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Mayanism is a non-codified eclectic collection of New Age beliefs, influenced in part by Pre-Columbian Maya mythology and some folk beliefs of the modern Maya peoples.[1][2] Adherents of this belief system are not to be confused with Mayanists, scholars who research the historical Maya civilization.

Contemporary Mayanism places less emphasis on contacts between the ancient Maya and lost lands than in the work of early writers such as Godfrey Higgins, Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg and Augustus Le Plongeon, alluding instead to possible contacts with extraterrestrial life. However, it continues to include references to Atlantis.[3] Notions about extraterrestrial influence on the Maya can be traced to the book Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken, whose ancient astronaut theories were in turn influenced by the work of Peter Kolosimo and especially the team of Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels, authors of Le Matin des magiciens. These latter writers were inspired by the fantasy literature of H. P. Lovecraft[4] and publications by Charles Fort. However, there remain elements of fascination with lost continents and lost civilizations, especially as popularized by 19th century science fiction and speculative fiction by authors such as Jules Verne, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and H. Rider Haggard.

Mayanism experienced a revival in the 1970s through the work of Frank Waters, a writer on the subject of Hopi mythology.[5] His The Book on the Hopi is rejected "as largely ersatz by Hopi traditionalists".[6] In 1970, Waters was the recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation grant to support research in Mexico and Central America. This resulted in his 1975 book Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth World of Consciousness, a discussion of Mesoamerican culture strongly colored by Waters' beliefs in astrology, prophecy, and the lost continent of Atlantis.[7] It has gained new momentum in the context of the 2012 phenomenon, especially as presented in the work of New Age author John Major Jenkins, who asserts that Mayanism is "the essential core ideas or teachings of Maya religion and philosophy" in his 2009 book The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth Behind the Most Intriguing Date in History.[8]

Mayanism has gained renewed vigor due to pseudoscientific nonfiction by authors such as Erich von Däniken, Zecharia Sitchin, and Graham Hancock, whose theories range from invoking ancient astronauts and other extraterrestrials from outer space to revivals of the idea that ancient peoples from lost lands brought wisdom and technology to the Mayas. The implication of this is that the Mayas had access to aspects of ancient knowledge, spiritualism, philosophy, and religion that are useful for coping with the modern world, whether by avoiding Armageddon, embracing a mystical Apocalypse, or constructing a future Utopia.

Mayanism has a complex history that draws from many different sources on the fringes of mainstream archaeology. It has gained growing attention through its influence on popular culture through pulp fiction, science fiction, fantasy literature, and more recently cinema, graphic novels, fantasy role-playing games (especially Dungeons & Dragons), and video games. It has also drawn inspiration from the success of The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, a novel that refers to the fictional discovery of a Pre-Columbian self-help manuscript in South America.

Mayanism has been promoted by specific publishing houses, most notably Inner Traditions - Bear & Company, which has produced a number of books on the theme of 2012 by authors such as José Argüelles, John Major Jenkins, Carl Johan Calleman, and Barbara Hand Clow. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. has published works by New Age authors Daniel Pinchbeck and John Major Jenkins that have further contributed to a growing interest in Mayanism. The Book of Destiny: Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Mayans and the Prophecy of 2012, by Guatemalan author Carlos Barrios,[9] is another recent contribution to this genre.


Mayanism can be traced to sources such as the sixteenth-century book Utopia by Sir Thomas More, who developed the concept of a utopia in the New World (an idea first explored by Christopher Columbus in his 1501 Book of Prophecies). During the eighteenth century, speculations about the origins of ancient Maya civilization sought to associate Maya history with Biblical stories of Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. This included speculation about legendary culture heroes such as Votan and Quetzalcoatl.

In the early nineteenth century, Alexander von Humboldt and Lord Kingsborough contributed further to such speculation. Humboldt and Kingsborough were in turn cited by Godfrey Higgins, whose Anacalypsis (1833) contributed to the emergence of perennial philosophy and claims that all religions had a common, ancient origin in a Golden Age of the distant past.

In the late nineteenth-century, Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg made significant academic contributions (including re-discovery of the Popol Vuh), but towards the end of his career became convinced that the ancient Maya culture could be traced to the lost continent of Atlantis. For example, in 1857 Brasseur identified Votan as a Phoenician ruler who founded Palenque and in an article published in 1872 attributed mythological Mesoamerican cataclysms to an early version of pole shift theory. Brasseur's work, some of which was illustrated by the talented but very inaccurate Jean-Frédéric Waldeck, influenced other works of pseudoscience and pseudohistory, such as the research of Désiré Charnay, Augustus Le Plongeon, Ignatius L. Donnelly, and James Churchward. Le Plongeon and Donnelly in turn influenced the work of writers such as Madame Blavatsky[10] and Rudolf Steiner who brought misconceptions about the ancient Maya into early New Age circles.[11] These ideas became part of a belief system fostered by psychic Edgar Cayce in the early twentieth century and later popularized in the 1960s by author Jess Stearn. One example of early Mayanism is the creation of a group called the Mayan Temple by Harold D. Emerson of Brooklyn, a self-proclaimed Maya priest who edited a serial publication titled The Mayan, Devoted to Spiritual Enlightenment and Scientific Religion between 1933 and 1941.[12] Attempts at a synthesis of religion and science, a common theme in Mayanism, are one of the contributions from Theosophy while Emerson would be an early example of a plastic shaman in Mayanism.

Basic beliefs[edit]

Since Mayanism is used to refer to a diverse collection of beliefs, it has no central doctrine. However, a basic premise is that the ancient Maya understood aspects of the human experience and human consciousness that remain poorly understood in modern Western culture. This includes insights into cosmology and eschatology as well as lost knowledge of advanced technology and ecology that, when known, can be used to improve the human condition and create a future Utopia. However, as a New Age belief system, Mayanism scorns academic scholarship, giving preference to knowledge gained through revelation and prophecy and to traditional knowledge (or what is imagined to be traditional knowledge). Mayanism literature frequently features beliefs and theories that ignore and reject physical evidence, facts, or knowledge, particularly when that evidence supports the academic Mayanist theories that contradict Mayanism's beliefs. As a result, the beliefs of Mayanism tend to be characterized by a combination of esotericism and syncretism, rather than being the result of either formal controlled field research or detailed scholarly research that has been based on a broad range of primary sources.

Maya calendar themes[edit]

A relatively recent current in Mayanism is the use of novel, non-Maya interpretations of the Maya calendar in contemporary astrology. One example of this would be the Dreamspell promoted by New Age spiritual leader José Argüelles. Maya astrology was also promoted by Kenneth Johnson in his book Jaguar Wisdom: Mayan Calendar Magic.[13] Another example would be the "Mayan Time Science" described by Carl Johan Calleman in his book Solving the Greatest Mystery of Our Time: The Mayan Calendar,[14] which also promotes a model of unilineal evolution based on the author's interpretations of calendric cycles. The work of Ian Lungold also falls into this category.

December 21, 2012[edit]

See also: 2012 phenomenon

The significance of this date in Mayanism stems from the ending of the current baktun cycle of the Maya calendar in 2012, which many believe will create a global "consciousness shift" and the beginning of a new age. This has come to be known as the 2012 phenomenon. Speculation about this date can be traced to the first edition of The Maya (1966) by Michael D. Coe, in which he suggested the date of December 24, 2011 as one on which the Maya believed "Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation.".[15] This date became the subject of speculation by Frank Waters, who devotes two chapters to its interpretation, including discussion of an astrological chart for this date and its association with Hopi prophecies in Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth World of Consciousness (1975).[7] The significance of the year 2012 (but not a specific day) was mentioned briefly by José Argüelles in The Transformative Vision: Reflections on the Nature and History of Human Expression (1975)[16] and (without reference to the ancient Maya) by Terence McKenna and Dennis McKenna in The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching (1975).[17]

Waters' book inspired further speculation in the mid-1980s, including revision of the date by the McKennas, Argüelles, and John Major Jenkins to one corresponding with the winter solstice in 2012. Interpretations of the date became the subject of further speculation by José Argüelles in The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology (1987), promoted for the 1987 Harmonic Convergence. It received further elaboration in the Novelty theory of Terence McKenna. The supposed prediction of an astronomical conjunction of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy with the winter solstice Sun on December 21, 2012, referred to by Jenkins in Maya Cosmogenesis 2012: The True Meaning of the Maya Calendar End-Date (1998)[18] and Galactic Alignment:The Transformation of Consciousness According to Mayan, Egyptian, and Vedic Traditions (2002)[19] as having been predicted by the ancient Maya and others, is a much-anticipated event in Mayanism. Although Jenkins suggests that ancient Maya knowledge of this event was based on observations of the "dark rift" in the Milky Way as seen from Earth (this dark rift, it is said by some Mayan scholars, was believed by some Mayans to be one of the entrances to Xibalba), others see it as evidence of knowledge imparted via ancient contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. The relevance of modern "dark rift" observations to Pre-Columbian and traditional Maya beliefs is strongly debated, and academic archaeologists reject all theories regarding extraterrestrial contact, but it is clear that the promotion of Mayanism through interest in 2012 is contributing to the evolution of religious syncretism in contemporary Maya communities. Psychonaut author Daniel Pinchbeck popularized New Age concepts about this date, linking it to beliefs about crop circles, alien abduction, and personal revelations based on the use of entheogens and mediumship in his 2006 book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl.[20]

Carl Johan Calleman differs in that he sees 28 October 2011 and not 21 December 2012 as the pivotal end date. Calleman does not see the date as an apocalypse but a slow transformation of consciousness with people beginning to experience a higher 'unity consciousness'.[21]

Mayanism, shamanism, and "Toltecs"[edit]

Shamanism has become a significant component of Mayanism, in part due to the scholarly interpretation of ancient Maya rulers as shamans and the popularity of Carlos Castaneda, whose books described his apprenticeship to a Yaqui sorcerer. However, Castaneda's work is seen as being fictional, inaccurate, misleading, and plagiaristic, and there is no proof that don Juan (the sorcerer) is not a fictional character.[22][23] Although the Yaqui are indigenous to the Sonoran Desert region of northern Mexico and southern Arizona, far from the Maya region, Mayanism often conflates the concept of Toltec (Castaneda) with the Toltec who interacted with the ancient Maya. This stems from 19th century speculations by Brasseur and Charnay about the Toltecs as a white, Aryan race that brought advanced civilization to the Americas either through a migration from Asia across the Bering Strait (according to Charnay) or emigration from the lost continent of Atlantis (according to Brasseur).[24]

One of many themes in Mayanism related to shamanism is the use of entheogens to induce altered states of consciousness and thereby gain insight and wisdom. The most common medicinal plant used by the ancient Maya was tobacco (Nicotiana), which was ingested by smoking or drinking an infusion. The use of a number of psychotropic substances is well documented in the culture of ancient Mesoamerica. These include various mushrooms that contain psilocybin, morning glorys, (Ipomoea and Rivea corymbosa), moonflower (Datura spp.), peyote and the cane toad (Bufo marinus), a source of bufotenin, However, the importance of entheogens by the ancient Maya has been inferred primarily through the study of iconography rather than direct archaeological evidence. This includes representations of the administration of substances by enema in ancient Maya art. Bernal Diaz del Castillo also records the administration of intoxicants using enemas by a Huastec tribe in Veracruz.

Indigenous promoters[edit]

A growing number of individuals of indigenous or reportedly indigenous Maya ancestry have emerged as advocates and supporters of Mayanism. These include Hunbatz Men, who has Yucatec ancestry, and K'iche' motivational speaker and media personality Alejandro Cirilo Pérez Oxlaj (also known as "Wandering Wolf"). These individuals identify themselves as traditional shamans, but do also interact with, and refer to modern New Age phenomenal beliefs as in the lost continent of Atlantis, reverence for crystal skulls, and mediumship of extraterrestrial entities such as the Pleiadeans.

Non-Maya elements[edit]

Despite its name, Mayanism tends to conflate traditions of many different indigenous peoples of the Americas, including non-Maya groups such as the Hopi, the Aztecs, and the Incas. Sacred sites such as Machu Picchu, a royal estate of the Inca empire in Peru are a common destination for spiritual retreats that drawn upon themes from Mayanism. One of the oldest themes in Mayanism that dates to the 19th century, as emphasized in the artwork of Waldeck and the writings of Brasseur, Charnay Le Plongeon, Donnelly, and others, is the presumed relationship between the ancient Maya and ancient Egypt. (This is also a theme in pyramidology.) However, the Classic period (AD 200-900), during which the ancient Maya flourished, is much later in time than ancient Egyptian civilization.

One of the non-Maya symbols frequently associated with Mayanism is called "Hunab Ku." This symbol is derived from illustrations in the Aztec codex known as Codex Magliabechiano, where it appears (in yellow and black) in the upper left hand corner of p. 5/2 of a facsimile published by Zelia Nuttall as The Book of the Life of the Ancient Mexicans, Containing an Account of Their Rites and Superstitions, an Anonymous Hispano-Mexican Manuscript Preserved at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence, Italy in 1903. It is labeled as a "manta de agua de araña" ("spider water mantle") that was associated with the Festival of the Lip Plugs. The symbol was largely ignored until sometime after 1983, when Elizabeth Boone published a new facsimile of the Codex Magliabecchiano. It was reproduced by José Argüelles in his 1987 book The Mayan Factor, a text frequently referenced in contemporary Mayanism. The name "Hunab Ku" (One God) appears in the post-Conquest, syncretistic Chilam Balam as a concept introduced by Catholic missionaries to promote monotheism among speakers of the Yucatec Maya language. Within Mayanism, the symbol evokes the concept of yin and yang (Eastern syncretism) as well as the Milky Way galaxy (ancient Maya knowledge of which is often explained by ancient astronaut theories).

Another non-Maya image that appears often in Mayanism is the Aztec sun stone, itself frequently associated with the Aztec calendar, a monument depicting either Tonatiuh or Tlaltecuhtli together with symbolic representations of past cataclysms.

Influence in politics[edit]

On January 14, 2008, Álvaro Colom was inaugurated as the President of Guatemala. Colom is said to have been ordained as a "non-Mayan Mayan priest" by Alejandro Cirilio Pérez Oxlaj, who represented the Maya people at his inauguration. A BBC article reports that "he will regularly consult a group of spiritual leaders, known as the Mayan Elders National Council". (This group has also been identified as the National Mayan Council of Elders of Guatemala, the Consejo de Ancianos Mayas, Council of Elders of the Sacred Mayas, and other names.)



Mayanism occasionally draws upon references from Beat generation literature by William Burroughs, who had studied the ancient Maya in classes with Alfred Tozzer at Harvard in the 1930s, and Allen Ginsberg, who traveled in the Yucatan Peninsula, Chiapas, and Guatemala in the 1950s. In 1974, Ginsberg helped found The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, where themes that contributed to emergent Mayanism were explored in literature and art. José Argüelles, a central figure in Mayanism, is an alumnus. Charles Olson of Black Mountain College had a fascination with Mayan hieroglyphs and wrote a book, The Mayan Letters (1953), based on his correspondence from Mexico with poet Robert Creeley. The novel 2012: The War for Souls (2007) by Whitley Strieber is heavily influenced by Mayanism.


  • Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973), a music album by the band Yes, had cover art by Roger Dean (artist) that featured a surrealistic submarine landscape with a pyramid inspired by El Castillo, Chichen Itza next to a monkey geoglyph inspired by the Nazca lines in Peru. These are visual references to the supposed links between the Maya and ancient South American cultures and the lost continent of Atlantis. The artwork also depicts numerous constellations, an allusion to both Maya and Nasca astronomy and cosmology. The lyrics of the album are based on scriptures by Paramahansa Yogananda, linking Eastern, Pre-Columbian, and Western motifs for an expression of the esotericism and syncretism that are typical elements of Mayanism.
  • Great Temple (2003), the central art piece of the 2003 Burning Man festival, was a large, multi-stage, Maya-style pyramid (resembling the Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque, El Castillo, Chichen Itza, and the Feathered Serpent Pyramid at Teotihuacan) designed by Larry Harvey and Rod Garrett. As the platform for "The Man," it was constructed in the summer of 2003 and burned to the ground during the festival. The work, designed and announced in 2002, evoked the 2003 art theme of the festival: "Beyond Belief." The artists noted, "We will consider it to mark an axis mundi – that type of cosmic center that was anciently believed to be the origin of all existence. Such sacred spaces were regarded as engendering the underlying order of the universe".[25]
  • Stanton St. Bernard Crop Circle (2007), a work of performance art in the form of a crop circle appeared in Wiltshire, UK on August 18, 2007. It depicted one bar and one dot, the way "6" is written in Maya numerals, evoking ancient astronaut theories due to the popular belief that crop circles are the result of intelligent extraterrestrial life.


  • Yellow Submarine (1968), an animated feature film based on music of The Beatles. Near the beginning of the film, the submarine is found "parked" on top of a pyramid whose form was inspired by the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán. Although Teotihuacán was not a Maya city, the Mesoamerican-style pyramid in the undersea paradise of Pepperland was inspired by the myth of Atlantis and its associations with the ancient Maya.
  • The Road to El Dorado (2000), an animated feature comedy film by DreamWorks, drew upon many utopian themes, combining imagery of the ancient Mayas, Aztecs, Incas and other cultures as well as references to Atlantis to reconstruct a setting within an imaginary lost civilization of South America.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), a film directed by Steven Spielberg. A large part of the premise deals with an alien civilization having imparted knowledge of farming and technology to a fictional Amazonian society, with numerous references to Maya and Inca society (the aliens themselves speak a form of Mayan). Reference to Mayanism includes the concept of the crystal skull itself, an artifact supposedly found within ancient Maya contexts but which revealed knowledge of advanced technology. (In the early 20th century, this was used to imply contact with Atlantis but in the late 20th century this shifted to contact with extraterrestrial life.) Much of the action in the film takes place at a Precolumbian site with a huge Maya-style stepped pyramid located somewhere in the Amazon Rainforest. A scene of an alien autopsy in Roswell, New Mexico and references to Indiana Jones' service in the Office of Strategic Services are used to link Maya mysteries with UFO lore and conspiracy theory.
  • 2012: The Odyssey (2006), a documentary directed by Sharron Rose that includes interviews with José Argüelles, John Major Jenkins, Geoff Stray, Alberto Villoldo, Gregg Braden, Rick Levine, Moira Timms, and Jay Weidner.
  • Shift of the Ages (2006), a documentary directed by Steve Copeland that includes references to pole shift theory and interviews with Alejandro Oxlaj.
  • 2012: Science Or Superstition (2008), a feature-length documentary, features opinions from a broad spectrum of contributors including Graham Hancock, Daniel Pinchbeck, Anthony Aveni, Alberto Villoldo, John Major Jenkins, Lawrence E. Joseph, Jim Marrs, Robert Bauval, Alonso Mendez, Walter Cruttenden and others.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alexander 1999
  2. ^ Hoopes 2011
  3. ^ Jenkins 2009, pp. 304–6
  4. ^ Colavito 2005
  5. ^ Waters 1963
  6. ^ Paper, Jordan (2006). Native North American Religious Traditions: Dancing for Life. Praeger. p. 38. ISBN 978-0275990978. 
  7. ^ a b Waters 1975.
  8. ^ Jenkins 2009.
  9. ^ Barrios 2009.
  10. ^ Coleman, William Emmette. "The Sources of Madame Blavatsky's Writings". Retrieved 2012-06-17.  Originally published in Solovyoff, Vsevolod Sergyeevich (1895). "Appendix C". A Modern Priestess of Isis. London: Longman. pp. 353–66. 
  11. ^ Washington 1993.
  12. ^ Thompson 1970, p. 170.
  13. ^ Johnson 1997.
  14. ^ Calleman 2001
  15. ^ Coe 1966.
  16. ^ Argüelles 1975.
  17. ^ McKenna & McKenna 1975.
  18. ^ Jenkins 1998.
  19. ^ Jenkins 2002.
  20. ^ Pinchbeck 2006.
  21. ^ Calleman, Carl Johann (July 23, 2011). "Mayakalender - Ausblick auf den fünften Tag der neunten Unterwelt" [Mayan calendar - Outlook on the fifth day of the ninth underworld]. Exopolitik Deutschland (in German). 
  22. ^ de Mille 1976.
  23. ^ de Mille 1980.
  24. ^ Evans 2004.
  25. ^ "What is Burning Man?: 2003 Art Theme: Beyond Belief". Burning Man website. Retrieved 2012-06-17.