Reports of the world ending today — which is the end of the 5,125-year Mayan calendar — have been greatly exaggerated.
According to scholars, the Mayan calendar today begins another "long count" cycle, which, depending on who you talk to, signals a new era of peace, plenty and the harmony of humanity — or maybe more hurricanes, wars and market troubles. All of which has people thinking about where the future of the world is headed.
If there is one after today.
What happens today? The Great Cycle of the 13th baktun ended and a new one began at 3:11 a.m. It happens every 1.87 million days. The last time was 3114 B.C., and this one coincides with the winter solstice.
Will the world end, in the judgment of Mayan scholars? No. Professor William Saturno of Boston College says no Mayan myth or inscription mentions an end of the world.
"I hope it doesn't end. I have to dance on the 22nd at a solstice dance at the Armory," Elizabeth Tobey said as she did some Christmas shopping on Ashland's Plaza with her mother, Terry Tobey, and sister Boots Tobey.
"I don't think it's going to end. It's just going to begin a new chapter," she said. "It is changing, but slowly. Climate change is waking a lot of people up and helping people change internally, and that changes the world for the better."
Boots Tobey had a different take on the supposed changes heralded by the new Mayan cycle.
"The world's not ending, but civilization is, in the near future," she said. "I don't know if it will crash and burn on the 21st, but it will in the next five years, what with oil and drinkable water running out. People aren't keeping it together anymore. There's a lot of apathy in my younger generation. I'm going to find a safe place to live and farm — and fill up my gas tank."
Their mom, owner of the new Sew Creative shop on Main Street, took the middle ground on the issue.
"Any calendar is arbitrary and man-made, and the world will laugh at it," Terry Tobey said. "But I can feel the world is changing and I hope for the better. I see lots of positive change with young people and sustainable lifestyles, so we can live with the planet instead of using up all the resources."
No way is the world ending, said Brett Filipowski, who recently moved to Ashland. "It's just changing, collectively and individually, and people get scared of change. We're all waking up to our own power and to what we really want our future to be. Personally, I'm doing a lot of inner work, and that's helping me deal with the changes much better."
The ticking over of the Mayan calendar will have no impact on society, Janet Curry believes. "I just feel that intuitively, but I also feel the coming era will be a time of gradual decline, because the forces of greed are getting stronger. The dangers of global warming may slow it down but won't stop it — and it could also happen in the short term with nuclear weapons, but hopefully not."
The late Jose Arguelles, former Ashlander and author in 1987 of "The Mayan Factor," held that the "harmonic convergence" in that year heralded the 25-year countdown to today, and he said this day would mark the end of history and its ills, such as war, tyranny and violence.
"It's pretty amazing," said Chiron Rae of Ashland. "I definitely think there is great potential for a new age of cooperation. Whatever the reason, we have chosen the date 12-12-12 to be significant, to represent a new paradigm. I'd rather believe in the dream, knowing that is the only way one can create a dream come true."
Ashlander Jeff Altemus said, "I'd really like to believe that it'll be the dawning of some grand new age of human evolution, a la Arguelles, but when push comes to shove, I don't. What it means to me personally: a particularly bad-ass solstice to celebrate."
"It is simply the day before Dec. 22, and people will try to read a lot into it," said Cindy Ceteras of Ashland. But things don't change on a certain day, she observed. "Consciousness opens now and now and now."
Dion Marchi of Jacksonville said, "While I love astrophysics and could dream endlessly of some ethereal meaning or get lost imagining a galactic black hole created by the world's end, I believe it will be like any 12/21, and life will go on."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.