More articles by Thomas Razzeto

Why the Maya Picked 2012 : The Sacred Triple Rebirth of the Sun and the Sacred Tree Over the Maya
Did Extraterrestrials Create the Maya Calendar?

2012 and the Psychedelic Shamans: Why Their Experiences Are the Key to Understanding the Message of 2012


As I explored the puzzle of 2012, one of the things that I least expected turned out to be the most important. My exploration of this subject was initially focused on the astronomy that will unfold on December 21, 2012 and this is indeed crucial in understanding why the Maya picked that exact day. But this essay will not focus on the astronomy; it will focus on something completely different. It will focus on the psychedelic effects of the chemicals that the Maya shamans got from the Bufo toad. These psychedelic experiences are the key to understanding the message of the ancient Maya.

The Astronomy and the Rebirth Metaphor

Let’s back up for a few minutes and quickly review my general approach to 2012, which is to carefully consider these three tightly related aspects:

1) the astronomy that will unfold on the precise day that the calendar restarts
2) the rebirth metaphor that is based on this astronomy
3) the core meaning of this metaphor

It will be very easy for us to quickly understand why the astronomy that will unfold on that day is so special and why it was used as the foundation of the Maya’s rebirth metaphor. After you see how I present the astronomy of 2012, you might wonder how so many people can be completely unaware of this simple but important perspective.

Please note that this is not the “galactic alignment” of John Major Jenkins. John’s a great guy and I really like some of his work but the galactic alignment already peaked in 1998. I wondered, “From 2,000 years ago, how could the Maya hit the exact day of the winter solstice and yet miss the year they wanted?” This is why I kept looking for the real reason the Maya picked 2012. And here it is:

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

On the precise day of the winter solstice of 2012, the sun will be in the middle of the dark rift of the Milky Way. This section of the sky contains a large ball of faint stars near the center of our galaxy. The Maya considered this ball to be the pregnant belly of the mother of creation. The dark rift intrudes into this ball and was considered to be the galactic birth canal. From the point of view of earth, the sun goes through this section of the sky once a year and on the one day of the year when the sun is in the middle of the galactic birth canal, it can be said that the sun is being reborn. In the years around 2012, this happens on the same day as the winter solstice. Since the winter solstice is the time when the length of the day starts to grow longer, it was also considered to be a type of solar rebirth. And of course, every day contains a sunrise, which is yet another type of solar rebirth. In this way, December 21, 2012 contains a triple rebirth of the sun. So we see that on the day that the calendar itself will be reborn, the sun will be reborn three times.

(There is a little more to the story about why the Maya picked 2012. We also need to consider the special configuration of the sacred tree, which you can see in the image above. You can learn more here: Why the Maya Picked 2012: essay or video. Don’t worry about the astronomy being too hard to understand; my clear presentation is easy to follow and the astronomy is very simple.)

But understanding the link between the calendar and the astronomy does not answer the biggest question: What are the Maya trying to tell us? It is my opinion that this astronomy will not cause anything unusual to happen to us, either good or bad, or physical or spiritual. I think that the ancient Maya also held that belief, although it seems that other superstitions were added later. For the ancient Maya, the importance of this astronomy was as the foundation of the profound metaphor of transformation and rebirth. Indeed, this metaphor represents the awakening to the Maya’s deepest understanding of the true self, what others have called “enlightenment.” This essay will explain why I think that that is the case.

The Rebirth Metaphor Carved in Stone in the Maya’s Most Sacred Site

According to John Major Jenkins, the purest meaning of 2012 is found by examining the stone monuments and carvings in Izapa, Mexico, the birthplace of the Long Count calendar. This is the most immediate and primary evidence left by the Maya. Here we find that these monuments depict both the astronomy of the triple rebirth of the sun and the general theme of transformation and rebirth. One of the ways that the Maya present the theme of transformation and rebirth is with images and statues of the Bufo toad.

The transformation of the tadpole into the toad makes it a perfect symbol for the concept of transformation. If you did not know any better and someone showed you both a tadpole and a toad, you might think that they were two completely different types of creatures and yet one comes from the other. Amazing! In addition to that, the adult Bufo toad sheds its skin about four times a year. The young ones do it much more often. As they shed their skin, the eat it. It is almost as if they unzip it along their backs and then pull it into their mouths. So the old outer form is consumed in order for it to come forth again, born anew within the body of the toad. This act of consuming its skin is depicted in the stone art of the Maya. While those things are interesting, it is the next piece of the puzzle that is the most important.

It just so happens that the Maya shamans used the psychoactive chemicals excreted from the poison gland of the Bufo toad during their sacred rituals and in this way, each shaman had a direct, personal experience with what they called “the invisible world,” “the unseen world,” or “the underworld” and what we might call the spiritual world.

Stela 6 in Izapa – A shaman in a canoe journeys into the underworld with the help of the 5-MeO-DMT from the Bufo toad. Photo: Garth Norman, Brigham Young University. Click the picture to see it with labels.

The Maya and their ancestors, the Olmec, were very interested in the Bufo toad. The shamans kept them captive as sacred pets and since the toads live to be over thirty years old, some of them would outlive their owners. Thousands of skeletal remains of these toads have been found and it seems as if the Maya and the Olmec created sacred burial sites specifically for these toads. One example of this is located in San Lorenzo and it dates back over 3,000 years.

The Psychedelic Effects of the 5-MeO-DMT from the Bufo Toad

In his book Tryptamine Palace, James Oroc describes the effects of the psychedelic chemicals from this toad. By the way, the main chemical is called 5-MeO-DMT and it has different effects from other types of DMT from different sources such as the vines used to make the ayahuasca brew that is well known in South America. Now, it is important that I clearly point out that this chemical is illegal and because of this, I strongly recommend meditation rather than psychedelics as a tool for self-discovery but let’s continue. Oroc states that he had the experience of becoming “consciousness without identity.” Since this is commonly reported by others who have used this drug, it is extremely likely that the Maya shamans also had this experience.

A Maya Bufo toad ceremonial drinking vessel. Photo by Keith Cleversley. Used by permission.

But what does it really mean to become consciousness without identity? First of all, you do not become it; you simply recognize that it has always been that way. Mainstream science holds that your consciousness arises from the biochemistry of your body and brain. But what if your consciousness exists independently from your body? What if you true identity is your pure awareness? Honest scientific research into subjects such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and past lives support this idea. This means that our common idea of who we are is false and we should embrace a fundamental re-identification. And what better way for the Maya to point to re-identification than with the rebirth metaphor. When you are born, you get an identity. When you realize that what you thought of as you is not really you and that your true self is your pure awareness, you become reborn in the deepest way.

Your awareness seems to be personal since it brings you your personal experience. With your awareness, you experience your own unique bodily sensations, your own emotions, your own thoughts and even your dreams and more. Since my bodily sensations, emotions and so forth are all different from yours and completely inaccessible to direct perception by you or anyone else, we think of our personal awarenesses as separate and distinct. But what if there is only one awareness and this experience of separateness is just an illusion?

I will continue with this very important question in just a few minutes but first I want to get back to the Maya. While the subject of psychedelic shamanic rituals is often completely overlooked by the academic community, it is hard to dismiss the dual role these toads played for the Maya. Yes, of course they were symbols of transformation and rebirth because of their own physiological shifts but the use of their mind-altering, paradigm-shifting chemicals cannot be ignore. The Bufo toad does more than just physically demonstrates the principles of transformation and rebirth; it provides the Maya with a means to explore the spiritual world and most importantly, to discover the true fundamental self. I think that the presence of the Bufo toad in the sacred ceremonial site of Izapa speaks volumes. In fact, the statues were not just used as symbols; they were used as altars. This raises them to the highest level possible. This is strong evidence that in the eyes of the Maya, these psychedelic experiences were supremely important!

(Due to copyright restrictions, I cannot show the pictures of the toad altar on my website but you can use the following link to see them. Note that the photographer comments that in his opinion, the altar looks more like the head of a snake or turtle. But I think that I can see the all-important poison glands behind the eyes so to me, it looks like it is a toad. You can make up your own mind. Here is the link: pictures of the toad altar.)

I think that this profound spiritual awakening to the true self was so important to the Maya that they pointed to it with their numerous astronomical and non-astronomical rebirth metaphors. When you take into account that the Maya folklore also contains many references to transformation and rebirth, it starts to seem as if this concept is the Maya’s favorite subject! Some of the scenes from this folklore are depicted in the stone carvings in Izapa. In my opinion, the evidence is very strong that this sacred site is primarily dedicated to the idea of transformation and rebirth. All things considered, it seems to me that the emphasis of Izapa is spiritual rebirth in general, not the specific time of 2012, since there are no carvings of any Long Count calendar dates in the actual sacred site of Izapa. (Think about that for a while!) So the Maya are focused on the core meaning of the rebirth metaphor, not the time of 2012. That is just the time when the astronomical metaphor will unfold. The calendar merely points to the astronomy which points to the timeless rebirth metaphor.

I like to think of it like this:

If I write a poem about enlightenment and spiritual awakening and use the sunrise as a metaphor since that is the event that fills our dark world with light and we are all awakened from our physical slumber, the poem should be taken as a reminder that spiritual awakening is possible in a general sense. It certainly should not be understood to say that we are all going to become enlightened during the next sunrise, although that might happen. If people focus on the event of the sunrise because they think that enlightenment will happen at the time of that event, they will have missed the point of the poem. The same thing is true for the sacred triple rebirth of the sun in 2012. It is a reminder that we can all awaken to a new spiritual understanding at any moment. Focus on the concept of spiritual rebirth, not the time of the astronomical event that was used as the foundation of the rebirth metaphor.

Almost all calendars are based on astronomy and it is beyond a reasonable doubt that this is also true for the Maya calendar, although in a rather spectacular way! And very often the messages handed down from ancient people are metaphorical, not literal, since this can more easily point to spiritual wisdom. In this way, I believe that the message of 2012 is metaphorical. If the focus of the calendar is a metaphor and everyone is looking for a literal event (other than the astronomy), they will miss the whole point of the calendar.

In my opinion, the conditions of the world are not at all the point of the message of 2012. That is just the outer form of creation and everything that has been created will change. The message of 2012 is much deeper than that. It is about something that never changes. It is about the fundamental principle of reality, as revealed by the psychedelic experiences of the shamans. The ancient Maya discovered the greater reality that lies behind our ordinary reality and most importantly, they discovered their true fundamental self, which was never born and will never die.

People all around the world throughout all of time have discovered that both God and creation are the same reality in different forms, just like water and ice are different forms of the same essence. Fundamentally, there is only the one awareness; it is primordial and all of creation arises out of it. This understanding is often called “non-dual” or the “perennial philosophy.” I like to call it “mysticism” and I believe that this mystical awakening is the heart of 2012.

The questions of 2012 are very deep. They are: “Who am I?” and “What is the true nature of reality?” Asking what is going to happen to us in 2012 is much too superficial. Many people think that 2012 is about a spiritual shift that will exhibit itself in physical form such as a more peaceful world. In my opinion, the message of 2012 is about a radical shift in identity, a shift that is so extreme that you no longer claim your old self to be you. (Note: I am using the word “radical” in its truest sense: going to the root.)

The profound understanding of your true self is difficult to put into words and this is why metaphors are often used. You cannot literally show anyone their true self since it has no attributes that can be perceived in anyway. You cannot grab it and put it on the table and proclaim, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

Your True Self

Of course we all see that our bodies were born into the world; this is beyond dispute. But isn’t it also true that both our bodies and the entire world are born into our awareness? Our awareness holds everything without being held itself; it comes before everything and it plays host to all the phenomena that we experience. And a mystic intuitively understands that the divine awareness that looks out of your eyes is the same awareness that looks out of his or her eyes. What is seen is different but the awareness is the same. There is only one awareness, that of the eternal divine essence.

Imagine you are the one awareness and that you are in a room with many windows. When you look into the world through one of these windows, you see a certain view. In this way, you have all the experiences of one particular person. You see what they see, feel what they feel, think what they think, remember what they remember, dream what they dream and so forth. When you look through another window, you have all the experiences of another person. But you are still the same awareness. If you experienced all of these experiences altogether, it would be just a mass of color and noise. It seems that our individuated personal consciousnesses are what allow the one awareness to experience the world without it being a jumbled mess. But what has been created are unique viewpoints, not individuated consciousnesses. This is a very important distinction. The apparently separate personal consciousnesses seem to arise because of the combination of the one awareness looking through the many viewpoints. You are not a drop in the ocean of God; you are the entire ocean! You are the totality of reality and you are where it all comes from! You are both all of creation and the eternal Source of it all!

(Note: In my work, I will sometimes refer to the personal self or our personal consciousness. This is just a practical way of speaking. Ultimately, there is only one Self, the one Awareness and yet I often want to refer to the functional self, the apparent self.)

Another way to look at this is to imagine that there are billions of hand puppets on earth, all apparently different people and animals. But when we see beyond the illusion of separate sentient beings and correctly perceive the full picture of what is really taking place, we see that there is only one sentient puppet master with billions of hands animating all of life and, most importantly, experiencing all of life through all those different viewpoints. What a miracle! What a mystery!

You Are Eternal Like the Sun

I think that the Maya personified the sun because you are like the sun. From our perspective on earth, the sun is born when it rises and it dies when it sets. But from a perspective out in space, we see that the sun is never born and it never dies; it is essentially eternal. Similarly, from the perspective of our ordinary reality, it appears as if we are born and then later, we die. Is there a different perspective, a larger framework, that reveals that our true self, our fundamental unconstructed self, is indeed also without birth or death? Are we also eternal? As I mentioned before, at birth, you get an apparent identity. When you re-identify with your true self – your pure, unchanging, eternal awareness – you are reborn in the most profound way.

I think that the Maya used a timeless metaphor on purpose to help you understand that you, too, exist beyond the boundaries of time itself. You exist as pure awareness, and time, space, energy and matter are all created within you. This re-identification as pure awareness is the deepest and most fundamental rebirth that the Maya are talking about.

While many people have heard that the world is an illusion, few people have heard someone say that they themselves are also an illusion. As I say in my book, Mystical 2012:

Yes, it seems like you are a separate, mortal, sentient being but you are not a being of any kind; you are sentience itself! This is the formless divine essence! This is what the gnostics focus on when they say, “Know yourself and you shall know God!

Many of us have heard it said, “You are not a human being having a spiritual experience, you are a spiritual being having a human experience.” Of course it is wise not to put the cart before the horse but perhaps you now see why I say that you are neither the cart nor the horse! You are the awareness that holds both the human being and the spiritual being! Your eternal nature is looking out of your eyes right now, shining forever, just like the sun!

If you find these comments intriguing, perhaps you will enjoy my book, Mystical 2012: Did the Maya Shamans Discover a Mystical View of Reality? You can read the entire book for free at or buy it at If you like my material, please spread the word! I would rather have many people enjoy my work for free than just a few who decide to purchase it.

You can also read my other 2012 essays at:

Well, thanks for reading my essay! Have a great day!