A New Age interpretation of this transition posits that, during this time, the planet and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Conversely, some believe that the 2012 date marks the beginning of an apocalypse. Both ideas have been disseminated in numerous books and TV documentaries, and have spread around the world through websites and discussion groups. The idea of a global event occurring in 2012 based on any interpretation of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar is rejected as pseudoscience by the scientific community, and as misrepresentative of Maya history by Mayanist scholars.
December 2012 marks the ending of the current baktun cycle of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Though the Long Count was used by many cultures in pre-Columbian America and was most likely invented by the Olmec, it has become closely associated with the Maya civilization, whose classic period lasted from 250 to 900 AD. The Long Count set its "time zero" at a point in the past marking the end of the previous world and the beginning of the current one, which corresponds to either 11 or 13 August 3114 BC in the Proleptic Gregorian calendar, depending on the formula used.
Unlike the 52-year calendar round still used today among the Maya, the Long Count was linear, rather than cyclical, and kept time roughly in units of 20, so 20 days made a uinal, 18 uinals, or 360 days, made a tun, 20 tuns made a katun, and 20 katuns, or 144,000 days, made up a baktun. So, for example, the Mayan date of 188.8.131.52.15 represents 8 baktuns, 3 katuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 15 days since creation. Many Mayan inscriptions have the count shifting to a higher order after 13 baktuns. Today, the most widely accepted correlations of the end of the thirteenth baktun, or Mayan date 184.108.40.206.0, with the Western calendar are either December 21 or December 23, 2012. Even before the dating issue was settled, the early Mayanist and astronomer Maud Worcester Makemson had written in 1957 that "[t]he completion of a Great Period of 13 baktuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya". After the correct date was determined, the anthropologist Munro S. Edmonson added that "there appears to be a strong likelihood that the eral calendar, like the year calendar, was motivated by a long-range astronomical prediction, one that made a correct solsticial forecast 2,367 years into the future in 355 B.C.
In 1966, Michael D. Coe more ambitiously claimed in The Maya that there is a suggestion [...] that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the thirteenth [baktun]. Thus [...] our present universe [... would] be annihilated on December 23, 2012, when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion." These apocalyptic connotations were accepted by other scholars through the early 1990s. But more recent academic scholars have specifically disputed the apocalyptic interpretation of the Long Count calendar end-date, saying instead that it would be a cause for celebration but that the cycle would continue uninterrupted by any cataclysmic event.
These scholars argue that the Long Count does not end on 220.127.116.11.0. In their seminal work of 1990, the Maya scholars Linda Schele and David Freidel, who reference Edmonson, argue that the Maya "did not conceive this to be the end of creation, as many have suggested," citing Mayan predictions of events to occur after the end of the 13th baktun. The Maya, due to the cyclical nature of their calendar, also wrote the date of creation, their zero date, as 18.104.22.168.0. Schele and Freidel note that creation date was inscribed at Coba as 22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.0.0.0.0, with twenty units above the katun. According to Schele and Friedel, these 13s should be treated as 0s, so the Coba number would be read as if it were 0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0, with the units of each column beyond the second (counting from right to left) equal to 20 times those of the previous one. This number represented "the starting point of a huge odometer of time". Schele and Freidel calculate that the date at which this odometer would run out lies some 4.134105 × 1028 years in the future, or 3 quintillion times the scientifically accepted age of the universe.
The issue is complicated further by the fact that many different Maya city-states employed the Long Count in different ways. At Palenque, evidence suggests that the priest timekeepers believed the cycle would end after 20 baktuns, rather than 13. A monument commemorating the ascension of the king Pakal the Great connects his coronation with events as much as 4000 years after, indicating that those scribes did not believe the world would end on 18.104.22.168.0
Many New Agers believe that the ending of this cycle will correspond to a global "consciousness shift". This theory is grounded in an apocalyptic vocabulary dating back to the 1950s and draws on many of the same sources and personalities of the 1987 Harmonic Convergence. Established themes found in 2012 literature include "suspicion towards mainstream Western culture", the idea of spiritual evolution, and the possibility of leading the world into the New Age, by individual example or by a group's joined consciousness. The general intent of this literature is not to warn of impending doom but "to foster counter-cultural sympathies and eventually socio-political and 'spiritual' activism".
The date became the subject of speculation by Frank Waters, who devotes two chapters to its interpretation, including discussion of an astrological chart for this date and its association with Hopi prophecies in Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness (1975). The significance of the year 2012 (but not a specific day) was mentioned briefly by José Argüelles in The Transformative Vision, (1975) and later in The Mayan Factor (1987). Author Terence McKenna independently arrived at a New Age prediction for 2012, which he later merged with the Mayan calendar end date after a discussion with Argüelles.
Author Daniel Pinchbeck popularized New Age concepts about this date, linking it to beliefs about crop circles, alien abduction, and personal revelations based on the use of entheogens and mediumship in his 2006 book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. Pinchbeck argues for a shift in consciousness rather than an apocalypse, suggesting that materialistic attitudes, rather than the material world, are in jeopardy. Semir Osmanagić, the author and metalworker responsible for promoting the Bosnian pyramids, referred to 2012 in the conclusion of his book The World of the Maya. He suggests that "Advancement of DNA may raise us to a higher level" and concludes, "When the 'heavens open' and cosmic energy is allowed to flow throughout our tiny Planet, will we be raised to a higher level by the vibrations".
An apocalyptic reading of Jenkins's hypothesis has that, when the galactic alignment occurs, it will somehow create a combined gravitational effect between the Sun and the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, (known as Sgr A*) creating havoc on Earth. Apart from the fact noted above that the "galactic alignment" predicted by Jenkins already happened in 1998, the Sun's apparent path through the zodiac as seen from Earth does not take it near the true galactic center, but rather several degrees above it. Even if this were not the case, Sgr A* is 30,000 light years from Earth, and would have to be more than 6 million times closer to cause any gravitational disruption to our Solar System.
Some versions of this idea elide the 2012 "galactic alignment" with the very different "galactic alignment" proposed by some scientists to explain a supposed periodicity in mass extinctions in the fossil record. The hypothesis supposes that vertical oscillations made by the Sun as it orbits the galactic center cause it to regularly pass through the galactic plane. When the Sun's orbit takes it outside the galactic disc, the influence of the galactic tide is weaker; as it re-enters the galactic disc, as it does every 20–25 million years, it comes under the influence of the far stronger "disc tides", which, according to mathematical models, increase the flux of Oort cloud comets into the Solar System by a factor of 4, leading to a massive increase in the likelihood of a devastating comet impact. However, this process takes place over tens of millions of years, and could never be assigned to a specific date. Many scientists now agree that this hypothesis is incorrect, as the Earth is currently close to the galactic plane, and the last extinction in the fossil record was only 15 million years ago