Please note: In this essay I will use a few astronomical terms without fully explaining them first. But even so, I think you will still be able to follow along very well because of the pictures.

The sun will be in the middle of the dark rift, the Maya birth canal, on the solstice. The
sacred tree will be above the Maya with the sun exactly between Mars and Venus.


The astronomy that will unfold in the sky directly over the Maya on the winter solstice of 2012 is the key to understanding why the Maya restarted their calendar on that exact day. Almost all calendars are based on astronomy and it appears that this is also true for the Maya calendar, although in a rather spectacular way. And it is important to point out right up front that this astronomy presents no danger to us at all. We are not going to fall into a black hole or be inundated with a high level of cosmic rays. In my view, this rare astronomical event will not cause anything unusual to happen to us at all. And yet it is my opinion that the Maya’s timeless message of rebirth potentially leads us onto an exceptionally rewarding path of self-discovery.

I used a popular astronomy program called “The Sky” to examine the astronomy of 2012 and with this software, I created what are called “screenshots” and the most important one is shown above. While I did add labels and text to this screenshot, I did not edit the image or superimpose anything onto it. In this screenshot, we see that the sun will be in the middle of the dark rift, the Maya birth canal, on the day of the winter solstice. In just a few minutes, I will go over why this day can be said to contain the triple rebirth of the sun. We also see that there are four planets forming the horizontal crossbar of the sacred tree and the sun is virtually exactly in the middle of these planets. This is also quite significant as to why the Maya picked this exact day to restart their calendar.

To understand this better, let’s go over it a little bit at a time. We will be using the viewpoint of Izapa, Mexico, the birthplace of the Maya Long Count calendar. I think that it is crucial to investigate 2012 from the viewpoint of the Maya themselves but this point is often overlooked by other researchers. Yes, the actual location of the Maya on the surface of the earth is important when examining the astronomy and in addition to that, their cultural viewpoint is also very important. Both the calendar and the Maya’s timeless metaphorical stories about transformation and rebirth have an astronomical basis to them and this is why understanding the astronomy can be so helpful.

Let’s start off by asking one of the most important questions: what was the driving question behind the creation of the Long Count calendar?

The Driving Question Behind the Creation of the Long Count Calendar

Here we are looking towards the bright center region of our Milky Way galaxy. The dark rift is easily visible.

Let’s go way back in time and imagine being a Maya skywatcher two thousand years ago. With excellent viewing conditions, which the Maya certainly had, we would clearly see the spectacular section of the sky containing the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Here we see a massive ball of bright lights with a dark swath intruding into it and this swath is called the dark rift. There is nothing else in the night sky that looks even remotely like this section of the sky. It is quite stunning and very intriguing. We would be drawn to it and stories would be created about it. For the Maya, the massive ball of bright lights at the center of the galaxy was seen as the pregnant belly of the mother of creation and the dark rift was seen as the birth canal.

After careful observation, we would learn that the sun travels across the galactic birth canal in late November. It would do this once a year and each year it would do this a little bit closer to the day of the winter solstice. This would lead us to ask what year in the distant future will the sun be in the middle of the birth canal on the day of the winter solstice? By carefully measuring this shift, which is about 20 minutes per year, we could calculate that this special event would happen in the years around 2012. This is the obvious and natural way
in which the Maya were attracted to a point in time over two
thousand of years in their future.

The Triple Rebirth of the Sun

This special event that I am talking about is the sacred triple rebirth of the sun. Let’s go over these rebirths one at a time.

Everyday when the sun sets, it goes below the horizon, seemingly under the ground of the earth, and we are left to endure a dark, cold night. Metaphorically, it can be said that the sun leaves our world and travels into the underworld, where it is said to be dead for the duration of the night. Yet at dawn, it rises above the ground and is reborn into our world bringing forth the light and heat we all need to stay alive. Obviously, if the sun were to no longer rise, all of life would perish and because of this, the sun has been used for thousands of years by cultures all around the world as a symbol of the Creator’s sustaining love.

Since the sunrise is so frequent, it is often taken for granted, but all of us of course know that this rebirth is truly vital. In addition to that, sunrises are often quite beautiful. In fact, this astronomical shift can be one of nature’s most dramatic display of beauty with its blaze of red and pink, yellow and gold. This is the shift that naturally awakens us from our slumber, which, by the way, can also be seen as our own daily rebirth since we, too, appear to be dead while we sleep through the night.

Next is the winter solstice, which can be seen as the rebirth of the sun in the time frame of the year since the length of the day will now start to grow longer. If the days were to continue to grow shorter, the cold winter would only tighten its grip and we would all perish. So this rebirth is also vital.

Our comfortable homes insulate us from the long, harsh winter nights but when you think of both the daily and yearly rebirths from the perspective of cultures with significantly less physical comfort, you can appreciate that these rebirths of the sun would be experienced in a very tactile way. Add to that the rhythm of the harvest and you can certainly understand the strong motivation to celebrate these turning points in the cycles of time.

The third rebirth occurs when the sun moves into the middle of the galactic birth canal, the dark rift, and this can be referred to as the galactic rebirth of the sun and again, this happens once a year. So the three rebirths of the sun can be referred to as the daily rebirth, the solstice rebirth and the galactic rebirth. A triple rebirth of the sun occurs in the years around 2012 when the solstice rebirth and the galactic rebirth happen on the same calendar day.

By the way, the solstice rebirth happens once every tropical year and the galactic rebirth happens once every sidereal year. A sidereal year is about 20 minutes longer than a tropical year and this difference is caused by the slow wobble of the earth’s axis. This is what causes these two rebirths to come together in the years around 2012. I go into this more in my other essays but for right now, let’s just continue.

Now, let’s add a little more to our desired triple rebirth scenario. The Maya would most certainly want to celebrate the sun’s presence in the middle of the birth canal at a time when this is actually happening in the sky above them – in other words, during the day. Since the sun is considered to be dead at night, if this astronomical event happened at night, it would not be very useful for their metaphor or very interesting for the purpose of their festivities; they would want the sun to be alive during the rebirth celebration!

So the question now becomes: when will the sun be in the middle of the dark rift on the day of the winter solstice while in the sky over the Maya? If there is more than one year that fits these qualifications, what year will also include an interesting planetary configuration? This leads us to the sacred tree.

The Sacred Tree

The sacred tree is in the Maya folklore and other cultures around the world also concern themselves with it. It has several names such as “the sacred cross,” “the tree of life,” “the sacred tree of life,” and “the world tree.” The Maya sacred tree has been shown to be an astronomical reference to the cross in the sky made by the dark rift and the path of the sun, as seen from earth. So the tree of life is made out of two crossbars and it is part of the fixed background of the stars.

It just so happens that on December 21, 2012 at high noon, the sacred tree will be perfectly oriented in the sky over the Maya. Since the brightness of the sun will obscure the stars of the Milky Way, we need to push a magic button to let us see the Milky Way, the dark rift and the planets near the sun at this time. When I used my astronomy software program to see this, I got the above screenshot. Here it is again:

The sun will be in the middle of the dark rift, the Maya birth canal, on the solstice.
The sacred tree will be above the Maya with the sun exactly between Mars and Venus.

At high noon, the sacred tree will contain a large planetary configuration centered around the sun. If we draw a horizontal line through the sun, we have one of the crossbars of the tree of life. On the left side of this crossbar, we will have the planet Mars. To the right of Mars will be Pluto and then the sun. To the right of the sun will be Mercury and then at the far right of this crossbar, we will have Venus. While Pluto is never visible to the naked eye, the Maya were very familiar with the other three planets and they were so interested in Venus that they had a calendar to track its motion.

Now, I call this crossbar the crossbar of light since all these objects either reflect or give off light. The sun will be virtually exactly in the middle of Mars and Venus so this crossbar will be very balanced around the sun. The dark rift makes what I call the crossbar of darkness. At midday, this crossbar is not exactly vertical but it is 30 degrees shy of vertical.

In this way, we see that the tree of life is made up of one crossbar of darkness and one crossbar of light and thus it represents the yin-yang quality of duality exhibited all throughout creation. And right on the crossing point of these two crossbars on this special day, we have the sun, which bring us the light and warmth of the day when it rises and the darkness and coolness of the night when it sets. Because of this, the sun can be seen as the most powerful creator of the duality that we witness in our world. It even bringing us life itself and invites us to inquire about the most mysterious duality we all face: our very own life and death.

Incidentally, we should also take note of the location of the center of the galaxy, the Maya womb of creation. On this day at high noon, it is at the bottom of the dark rift acting as the source, the root system, of the sacred tree of life. So everything comes forth from the source into our world of duality! What a beautiful metaphor! This makes much more sense than the false yet often repeated statement that the sun will be on top of the center of the galaxy on this special day.

When we take all of this into consideration, we see that there is absolutely no doubt that December 21, 2012 offers us an excellent solution to our questions.

An Extremely Precise Value for the Length of the Year

And now let’s go further into the question of how difficult it was for the Maya to restart their calendar exactly on this particular winter solstice from over two thousand, one hundred years away.

Imagine that it is the winter solstice and that you and I want to make a calendar that restarts precisely on the winter solstice ten years from now. We would just multiply the length of the year by ten to get the correct number of days that our calendar would need.

But if we think that the year is exactly 365 days long, rather than the more correct value of 365.2422 days long, then you can see that over ten years, we would be off by more than two days. (3650 days compared with 3652.422 days.) And, if instead, we want the calendar to restart in one hundred years or one thousand years, you can see that we would need to know the length of the year with greater and greater precision.

To intentionally hit this particular winter solstice from that far away, it turns out that the Maya would have needed to know the length of the year to within 45 seconds! This is like measuring the width of the United States to within 20 feet or the distance from Los Angeles to Tokyo to within 40 feet! In terms of a percentage, this is 99.9999 percent correct!

In my opinion, this is not merely remarkable; this is absolutely stunning! In my opinion, this is simply not possible with naked-eye astronomy and opens up the complicated questions of how the Maya knew this amazing astronomy and how they constructed their calendar.

While these questions are quite intriguing, I will leave them for other to discuss, as they are beyond the scope of this essay. Before I conclude this essay, I would like to quickly bring up one more topic.

John Major Jenkins’s Alignment Zone

It is very important for me to point out that in the mid-1990s, John Major Jenkins became the first person to link the restart date of the Maya calendar to an astronomical event driven by precession and he refers to this event as a “galactic alignment.” John is well aware of the Maya’s metaphor of the dark rift as the birth canal and he clearly sees the sun’s presence in the dark rift as a rebirth. But there is something astronomers call the galactic equator that is very near the middle of the dark rift and this is what John focused on since its exact location is precisely defined by astronomers. Because of this and for other reasons, John has picked a range of years centered around 1998 as what he calls the “alignment zone.” This zone goes from 1980 to 2016 and it obvious includes 2012. In his view, this zone is the intended target of the Maya calendar.

I have tremendous respect for John personally and I like much of his work. While he most certainly discovered that precession links the calendar to the astronomy, I do not find this zone approach to be very satisfying. With so much precision being demonstrated by the creators of the calendar, I felt there must be something special about the exact day of the winter solstice of 2012 as seen from the specific location of the Maya. Both the restart date and the place where the calendar was found are important. We cannot ignore that this is a Maya calendar, not an Egyptian calendar or a global calendar. This is why I went further with my own original research and thinking and I came to the conclusion that both the triple rebirth of the sun and the unique configuration of the sacred tree flying through the sky over the Maya on that special day was the target of the calendar. While the sun will be exactly in the middle of the dark rift during the day for the Maya, this event will happen during the night for people on the other side of the world. So the triple rebirth metaphor will not play out very well for those locations. But this is not a problem since the Maya were only concerned with what they will see on that day, not what others will see from elsewhere.

My view focuses on the center of the dark rift, not the galactic equator, although again, these two things are very close to each other. But more importantly, my view focuses on what will happen on that day over the Maya, not what will happen over a long period of time. Please consider the fact that no one can ever look up into the sky and see the galactic equator for it is as invisible as the equator of the earth. Both are precisely located by scientists yet both are imaginary lines. It is important to note that the Maya could look up into the sky at certain times and actually see the dark rift with their naked eyes and this makes the astronomy useful for their metaphorical folklore. I think this is an essential point in understanding 2012. The idea that the Maya restarted their calendar because of the combination of the triple rebirth of the sun and this unique configuration of the sacred tree is to the best of my knowledge, original with me. While other people are aware of both the solar rebirths and the sacred tree in general, to my knowledge no one has connected them to 2012 like I have.

As a side note, consider that in about 130 B.C., the same time frame as the creation of the Maya calendar, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus estimated precession to be 36,000 years or less. He was off by 10,000 years! Even so, Hipparchus is very famous for his work on precession and he wrote two books on the subject. He is considered by some people to be the greatest astronomer of antiquity. I can only add that it’s a good thing he was not in charge of creating the Maya calendar!

Well, that concludes this essay. If you were looking for a clear, quick and easy way to understanding why the Maya picked the winter solstice of 2012, I hope you found it here. Yet I also hope that I have inspired you to take a deeper look into both the actual astronomy of 2012 and the timeless metaphorical message that the Maya are offering us. You can get more information in my other 2012 essays.

The End. Thanks for reading my essay!
Written: October 10, 2009, modified: April 3, 2010, © Copyright 2009 Thomas Razzeto
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