Prophecy is always to be taken seriously. But that does not mean that it is always to be believed. In fact prophecy as a whole has a rather dismal record for foretelling the future. The apocalyptic predictions of Judaism and Christianity have constantly been disappointed. The predictions of Nostradamus, insofar as they can be understood, have an equally unsatisfactory record; their continued popularity has been assured chiefly by their vagueness. Even scientific forecasts have not fared very well: if you believe the predictions of ecologists forty years ago, by now the Earth should have long been uninhabitable.
And yet there is a sense in which prophecy can be extremely enlightening. If it is interpreted like a dream, it can tell us a great deal about ourselves and our longings and aspirations. For both Freud and Jung, the unconscious – which manifests in dreams – has a compensatory function: it attempts to supply something that is missing from waking life. For Freud, this compensation largely took the form of wish fulfilment; for Jung, dreams represented the psyche’s inner desire for completeness and integration.
The 2012 prophecies can be seen as compensatory. The events that are envisaged almost always involve a correction of imbalances in the world. This isn’t surprising: apocalyptic prophecy – which started in Judaism in the second century BCE, exemplified in the biblical book of Daniel – tends to forecast some kind of great tribulation, usually indicating the near or apparent triumph of evil, followed by a swift and total retribution and a restoration of the cosmic order by the hand of God. Only a small remnant is preserved. We see something similar in popular works such as Roland Emmerich’s 2009 disaster film2012, in which a pole shift causes earthquakes and tsunamis to ravage the Earth. Here too only a few survivors remain to continue the human race. Similar scenarios can be found in American television documentaries about 2012, which are almost as sensational.
One of the most striking lessons that these stories have to teach is that the mass psyche is in a mode of transition. We have what is essentially a Judeo-Christian apocalyptic scenario, but one that is completely secularised. The trigger for apocalypse is not the second coming of Christ but a natural phenomenon (such as a pole shift) or, sometimes, environmental destruction caused by man. The apocalypse is no longer sacred but secular. If we take this at face value, it means that many of the structures of the Christian myth continue to have their hold on the Western psyche, but that this hold is, little by little, beginning to loosen.
In fact the 2012 predictions are the first major prophecies to have spread widely in Western consciousness that are not Judeo-Christian in origin. While they take a number of different forms – many of which have been described in this magazine – perhaps the best-known and most authoritative version comes from the Mayan scholar John Major Jenkins. He observes that on 21 December – that is, the northern hemisphere winter solstice – of this year, the point at which the Sun rises will coincide exactly with a “dark rift” in the Milky Way that corresponds with the centre of the galaxy. This correlates with the end of a cosmic cycle in the Mayan calendar that is 5,125 years long. As Jenkins puts it, “The Milky Way is the Great Mother, and the dark rift is her vagina or birthplace. It is the place of transformation that the prospective male king must enter in order to be reborn as the king, a divine being. That these things are templated upon the alignment of the December solstice Sun with the dark rift in the Milky Way… is mind-boggling.”
In short, according to the myth, our era is, like the prospective king in the ancient Mayan civilisation, about to enter a place of death, rebirth, and transformation. What is likely to occur is generally envisaged only in the most general terms, and, as we’ve already seen, can take the form of either a quasi-Christian apocalypse or the dawning of a new age. In any event, the form of the myth tells us, not what is going to happen, but what the collective unconscious of humanity – or at least some sector of it – wants to have happen.
In his book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, Daniel Pinchbeck claims to have received a transmission announcing the return of Quetzalcoatl, the Central American deity whose name means “feathered serpent.” In this transmission, Quetzalcoatl states: “Soon there will be a great change to your world. The material reality that surrounds you is beginning to crack apart, and with it all of your illusions. The global capitalist system that is currently devouring your planetary resources will soon self-destruct, leaving many of you bereft. But understand the nature of paradox: For those who follow my words and open their hearts and their minds – for those who have ‘ears to hear’ – there is no problem whatsoever. What is false must die so what is true can be born.”
Here too it’s easy to see a recapitulation of the classic Western apocalyptic motifs, such as the collapse of the current wicked world system and the deliverance of a small minority. (In this case, the minority consists not of true believers, but those who can raise their consciousness to a new, higher frequency.) Quetzalcoatl even uses a phrase like one in the book of Revelation: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 3:22). But the context is extremely different. In the first place, Quetzalcoatl is not only Quetzalcoatl. He says, “I am also the Tzaddik – ‘the righteous one’ and the ‘gatherer of the sparks’ of the Qabalah – as well as the ‘Once and Future King’ promised by Arthurian legend.” In the second place, Pinchbeck received this transmission after a journey during which he took ayahuasca, the South American psychedelic that is said to bring the user into rapport with nature spirits, particularly the spirits of the jungle.
These themes – like many of those connected with the 2012 phenomenon – are diametrically opposed to the prevalent values of Western civilisation. The revelation comes from Quetzalcoatl, a god of the long-discredited Mesoamerican pantheon, against which the Catholic conquerors of the Americas strove so mightily. But this Quetzalcoatl also combines elements of Kabbalistic and Arthurian legend. In short, the vision is syncretistic, mixing the myths and tropes of several different traditions, instead of arising monolithically out of Christianity. Moreover, the vision comes through the inspiration of ayahuasca, the sacred drink of an indigenous people, rather than any of the drugs that have been familiar in the West. Again, the “dream” of 2012 is syncretistic, inclusive, as well as radically “other,” extending far beyond the pale of Western norms.
Indeed everything about the 2012 ethos, exemplified in such venues as Pinchbeck’s Web site, Reality Sandwich, poses a counterpoint to the dominant values of the West. The aspirations for 2012 are Earth-based, inspired by indigenous wisdom, and, often, stimulated by forbidden psychedelics rather than by the sober methods of prayer and contemplation. The only real point of convergence between the 2012 model and conventional civilisation is technology: both espouse technological advancement, and in fact many of the 2012 communities are virtual, existing only on the Web or in Web-inspired groups such as the Reality Sandwich Evolver network. But even here, the 2012 visionaries insist that this technology must serve human values rather than those of moneyed interests. A recent article on Reality Sandwich discusses the work of architect Michael Reynolds, who has designed what he calls “Earthships” – permanent, sustainable structures made mostly of waste materials such as tires and glass bottles – for use in Haiti and other disaster-stricken areas (see www.realitysandwich.com/emerging_earthships).
While the outlines of these inspirations are clear enough, they bring us back to the question of whether the 2012 vision is prophetic or, in Jung’s sense, compensatory. It is probably not going to be prophetic in any obvious sense; I don’t expect to see dramatic upheavals and Earth changes on the stroke of midnight of 21 December; nor do I imagine that everybody will wake up enlightened the next morning. Nevertheless, the “dream” of 2012 has inspired a new counterculture – one that carries on and expands the values of the 1960s counterculture that preceded it. In this respect it is more than compensatory, more than mere wish fulfilment. Like many dreams, it has not only given form to the urges of the collective psyche but inspired action and transformation in the real world. As the poet Delmore Schwartz reminds us, “In dreams begin responsibilities.”
Daniel Pinchbeck, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2006
Daniel Pinchbeck and Ken Jordan, eds, Toward 2012: Perspectives on a New Age, New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2008