Shift happens

Will 2012 bring the end of the world as we know it?

Since the beginning of the presidential campaign, Americans have been bombarded with one big concept summed up in one little word: change.

It was Barack Obama's slogan from day one and represented many people's hope for the future, an idea that so appeals to beleaguered Americans that the Republicans eventually adopted it as well. Both parties recognized that the country would have to make big adjustments to salvage the economy, environment, schools, and health care system.

They each cited factors that point to the big changes that are coming — but they didn't mention a huge one that has been bearing down on our species for nearly 5,200 years: the colossal transformation of solar system and our collective psyche that the ancient Mayans and their modern day supporters believe will take place Dec. 21, 2012, the day the Mayan calendar comes to an abrupt end.

Erick Gonzalez, founder and spiritual leader of Earth Peoples United, a nonprofit organization that works to bridge indigenous values with modern society, says the event will deeply disturb our minds and bodies here on earth. Nearly 300 people from around the world gathered Oct. 31-Nov. 2 during a 2012 conference at Fort Mason Center.

Some enthusiasts predict an apocalypse, while others foresee a shift in human awareness. Yet they all believe that big change is coming.

The Mayan calendar was developed by ancient astronomers who concluded that Dec. 21 was the sun's birthday, noting that the winter solstice marked the beginning of the sun's return from around the world.

Gonzalez, who has been studying Mayan culture for 33 years, says Dec. 21, 2012 will be a monumental birthday for our sun, when it will shift to the dead center of the Milky Way galaxy, on the galactic equator, for the first time.

The Mayans believed this was the precise spot where the sun — and all life — was created. Followers of the ancient theory claim the Milky Way will give birth to a new sun and a new galactic cycle on this day, marking the beginning of our world's transformation.

"For the Maya, this is like the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve," said philosopher Roderick Marling, a Tantric yoga teacher who has spent the last 36 years researching yoga meditation and expanding consciousness, in addition to writing numerous papers on religion, mythology, history, and archeology. "The galactic clock will be set at zero point, and a new processional cycle will begin," he said.

As our planets shift overhead, believers say our awareness of the Earth, political issues, and each other will also change. Conference co-organizer Christian Voltaire says many of the changes in 2012 will be tangible, such as revising our current financial model or switching to alternative fuels. He points to former presidential candidate Ron Paul, who advocated for extreme change in monetary policy — abolishing the IRS and the Federal Reserve, for example — and Obama, who has pushed for transforming the economy with green jobs. "They're at least conscious of the fact that something has to change," he says. "And, as we've been told by our prophesies, change is coming."

But skeptics have their doubts. Wouldn't we be pushing for green energy anyway? And how could the shifting planets cause the financial meltdown — or even the actual meltdown of our polar ice caps? University of Florida anthropologist Susan Gillespie says the theory is a media myth and nothing more. Susan Milbrath, author of Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars and curator of Latin American art and archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, believes it's unlikely the Mayans could have predicted such events.

Believers remain undeterred. Last Gasp Books employee and conference attendee Eliza Strack says her 2012 obsession started as an innocent topic of conversation many years ago.

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