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Friday, 11 March 2011 23:05
In light of recent events -- including an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan and massive tsunami across the Pacific, record North American snow fall turning into widespread flooding, severe drought in the Black Sea region, southern U.S., and China, skyrocketing global food prices, uprisings and civil war across North Africa and the Middle East, 157 U.S. bank failures in 2010, yet another European debt bailout, astronomical public debt sparking austerity protests and perhaps a U.S. government shutdown, and trends pointing to a currency singularity -- I've been thinking again about my shocking (to me) revelation that perhaps the Mayans were on to something!

I'm more skeptical than anyone I know, so when I started looking into the Mayan calendar and the Baktun cycles, it was more as devil's advocate than anything else. Everyone was so mindlessly dismissive of it following the 2012 movie, well my contrarian senses tingled and I just had to dig a little deeper. I was quite surprised by what I found. No, it has nothing to do with fate ordained by a higher power, outlandish theories about neutrinos adopting new physical properties, or magical meanings of numbers; however, rather than dismiss it entirely as a fiction, it might be worth considering a potentially realistic basis for the idea behind the 2012 "doomsday" prophesy that ties in with the worldwide upheaval we're currently witnessing.

The ancient Mayans were adept at identifying human cycles (their primary calendar is based on the human gestational period) and there may indeed be something to the length of a Baktun (one of thirteen sub-periods of the Mayan long-count calendar) as it applies to generational cycles. The Mayans wouldn't be the only ones to have ever hypothesized it. Long-term cycles within civilization have been independently observed by the likes of Nikolai Kondratiev, Ralph Nelson Elliot, William Strauss, and Neil Howe. E.g. a Baktun is approximately equivalent to one or two Elliot Wave grand supercycles, 7-10 Kondratiev waves, 5 Strauss & Howe generational cycles, or 20 turnings. These natural cycles relate to the length of a human lifespan and the way that human nature reacts to certain predetermined inputs which were the result of the prior cycle or wave. The idea is related to crowd psychology and the collective unconscious espoused by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.

It is also similar to ancient Western cultures' ideas regarding the precession of the equinoxes, whereby the Earth's axis moves slowly through the 12 symbols of the Zodiac. One Platonic Year (full Zodiac cycle) is approximately 25,860 solar years, which is also approximately 4 Mayan long-count calendar cycles, give or take. I.e. one long-count cycle is equivalent to precession through 3 Zodiac symbols (3 Astrological Ages). Many Western astrologers believe that the Age of Aquarius has arrived recently or will arrive in the near future -- for those who define an Age as 2000 years exactly (which doesn't quite add up to a Platonic Year), the Age of Pisces began around the period in which Jesus is supposed to have lived (Jesus and the fish symbol are tightly correlated), and the Age of Aquarius therefore begins right around the current period. The ancient Greeks, Babylonians, Egyptians, and others believed that great social change occured during the changing of an Age, just as the Mayans believed regarding the changing of a Baktun. Ages generally aren't so strictly defined as exactly a set number of years however. Just as human lifespans and generations may be variable, so must be the Ages defined by them. Astrologically, there is no hard border between one constellation and another, so there is some interpretation required to identify the transitional period of up to several decades, known as a "cusp", about which the turning of an Age occurs.

As another example of a Western (or Near East) conception of cyclicality, in the ancient Akkadian (Mesopotamian) Epic of Atrahasis, the god Enlil is said to formulaically issue famines and droughts every 1200 years (which is equivalent to 3 Baktuns) to control overpopulation. Coincidentally, the classical Mayan civilization, which used the long-count calendar, dissolved almost exactly 3 Baktuns ago in what some scientists attribute to a period of severe drought. And much of the world today is also in severe drought.

If we were to overlay Mayan Baktuns on Western history, we could correlate certain civilization-changing events to the beginnings/ends of approximately 400 year cycles, starting with 15 Baktuns ago:

15 (~4000 BCE): Presumably, the creation of the Garden of Eden in Western mythology, and Adam and Eve as the first people. Uruk/Enoch, the first known city, is settled in Mesopotamia on the Euphrates, mythically established by Cain, the farmer, after killing his brother Abel, the shepard, both sons of Adam and Eve. This perhaps represents the domination of agriculture over the hunter-gatherers during this era. In reality, Uruk, Ur, Eridu, and other settlements are probably established 1000 years prior (and Jericho perhaps as early as 9000 BCE), however this is the beginning of the Uruk Period and the emergence of urban life and social stratification, which is the end of tribalism and the beginning of "civilization" in the common sense. The Age of Taurus begins. The Copper Age (late Neolithic, pre-Bronze Age) stage of development both in Mesopotamia and the Nile valley begins. Prior to this was the Stone Age.

13 (~3200 BCE): Beginning of the current Mayan long-count calendar. The Piora Oscillation, an abrupt climate change bringing colder, drier weather to the Middle East, begins. Agriculture changes; the horse is domesticated. Beginning of Egyptian history, when king Menes/Narmer unites Upper and Lower Egypt and becomes the first Pharoah. Uruk Period in Mesopotamia comes to an end, yielding to the Jemdet Nasr Period. Elamite civilization begins on the Persian plateau. Bronze Age begins in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The wheel is invented (along with the chariot). Early cuneiform writing appears in Egypt and Sumer.

12 (~2800 BCE): The Great Flood! In the historical record, a flood seems to occur at about this time, apparently destroying the city of Uruk and culturally separating the Jemdet Nasr period from the Early Dynastic Period which follows, with the Sumerian capital moved from Uruk to Kish as a result. The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh (largely copied from the Akkadian Epic of Atrahasis) depicts, among other myths, the great Deluge -- Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh how Ea (equivalent of the Akkadian god Enki) warned him of the gods' plan to destroy all life through a great flood and instructed him to build a vessel in which he could save his family, his friends, and his wealth and cattle. The Hebrew story of Noah's Ark is derived from this myth as well. The historical figure of King Gilgamesh reigns in Sumer sometime soon following the catastrophe, during the Early Dynastic Period. Note that this is 1200 years (3 Baktuns) from the beginning of the Uruk Period, which is the span of time, the Epic of Atrahasis posits, after which the gods wipe out overpopulation with natural disasters. Also at this time: the Piora Oscillation ends and temperatures warm. Minoan civilization (considered by some to be the basis of the story of Atlantis) rises to prominence.

11 (~2400 BCE): Sargon of Akkad builds the first great Mesopotamian empire through the conquest of the Sumerian city-states and Elam, and establishes a capital at Babylon. The Akkadian language is made the official language of international discourse throughout Mesopotamia and is adapted for use with cuneiform writing. This phenomenon is depicted in the Hebrew Bible as the story of the "Tower of Babel" (Sargon may be Nimrod).

10 (~2000 BCE): The Age of Aries begins. Global cooling sets in. Helladic (proto-Greek) period begins. Elamites sack Ur and the short-lived Sumerian Renaissance gives way to the Semitic Amorite immigration, sparking the collapse of the Sumerian empire and the division of Sumer into Amorite kingdoms, ultimately to be organized under Hammurabi (who mythically receives a code of laws for his people from God, introducing the concepts of presumption of innocence and a trial with evidence presented from each side). The Assyrian kingdom is established from the cities of Assur and Nineveh. Egypt is reunited after a period of decline and the Middle Kingdom era begins -- the first obelisks erected at Heliopolis, the "Wall of the Prince" erected in Sinai, and the pyramid and labyrinth of Hawara are built.

9 (~1600 BCE): Thera/Santorini cataclysmically erupts, causing massive tsunamis and ash fall throughout the Mediterranian, temporarily disrupting global climate (enough to cause the collapse of the Xia dynasty in China), and decimating the Minoan civilization (1200 years or 3 Baktuns from their rise to power). Mycenaean Greek civilization (depicted in the epics of Homer) begins and conquers most of what remains of the Minoans. A Semetic clan called the Hyksos take over Lower Egypt for a brief time, perhaps following the chaos caused by the Theran eruption, which may be related to the Hebrew story of Abraham and Joseph. Egypt is then reunified again under Ahmose and the New Kingdom begins circa 1530 BCE -- Egyptian power peaks during the New Kingdom, producing the huge religious complex of Karnak at Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and the Colossus at Memphis. The Hittites rise to prominence at this time and capture Babylon.

8 (~1200 BCE): Bronze Age collapse -- a violent, disruptive transition to the Iron Age, perhaps brought about by a systemic collapse of long-distance trade and widespread drought. Subsistence agriculture gives way to nomadic pastoralism. Trojan War occurs at this date. Mycenaean civilization ends abruptly concurrent with the Dorian immigration; major destruction and depopulation; Greek Dark Ages begin. Last remnants of the Minoan civilization perish. Hittite empire collapses to the Assyrians and "Sea Peoples" -- thought to be a combination of Greek, Minoan, Trojan/Assuwa, Lycian, and other migrants escaping food shortages in the Black Sea region. Egypt is also invaded by "Sea Peoples" and begins a period of terminal decline, continually conquered by invaders. Almost every major Levantine city -- from Troy to Gaza -- is violently destroyed, and often left unoccupied thereafter: examples include Hattusa, Mycenae, and Ugarit. Nebuchadnezzar I reconquers Babylon from Elamites. Celtic Hallstatt culture begins in central Europe. Phoenician civilization reaches its zenith and dominates the Mediterranean in the vacuum left by the collapse of the Hittites, Mycenaeans, Minoans, and Egyptians. Phoenicians found cities across the Mediterranean, from the Levant, across North Africa, the Latin islands, to Spain, Morocco, and even Britain. Their lasting legacy is that the Phoenician alphabet becomes the basis of Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, and most other writing systems (save for Chinese and its derivatives) used to this day. According to myth, Moses leads the Israelites from Egypt at about this time as well (after a series of plagues including devastating weather, disease, and widespread death), establishing the Kingdom of Israel (again, in the vacuum of collapsed civilizations which previously occupied the region). The "Sea Peoples" populate Palestine, Sicily, and Sardinia.

7 (~800 BCE): Sub-Atlantic Interval -- a climatic shift to a milder, wetter phase, begins. Greek Dark Ages end, followed by Archaic/Classical period of rapid expansion. First Olympic Games are held. The Axial Age begins. Phoenicians found the city of Carthage, from which the Carthaginian/Punic civilization develops. The city of Rome is founded (mythically by the virgin-born twin brothers, Romulus and Remus), from which the Roman civilization develops. Aramaic becomes the lingua franca of the Middle East. Assyrians capture Babylon. The Median empire rises to prominence on the Persian plateau, from which evolves the Achaemenid/Persian empire which controls most of the known world and 44% of the global population by 480 BCE.

6 (~400 BCE): Hellenistic Period begins -- establishment of Plato's school of philosophy, Corinthian League (3-branch government), Macedonian conquest. Alexander the Great conquers the Persian Empire, Babylon, and Egypt. Greek influence permeates the entire region, including the fledgling Roman Republic. Alexandria is founded, along with the Great Library. Greek becomes the lingua franca of the Mediterranean. The climate begins to warm.

5 (~1 BCE/CE): Age of Pisces begins. The Ancient Greek era ends (Greece becomes the Roman province of Achaea). The Roman Republic ends. The Roman Empire and the Common Era begin. Temperatures peak and begin cooling.

4 (~400 CE): Hellenistic culture ends once and for all when Emperor Theodosius outlaws all pagan religions in 395 in favor of Christianity (which is only recently constituted in its present form -- the Trinity -- at the Council of Constantinople in 381). The last Olympic Games are held. The Great Library is destroyed. The Roman Empire falls soon after -- Rome gets sacked for the first time in almost exactly two Baktuns (~800 years). In 410, the Visigoths led by Alaric I capture the city of Rome and for three days there is fire and slaughter as bodies fill the streets, palaces are stripped of their valuables, and those thought to have hidden wealth are interrogated and tortured. This is the end of Classical Antiquity and the beginning of the Dark Ages -- a period of cold weather, shrinking populations, minimal trade, decline of agriculture, waves of epidemics, and the expansion of the Arab Empire of the new Islamic faith.

3 (~800 CE): Medieval Warm Period begins. Charlemagne's holy coronation in 800 ends the Dark Ages in Europe, ushers in the Carolingian Renaissance, and establishes the Holy Roman Empire. This is immediately preceeded by the Fourth Council of Constantinople, which split the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Subsistence agriculture is replaced by systematic three-field manoral agriculture, significantly changing the fabric of society and leading to Feudalism. This is also the start of Viking expansion into Europe, Greenland, and North America. The High Middle Ages brings rapidly increasing population, significant new cultivation, new Gothic architectural expression, and general expansion -- resettlement, colonization, and Crusades. In Mesoamerica, the classical Mayan civilization collapses, associated with severe droughts.

2 (~1200 CE): Little Ice Age begins. Constantinople is sacked in the Fourth Crusade in 1204, breaking up the Byzantine Empire and permanently dividing the Christian religion in the Great Schism. Feudalism and the Divine Right of Kings, which started with Charlemagne one Baktun prior, peaks and is ended with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. The era of individual rights, religious freedom, and republican-oriented government begins anew, though not without a fight. The Late Middle Ages is a time of social unrest, peasant uprisings, and endemic warfare. But it is also a time of scholarly progress (e.g. Gutenberg printing press), religious experimentation (e.g. Protestant Reformation), and exploration (e.g. Columbus' voyage to America), together spanning the European Renaissance. In Asia, Genghis Khan is proclaimed ruler of all Mongols in 1206 and proceeds to conquer the largest contiguous empire in the history of the world, spanning 22% of the Earth's total land area. The Ottoman Empire also rises to prominence at this time. Arabic numerals (what we use today) are introduced to Europe.

1 (~1600 CE): Modern Warm Period begins. Huaynaputina cataclysmically erupts in South America, causing a temporary global disruption to agriculture resulting in widespread famine. The Ottoman Empire peaks. In Europe, the Scientific Revolution and Age of Reason commences -- Galileo, Halley, Huygens, Kepler, Leibniz, Descartes, Newton, Pascal, Bacon, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke. The British East India Company is chartered in 1600, the Dutch East India Company is chartered in 1602. Virginia Colony, Plymouth Colony, New Amsterdam, Quebec, and other European colonies in North America are founded within a few years. The Modern Era brings rapid population expansion, global trade, wealth creation (capitalism), and technological progress (Industrial Revolution). In Mesoamerica, the Incan Empire falls.

0 (~2000 CE): Age of Aquarius begins. The Modern Warm Period peaks and global cooling sets in. Earthquake, tsunami, and volcanic frequency and magnitude spike higher, killing millions. Worldwide droughts diminish food supplies, forcing hundreds of millions into poverty and starvation. The international experiment with fiat money and fractional reserve banking comes to a catastrophic end; the unwinding of a century of economic distortion, unsustainable debt, and malinvestment result in hyperinflation, supply disruptions, social strife, the breakdown of civil society, and the deaths of tens of millions of people. Rebellions overturn the majority of nation-state governments. In the wake of the chaos and destruction emerges a new era...

Ok, so we're still knee deep in that last part and I've colored the outcome with my own bias. But only a little bit. And certainly my description of what I expect to be the likely outcome is perfectly in keeping with every other Baktun turning in history. Pessimistic though it may seem, it would be out of character for civilizations to suddenly NOT conform to this formula. The old is, as a rule, recycled violently into its succeeding forms. And certainly it appears that the devolution of the existing order is coming to a head as we speak. Maybe this is just hyperbole and every generation feels like the world is ending, but as we can see above, at certain regular intervals, significant climatic, tectonic, and social calamities coincide to produce a new world order thereafter.

Scientifically, this would not be a foreign concept in natural systems. In evolutionary biology, the old assumption of phyletic gradualism -- in which species acquire new traits gradually over time -- has been largely displaced by the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which proposes that most species see little morphological change throughout most of geological history and that these long periods of stasis are broken up by rare and rapid intervals of branching speciation most likely due to external environmental stresses. The fossil record supports this hypothesis. The theory of punctuated equilibrium has also been explored academically as it pertains to the relations between nation-states and other groups and organizations. The whole of human civilization could very well follow the same overall pattern as individual human groups and natural systems in general. In fact, it would be surprising if it didn't.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that perhaps after a set number of generational cycles, civilization indeed tends to destroy (and renew) itself, due to human nature alone or compounded by environmental stresses. Those external stresses, it turns out, tend to be cyclical as well. Milankovitch cycles -- which are periods of climate fluctuation due to changes in the Earth's eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession -- are eerily similar to Zodiac or long-count cycles in both their astro-physical basis and resulting cyclicality, which makes one wonder if perhaps our generational timeframes aren't somehow based on them from a biological/evolutionary basis. Given that homo sapiens were born out of climate change (forced from the shrinking forests onto the plains), this is not an unreasonable proposition. It is conceivable that natural civilization cycles are evolutionarily synched to natural climatic cycles, in which case the "doomsday" meme which pervades ancient cultures may have an empirical basis. E.g. Around 0 CE was a period of warming, followed by a 400 year dip called the Maunder Minimum, interceded by a short warming before another 400 year dip called the Sporer/Wolf Minima, followed by the Medieval Maximum around 800 CE which lasted approximately 400 years, after which the planet descended into the Little Ice Age over a period of 800 years -- 400 to the bottom and 400 to the top, which brings us to the present warm period climax.

Add to this climate cycle the irrationality of crowds toward either creation or destruction in a given environment, as detailed by the above-referenced authors, among others. The result is a regular cycle of significant social revolution. A punctuated equilibrium. It's not unthinkable that the ancient Mayans and other cultures may have picked up on such cyclicality and incorporated it into their calendars and mythologies.

As I've prefaced in this exploration of history, the dates of era-shifting events don't necessarily precisely fall on the exact year of the designated turning, but within close proximity, forming a cusp. Taken together, a series of events in each case creates a fuzzy division on or about the 400 year (Baktun) points. Historians aren't always very confident on the exact timing of ancient events, but more often than not place them at about these points. Do significant events also happen in between? Yes, of course, and as I noted before, you could divide Baktuns into Kondratiev waves or other such subdivisions to denote periods within a Baktun. But a statistically significant number of truly era-changing events do appear to occur around the Baktun boundaries. And a significant number of them are not only social, but related to climate or geology as well.

So, what I've teased out of this information is a plausible history of and reason for long intervals of relative stability within human civilization punctuated by short periods of rapid change. And what this leads me to suspect is that our current particular "worst of times" is indeed a bit more drastic than those of recent history. We are probably headed for at least a 400-year event which will alter the direction of civilization going forward. Or perhaps we are headed for a 3-Baktun (1200-year) event, resulting in major population dislocation and the loss of cities to the sands of time. It certainly seems to me as though our civilization is on the brink. Fiat currency and central planning are on the verge of failure, and that will bring down the entire global economic infrastructure, which will kill untold millions and change the fabric of society. At the same time, after 400 years of warming, it would appear that the climate peaked with the 1998 El Nino, with temperatures falling off rapidly since. A 400 or 800 year cycle of colder temperatures could be expected. A major environmental event may also be due in the near future, as often punctuates the turning of a Baktun. This may be astronomical or geological in origin, or a combination of the two, as they do seem to be linked as per Milankovitch cycles. I'm sure nobody would be surprised at this point if the "big one" hit California considering the recent massive quakes in Japan, Haiti, and Indonesia. Or worse, maybe the Yellowstone super-volcano will erupt! Cataclysmic eruptions have been a hallmark of Baktun turnings and Yellowstone has been very active lately.

Baktun turnings haven't been all doom and gloom though. We might also observe the recent development and widespread transformative nature of the Internet, which may play a significant role over the next 400 years. Private exploration of space is also just in its infancy now, which may also be a major theme of the next Baktun. The events which unfold with the collapse of the current economic paradigm, including most likely a new global power structure and replacement paradigm, will also largely effect the coming era. Perhaps the nation-state itself is at a crossroads. We may be due for a religious revival, or perhaps we will throw off theism entirely. It's hard to know precisely what's going to come about, but one thing seems pretty certain: we're in for a wild ride in the near future -- a ride we've embarked on already it would seem. The world won't physically come to an end, but humanity may be in for a major restructuring. These are exciting times to be alive!

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