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Mayan Mysteries

Galactic Alignments in Ancient Traditions & the Future of Humanity


In March of 1987, I witnessed a dramatic all-day fire ceremony in the highland Maya village of Chamula, Mexico. It was a ritual of purification, burning the dross of the old year and making way for the new.

      I had been traveling through Mexico and Central America for almost three months, and on that warm March day I vowed to live and work with the Maya and study their culture. During the next seven years I returned to Mesoamerica four times. I helped build a school in San Pedro, Guatemala. I delivered relief supplies to Quiché Maya villages in the Guatemalan highlands. I traveled the remote out-backs, made friends among the Maya, learned some of their language, and developed a great appreciation for their innate wisdom and strength of character. Throughout this period, I studied the cultural history of the Maya, which brought me to an understanding of their millennia-old calendars, cosmologies, mythologies, and religious life.

      I have always been interested in pushing back the fringes of knowledge. Mesoamerican studies is a relatively young field. The Mayan hieroglyphic writing has only recently been decoded enough that we can reconstruct detailed histories of specific Mayan kingdoms. In researching and writing seven books, I have focused on decoding the ancient Mayan calendar and its associated cosmology, and I have been drawn to address one unanswered question: Why does a large cycle of time in the Mayan Long Count calendar end in the year that we call AD 2012?

      First, on what basis do we know that 2012 is the correct year? Mayan scholars have spent almost a century deciphering the Mayan calendar’s relationship to our own. It is well known that the basic 260-day calendar was augmented by the use of another calendar, called the Long Count.

      Utilising nested cycles of 20, 360, 7200, and 144,000 days, the Long Count culminates in a World Age cycle of 13 baktuns, which equals 5,125 years. On hundreds of carved monuments spanning over 1,000 years, the dot-and-bar dating system of the Long Count was found to correlate consistently with moon phases and other astronomical phenomenon. After decades of interdisciplinary analysis, Mayan scholars Joseph T. Goodman, Juan Martínez, and J. Eric S. Thompson determined that the 13-baktun cycle of the Long Count calendar could be confidently located in real time, and its end-date would occur on in the Long Count, which corresponds to December 21, 2012. This correlation of the Mayan and Western calendars has been in place since the 1930s, and is not the product of recent New Age speculation. It has been challenged, tested, and discussed exhaustively and remains the best candidate.1

         Because the end-date of the 13-baktun cycle of the Mayan Long Count calendar occurs on a winter solstice, I felt that the ancient Maya may have intended to indicate something with that end-date. Fixing a time period by its end-date may seem counter-intuitive, but the Maya actually preferred this perspective. For example, periods of time within the Long Count are named by their end-date; we are currently in the 4 Ahau katun of the Long Count calendar because the last day of this katun falls on 4 Ahau.

      Generally, Mayan metaphors draw from nature. The processes of birth and growth feature prominently in the Mayan conception of time, and childbirth is considered to occur at the end of a nine-month term of embryogenesis (which is believed to be the foundation of the 260-day calendar). In this way, we can understand that it would not be unusual for the end of the 13-baktun cycle to have some significance in Mayan thinking.

      After nine years of research into the 2012 question, in 1998 I published my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 [available from New Dawn Book Service], presenting an astronomical explanation for the Mayan 2012 end-date. In 1998-1999 I was able to workshop my ideas at the Esalen Institute, Naropa University, and the Institute of Maya Studies, with affirming feedback.

      My findings can be summarised quite simply: The Maya chose 2012 to end their calendar cycle because in the years around AD 2012 the solstice Sun will be aligning with the Milky Way (the white band of stars that can be observed arching overhead in late summer). This alignment is not something that happens in every era, for the precession of the equinoxes slowly shifts the position of the solstice Sun in relation to the “background” position of the Milky Way.

      The precessional phenomenon that is responsible for bringing the solstice Sun into alignment with the Milky Way is caused by the slow wobbling of the Earth on its axis. One complete wobble takes approximately 26,000 years. The Greek astronomer Hipparchus is credited with discovering precession in 128 BCE. The conventional description refers to it as the precession of the vernal point (the March equinox), thus “the precession of the equinoxes.”

      However, the phenomenon also equally applies to the solstices, and evidence at the site of Izapa indicates that early Mayan astronomers were concerned with tracking the precessional movement of the December solstice Sun toward the Milky Way.

      This awareness is affirmed by the fact that the Long Count calendar starts appearing in the archaeological record during the era of Izapa’s heyday, in the first century BCE. Izapa – a progressive ceremonial site containing astronomical alignments and monuments portraying the Mayan Creation Myth – is evidently where the Long Count calendar was instituted.

      My research shows that the ball court at Izapa is ground zero of the knowledge that a future alignment of Sun and galaxy would occur. Most significantly, according to calculations by the US Naval Observatory, it is in our era that the alignment of the December solstice Sun with the Milky Way galaxy culminates. This “solstice-galaxy” or “galactic” alignment has great significance within Mayan mythology and cosmology. In my books, especially Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, I show how this alignment scenario was encoded into basic Mayan institutions such as the Creation Myth, the sacred ballgame, and king accession rites.

      My reconstruction of the true intention of the Mayan calendar end-date, though seemingly quite novel, gains support in my subsequent research, for I have discovered that such “galactic” concepts were recognised in other ancient cosmologies (e.g., Egyptian, Islamic, and Vedic).

      My new book, Galactic Alignment: The Transformation of Consciousness According to Mayan, Egyptian, and Vedic Traditions (Inner Traditions International, 2002 – available from New Dawn Book Service), examines evidence that the alignment of the solstice Sun with the Milky Way galaxy (the “galactic alignment”) played a significant role in Old World and Eastern religious iconography and metaphysical traditions. Tracing the galactic knowledge back to ancient Vedic India, it appears that its manifestation in Islamic, Greek, Mithraic, Celtic, and Medieval Hermetic traditions is merely a nascent resurgence of a knowledge that is very ancient indeed.

      It must be emphasised that this ancient “galactic cosmology” is based in empirical astronomy. The periodic alignment of the solstices with the galactic plane is basic astronomy, although discussion of it is largely absent from astronomy text books (Jean Meuss’s 1997 book Mathematical Astronomy Morsels is an exception).

      Much could be explored along the lines of how such an alignment is encoded into ancient mythologies and religious symbolism, which is the primary concern of my new book. However, its basis in empirical astronomy elicits a concern for whether the eschatological ideas of world transformation that inevitably attend an awareness of such alignments are empirically valid. This opens up an avenue of enquiry that modern thinkers who wish to integrate science and spirit should address. I don’t have a definitive answer, and in fact I suspect that a cause-and-effect model that would empirically “solve” this problem is ultimately unnecessary for the alignment to have meaning.

      As a researcher of ancient traditions, I can point to certain interpretations and reconstructions that are implied or are even unavoidable given the facts – for example, I can say with confidence that solstitial alignments to the galactic plane were significant players in ancient traditions that addressed questions of eschatology, cosmology, human salvation, and the nature of time. But I wouldn’t argue why or how such alignments might be empirically shown to have demonstrable effects on life on Earth – although I have some suspicions about how such empirical concerns might be approached.

      For example, a chapter in my new book explores Oliver Reiser’s work that suggests the Galactic Centre is a major factor in the evolution of life on Earth. Four years ago Paul Clark, a correspondent in Australia, pointed me to the book Cosmic Superimposition by Wilhelm Reich which presents evidence that two Orgone streams defined by the galactic equator and the celestial equator (the planes of the Earth’s rotation and the galaxy’s rotation) generate certain phenomena on Earth such as hurricane trajectories. These are certainly fascinating scientific areas to explore, but for myself it is fascinating enough to encounter a previously unrecognised galactic level within ancient philosophy, science, and metaphysics.

      If empirical interests are granted precedence, it remains for a collaborative think tank of intellectuals who are comfortable exploring the fringes to sort out the possible models that might apply. My own path of discovery suggests the following: Beyond the insatiable quest for empirical physical evidence lies the transcendent challenge of metaphysics, and our materialist paradigm could benefit greatly from a serious look at the profound insights of traditional metaphysics.

      I believe that many researchers are currently focusing overmuch on ancient technologies. This stance is clearly a projection of our own culture’s fascination with technology and assumes that the presence of recognisable technology is the best barometer of how advanced an ancient culture was. However, my surprising discoveries of an advanced Mayan cosmological science suggest that what is more important to explore, and what speaks clearly to a void in modern values, is the spiritual insight we find in ancient traditions. Many of us have studied and practiced various spiritual disciplines derived from ancient Hindu, Mayan, or even Egyptian teachings. However, even with this as a foundation, new insights open up when we understand the galactic underpinnings of such traditions.

      The ancient Mayan civilisation understood the universal principles that create and sustain the world. These “first principles” underlie the physical laws that modern science has used to create technological miracles, but the first principles of Mayan sacred science embraced a much larger universe in which human beings were seen to be multidimensional and capable of traveling beyond time and space, beyond the confines that limit modern science with its “laws” that are valid only in the physical three-dimensional plane. But human beings, with our capacity for supra-sensory spiritual vision, are more than three-dimensional.

     We are amazed by the ancient Maya and their baffling, complicated calendar science, and how they built their huge stone cities without using beasts of burden. Writer Colin Wilson chastises them for creating toys with little wheels while failing to build wagons and harness animals into slavery for the benefit of hauling stones. But does this really indicate inferiority? Maybe it was a choice. We sift through their documents, carvings, and fragmented traditions looking for something that our modern mentality can grab hold of and appreciate. We look for a bolt, or a gear, or something that would prove to us that the Maya did indeed have a civilisation.

     However, we are being ethnocentric if we look for evidence of what our own culture values. Perhaps the value of ancient civilisations lies not in a hope that they, at times, struggled up to the same technological level that we recognise as evidence of being civilised. Perhaps for the Maya, as with the Kogi Indians of Columbia and the Australian aborigines, material technology was briefly flirted with, but was then recognised as an ego-dominated deathtrap and was quickly abandoned to pursue the higher yearnings of the human spirit in realms that we might call metaphysical or imaginal.2

     Among the ruins lies buried an inner technology of personal transformation that our civilisation lost long ago, leaving us cast adrift in a reduced world ruled by matter, machines, and marketing gimmicks peddling pre-fab paradigms. And perhaps this is what we really seek, and need to find, among the debris of ancient civilisations.

     The ancient Vedic civilisation is not particularly celebrated for material achievements and yet, like the Maya, they enjoyed a sophisticated understanding of celestial cycles as well as a deep understanding of human spirituality. In fact, the Hindu-Vedic sages mastered magical techniques called siddhis with which their consciousness could be projected into animals, inanimate objects (which also contained a soul), and into distant times and places. We can only hope that someday we might be able to create a cultural context in which human beings might once again cultivate this kind of “inner” technology. In the light these achievements, the so-called “miracle” of television appears to be an unnecessary joke, useful only to those whose consciousness has been seriously downsized.

     Modern historical investigation continues to push back the dating of the origins of civilisations and the advent of material technologies. The arguments of modern independent researchers for advanced technology in ancient times is important, as it increases respect for these ancient cultures among those who value these kinds of achievements, but I believe it misses the point – it is like celebrating Einstein because he worked in a patent office.

     The problem is similar to the quest for lost Atlantis or the Himalayan Shambhala that disappeared into the shadows as humanity descended into an increasingly dense and materialistic age. It’s not that Atlantis or Shambhala lies hidden in some remote valley or underwater grave. The point is that humanity has forgotten how to be in that place where Atlantis/Shambhala once did and always will reside. In other words, the Primordial Tradition symbolised by these semi-mythical locations is a state of mind rather than a distant Golden Age or ancient location.

     The deeper truth of our search for lost “artefacts” is our desire to make visible a knowledge or mindset which is more comprehensive and fulfilling. As with Shambhala, which faded into invisibility as humanity lost the ability to see it, the Primordial Tradition fades but reemerges in places conducive to discovering and appreciating its profound depth and wisdom. This explains the ancient Maya’s isolation and independent genius which nevertheless had tapped into the same doctrines also found in ancient Vedic and Egyptian cosmology. Trans-oceanic voyages are not required for this simultaneous non-local emergence; rather, tapping into the transcendent galactic source of wisdom is all that is required.

     We may find engines in the sands of Egypt, stone computers in the jungles of Guatemala, and gears in Paleolithic encrustations of lava, and this may – indeed, should – create awe and wonder among scientists and the interested public in general. But it shouldn’t distract us from laying aside our own civilisation’s faulty assumptions so that we can truly learn from the high metaphysical teachings offered by ancient civilisations, including the Egyptian, Vedic, and Mayan.

      In part 3 of my new book Galactic Alignment, I explore the metaphysical ideas of the Traditionalist school, in particular the writings of esteemed scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy and symbolist philosopher René Guénon. These writers pioneered the resurrection of the Primordial Tradition, or Perennial Philosophy, and a major idea in this school is that the current cycle of history is ending amid a proliferation of inverted spiritual values and rampant materialism – we are approaching the end of Kali Yuga.

    In the Vedic doctrine of World Ages, Kali Yuga is the final age, the age of greatest spiritual darkness, and its end signals the shift to a new World Age. Clarifying some undeveloped areas within Traditionalist thought, and drawing from the insights of various Vedic commentators, I identify the galactic alignment of era-2012 as the key to the timing of this transition, anchoring the Vedic yuga doctrine to a real astronomical event. In addition, my analysis of the parameters of the alignment phenomenon indicates it is best to think of an “alignment zone” between 1980 and AD 2016.3

     To say that the Mayans, Hindus, and Egyptians were aware of the Milky Way galaxy should surprise no one – after all, the Milky Way is dramatic and prominent in the night sky. But to demonstrate, as I do in my new book, that they also knew about the Milky Way’s centre and believed that our periodic alignments to it have something to do with the transformation of consciousness, should stand the history of science and religion on its head.

      And what if the common sense conclusion to be drawn from all the evidence I’ve gathered together here is true? What if ancient civilisations were aware of the Galactic Centre and the precession of the equinoxes, and that they believed that eras of galactic alignment – like the one we are struggling through right now – somehow contribute to the unfolding of consciousness on Earth? Furthermore, could global weather changes as well as the intensification of synchronicities and anomalous experiences that many people are increasingly reporting be an effect of our alignment with the Galactic Centre? I explore these questions, as well as the unforgettable refrain: “Will the world end in 2012?” Is it about cosmogenesis or catastrophe? From the book:

It may be unpopular to say it, but it’s true: what 2012 was intended to target is not about 2012, it is about a process-oriented shift. It’s really about an open door, a once-in-a-precessional-cycle zone of opportunity to align ourselves with the galactic source of life. There are forces already set in motion propelling us through a crucible of transformation unlike anything experienced in millennia. The process is occurring on the scale of decades, even centuries – but it is occurring on a global level! The sober and humbling fact is that what we are being called to create, to nurture, to help unfold, something that will not flower until long after we, as individuals, have died. The larger life-wave of humanity is at stake. The Algonquin teaching to look ahead seven generations before decisions are made should be our guiding maxim.

          Birth-growth-death-renewal – this process does follow a universal law that appears “predictable” but if it’s part of the natural cycles of change, then what do we have to worry about? We will worry to the extent that we are incapable of letting go. Cycle endings are attended by the destruction of everything belonging to the previous cycle, and like the Phoenix the new world will be born out of the ashes of the old. The metaphor is about birth and death. Not everyone believes in rebirth (reincarnation) but no one can deny the inevitability of death. Unfortunately, few spend much time reflecting on death – the Great Transformer. Meditations on mortality can lead to profound insights and realizations about our humanity, and the denial of death – which is what Western civilization is about – drives us more quickly and less elegantly to it.4

       New vistas have opened up while researching and writing Galactic Alignment, ones that elevate “metaphysics” to its traditional place as a superior framework for understanding the nature of time, reality, and consciousness. This brings me full circle back to my earliest philosophical preoccupations. Metaphysics is the answer to the limitations and dead-ends of the physical sciences, for as a “meta” physics it takes a “higher” view than conventional physics. And this is not semantic slight-of-hand; the sacred sciences of antiquity, closely allied with metaphysical ideas that are now largely misunderstood, were the multidimensional and holistic precursors to our modern profane sciences that today amount to nothing more than a kind of short-sighted thingism.

      As we narrow down our search and venture into metaphysical territory, we dig into the unpublished work of art historian turned academic metaphysician Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and emerge with a Vedic teaching that addresses our end-of-cycle concerns, connecting us right into the Galactic Centre. That teaching is encoded into the Vedic theft of soma myth, and in pursuing its underlying wisdom regarding the transformation of consciousness, all of the book’s themes are integrated into the metaphysical importance of the solstice-galaxy alignment.

      This brief introduction invites readers to explore more deeply the source material that contributes to my conclusions, including studies in sacred cartography, Mithraic symbolism, the Chaldean Oracles, Islamic astronomy, Vedic and Egyptian metaphysics, Hermetic studies, South American traditions, Christian architecture and iconography, and Mayan astronomy.5

      For empirical scientists, astronomy is the central key that connects these questions to hard science, and the metaphysical concepts relating to these eschatological questions are, in fact, closely related to astronomy. Yet beyond empirical concerns, the role of galactic alignments in spiritual transformation is revealed as a core concept found in all of the major ancient traditions – in both the Old World and the New World. By recovering this core wisdom form the deep past, we open a little doorway that can lead us into a new era of growth and renewal.

Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 and Galactic Alignment by John Major Jenkins are available from New Dawn Book Service.


1. More on the correlation question can be found in my 1994 book Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies (Borderland Sciences Research Foundation). I recently re-released this book on CD-Rom, with an extensive additional archive of essays, reviews, and correspondence. To order, see the Tzolkin page at

2. I here use “imaginal” in the way understood by Henry Corbin (see Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi) – a dimension of real, though subtle, extension rather than simply a place of fantasy.

3. This alignment zone is based on two facts: The US Naval Observatory calculated the alignment of the solstice meridian with the galactic equator would occur in 1998, and the Sun itself is ½° wide. Thus, because precession takes 36 years to move ½°, the range is 1980 to 2016. Other additional alignment parameters are addressed in chapter 21 of Galactic Alignment.

4. Galactic Alignment, page 259.

5. See the “Galactic Alignment 2” section of my website for additional material:

John Major Jenkins is an independent researcher who has devoted himself to reconstructing ancient Mayan cosmology and philosophy. Since beginning his odyssey of research and discovery with the Maya, John has authored dozens of articles and seven books. John can be contacted via email at: Mayan Cosmology and Calendrics Website:

The above article appeared in
New Dawn No. 76
(January-February 2003)