So, tomorrow, I predict we will be reading a lot of articles about the world ending! See what I did there? I made a prediction! It’s going to be right! I am pretty sure that is the kind of proof of omniscience that is almost inevitable. But, for the record, the ancient Mayans didn’t say that the world was actually going to end on December 21, 2012. What they did say was that it was supposed to be a new beginning.

2012 movie

Roland Emmerich tells lies!

According to National Geographic:

“There’s only one [Mayan] monument that even has the 2012 date on it,” says Mayan scholar Ricardo Agurcia, adding that apocalypse anticipators are ignoring that according to the Maya, when one great cycle ends, another begins. “It’s about rebirth, not death.”

Indeed, the Maya predicted the world would most certainly not end in 2012. Earlier this year, archaeologist and National Geographic grantee William Saturno discovered a series of numbers painted on the walls at a Mayan complex in Guatemala. The calculations included dates that go far into the future. “The ancient Maya predicted the world would continue 7,000 years from now.”

I was extremely happy and relieved by this report until I realized that the “rebirth” probably refers to zombies.

I guess I still have to buy a submarine. (That’s how you evade an apocalypse. By living on a submarine. That’s just true. That’s a true thing).

So I found myself wondering – how trustworthy were the ancient Mayans throwing around these predictions about zombies? And by that I mean, did Mayan men do lots of hot stuff?.

Kind of. They were really into sports. If you are compulsive about “competitve exercise”, and you are also really into death – so if you are a Goth teenager who attends all the pep rallies – you would find this very hot.

The ancient Mayans participated in a form of sport very similar to soccer or possibly hockey. It’s a bit hard to tell, because the precise rules were never fully spelled out. No wonder; considering that it was played for over a millenium, you have to assume the rules changed somewhat. According to Echoes In Times:

Although the exact rules are shrouded in mystery, people played [the ball game] avidly in nearly every Central and Meso-American city for over 1500 years. The game appears to have been played with a hard rubber ball roughly the size of a grapefruit (~8″ in diameter). The object of the game was apparently to score points by getting the ball through a hole in a vertical stone disc…It is believed that the rules prohibited actually touching the ball with the hand or having the ball hit the ground. The buttocks, thighs and upper torso were used to control the ball. A thick heavy deflector called a ‘yoke’ was often worn around the waist of a player to help direct the ball.

While the importance and appeal of this game throughout all of Mexico and Central America (and perhaps beyond) is obvious, there appears to no uniform standards as to the layout (width, length, position of scoring hoops, walls, etc.) of the court itself. Imagine having fixed rules but a variable court!

Hah! Yes, but I cannot imagine that. It sounds like Calvinball (“the score is still Q to 12”). Except Calvinball did not end in death, because Bill Waterson was not quite that dark.

Although, the game did find its way into an animated film called The Road to El Dorado so maybe this clip will give you a feel for it while still keeping hot stuff on the whimsical, peppy side.


However, it’s unclear exactly who died during the Mayan ball game. Some say that the head of the winning team was sacrificed to the Gods because he was “perfect” and it was considered a huge honor to be chosen as a sacrifice.

I do not believe this. Now, look, I understand that this was a time before movie previews. Mostly I just feel I can never die because I have to wait to see The Great Gatsby in theaters, and it keeps getting pushed back. If I had only six months to live I would be infuriated seeing movie previews in theaters and knowing I might not be around when the film was released. So, what I’m saying is, the Mayans probably had significantly less will to live than many Baz Luhrman fans.

BUT . . .

They still probably had enough primal drive to live that they would throw a game if they thought they were going to die as a result of winning it. If both teams felt that way, Mayanball would be the saddest, most listless game ever played. It would have been terrible to watch.

I am going to concur with the scholars who say that the loser was generally sacrificed, because that is how you compel people to really excel at ballgames.

Then again, even if you avoided playing ball altogether, or played in a deliberately mediocre but not noticeably subpar fashion, if you were a Mayan man you’d probably still engage in some ritual of blood sacrifice. Often that involved ritual genital bloodletting by the men, though women also participated in rituals – including piercing thorns through their tongues, which sounds horrible until you think about tongue rings, and then it’s kind of like . . . eh. The exact rituals were performed on an elaborate 52 year cycle. But why would blood letting be a good idea? According to the BBC:

If you can create a feeling of pain in the body – and you survive it – you can move into either a state of, not quite ecstasy, but out of the ordinariness, a sense that you can transcend, you can do something rather special, whether this comes from denial – not eating – or it comes from blood-letting, cutting, or it comes from extreme physical exercise.

So because it was fun.

I think we are so, so lucky to live in an era with movie previews and also actual movies.

But historians also say that the rituals might have been motivated by the awareness that blood is associated with acts of creation – not just menstruation, but the breaking of the hymen, and the fluids that would be expelled during a birth.

Interesting side-note – the needles they used to let blood bore a marked similarity to the needles women used for weaving. There’s a nice parallel to be had in that both of them were theoretically creating something, except blood sacrifices weren’t really thought to be pleasing to the Gods so, Mayan ladies created lovely tapestries and men were just gushing blood from their penises.

Knowing all of this, I’m actually terrified that December 21 is going to be a time of rebirth, because everything that the ancient Mayans seemed to associate with birth seemed to involve a lot of blood and piercings. Tomorrow, either the East Village and certain parts of Brooklyn and Transylvania will be very happening, or the oceans will run sanguine. It will be pretty interesting, either way. Brush up on any soccer skills that you happen to have.