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Why the Maya Picked 2012
The Sacred Triple Rebirth of the Sun
and the Sacred Tree Over the Maya

An Essay by Thomas Razzeto
© Copyright 2009 by Thomas Razzeto

This is the fastest and easiest way to learn about the astronomy of 2012 and why it was the focus of the Maya Long Count calendar. (10 pages with lots of pictures.)
Don't worry! The astronomy is really easy! The most important part is the very first picture you see below.

To print this essay, click on this link and then click File, Print. (Adobe Acrobat PDF)

Click here to watch my 11-minute YouTube video that is based on this essay

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. If you need to know more, I suggest that you read The Actual Astronomy of 2012 in a Nutshell. Okay, let's get to work.


This is it! This is why the Maya picked this exact day!

Izapa at 12:08 PM Dec 21, 2012
The sun will be in front 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.



The astronomy that will unfold in the sky over the Maya on the winter solstice of 2012 is the key to understanding why the Maya restart their calendar on this 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 but that is a subject for another time.

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 in any significant way. In the above screenshot, we see that the sun will be in front of 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 precise 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 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

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 visually 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.

The center region of our Milky Way
Here we are looking towards the bright center region of our Milky Way galaxy.
The dark rift is easily visible without a telescope.

After careful observation, we would learn that the sun traveled across the dark rift 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 have the sun in the middle of the galactic birth canal on the same day as the winter solstice? Our careful observations and calculations would show us that this interesting event would happen repeatedly - year after year - 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 years in their future. Later in this essay, you will easily learn about the stunning precision that was required to make the Long Count calendar. And yes, I do mean stunning!

For those of you who want a better understanding of why the sun travels across the dark rift, let's take a closer look at the way it works.


The Earth's Orbit Creates the Galactic Rebirth of the Sun

Throughout the year, due to the orbit of the earth around the sun, from the viewpoint of earth, the sun appears to be continuously moving slowly against the background stars and it is this apparent motion that creates the visual illusion of the sun crossing the dark rift since the dark rift is part of the fixed background of the stars.

Here is a diagram that shows what's involved:

The earth's orbit causes the galactic rebirth

And here is another diagram that helps explain it:

The earth's orbit causes the sun's apparent motion

Here are the screenshots from my astronomy program that show the sun crossing the dark rift in 2012. Each day, the sun appears to move a bit more to the left against the background stars.

Here is the first day:

Day 1 - The sun crossing the dark rift

Here is the second day:

Day 2 - The sun in the middle of the dark rift

And finally, here is the third day:

Day 3 - The sun crossing the dark rift

See how precise this is? Just one day makes a difference in the perfect timing of the galactic rebirth of the sun! (Of course this is just a metaphor. The sun will not die nor will it be reborn; it will just continue to shine as it always does. But this is still a very beautiful metaphor, nonetheless.)

The following simple exercise will help you correctly understand the “motion” of the sun across the dark rift. Hold your left arm straight out with your thumb straight up. Your thumb will be like the dark rift. Imagine it to be very far away. Now, close one eye and hold your right index finger straight up about halfway between your thumb and your open eye. Make it so that your finger appears just to the right of your thumb. The tip of your finger will be like the sun. Now, without moving either your thumb or your finger, move your eye from your left to your right. Your eye is like the earth orbiting the sun. You will see your finger appear to move from the right side of your thumb to the left side of your thumb.

This is just like the sun crossing the dark rift. At the middle of the crossing, your eye is perfectly lined up with your finger and your thumb. While this lineup is real, it is an illusion that your finger moves across your thumb; only your eye is moving, not your finger. So it is with the galactic rebirth of the sun; only the earth is moving, not the sun. Since this point is so important and so often misunderstood, I want to be perfectly clear: the sun does not actually cross the dark rift, it only appears to do so from our viewpoint on earth. But it is this viewpoint that gives us our experience and it is our experience that is so important to us!

While the rebirth of the sun was a very important metaphor for the Maya, they also had another metaphor for the sun crossing this region of the Milky Way. It was seen as father sun mating with the galactic mother. In 2012, this special lovemaking will result in the birth of what the Maya called “a new world age,” which is represented by a new cycle of the Long Count calendar. Yes indeed, lovemaking and creation are at the core of 2012, not death and destruction.


The Triple Rebirth of the Sun

Now let's take a close look and see how the astronomy of 2012 provides an excellent foundation for the Maya triple rebirth metaphor.

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 nature.

The third rebirth occurs when the sun moves into the middle of the galactic birth canal, the dark rift, and again this can be referred to as the galactic rebirth of the sun and it 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 all three rebirths 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 consider something else about the triple rebirth of the sun. As I touched on earlier, a triple rebirth of the sun happens year after year in the years around 2012. This is because the wobble of the earth is so slow that the conditions of the triple rebirth repeat almost exactly from one year to the next. (Eventually, the sun will be in the middle of the dark rift on the day after the winter solstice. Once that happens, there won't be another triple rebirth of the sun for about 26,000 years.) So of all these triple rebirths, why did the Maya pick the one that will happen in 2012? Is there something unique about that one? This leads us to the special configuration of 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 first screenshot in this essay. Here it is again:

Izapa at 12:08 PM Dec 21, 2012
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.

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. Since Pluto is never visible to the naked eye, I don't think that the Maya were concerned with it, but I mention it here for completeness since it is actually present. The important point is that the Maya were very familiar with the other three planets and they had calendars to track their 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 Maya womb of creation, the bulging ball of lights near the center of the galaxy. On this day at high noon, it is in the bottom portion of the sacred tree acting as the source, the root system, of the tree of life. So everything comes forth from the source into our world of duality! What a beautiful metaphor! (By the way, 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 an excellent solution to the driving question behind the creation of the Long Count calendar!


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 2,000 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 number of days in a 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!

But this is only one aspect of the astronomy that needed to be known to a very precise level! The Maya also needed to know the rate of precession and the amount of shift required to bring the galactic rebirth onto the same day as the solstice rebirth. In addition to that, they also needed extremely precise knowledge to accurately predict the positions of the planets on the sacred tree. This leads to the complicated question of how the Maya knew this amazing astronomy but I will leave that question for another time since it is beyond the scope of this essay. (See my essay: Did ETs Create the Maya Calendar?)

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!

Now, before I conclude this essay, I would like to quickly bring up one more topic.


The “Galactic Alignment” of John Major Jenkins and “Era-2012”

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 the “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, perhaps because its exact location is precisely defined by astronomers. Professional astronomers have verified that at the precise moment of the winter solstice, the center of the disk of the sun was closest to the galactic equator in 1998. John noticed that this lineup of the earth, the sun and the galactic equator would occur repeatedly in the years around 1998 with only slight variation from one year to the next. Because of this, John decided to pick a range of 36 years that he centered around 1998 and he refers to these years as the “alignment zone” or “era-2012.” During these years, the disk of the sun, as seen from earth, will be touching the galactic equator at the moment of the winter solstice. John's 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 how the calendar is linked to the astronomy, I do not find this zone approach to be very satisfying. When I first read John's work in 2008, I seriously doubted that the Maya missed their intended target by 14 years, even though that is still a very small error. With so much precision being demonstrated by the creators of the calendar, it just seemed unlikely that they missed the year they wanted and yet they still hit the solstice exactly. I felt there must be something special about the exact day of the winter solstice of 2012; both the day and the year are the focus. 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 was the target of the calendar. John's approach leads to 1998; my approach leads to 2012. (For more details, see: 2012: Why the Galactic Alignment Is Not It.)

Both the restart date and the place where the calendar was created are important. We cannot ignore that this is a Maya calendar, not a global calendar. The people in the southern hemisphere will have a summer solstice, not a winter solstice so the triple rebirth metaphor will not exist for them since the summer solstice is not thought of as a rebirth. But this was not a problem for the Maya since the Maya lived in the northern hemisphere were only concerned with what they will see from their point of view.

My approach 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 for people all around the world. Also, 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 equators are precisely located by scientists yet both are just imaginary lines. It is important to note that the Maya could look up into the sky without a telescope and frequently see the stunning center region of the Milky Way with the dark rift and this makes this astronomy useful for their metaphorical folklore. And it is also important to note that before dawn and after sunset, they will be able to see significant parts of the sacred tree on that special day in 2012. I think that what the Maya could see with their eyes is an essential point in understanding 2012. The idea that the Maya restart their calendar because of the combination of the triple rebirth of the sun and this special configuration of the sacred tree is to the best of my knowledge, original with me. While other people are aware of the solar rebirths and the sacred tree in general, to my knowledge no one has connected them to 2012 like I have.



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. The way the actual astronomy fits like a glove with the Maya calendar and the metaphor of transformation and rebirth via the triple rebirth of the sun are what make the astronomy of 2012 so interesting to me. But of course this leads us to a very big question: What are the Maya trying to tell us? What does this metaphor actually mean?

So while I am concluding this essay, I 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. In my book, Mystical 2012, I dive deeply into the timeless metaphorical message that the Maya are offering us and I hope that I have inspired you to take a deeper look into this fascinating subject. What I offer in this regard is, of course, just my opinion. But I have worked very hard full-time for several years to formulate an opinion that is based on facts that come from the Maya themselves. For example, in my book, I present my idea that the message of 2012 is mystical in nature and this comes from consideration of the often-overlooked psychedelic rituals of the Maya. In a similar way, I try to make sure that all my opinions are built upon solid, relevant facts. I think that this approach has a reasonable chance of developing a pretty good understanding of the Maya's message of 2012.

While Mystical 2012 is available on Amazon, you can read the entire book for free online. You can even print it out for free. 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.

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

The End
Written: October 10, 2009, modified: March 4, 2011

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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 buy the paperback or ebook at Amazon.com. 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!

Thomas Razzeto







If you enjoyed this essay, then you might like some of my other work:

  • Infinitely Mystical, my main website, is here: infinitelymystical.com