Now comes Jose Arguelles, again. Mr. Arguelles, a Mexican who hails from Oregon, anoints himself to be the direct spiritual descendant of Pakal - Maya ruler of Palenque (A.D. 615). Arguelles further claims the inside track on the alignment of the ancient 5,200-year long-count calendar of the Maya. Arguelles has done this before, in 1987, when he coordinated the international extravaganza called the "Harmonic Convergence." Thus, thousands of would-be Maya, reborn and cosmically drawn from all corners of the world, are set to usher in the "apocalypse" of Western Civilization, predicted for around Christmas time, 2012. The ten-year countdown began this Christmas. The public relations phenomenon got into the New York Times and drew tens of thousands of people from dozens of countries to various Maya ceremonial sites, mostly in Mexico.
As they did at the time of the "Harmonic Convergence," in 1987, actual Maya elders from the present generation of community practitioners of the Day-keeping ceremonies have cautioned against the extravagant claims. A recent phone call to our editorial circle from a group of Kekchi elders took the notions to task: "Many people pretend to represent our Maya cosmology and our ceremonies. But the prayerful communication with our ancient spirits - is tender; it does not tolerate so much public notice."
North American Indians might note that the New Age interpretation and appropriation of indigenous spiritual knowledge infects the reality of Indian existence in the South as well. Not only New Agers, but scientists, anthropologists, political ideologues and present-day economists have all tried their hand at interpreting and representing the Maya, whose core population of several million is concentrated in the Guatemalan highlands. Most of the time, this outside interpretation is negative and less than useless. Manipulation of the Maya identity by outsiders is a growing industry.
To be fair, some scientists have conducted welcome and useful investigations into Maya culture and lifeways. These observers have usually worked and partaken directly with Native language community people, and have gained an understanding of currently active spiritual systems used by the people. Not a few have risked their own safety and comfort to assist in the expression of the many issues and problems confronting the Native communities. This brand of committed researchers is a long way from those who would parade their own theatrical characters through the media for personal glory and gain, rather than assist the actual Maya people to represent themselves.
The Maya Day-keeping calendar tradition is a living spiritual way among hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people from the 20-some linguistic nations of the Maya-Quiche. Until very recently, these modest practitioners were the objects of derisive ridicule and even massacre for exercising their ancient religion, which is a daily spiritual prescription that can help regulate currents in the life of the individual, the family and the community. Like most tolerant Native traditional spiritual systems, it is complex, full of natural wisdom and useful to believers. It depends, to a great deal, on lineage and place, and is held dear primarily in the Maya community bases.
There is a big difference between the Maya Calendar practitioners and the New Age fascination with the ruins of Palenque and the many prophesies - ancient and invented - of the 5,200 year long-count. The former live by their spiritual ways, grow their corn and beans and tend not to make much public display of their rituals. The New Age bunch loves the glare of the media, claims cosmic roles in personal visions of their own supernatural importance, and, always, figures out a way of commercializing some piece of the program.
While the overarching Maya spiritual house is rich enough to encompass the 5,200-year long count of their pyramid inscriptions, today's Maya medicines are village-based and powerful "in the practice" of divining, healing and praying for family and relatives. These practitioners are little concerned with the trans-oceanic urges and modalities of western seekers. The core Maya populations and spiritual healers have their own people and problems to attend to.
A little less publicity and a bit more true respect is radically needed. Spiritual devotees lining up with the equinox of Maya pyramids might consider supporting efforts at health and agricultural rebuilding in the highland communities. They might consider helping a midwifery program or underwriting the cost of organic fertilizer training for a region of villages. They might try supporting Maya NGOs working to protect forest areas. There is a lot to do and many ways of helping. True spiritual connection in fact results only from the trust and friendship generated by this type of commitment, which is to give to the people and not just rip off the spiritual without engaging the rest of the conditions that face indigenous peoples and certainly the Meso-American Maya communities.
We urge Arguelles and the whole neo-Mayan spiritualist gang to keep praying; that is one certain way to do little damage and maybe do some good. Just don't try to speak for the Maya peoples or pretend to be able to determine the meanings of our time according to Maya time. Your qualifications are subjective in this respect.
To the Maya practitioners, who would rather continue their traditional prayers without so much fanfare, thank you for surviving. For those of you who live in your communities of origin and who practice the spiritual healings for your people, we offer the greatest respect. Be assured that some of us can tell the difference between your ancient duties and expressions and the current notions of the New Age movements.