Frank Waters on 2012:
Addendum to his 1975 book Mexico Mystique

Frank Waters, 1902 - 1995

We shouldn't underestimate Waters. He was a sensitive novelist, a brilliant thinker, and a fastidious researcher. Willing to entertain incredible theories, he also exercised discrimination and had an intuition about the nature of things based on a deep reverence for and understanding of the Native American psyche. It is this quality that makes his observations about Maya time philosophy on target, despite some errors in the details. The big mistake was, of course, his adoption of Coe's miscalculation of the 13-Baktun cycle ending, giving it as December 24, 2011. It was also an odd disconnect that Waters published an astrological chart for planetary positions for this date, when his own argument was that the precession of the equinoxes was involved — the rather obvious but never before articulated fact that five periods of 13 Baktuns approximately equal a full 26,000-year precession cycle.

If 2011/2012 targeted the end of the 5th Great Cycle, as Waters surmises, why wouldn't the date involve a precessional alignment of some kind, rather than merely a planetary configuration? He never seemed to hit upon the galactic alignment key. Instead, he accepted an association with the Western astrological tradition of the ending of the Age of Pisces, vaguely happening sometime soon. The World Age doctrine was there, but the Maya and Western astrology concepts were mixed up.

A most interesting addendum to his 2011/2012 work comes from an essay he wrote that completes a posthumous collection of his essays titled Pure Waters: Frank Waters and the Quest for the Cosmic (edited by his widow, Barbara Waters; Swallow Press, Ohio University Press, 2002). In her preface, Barbara Waters called it "his favorite essay" (xvii) and "the culmination of his many years spent researching the Mesoamerican calendar and related civilizations" (xviii). Titled "The Mesoamerican Calendar", it appears to have been written in or after 1987, and probably before 1990. In it, he comments on José Argüelles's book The Mayan Factor (1987), mentions Schele and Miller's book Blood of Kings (1986), and acknowledges the Lounsbury GMT, which Schele and Miller cite, of December 23, 2012.

Of Argüelles's work he wrote in some detail, accurately summarizing Argüelles's "imaginary premise" that "planet Earth was passing through a galactic beam — a passage requiring 5,200 years and coinciding with the Maya's Great Cycle beginning in 3113 B.C. and ending in 2012 A.D." (187). You see, Waters disagrees with Argüelles's idea but he accurately summarizes it before offering his assessment — something that has only very rarely happened in the scholars' critiques of my work. Right away, we see Waters (who Dave Stuart dismissed as a "mystic") ascribing to a higher standard of scholarly practice than most of the academic 2012 debunkers.

In a kind gesture of fellowship Waters further notes that, generally, Argüelles's notion that in 2012 "Earth would emerge from its present planetary stage of consciousness into full galactic consciousness" is a belief similar to what he described "eleven years earlier" in Mexico Mystique (187). However, Waters accurately observes that "Argüelles expanded this into a hypothesis that had no documentation and no attribution" involving intergalactic beings sent to Earth from star bases in the Pleiades and Arcturus, to help guide the transition of humanity. (187-188). This notion, for Waters, is "difficult to believe ... The Mayan Factor is a most imaginative book. To me it seems more Argüelles than Mayan" (188).

Herein lies the difference between Waters and Argüelles. Yes, Argüelles was not concerned with researching, discovering, and articulating authentic ancient Maya beliefs about 2012. Waters was; that was his concern. Similar to Argüelles, other writers like Carl Calleman, Gregg Braden, Daniel Pinchbeck, and even Terence McKenna were largely not interested in this effort — they crafted expositions of their own inventive models or appeals for social change, and the connections to Maya traditions and 2012 were actually quite tenuous, if not contrived. My own efforts have been consistently and always about reconstructing what the ancient Maya believed about 2012. Whether critics agree with my reconstructions and interpretations or not, that is what my intention has been. Therefore, the guilt-by-association tactic of identifying my work as being in league with these other writers is categorically and grossly inaccurate, in terms of the fundamental orientation to the subject.

Waters goes on to summarize and give credence to the theories of one Jack Ryan, which involves precession calculations and the idea that the Earth's orbit was in ancient times faster, giving a 360-day year, whereas today it is slower, 365 days. (Waters also summarized Ryan's work in his 1981 book Mountain Dialogues.) The idea is that the Maya retained, for calculational purposes, an older astronomically accurate year that was 360 days. To me this theory seems unnecessary, and unlikely, but Waters was willing to entertain what appeared to be mathematically rigorous arguments — and he was probably looking for something that would connect 2012 more directly with precession..

It's unfortunate that I missed meeting Waters at his home in 1988, and that I didn't try harder to develop a correspondence with him. He died at his home in Arroyo Seco near Taos in June of 1995, almost 93 years old. Several other essays in the Pure Waters anthology also mention his 26,000-year model of the five World Ages, and Barbara notes that any astrological interpretations were viewed by Frank through the lens of "a mytho-psychological perspective" (xviii). Jung's archetypal ideas were very important to him, though he felt Jung didn't go far enough into spirituality. A great novelist (he was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize for Literature) and a fastidious researcher and non-fiction writer (he received university supported research grants and many honorary degrees), Waters was, in Barbara's own words, "a brilliant, multi-faceted enigma" (xviii). She finished preparing and typing up his essay on the Mesoamerican calendar on July 25, 2001, his 99th birthday, and announced to his lingering presence: "Here is your birthday present, dear. Your favorite chapter — ready for publishing at last!" (xix).

It does have a certain elegance and can be considered his concise, updated addendum to his pioneering 2012 work in Mexico Mystique. The detailed number crunching it contains were not the point. Barbara wrote:

What he truly marveled at was the larger, orderly view that linked age to age from ancient to modern times and beyond, an achievement resonating with the highest level of consciousness. It is not so strange after all to find a strong rational element in a man who was predominantly, and by heritage, an intuitive. ... The human role in a self-inclusive universe is that of learner. Waters always regarded himself as such. ... He disliked being called a "mystic," possibly because he saw himself not as a master of the esoteric but as an eternally questing student of the universe (xviii).

Waters intuited an accurate orientation to 2012.[1] It is connected to the precession of the equinoxes and a doctrine of World Ages, the ultimate ideological goal of which is world-renewal. His intuition about this was informed by his decades of immersion within, and study of, Native American cultures, including the Maya and particularly the Hopi, who some believe may be related, due to some quick migration northward, to the Maya or other Mesoamerican groups. Some of the Hopi elders believe that Palenque was their ancestral homeland.

I feel blessed and lucky to have been initiated into a nascent awareness of 2012 through my encounter with Frank Waters' 1975 book, Mexico Mystique, at age 12. It happened, providentially, precisely on July 4, 1976. That date was itself a big time anniversary, the bicentennial birthday of the United States. Two hundred years! After the parade my friend Joe and I were musing on big time and he said his Dad was reading a book about a Maya calendar down in Mexico. Later that day his Dad showed it to me, and it seems to have inspired a sci-fi short story I wrote around that time. It was, of course, Waters' book. I've recounted elsewhere this rather portentous first encounter, which lingered with me as a mysterious invitation and that I recalled years later when I began my Central American travels and study of the Maya calendar.

John Major Jenkins. Copyright, September 5, 2014

Waters interview from 1964

The Frank Waters Foundation


[1] First of all, Waters accepted that the cycle ending was something that the Maya thought something about, and that it was an important part of their beliefs.   This position would seem undeniable, except for the fact that it was denied and treated — despite the evidence on Tortuguero Monument 6 — as some kind of ridiculous heresy by high-level Maya epigraphers (Stuart and Houston). Moreover, this prejudice was tacitly adopted and maintained by other scholarly 2012 debunkers (Hoopes et  al) who have aggressively crafted a narrative that 2012 was an “invented mythology” of modern writers and the New Age marketplace. In this light, the basic position of Waters (1975) was not officially assumed in professional peer-review publications by scholars until MacLeod & Gronemeyer (August 2010), with the anomalous exceptions of Edmonson’s brief comments of 1988 and Coe’s tongue-in-cheek throwaway line about “Armageddon” (1966). By the rules of officialdom, my own “by invitation only” SAA presentation of April 2010 (a citable reference) should also be acknowledged.  There were a few academic notes here and there, but 2012 was not taken to be anything more than a mathematical circumstance or a random period-ending anchoring reflex of no consequence. (Arguelles also noted 2012 as a legitimate Maya concept, in an end note to his 1975 book, Transformative Vision, but his approach to it took a free-form direction.) Meanwhile, I reported Waters’ interesting idea about the 5 World Ages and precession in my 1989 book, and in 1994 earnestly took up the approach of reconstructing what the ancient Maya thought about 2012; dozens of articles and three major books followed through 2012. In 1996-1997 my attempts to interest university publishers in my book, Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, met with a disbelief that 2012 was a valid topic of rational scholarly investigation. Prior to MacLeod & Gronemeyer (2010), the approach of academic critique and debunking of the millennial madness was happily embraced by scholars, shedding much ink to make the basic point that the Maya didn't predict the end of the world in 2012. This became the primary modus operandi of scholarly treatment until essays of 2011 and 2012, published in peer-reviewed anthologies, concurred that 2012 meant something to the ancient Maya and one could deduce something about it.