My Response to a Web Page by
Dr. Louis Strous,
an Astronomer in The Netherlands
John Major Jenkins
Back to Alignment2012.com
It has come to my attention that a website by a professional astronomer, Dr. Louis Strous in The Netherlands, has analyzed claims about the Mayan calendar and draws several conclusions that call into question my work. First, a few comments about the site, which is titled "Astronomy Answers: 21, December 2012" and is at http://www.astro.uu.nl/~strous/AA/en/2012.html
Dr Strous does not give any sources for his information, except to refer to "some people expect..." and "someone wrote...". As far as I can tell, he must have been accessing my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 or pages on my website to derive at least some of the items he critiques. However, several of the points he intends to critique, which are listed at the top of his page, are inaccurately summarized. This makes me wonder if he was perhaps using only the Dutch translation of my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, and if it has been inaccurately translated. I have no way, at present, of knowing how accurate the translation is, as I was not involved in the translation process. [Questions answered in email exchange] In regards to the Mayan astronomy that I have studied, if Dr. Strous was pulling inaccurate paraphrasings from someone else's book or website then I suggest he go to Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 for complete and accurate information. Dr. Strous should also read and study the sources that have resulted in my interdisciplinary synthesis, which comprises the unabridged bibliography to Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, online at: http://Alignment2012.com/bibbb.htm
It is my belief that a non-biased person capable of rational deduction will, after studying these same sources, arrive at a conclusion not dissimilar to my own. Stated simply, that conclusion is: "The early Maya astronomers who created the Long Count calendar some 2,100 years ago intended the end of the 13-baktun cycle of the Long Count (December 21, 2012) to target the alignment of the December solstice sun with the plane of our Milky Way galaxy."
That is actually a very concise yet simple statement, which many people misrepresent or misconstrue in one way or another in order to avoid having to deal with offering a serious critique of the actual evidence I bring to bear on the question. For this statement truly represents the nature of the "galactic alignment in 2012" that Dr Strous implies is non-existent. He goes about addressing this point by stating it inaccurately and then it can thereby be easily dismissed. Thus, his first point that he intends to address is this "claim" made by "some people":
"The Sun is then [on December 21, 2012] in conjunction with the intersection of the ecliptic and the Milky Way for the first time in 26,000 years."
Well, this will be easy to dismiss, because he left out the qualifying prefix "December solstice" sun. His critique is thus predictable:
"The Sun moves along the whole ecliptic in a year, so it passes through each of those two intersections every year, and not just once every 26,000 years. So, it is not remarkable at all that the Sun passes through those intersections in 2012."
If I said "crab apples are bitter", almost everyone would agree. If I said "apples are bitter", very few would agree. Do you see my point? We have now entered the realm of selective self-serving logic. If Dr Strous wanted to be true to the original intention of the 2012-astronomy question, he would need to address the claim that "the December solstice sun aligns with the intersection of the ecliptic and the Milky Way in era-2012." I've always been careful to construct my sentences accurately depending on the level of accuracy cited. For example, one can say that the solstice sun aligns with the Milky Way every 13,000 years. One can say that the December solstice sun aligns with the Milky Way in the region of the Galactic Center every 26,000 years. I've gone to great pains to write my books clearly using accurate language, and so it would be nice if professional commentators would respect the level of cogency I'm trying to bring to this discussion. The concepts in this discussion, and the controversial nature of my thesis, require careful analysis and mature discussion. It doesn't help to not cite original source material and it doesn't help to inaccurately summarize the thesis. Dr Strous may want to offer up his sources for his critique, as he just may be working from someone else's poor paraphrasing of my work or, perhaps, a poor Dutch translation. I don't know yet. [see email exchange] Regardless, it might be interesting to get Dr Strous's answers to these three questions:
1. What year did Jean Meeus calculate for the alignment of the solstice and the galactic equator, in his book Mathematical Astronomy Morsels (1997:216)?
2. How wide is the sun?
3. Does the December solstice sun touch the galactic equator in 2012? [he didn't answer these questions in our email exchange]
The factual answers to these questions result in understanding that a range for the galactic alignment is thus 1980 to 2016. The point I'm trying to make is simple and elementary: The December solstice sun is, in actual empirical fact, in alignment with the Galactic equator on December 21, 2012. This is what I refer to as the Galactic Alignment. This rare precessional alignment is what I argue in my books to be behind the 13-baktun cycle end date. Anyone reading my books or webpages could not fail to understand this as the intended --- and clearly stated --- alignment under question. And yet those who choose to evade tackling the evidence laid out in my books can get away with an easy dismissal by making a big effort to misrepresent the thesis. A curious beginner reading Strous's website would conclude that nothing at all unique in the cycle of precession occurs in the years around 2012, and that is a deception.
Another tendency evident in Dr Strous's critique is the assumption that "some people" or "someone" believes such a galactic alignment to be responsible for spiritual change or cataclysm. Although these question are interesting to pursue, they have, lamentably, been grafted in a sensationalized way onto any discussion of 2012. But I've been offering a caveat to this assumption for many years now, one that allows us to consider my reconstruction of the astronomical intentions of the Long Count calendar's creators without having to prove the efficacy of the attendant eschatological belief system. Do you understand what I'm saying? In other words, it's one thing to reconstruct an ancient cosmology and it's an entirely other thing altogether to engage in proving or disproving the empirical validity of the reconstructed cosmology. These pursuits are in two completely different realms. Concomittantly, to disprove the empirical efficacy of a reconstructed Mayan galactic cosmology does not disprove the argument that it once existed. Muddiness between these two approaches gives debunkers permission to map their easy dismissals of one position onto the other position. It's like saying that the ancient Greeks didn't believe that Zeus spawned humanity because such a position is empirically unjustifiable. The heights of irrational double-think are being employed by professionals when confronted with the evidence I bring to bear on the 2012 question. The problem is that they do not actually read my books.
Strous's second critique is the idea that, in 2012: "The Sun [is] in Conjunction with the Center of the Milky Way." Since 1995 I've openly shared the facts he brings to bear on this point. There is in fact a chapter in my 2002 book Galactic Alignment (Inner Traditions, in print with European distribution) devoted to discussing timing parameters. Strous's critique is revealing and predictable, as I've responded to it a dozen times already. He prefers to draw from absolutely precise astronomical terminology and neglects to note that Galactic Center is, to the naked eye skywatcher, not an abstract point but a "nuclear bulge" covering a large area of space. For any skywatching culture, the intersection of the Milky Way and the ecliptic is practically co-spatial with the Galactic Bulge / Galactic Center. In order to understand how these astronomical features were perceived by the ancient Maya, we need to transcend the limiting strictures imposed by our own preferential way of conceiving and talking about these very real astronomical features. To presume that our terminology is superior to indigenous terminology will succeed only in occluding our understanding of what is being refered to in native documents. As an example of expanding our linguistic biases, I have always been careful to point out that ancient Mayan "documents" include pictographic forms, starlore, mythologies, and hieroglyphic texts (on pottery and stone monuments as well as on screenfold books). Most importantly, the orientation of monuments within a site, the larger context of horizon astonomy, and known iconographic conventions must all be considered as "documentary" evidence. This position of mine is an interdisciplinary position. Strous's words reveal biases typical of the scientifically trained mind:
"It is of course possible that the Maya's took some other point as the center of the Milky Way than we do, but I don't know of any Maya document that describes precisely where that point is, so there is no proof that the Mayas saw 2012 as a special year on this account. It seems that the Mayas thought that the intersection of the ecliptic and the Milky Way was important, but I see no evidence that they knew that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy of which the center happens to lie in about the same direction as that intersection."
The first bolded item in Strous's quote is revealing because he claims that there is no Mayan "document" that identifies the precise center point of the galaxy. And yet when we understand that the intersection of Milky Way and ecliptic was the point believed to target the cosmic center, then we can access dozens of crosses on thrones, the sacrcophagus lid of Pacal, and many other "documents" that do support the notion that a "cosmic center" is located within the confines of the visible nuclear bulge, a.k.a., the Galactic Center. The tight limits of his terminology, as well as a limited knowledge of the corpus of Mesoamerican archaeological artifacts, leads Strous to this statement, rather than facts. His conclusion is formed mainly upon the limits of his approach, rather than the evidence and facts which are available. On the second bolded point above, he is saying that there is no evidence that the Maya saw the end of their 13-baktun Long Count cycle as having anything to do with the Galactic Center. This is where the huge amount of evidence at Izapa comes into play, for example Stela 11, as well as evidence in ballgame symbolism and the Hero Twin Creation myth. I will not summarize here this huge corpus of evidence, as to do so appropriately would take many hundreds of pages --- that is why I wrote Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 (Inner Traditions, 1998). Suffice it to state here that there is a large amount of interdisciplinary evidence that the Maya considered the solstice-galaxy alignment that occurs in the years around 2012 to be important, so important that information about it is encoded into core Mayan institutions, such as the Hero Twin Creation myth, the ballgame, and king accession rituals. The third bolded point reads "seems that" --- i.e., Strous writes that it "seems that" the Maya thought the Milky Way / ecliptic cross was important. This is an irresponsible diminishment of what is really unequivocal. I can chose five sources from the bibliography cited above if anyone wants to investigate for themselves. It would be more honest to say that "both the ancient and the modern Maya in fact believe the cross of Milky Way and ecliptic to be important; they believed it to represent the concept of 'cosmic center'". If Strous had done so, the evidence underlying my own conclusions would begin to come into view. One should read my "Open Letter" piece (written in mid-1999) to see what I mean: http://Alignment2012.com/openletter.htm
Finally, the fourth bolded point reveals an absurd requirement that most scientists are guilty of when looking at ancient cultures --- they basically expect there to be a Mayan document, correctly punctuated, that spells it all out in clear scientific terminology. This, I believe is basically a kind of intellectual laziness, or a failure of open-minded problem solving, resulting in an inability to perceive cultural customs that lie beyond ones own. There is no hope for the advance of science when this type of ethnocentric bias is at the rudder.
Some of the ideas addressed by Strous do not come from my work, though of course it is reasonable for him to want to address them. Such as:
"The Conjunctions Happen at Sunrise." (This criteria is irrelevant to my reconstruction.)
"The Planets Are Then in a Special Configuration." (I never promote this idea.)
"Through the Plane of the Milky Way." (As in orbital motion through the Galactic Plane, moving our solar system north and south of galactic equator. I've written long ago that this phenomenon has nothing to do with the galactic alignment of era-2012).
As for his topic "The Mayas and Precession", I find several misconceptions and a neglect of evidence that is widely available in the academic literature and that I summarize in my books. Some context for this can be found at my chapter summary page: http://Alignment2012.com/mc2012summary.html. But, again, it is best to actually read the book; that's why people write them. Generally, Strous is applying a level of scientific precision that is inappropriate to the situation and fails to understand how the Maya and pre-Maya adjusted for precession in their temple alignments (e.g., at La Venta, circa 1200 BC). He makes a laborious comparison between the period of 65 baktuns and variations in astronomically calculated precessional periods. He concludes that if the Maya had calculated precession 2300 years ago, and targeted a precessional alignment in 2012, the variations in precessional shifting would result in a 25-year error. And this deviation is suppose to be enough to disqualify the thesis --- meaning that we would not be allowing the ancient Maya a 25-year error in a 2300-year forward calculation in precession. That seems unfair, absurd, and unrealistic. Yet, from the viewpoint of the value placed by modern science on precision, such a deconstruction is completely viable, laudable, and cogent. This is really a problem of how we approach the problem. To analyze a culture and its institutions and traditions from within the context of its own perceptual framework is today considered a more accurate and appropriate approach to understanding ancient cultures. Imposing modern values and perceptual biases on ancient cultures is today considered out moded as it leads to inaccuracies and biases, such as, for example, labelling natives as devil worshippers because they were not baptized.
Strous's next point of critique simply barks up the wrong tree: "The Calendar of the Mayas Follows No Astronomical Periods"
He makes precise comparisons between Mesoamerican calendar periods and actual
astronomical cycles, and finds no precise analogies. He fails to understand
that the 260-day calendar is a key to the almanacs used by the Maya to predict
eclipses and planetary movements. Mayan archaeoastronomers and calendar experts
would find Strous's rationale here to be quite foolish. He ends this section
with a statement about the legitimacy of placing the end date on December 21,
2012. I've looked at this question very carefully for a long time, and continue
to be amazed at how people try to generate all kinds of correlations using only
one discipline and ignoring all others. This is how a list of possible (with
almost all of them being highly improbable) correlations stretching "up
to 1000 years apart." Strous willingly ignores reason and argument to present
this mitigating statement, effectively reducing the importance of December 21,
2012 in the minds of unsuspecting readers. I cleared away the debris around
this question a long time ago, and for details readers can consult the information
in my 1992/1994 book Tzolkin (Borderland Sciences Research Foundation),
which is republished in my CD-Rom book Tzolkin 2, or access correlation
documents on my website such as this,
this, and this;
and (for Long Count origins), this and this.
Strous's final point is "Was the Long Count Designed for 21 December 2012?" He draws from a compelling statement in Munro Edmoson's Book of the Year, which runs:
There was, however, nothing arbitrary about the fixing of the end of the Long Count era. Victoria Bricker has pointed out to me that 188.8.131.52.0 4 Ahau 3 Kankin corresponds to an astronomically correct winter solstice: December 21, 2012 A.D. (Julian day number 2456283). Thus there appears to be a strong likelihood that the eral calendar, like the year calendar, was motivated by a long-range astronomical prediction, one that made a correct solsticial forecast 2,367 years into the future in 355 B.C.
Strous then states that "Absent from this description (and from its neighborhood in the book) is any indication about this from texts from the inventors or users of the Long Count. That we think it fits so nicely proves nothing about what the inventors had in mind when they invented the Long Count." Strous fails to point out that Edmonson discusses the Mayan year-drift formula, in which 1507 tropical years equal 1508 haab, effectively providing an accurate way to track the true solar year and a future solstice date. In my own work it has been easy to see how the Long Count can be used to track accurate solstices and equinoxes as they fall on predictable intervals in the Long Count (see, for example, the "Long Count and Seasonal Quarters" section of this 1994 article). And if Strous wants to analyze documents from those who created the Long Count, he should study the monuments and orientations at the site of Izapa. Doing so would reveal that the December solstice sun's future alignment with the dark-rift in the Milky Way, near the Milky Way/ecliptic cross that targets the Galactic Center, is encoded into the monumental statements at Izapa, which are roughly 2,100 years old. But, as it stands, Strous concludes: "I therefore think that the fact that the beginning of a new period in the Long Count in 2012 falls on the day of a solstice is a coincidence." Message from Spock.
Coincidence, that ever-at-the-ready word that provides security and closure. Coincidence, that word that closes the door on advancing our knowledge. Let us assume it isn't a coincidence, and let's engage in an experiment (this is what I proposed to myself eleven years ago). The question then arises: Can we find evidence in any Mayan document, carving, orientation, monument, mythology, iconography, starlore or tradition that suggests the alignment of solstice sun and the dark-rift in the Milky Way is important? (The dark rift is an important feature near the crossing point of Milky Way and ecliptic that Strous neglects to discuss). Why, yes we indeed can. There are dozens of points of evidence converging from the vantage of a half dozen different disciplines, resulting in the same "suggestion". One random item can be dismissed as coincidence. But we should ask ourselves if a convergence of interdisciplinary evidence can, with good conscience, be dismissed as coincidence. I don't think so. Read the book.
A concluding note. Carl Calleman has been insistent in his citation of Dr. Strous's web page, presuming it to be an authoritative denouncement of my work. Clearly, it is not. Calleman believes the Mayan calendar has nothing to do with astronomy. He doesn't believe that the end-date is really December 21, 2012, despite the evidence and conclusions of the best scholars in Mayan studies, working on the question since 1904. And he doesn't believe that the Galactic Alignment is indicated in the mouments of Izapa, in the Long Count end date, in the Mayan Creation myth, or in the astronomical symbolism of the Mayan ballgame. His critique of my work in a debate we held in late 2001 never actually addressed the evidence I brought to bear on the question, but simply repeated his denouncements via an argument that my work identified astronomy and was therefore repugnantly materialistic (see debate at http://Alignment2012.com/debate2001.html). In order to sustain this view of my work, he neglects a great deal of spiritual and metaphysical teachings that are plain to see in my books. It is unfortunate that Mayan calendar researchers cannot agree that cogent, careful, reconstructive detective work can lead us closer to the true sources of Mayan cosmic wisdom. Without clarity and discernment, we are left with impassioned ultimatums, like Calleman's, that we simply must follow his clever and self-styled new interpretations. Calleman apparently doesn't see the universal character of the Mayan calendar, in that it is the key to all dimensions in human experience, from inner spiritual to outer sensory experience. To deny astronomy as being in a realm where the Mayan calendar simply doesn't apply is to ignore half of its application. The Mesoamerican calendar is the key that unifies spirit and matter, inner and outer, and that principle really is basic to any spirituality or theology built upon the transcendant perennial insights encoded into Mayan time philosophy. I'm afraid Calleman has backed himself into a corner with this issue, but I truly hope he can find his way out. It's unfortunate when you deny half of reality --- it leads to all kinds of problems.
For another exchange with an astronomer, see http://Alignment2012.com/tonkins-error.html
John Major Jenkins. November 28, 2004.
POSTSCRIPT: Dr Strous and I had an email exchange between Dec 20th,
2004 and January 5th, 2005: