did so for me back in 1990, and my research unfolded from there, resulting in ten books on 2012 and related subjects.[ http://Alignment2012.com ]

Aveni, on the other hand, avoided addressing this compelling solstice fact in his keynote address to Tulane University in February 2009, until his hand was forced by a question I asked afterward.[recorded in full, see http://alignment2012.com/Tulane2009.html] Again, these circumstances in academia (this is a small sampling) reveal the unwillingness of most professional Maya scholars to investigate 2012 as a true artifact of the ancient calendar system. There is a couple of Maya scholars who have recently been more open minded, and I have hopes that all the 2012 noise in the marketplace will not prevent clear-minded scholars from investigating the facts rationally, and my work accurately.

   

Aveni authored an article in Archaeology magazine (Nov-Dec 2009), which appears to largely be an adapted excerpt from his book, conveniently advertised at the end of the piece. This article provides what appears to be the author’s selected presentation of his take on 2012 and 2012 authors, including myself. I can assess with clarity the veracity of Aveni’s interpretation of my work, and what we find is a series of misconceptions and factually incorrect assertions, as well as an insistent tendency to conflate my “galactic astronomy” work with other writers who have co-opted my work for their own questionable purposes. Aveni does this with the unfair insinuation that I am somehow responsible for this messy state of affairs, when in fact I have defined and explicated very clearly the parameters and concepts connected to the precessional astronomy associated with 2012.

He begins this crafty misappropriation by associating my work with the ideation of doomsday authors: “It’s known that there is a black hole in the center of the Milky Way, and that in 2012 the sun will align with the plane of the Galaxy for the first time in 26,000 years. Then, according to the doomsayers, the black hole will throw out solar system out of kilter.” Aveni adds spice to my definition of the galactic alignment, ingredients such as black-hole-induced solar eruptions, when in fact that is not part of my alignment thesis. Although not clearly stated at this point in his article, my work has nothing to do with doomsday. But it is true that other authors, such as Lawrence Joseph and Gregg Braden, have used my galactic alignment work in reference to solar flares or polar flips. A careful scholar would make the distinction between my original work and those who have subsequently used it for their own purposes.

Aveni then does introduce me as a person who espouses a non-doomsday perspective, but in the context of determinism. His words reveal a typical tendency of scientists to think in absolute causal terms: “Some say that rather than cataclysm, we’re due for a sudden cosmically timed awakening…” and then he introduces my work. There are two glaring problems with how Aveni frames and introduces my work. First, when he says “we’re due for” he insinuates that I think that an effectively experienced event in 2012 is  definitely slated to happen. I do not discuss 2012 in this way. My study of Maya time philosophy and the beliefs that the ancient and modern Maya ascribe to cycle endings in their calendar involves, instead, the importance of transformation and renewal facilitated by consciously engaged sacrifice rituals. The key is that human free will is necessary in order to consciously perform the act --- sacrifice --- that facilitates a cycle ending transformation. This sounds like mystical mumbo jumbo to the untutored ear that is mired in scientism, but it is simply an expression of a deeper level of Maya philosophy than Aveni and other scholars are willing to engage in their cheap and easy dismissals of my work.

Secondly, Aveni’s introductory framing of my work continues: “we’re due for a sudden cosmically timed awakening.” I have never believed that 2012 involved a sudden anything. There are numerous passages from my 1998 book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 and my other writings and interviews (freely available on my website) that counter this incorrect insinuation, a notion which I have always believed to be doubtful. Aveni must be conflating the “sudden rupture of plane” concept in Terence McKenna’s Time Wave Theory with my own work on 2012. 

Thirdly, Aveni uses the mystically ambiguous phrase “cosmically timed” in reference to the galactic alignment astronomy which, as mentioned, I have carefully defined and explicated since 1994 (I do not claim to have first discovered the concept, as stated in Appendix 1 of my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012). Aveni’s use of this vague term is essentially a deceptive linguistic ruse, intended to cast doubt in the reader’s mind about the reliability and cogency of my ideas. So, as we unpack the very first sentence that introduces my work, we find three deceptive frameworks craftily set up by Wordsmith Aveni. He then provides a brief, unattributed, quote from me: The winter solstice sun is “slowly moving toward the heart of the Galaxy.” My book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 contains many astronomically rigorous definitions and treatments of the galactic alignment phenomenon. In a final chapter I also provided, based upon the research laid out, a grand poetic telling of what the ancient Maya skywatchers were apparently envisioning to unfold in the sky through time. In this section one can find the kind of generalized and poetic languaging of the alignment that Aveni cleverly chose to use. Again, this is the craft of deceptive linguistic polemics, something that evades honestly representing my actual ideas and intentions.

So far we have two factual errors and three cleverly insinuated deceptions. But let’s continue. He refers to me as a “spiritualist and former software engineer.” Well, I know for a fact that I’ve never been a software engineer. I did website design and tested software, but never programmed.  According to the Random House Dictionary, a spiritualist is one who believes that the spirits of the dead communicate with the living. When the Maya do rituals at their shrines, they believe they communicate with the departed ancestors. I guess then, if I am a spiritualist, I am in a better position to intimately understand Maya beliefs and thought. 

Actually, though, Aveni probably refers to the fact that I speak talk about the spiritual dimension of Maya mythology and teachings. However, the term has a dismissive connotation. It is true that I’ve argued for languaging Maya spiritual teachings as expressions of deep, archetypal and universally shared human dynamics. This approach to Maya teachings, completely lacking in the approach of Maya scholarship, is basically similar to the approach of Joseph Campbell, a comparative mythologist and exponent of the Perennial Philosophy. The term philosophia perennis was introduced by Leibnitz and gained a philosophical foothold in the early 20th century among brilliant students of world religions such as Ananda Coomaraswamy and René Guénon. It thereafter played a prominent role in the work of Heinrich Zimmer, Aldous Huxley, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, and Alan Watts. I’ve been an avid reader of these authors for most of my life and more recently have studied the profound and challenging writings of other Traditionalist philosophers such as Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Titus Burckhardt, Henry Corbin, Marco Pallis, Kathleen Raine, Annemarie Schimmel, and Stella Kramrich.  My 2002 book Galactic Alignment was one of the very few modern books that have discussed Coomaraswamy’s work. I also provided a review of his unpublished writings that I gathered in my research at the Princeton University archive. Coomaraswamy’s and Guenon’s works provide a framework and methodology for understanding the universal spiritual content of the sacred texts of traditional cultures. Including the Maya. I’ve shown in my work that Maya astronomy and Maya spirituality are intimately related, which is not that surprising because Maya cosmovision saw these domains, which modern science tends to keep strictly apart, as being intimately interwoven.

That was a thumbnail sketch of the intellectually rigorous sources I have studied  in my languaging the Perennial Philosophy’s presence within the profound concepts of Maya spiritual metaphysics and non-dual philosophy. But for Aveni, all that just means that I am “a spiritualist.” The term seems intended to conjure images of ouija boards and table-raising psychic mediums, a contrived characterization that can easily be called out into the open as disingenuous and deceptive rhetoric. Aveni’s good at that.      

Aveni continues to cite my poetic expressions of the galactic alignment, which involves evidence that the Maya saw the dark rift in the Milky Way as a celestial birthplace within the Womb of Creation --- the nuclear bulge of our galaxy’s center that can be viewed by naked eye star gazers. Aveni frames his little snippet-quotes from my work (never a complete sentence and all bereft of citations) in terms of what I believe “will” happen. As I mentioned earlier, determinism in 2012 events is the exact opposite of what I’ve seen in Maya teachings for cycle endings, which I have talked about at great length in my books, DVDs, and audio CDs. Aveni is selective in his citation choices in order to serve his pre-ordained agenda to discredit my work. 

After committing these factual blunders and cleverly deceptive rhetorical manipulations, Aveni joyfully lambasts my work as “cosmic rigmarole.”  He then suggests that Izapa’s Stela 25 monument provided me with the evidence for my thesis. Here and elsewhere Aveni has asserted, incorrectly, that I believe this monument to depict the galactic alignment. I do not. It is Izapa Stela 11 that I have argued depicts the solstice sun within the “mouth” of the dark rift. But here, Aveni adds a new twist which is an equally incorrect summation of my work: “Jenkins thinks the tree [on Stela 25] represents a unique north-south alignment of the Milky Way---a message from the Maya of what the sky will look like when creation begins anew [in 2012].” Again, I do not associate this monument with era-2012 or era-3114 BC, or even creation event imagery per se. And I never associate the caiman-tree on Stela 25 with a “unique” orientation of the Milky Way.

Aveni is fishing to confuse my work on Stela 25 with that of Linda Schele, who did describe the Milky Way’s (very frequent) north-south orientation with the 3114 era-Creation event in Classic Maya inscriptions. I agree with Aveni that Schele’s interpretation is questionable because the Milky Way very often is in that position. What I argued about Stela 25 is that the northern polar region (at the top of the image), through which the Big Dipper constellation rotates, is counter-posed to the southern skies (at the bottom), through which the nuclear bulge of the Milky Way moves (the bulging head of the caiman).  I have argued that philosophically as well as astronomically, the image depicts a north-south conceptual dialectic that Izapa’s thinkers seem to have employed in their model of the cosmos, one that utilized two deity images that also happen to be found in the Maya Creation Myth and relate to two “cosmic center” locations in the night sky. My “north and south” framework comes not from the frequent north-south orientation of the Milky Way, but from the polar north association of the Big Dipper and the motion of the nuclear bulge through the southern skies. The concept that north is “up” and south is “down” is especially evident at Izapa. I’ve also suggested that the Stela 25 image may relate to an evolution in cosmological thinking, away from a polar-centered model to one that celebrated the nuclear bulge of the galactic center (as visually seen by the naked eye) as a place of renewal. Furthermore, I have agreed with epigrapher David Stuart’s comment in his 2005 book on Palenque that the caiman-tree on Stela 25 was an early depiction of the Starry Deer Crocodile deity, who he associates with the Milky Way. (Stuart contradicted himself on this point made in his 2005 book on Palenque in email exchanges we had in 2007, revealing a scholar’s willingness to counter even his own prior work if it seems to support mine. See the exchange at: http://alignment2012.com/Takalik48.html.) Aveni then goes on to critique Schele, much in the way that I myself have done, although the implication is that I follow Schele and thus his critique also applies to me. Aveni mistakenly believes, or cleverly wishes to give the impression, that I subscribe to the same error of Schele’s that I myself have questioned in my own books.

Aveni next talks about the galactic alignment astronomy and discusses --- as I myself have --- the various ranges of its duration depending on how you define it. He uses this as a deal-breaker for the galactic alignment thesis, but ignores the relevance of the astronomical features --- such as the dark rift --- that concerned ancient Maya skywatchers. He also ignores all of my work that argues for how the Maya incorporated the solar-dark rift alignment image into their ballgame symbolism, the iconography at Izapa, their Creation Mythology, king-making rites and in Maya inscriptions and iconography at Copan. He also conveniently avoids discussing the new precessional work being done by his colleagues, which I have summarized in my recent book The 2012 Story.[ http://the2012story.com ] 

I was the first writer to openly address the necessary inclusion of a range for the galactic alignment calculation offered by European astronomer Jean Meeus in his 1997 book Mathematical Astronomy Morsels. Aveni cites Meeus in his book in a footnote intended to correct me, as if I was unaware of Meeus’s work. In fact, following Daniel Giamario (1998) I have frequently and openly cited Meeus’s work on Aztlan, on a webpage I posted in 1999, in articles I have written for the Institute of Maya Studies newsletter, in my 2002 book Galactic Alignment and in my “What is the Galactic Alignment?” webpage, posted about nine years ago. And I referenced Giamario’s article that included Meeus’s calculation in my 1998 book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012.  The details involved in the galactic alignment calculation do not impinge upon the arguments I’ve made for the alignment’s presence in Maya traditions; they only relate to the modern scientific assessment of the alignment’s parameters. There is a chapter in my 2002 book Galactic Alignment book called “Timing Parameters of the Galactic Alignment.” Aveni’s convenient omission of all this gives the impression that he has some definitions, calculations, and information that I haven’t considered; I actually pioneered those definitions, discussions, and the “alignment zone” calculation. Aveni mentions the alignment zone, 1980 – 2016, but without credit given to me; it would seem to the unsuspecting reader of his article to be something he thought of himself. That is the craft of self-serving and deceptive linguistic polemics.

The title of Aveni’s article is “What the Maya calendar really tells about 2012 and the end of time.” Like all his dismissive allies in academia, he mentions the Tortuguero Monument 6 text that references the 2012 date but laments that “just when the story [in the text] might get even more interesting, the glyphs have eroded away, leaving the door open for the prophets to continue to speculate.” There are two glyphs at the end of the 190-glyph text that are partially eroded. They are in the verb-action position that would describe the ritual performed in 2012 by a deity (or deities) named Bolon Yokte. It’s no mystery to some epigraphers that the glyphs probably just describe a typical period-ending rite, such as “tying the bundle” or “completion of the cycle.” Those glyphs really aren’t all that important for understanding how 2012 was being utilized in the full inscription.

The fact is that the 2012 date is referenced via a distance number in the main part of the text in relation to a building dedication that was performed in the 7th century. I have pointed out that this is incredibly significant for understanding how 2012 was conceived at Tortuguero, because a new building’s dedication is thereby made analogous to a new cosmos’s dedication. For this reason, I’ve suggested that 2012 is being portrayed here as a worldrenewal event --- not that surprising since it is 13-baktun cycle ending.[ http://decipherment.wordpress.com/2008/12/20/what-will-not-happen-in-2012/#comments] There are other very important connections, astronomically, between 2012 and other events described in other parts of the text that should be discussed and published by Maya scholars. The two partially effaced glyphs which Aveni believes is a deal breaker for understanding the relevance of 2012 on Monument 6 are red herrings, distractions from the real important information in the inscription.  

Aveni is content to bob up and down on the surface of the data, without engaging the full information and full implications. He is thus a reporter who will appeal to readers who want to be reinforced in their prejudice that all the 2012 stuff is just silly fantasy. He succeeds in this to the extent that he skips merrily along the surface, refusing to present and engage the deeper work done to elucidate the Tortuguero text and other topics relevant to understanding what the Maya really thought about 2012, as his article’s title promised.

            In order to make some sense of my galactic alignment idea, which was poorly defined in Aveni’s article, he sketches the underlying astronomical phenomenon that causes the galactic alignment: the precession of the equinoxes. He concludes that because the Maya skywatchers possessed a zodiac (that is the only criteria upon which Aveni could, in his mind, say what follows), then “they could have noted the difference between stellar years and solar years, but there is no convincing evidence that they charted precession, or how they might have done it.” Aveni at least could have mention the work done in support of ancient Maya precessional knowledge by archaeologist Marion Popenoe Hatch (at Olmec La Venta ca. 1200 BC), by scholar Gordon Brotherston (in the Popol Vuh and Central Mexican calendrical documents), by Maya scholar and mythologist Eva Hunt (in her book Transformations of the Hummingbird), and by the archaeologists working at Tak’alik Ab’aj in Guatemala but, alas, there is no evidence that Aveni did. My 1998 book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, which is pictured on the 3rd page of Aveni’s article along with other books that “predict doom or enlightenment” contains a lengthy appendix in which I discuss academic work done on the precession question. I’d bet that most readers, after reading Aveni’s article, would never imagine in their wildest dreams that my book would contain something like that, nor that its bibliography would contain these sources: http://Alignment2012.com/bibbb.htm.   

               Perhaps the most compelling scholarly work done on the precession question is found in Michael Grofe’s 2007 PhD dissertation called The Serpent Series: Precession in the Maya Dresden Codex. Grofe finds evidence for precessional intervals in the Serpent Series of the Dresden. Grofe’s work also identifies tropical and sidereal year calculations in the inscriptions, unconnected to any kind of zodiac reference. Aveni has been aware of Grofe’s work for some time. In Aveni’s book, he devoted about a page to Grofe’s precession thesis, but misunderstands Grofe’s approach. Grofe’s analysis of the serpent series text, the dated inscriptions and distance numbers attempted to determine the Maya’s estimate of precession. He arrived at a figure that is slightly different than modern calculations, and Aveni seized upon this, stating “regarding projections back some 30,000 years, we do not know enough about the variability of astronomical periodicities to project sky views back confidently to much more than a few thousand years B.C. Anyone who cherry-picks big numbers from diverse sources is bound to discover whole multiples of diverse astronomical periodicities” (Aveni 2009, p. 105). He also writes that Grofe uses the contemporary value of precession to “mount his argument.” The fact is that Grofe wasn’t concerned with astronomical periodicities going back 30,000 years, nor was he using a contemporary precession value to mount his argument. Grofe’s work is not dependent on making such a comparison with actual values. The point of Grofe’s work is to figure out what the Maya were using as constant values within these long calculations. Aveni apparently does not understand what Grofe’s argument is, which can be found stated clearly on pages 90-91 of his dissertation on the Serpent Series:

“It must be stated that the following hypothetical reconstructions do not intend to show actual current projections for these dates [underlining in original], which would use non-constant theoretical rates for both the tropical and sidereal years, and for the length of a day. The sidereal differences between the current measurement and the Maya measurement are only very slight, but the differences in the projected tropical year are increasingly larger over time. The aim here is to visualize the internally consistent results of the calculations that the Maya determined, based on their evident theoretical constants. We have already discussed the accuracy of these calculations, and it would be possible to further compare these dates with current astronomical theory, but that is not the intention here.”

So, these and the other examples provided indicate that Aveni’s assessments are highly unreliable and will misinform the trusting reader. Aveni’s oversight here is emblematic of the flaw in many of his critiques, which when combined with his nonchalant authoritative tone cudgels his readers into accepting his assertions. His critiques are effective to the extent that his readers uncritically accept his authority.

      After Aveni sketches and dismisses precession, he then writes:

 

"According to the Y12ers, based on their interpretations of monuments such as [Izapa] Stela 25, the Maya not only tracked the precession, but used it to predict what the sky would look like when the Long Count ends and a new cycle of creation begins" [in 2012].     

 

My work has been the first and only work to examine the carvings of Izapa for evidence as to how the creators of the Long Count may have thought about 2012. His casual  references to “Y12ers” shows how loose his concepts are in regard to where these ideas have originated. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, I do not use Stela 25 as an iconographic depiction of precession or the precessional alignment in 2012. Based upon my work on Izapa, I was the first to publish, in 1995, 1996, and again in 1998, the previously unpublished fact that the ballcourt at Izapa aligns with the December solstice sunrise. This fact, along with the iconography and orientation of a dozen monuments in the ballcourt and a dozen or so elsewhere at the site, along with my separate work on the astronomical symbolism of the Maya ballgame, is a major part of my galactic alignment theory. It is unprecedented in the literature yet based on a synthesis of existing academic scholarship[ http://alignment2012.com/bibbb.htm ].

When Aveni writes “to predict what the sky would look like…” he gives the unwary reader the impression that the entire configuration of stars and planets is what is referred to. A reasonable reader would be rightfully doubtful that the Maya, or any other ancient culture, could have done this. But the sky picture that my work suggests was projected for 2012 is simply the convergence of the December solstice sun with the dark rift in the Milky Way --- something not difficult to extrapolate once precession was discovered and calculated. The data gathered by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus, credited with discovering precession in 128 BC, was assessed by no less an exacting scholar than Otto Neugebauer, who concluded that the data would have supported a good estimate of precession. Once again, Aveni demonstrates his mastership of misleading linguistic polemics.

The rest of Aveni’s paragraph is a madcap conflation of Stela 25 with a concatenation of solar flare ideation, sunspots, and north-south orientations of the Milky Way.  He writes that “there is no evidence that the May used sky maps as representational device the way we do.” Aveni always uses “the way we do” as a test for his conclusions, a dangerous reflex when assessing the unique artifacts of an ancient non-Western culture. Stela 25 is clearly an expression of a recognizable Creation Myth episode which also encodes the underlying astronomical references. It is not surprising to find “pictures” (not necessarily “maps”) which illustrate the interface between two different domains of the Maya world. In this case, myth and astronomy. It is hard for modern specialist scholars to think in these integrative terms, as they’ve been taught to keep categories compartmentalized.

Further on in his article, Aveni admits that because the solar zenith date (at Izapa, which he forgot to mention) corresponds to the zero date in 3114 BC, and the cycle ending of 2012 falls on a solstice, “it is conceivable that the past and future zero days or creation events were deliberately linked to important positions in the sun cycle.” Aha!  This is what I’ve been arguing for many years. This point was absent from his keynote address in at Tulane University, and I had to introduce it myself during the Q & A section.[http://Alignment2012.com/Tulane2009.html]. Aveni’s late admission, though presented without any acknowledgment of my years of insistence on this point, nevertheless now invites his colleagues to investigate the possibility that 2012 was an intentional artifact installed by the creators of the Long Count over 2,000 years ago. That was the challenge I took up in 1990, and which through deep and rational examination of the evidence, has resulted in my galactic alignment theory.    


This has been an unexpectedly lengthy assessment of Aveni’s 4-page article. His angle is that people do crazy things with millennial dates like 2012. But he unfairly indicts the later appropriation and distortion of my work by other writers as a valid critique of my original undiluted work. And accurate assessments of my work are completely lacking in Aveni’s critique. There is in fact not one complete quote or accurate paraphrase or characterization of my work in Aveni’s article. So he, like the New Age writers he criticizes, is distorting what my work, including my galactic alignment theory, is actually about. His debunking is fueled by inaccurate paraphrases and a demonstrable misunderstanding of the material he presumes to authoritatively assess. One might even say that he employs a distractive hermeneutics, or methodology, of critique designed to distort his opponent’s work, rather than offers an accurate assessment and an honesty, rational, critique. Consensus is preserved but clarity is not.

 

I can see that in the twilight of his career Aveni is having a little fun with all the doomsday hooplah, but it’s at the expense of  accurately treating Maya traditions as well as my work, Grofe’s work, and MacLeod’s work.