Interview from Esoterra Magazine, conducted in November 1995.
Reprinted in The Borderlands Journal in 1996
John Major Jenkins is an independent student of Mayan time. Having authored numerous articles and four books on Mayan cosmology including Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies (Borderlands Science and Research Foundation, 1994), Jenkins emphasizes the visionary or mystical element in Mayan studies while celebrating the authentic Mayan Calendar traditions, still surviving today in the remote villages of Central America.
Robert Paul: How and when did you first become interested in the Maya?
John Major Jenkins: I've always been interested in ancient philosophy, esoteric wisdom and cosmology. Back around 1986, my general interest in Native American beliefs got narrowed down to the Maya, as they seemed advanced in ways that scholars were not even able to talk about. I had read Frank Waters' books on the Hopi and then his book Mexico Mystique (1975). That addressed some interesting possibilities, and piqued my curiousity about the end-date. So, in 1986, I saved a little cash, quit my factory job, and headed south of the border for a few months. I had also read some of Barbara Tedlock's Time and the Highland Maya (1982), which talked about her apprenticeship to a daykeeper in the highlands of Guatemala in the mid-1970's. This is a very interesting book, but at that time I didn't understand a lot of what she was describing. It did tell me, however, that the Maya and their calendar traditions were alive and well in the remote villages of Guatemala. So that's were I went. I was gone for 4 months and got back completely broke after spending a week in jail, but that's another story.
RP: How long have you been involved in the study of Mayan Calendrics?
JMJ: So many crazy things happened on that first trip to Central America that in 1988 I decided to write about it. It was going to be just a travelogue kind of thing that I would give to my friends and family. But I thought I should present something about the calendar too, so a little research became a lot of research and, in fact, I got very absorbed in working with what I call "Mayan time philosophy" and a "big picture" understanding of what the calendar is all about emerged. One question led to another and I've been pursuing various mysteries related to the calendar pretty intensely since then.
RP: For the benefit of our readers, could you give a brief overview of the workings of the Mayan Sacred Calendar? Describe its timekeeping and astrology.
JMJ: The "key" to Mayan time is the sacred cycle of 260 days, the tzolkin. The word "tzolkin" is derived from the Mayan term "chol kij" - count of days. This cycle is a combination of 20-daysigns with a number from 1 to 13. So 13 and 20 are the critical numbers of the tzolkin "key." They advance together in the following way. Today is October 24th, 1995. Daykeepers among many different Mayan groups will tell you that today is 2 Eb. "Eb" refers to the daysign generally translated as "tooth". Tomorrow will be 3 Ben, and the day after that is 4 Ix and so on. After 260 days we get back to 2 Eb. 260 is a key number which refers to processes in the heavens as well as on earth. For example, the Maya say that it corresponds to the cycle of human gestation - that's a biological reference. It also corresponds to the time between the planting and harvesting of corn at a certain elevation in the highlands - that's agricultural. It also times religious shrine ceremonies in the hills around Mayan villages. Daykeepers and other calendar-priests go to certain shrines on certain days in the tzolkin calendar to perform shrine offerings and commune with Nantat, the ancestors, and El Mundo, the Earth Lord. This is, you might say, a religious use. Its celestial or astronomical uses are astounding. It is used to track the phases of the moon. Also, 2 cycles of 260 days equal 520 days and this equals 3 eclipses. So the Maya predict eclipses by using the tzolkin in this very simple way. Likewise, they track Venus with the tzolkin, and the time between the eveningstar appearance of Venus and its appearance as morningstar is 258 days. The other time cycle used by the Maya is the vague solar year of 365-days known as the "haab". While the tzolkin is the mysterious multidimensional "key", you might say that the haab is the mundane or "secular" calendar, primarily used to schedule secular holidays and so forth. The framework of days created by the combined tzolkin-haab is like a loom on which the movements of Mars, Saturn, Jupiter - even Uranus and Neptune can be tracked. It is a sacred-secular or solar-lunar synthesis. The full tzolkin-haab cycle is completed once every 52 years. This was the Calendar Round and the Aztecs observed the Pleiades pass through the zenith at the end of each one of these. The ceremony revolving around this event was called the New Fire Ceremony.
In general then, the tzolkin is the "key" to both terrestrial and celestial processes. It's kind of the common modulator or common denominator of the two realms. This is how we can understand Mayan astrology. They discovered the numerical and ritual key. Most important in the astrology of all this is the reference to the human gestation period. As such, our own basic and shared rhythm of unfolding is seen to be intimately related to the cycles of the planets, moon and sun. This is more than just planets "influencing" us - rather, we share the same rhythm of unfolding that the planets do because, ultimately, everything springs from the same source. Everything, on some level, has been imparted with the same rhythm of unfolding and is therefore related by a form of synchronistic correspondence. According to the Maya, the common source is the Sacred Tree - the Axis Mundi.
RP: How much of an influence was José Argüelles on your work?
JMJ: Initially, The Mayan Factor (1987) kind of gave permission to interpret things in a visionary way. Some of Argüelles' early ideas are insightful and valuable. For example, the term "Harmonic Module" for the tzolkin speaks for its deeper meanings. His work with the 8 x 8 magic squares and the numbers 64 and 260 led me to some interesting discoveries regarding one of the "core principles" of the tzolkin, the Golden Mean. Strangely, however, Argüelles never really explored how the Golden Mean operates within the tzolkin. The mathematics get pretty intense. So, The Mayan Factor was part of my early reading, and I suppose it influenced that first travelogue, Journey to the Mayan Underworld, that I finished in late 1989.
In all fairness, Argüelles was early on a clear visionary voice, and for whatever reason he did appeal to so many people that the infamous Harmonic Convergence in August of '87 was something of a phenomenon. However, things have changed and it seems José has taken some wrong turns. In The Mayan Factor there isn't much of a distinction made between his visionary myth-making and what should be called ethno-historic fact. As such, there is a credibility deficiency due to lack of documentation. I think there is a place for visionary speculating, taking a study such as the Mayan calendar beyond what we can read about in academic books. A complex system of symbols and applications such as the tzolkin encodes certainly can be worked with in such a way. However, you are obliged to distinguish between what is surely "Mayan" and what is derived there-from. If you don't, then you're cooking a pretty messy stew. So a lot of people are confusing what José Argüelles says with what the Mayans say. This is especially irresponsible because the Maya are still here! This translates into appropriation and disrespect for a living tradition. As such, José's words are now treated by his followers with a kind of cultic inviolability, when in fact they have increasingly become misconceptions which serve the dubious agenda of one theocratic leader. José has entered the game of spiritual politics and as we know, politicians just tell people what they think they want to hear - rarely the truth.
RP: You point out in your book Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies (1992, 1994) the many discrepencies of fact within José Argüelles' so-called Dreamspell game/oracle. Has the game been improved at all? Is José a genuine visionary or an exploitive con-man?
JMJ: One interesting result of having clearly exposed the errors of Dreamspell is that many people involved in Dreamspell have written to me with their own questions. I've responded to probably a hundred letters from various "ex-Dreamspellers." Many had noticed the discrepencies themselves but were unsure of what the true Mayan tradition had to say. This is because, again, the seemingly purposeful blurring of the "José" and "Mayan" source of ideas. So, to answer your question, no, José has not sought to correct his misconceptions. But it does seem that he is aware of the confusion arising among his followers. His response is to issue press releases with ad-hoc solutions. For example, in order for Dreamspell to work, one has to ignore counting February 29th. Obviously, this is not very satisfying to most people and, in addition, no Mayan daykeeper would stand for just not counting a day. The response from Deception Central to this ridiculous situation was that February 29th is an artifact of the Gregorian Calendar, and thus it doesn't matter if we ignore it. How absurd! This is just one example of many. Ex-Dreamspellers have told me that a lot of people fascinated with Dreamspell don't give a hoot about Mayan tradition; they're into it as a kind of escape, like mindlessly playing video games or something. This jibes with the lack of response I've had in trying to contact members of the Dreamspell elite such as Aluna Joy Yaxkin, Randy Bruner and others. Aluna Joy publishes regularly in Sedona Magazine, including monthly calendars using José's count placement. My letters were invitational rather than adversarial. They don't want to hear what I have to say, and my only goal is to clarify for them what the authentic Mayan calendar tradition is all about. In other words, it's not my "opinion" against José's "opinion" - I speak for authentic Mayan tradition and the true tzolkin count. I can't say whether or not José is a con-man, but at least it doesn't seem that he has a grasp on the real effects of what he is doing. If he is aware of the real effects, well, then we have a much scarier situation.
RP: What real effects?
JMJ: Dreamspell doesn't follow the authentic count of days. As of March 1st, 1996, the Dreampell/Argüelles count will be 51 days out of synchrony with the true count. The Maya use the tzolkin count to time shrine ceremonies and so forth. The tzolkin generates the ritual field of sacred ceremony - a ritual field that has 3000 years of repetition behind it. This is the heart of Mayan spirituality. How do you disrupt that? Set up another count of days, trick thousands of people into putting energy into that placement, and send a dissonance wave into the true count. The real effects then, of Dreamspell, are tantamount to a ritual attack on authentic Mayan tradition. I talk about this in more detail in my essay called "The Key to the Dreamspell Agenda."
RP: In your book Tzolkin you present ideas such as the raising of synchronicity as both concept and reality to a `respected status.' By this I take it as a worthy subject for academic/scientific research. What luck have you had in changing the minds of the established paradigm?
JMJ: Parapsychology has been studied with statistics and various tests. Astrology, for example, has been studied statistically by both J.B. Rhine and Carl Jung. Jung himself ran tests using tens of thousands of couples, testing for sun & moon aspects that traditional astrology said should be there. They were there, above statistical chance. This is a pretty simple experiment. The problem with synchronicity is that it can't be tested properly with the scientific method because it involves a factor of perceived subjective meaning. My ideas about synchronicity really fall into the category of metaphysics. It gets back to what I said earlier about the terrestrial and celestial realms being intrinsically interwoven, not via cause-and-effect, but because everything springs from the same source. Subjective and objective events spring from the same source, unfold with the same rhythm, and thus meaningful connections that seem to defy logic occur all the time. That is, unless you're repressing the magic. This is the "as above, so below" principle which ancient cultures understood as commmon sense. It's ironic that in our modern "advanced" age, one has to really squirm to language this principle, it goes so against the limited perspective of science that we've been indoctrinated with. Not to mention Christianity, which spent centuries giving magic a bad name.
RP: You write in Tzolkin that "The tzolkin structures a hidden dimension, closer to the sacred spirit realms." Do you mean by this that the tzolkin "informs" the haab, lends to it patterns of influence and manifestation? Could the tzolkin be the source of the morphic resonance postulated by Rupert Sheldrake?
JMJ: I don't know if the tzolkin "informs" the haab, but you're right in saying that the tzolkin is the source of a morphic field. But it takes the ritual feedback of ceremony to keep it rolling. And it is the key-rhythm or cycle which links us to the greater cosmos. When you track the tzolkin and follow the 13 x 20 daycount for long enough, observing carefully how it patterns events in your life, you begin to see how seemingly unrelated events - unrelated in space as well as time - are really very closely related. From the viewpoint above the linear march of time, events separated by years can be seen as two faces of the same transdimensional event. It seems strange but it's very human, because our minds are really multidimensional. We've been taught to forget that. The tzolkin is the subject-object interface, and because on one level its operations are mathematical, one can argue very solidly how this works. In my work, it has to do with the Golden Mean. This is a unique ratio which isn't just a mathematical curiousity. It gives rise to spirals in seashells, pinecones and other basic biological patterns. It is the principle of regeneration, of patterning based on building off what came before. As such, human reproduction is a process ruled by the Golden Mean. The key here is that, like the tzolkin, the Golden Mean is also found in planetary cycles. In fact, it was really the key to 17th-century cosmologist Johannes Kepler's Harmony of the Spheres model of the cosmos. Contrary to what latter-day historians of science usually say, Kepler's model worked perfectly well for all the visible planets. The point here is that the tzolkin number 260 is directly related to the Golden Mean. The Golden Mean is usually approximated as 1.618, and is symbolized by the Greek letter f ("PHI"). Here's the connection: 100f2 = 261.8. As far as theorems go, this is tolerably close to 260. The Mayan sacred number 260 is, I believe, referential to the principle of the Golden Mean. I explore all this very thoroughly in my book Jaloj Kexoj and PHI-64 (1994). So, yes, the tzolkin provides the logos-pattern or Morphic Field which human beings can choose to synchronize with by performing ritual in tune with the inner dynamics of the 13 numbers and 20 day-signs. In doing so, we can understand our deep interweaving with the cosmos.
RP: You write in your book Journey to the Mayan Underworld that the day-glyphs of the Sacred Calendar are "...the guardians of dormant faculties within our minds... doorways to the cosmos... energy entities." Please elaborate. How can one contact or utilize such glyphic beings? Have you correlated and mapped them to the Chi power points on the human body? If so, how?
JMJ: This statement is based on the fact that the Maya associate the 20 day-glyphs with the 20 fingers and toes. To me, it seemed that the 20 fingers and toes represent the extreme ends of the body-image, the antenna you might say. I don't know where the fingers and toes get placed on charts of the cerebral cortex showing what area corresponds to which body part, but I felt that if a twenty-day bio-rhythm exists, the full circuit covers all the bases. This relates to the well-known fact that the 20-day month is called uinal, and the related word for human being is uinac. Some kind of correlation must have been recognized. Since the fingers and toes in this interpretation are thus the extremeties, and each day-glyph archetype is located at these points, to open each portal over twenty days seemed a way to open up the "doorways to the cosmos." This is all just philosophical speculation on my part - I've never myself worked with the day-glyphs to such a degree, but I suspect Mayan daykeepers and shaman do something like this when they divine for the location of lost objects and so forth. They call upon the help of the current day-god to channel through the answer. Opening up the day-glyph doors can connect you to information in the outer world.
Daykeepers have a body map which helps them interpret messages from the higher realm. This might be understood as working with Chi and certain power points on the body. They call it "lightning in the blood." In reading through the day-signs during a divination, they may feel an inner twinge in, say, the left calf. They take into account the day-sign they were at when it occurred, and the specific meaning of the left calf. "Left" would be something female, and I'm unsure what the calf means. As with all oracles, it's a pretty complex methodology and depends a great deal on the skills and gifts of the particular daykeeper. Mayanist scholars Barbara and Dennis Tedlock are both trained daykeepers. Dennis writes about some of his divining experiences in a very engaging way in his recent book Breath on the Mirror.
RP: Have you ever had a reading done?
JMJ: Not directly for myself. I've discussed the techniques with trained daykeepers, read ethnographic accounts and so on. I witnessed, in Chichicastenango in 1990, what you would probably call an exorcism.
RP: In your booklet series called The Center of Mayan Time, you discuss the Mayan Long Count end-date (December 21st, 2012 A.D.). What is this about?
JMJ: Many researchers have tried to figure out why the Mayan Calendar ends on December 21st, 2012 A.D. The Long Count calendar breaks time into cycles labled baktuns, katuns and so on. The full 13-baktun cycle of the Long Count lasts just over 5125 years. Scholars have been able to place the beginning and end of this cycle in relation to our own calendar, and that's why we know for sure the end date in 2012 A.D. Most researchers have thought that the beginning commemorates some mythic event, a convocation of gods or something, and that the Long Count's placement is thereby derived. But the end-date has always intrigued me, because it does end on the winter solstice. This tells me that the Maya targeted the end-date as the occurrence of some event rather than the beginning. But why 2012? The answer is startling in its simplicity, but has gone unexplored by Mayanists. The Maya were intent stargazers; Mesoamerican astronomy is so complex there are thousands of volumes in libraries on this topic, thousands more to be written, and we just don't know yet what the limits of their astronomical knowledge was.
Now, in 1969 a book came out called Hamlet's Mill and the authors explored the role of a subtle celestial process called the precession of the equinoxes in the development of Old World astronomy and science. They mention the fact that at the turn of this coming millennium, there will be a rare alignment in that astronomical cycle. The winter solstice meridian will coincide with the Galactic Equator - the Milky Way. In other words, the winter solstice sun will be right on the Milky Way circa 2000 A.D., and the alignment has been slowly converging for thousands of years. Precession is a subtle, very slow movement of the heavens, and it takes at least 100 years of observational records and a great deal of careful attention to notice it. My point is that the ancient skywatchers who devised the Long Count some 2100 years ago had discovered precession, and looked to the future alignment as a likely World Age shift. They calculated the event and fixed their creation mythology to it. There are two more celestial features right near where the sun will be on the end-date in 2012 A.D.: 1) The "dark rift" which the Maya call "the road to the underworld." This is a dark area running along part of the Milky Way caused by interstellar dust clouds; and 2) The Galactic Center. In many mythological contexts, the "dark-rift" is understood to be the birth canal of the Great Mother, the Milky Way. It is the birth place of the next World Age. The celestial cross defined by the Milky Way crossing over the ecliptic is also important, and this was recently identified by Mayan scholar Linda Schele as the Mayan Sacred Tree. The heart of the four directional symbolism is the fifth direction, the center. This is the navel and source of creation. And again, the "dark- rift" runs through all these features. All of these mythic symbols are different, but are very close together in the sky. When the winter solstice sun, who is a "First Father" deity, comes along and gets born, you have a rare celestial event highlighting a unique era in human civilization. The strange thing here is that this "womb of creation" imagery seems appropriate in real terms because the nearby Galactic Center is really the birth place of everything! The question is whether this is all fairy tales or are there real effects of the alignment? The field orientation of the earth, sun and greater galaxy are definitely inter-related. This may be more about immediate field shifts rather than cause-and-effect energy emanating from the Galactic Center. Maybe it's a little of both. When the solstice meridian passes through the Galactic Equator, a rare era in the earth's journey is engaged. How does this effect human society? Maybe it sets the stage for earthquakes and volcanoes and pole shifts and so forth - the recurring Atlantean cataclysm mythos may be based in this 26,000 cycle. Maybe it's just a paradigm shift, a cycling of psychological dominants as Jung would say.
RP: If one views the tzolkin as a sort of macromorphic powerstation which itself emerged from the Sacred Tree, then what do you think is in store for us on and following the end-date/Creation Day? Does the conjunction point to the emergence of a new morphogenetic power station, perhaps?
JMJ: To answer your last question first, I don't think that the powerstation itself will be replaced or altered. I think that the Galactic Center is probably the powerstation. The phenomenon that periodically aligns us with this power station, via the winter solstice meridian, is the precession of the equinoxes. The Long Count calendar seems to take into consideration the precessional movement and tells us when the next alignment will occur: 2012 A.D. The "dark-rift" aspect is intriguing, because it is a visible feature of the Milky Way, while the Galactic Center is not. So, it's rather intriguing that the Maya mythologized the dark-rift as a navel or birth canal - a cosmic origin-place if you will - because that's exactly what the nearby Galactic Center really is. It's the source of everything as far as the local neighborhood is concerned. So, the last time the winter solstice sun aligned with the dark-rift (with Galactic Center very close by) was about 26,000 years ago. This is an excellent event to mark the beginning of a new precessional cycle. I think we, as an evolving species, get a boost of some kind. I think energy is intensified, channeled in and focused somehow. This creates the crazy and intense scenario of modern life, a frenzied chaos of mutations, death, new life, apocalypse and rebirth. Maybe new information comes through and reformats our spiritual hard drives. We could use it. It might be a Kali scenario - Kali in her destructive aspect - where the hard truth of the matter is that our time's up, the slate gets wiped clean and Ma earth rests before she has another kid. I'm not convinced that we even have a choice in the matter. Futurists sometimes present a heaven or hell option, saying that we live at a crossroads and it's up to us to either embrace the light and enter eternity or keep munchin' potato chips and end up bobbing for apples with Lucifer. But just think, bumbling along in unconscious stupor got us this far, to where we are upright and uptight, thinking, thumb using vegetarians. Maybe whatever happens is just dandy. I don't know.
And what's going to happen on the end-date? I think that it's really happening now. Sometimes we forget that we live in a very unusual time. 100 years ago, horse drawn carts delivered your milk in the morning and now, a blip later, your average factory worker can easily own a supercomputer. If Russia had an IBM 386 at their disposal back in 1950, we would probably be calling each other comrade. In 2012, I think there will probably be celebrations, media hype, people getting rich off of selling T-shirts and so forth. And a big party, lots of big parties. Maybe in a hundred years our descendants will consider this a great era of transformation and new beginnings. Maybe 2013 will be year 1 in the new calendar. It might be some kind of nightmare of trans-national feudalism, with Newt Gingrich hailed as a demented founding father. My own ideal scenario is that we hear the message that the alignment expresses. The event seems to be a reminder that everything springs from the Mother-principle. We need to relinquish the dominator style which has been our collective habit for almost 6000 years, and revert to the style that held us steady for tens of thousands of years prior to that - the partnership ideal of our Great Mother-worhipping Neolithic ancestors. The alignment says that First Father (the winter solstice sun) is born from the birth canal of the Great Creatrix - the dark-rift in the Milky Way or, equally so, the Galactic Center. Woman embodies the first principle of life and continued life. The situation as seen in all our social norms and institutions is backwards. Dominator culture is life destroying. Partnership culture is more complex, more challenging, it introduces a third element into the picture - that which gets created in between. Mother equals Life. If we refuse to remember this, our culture becomes like a cancer, if it hasn't already. Turned upside down, the world can only go on for so long.
RP: How do Argüelles's "galactic beam" and "mass enlightenment" concepts fit into this?
JMJ: Argüelles's "galactic beam" idea and his other phrase "galactic synchronization" suggest that he was aware of the alignment. He seems to be intuitively tuned into this amazing fact of the end-date. But I have never read anything by him just spelling out what this alignment is. Never. Is there intentional obfuscation of the celestial mechanics of this? Is the high truth seen as fit for only the inner initiates, and this truth needs to be dished out to the masses in watered-down form? I don't buy that. We must network our thoughts, look at the various questions that arise in exploring the nature of this alignment, not decide how to package and sell it. Likewise, Mayan scholars have yet to explore the ramifications of the simple fact of this end-date alignment.
RP: Discuss the current state of affairs regarding academic acceptance of your work.
JMJ: Basically, there's been no response from key people I've contacted. The one exception, however, is promising. Barbara and Dennis Tedlock were here in Boulder last June for a conference at Naropa, and I was able to speak with both of them, albeit rather briefy. I had already sent them my 110-page monograph on the end-date and several shorter, more concise essays, including the piece that Mountain Astrologer published last December. All well-documented and plainly presented. They were thus familiar with my work and seemed open. In fact, when they were in Boulder the previous year, I had confronted Dennis with the fact of the alignment, and he admitted he had noticed that, but didn't know how to approach it. He said there was a potential problem with "misplaced concretism," referring to the fact that the alignment can't actually be empirically observed - because the sun is right there! But this isn't relevant, because the real question is whether or not the skywatchers who devised the Long Count 2100 years ago were tracking the slow convergence - something that can be observed. Because of the unlikely coincidence of calendar and fact, it seems they were. I think the real taboo on the subject is that it brings up so many astounding implications that for a well-established scholar to dive into it is equivalent to aborting your career. This is where I step in, because I just deliver Chinese food - nothing to lose and probably nothing to gain either. Barbara signed her book with "looking forward to further dialogue." So these are very tuned in people, both of them apprenticed daykeepers, and I hope to speak at greater length with them next year.
RP: What is the nature/subject of your current work?
JMJ: Basically, I'm focusing on getting this information out. I'm setting up a website devoted to Four Ahau Press research. Mountain Astrologer might be publishing a follow-up article of mine on the end-date called "Mayan Cosmogenesis: Cosmic Mother Gives Birth." I'm continuing to dig through the academic literature looking for supporting evidence - and finding it. It's there. This is what I call literary archaeology. All the data and information is there - it just hasn't been pieced together yet. So a main concern is building a solidly documented case for conscious intent on the part of the ancient skywatchers in figuring this all out. Then even scholars will have to begin looking at this scenario. In fact, I'm beginning to suspect that it was a very ancient and common knowledge in Mesoamerica - the all-pervasive core myth, you know, the First God emerging from the "cave" of creation. In some strange time-reversal fashion, the astronomical apotheosis of this myth was to occur in the far-off future, a future which for us is very near.