People gather in front of the Kukulkan Pyramid in Chichen Itza, Mexico, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. American seer Star Johnsen-Moser led a whooping, dancing, drum-beating ceremony Thursday in the heart of Mayan territory to consult several of the life-sized crystal skulls, which adherents claim were passed down by the ancient Maya. (AP Photo/Israel Leal)
MERIDA, Mexico (AP) — In the darkness before dawn Friday, spiritualists prepared white clothes, drums, conch shells and incense ahead of the sunrise they believe will herald the birth of a new and better age as a vast, 5,125-year cycle in the Mayan calendar comes to an end.
No one was quite sure at what time the Mayas' 13th Baktun would officially end on this Dec. 21. Some think it already ended at midnight Thursday. Others looked to Friday's dawn here in the Maya heartland. Some had later times in mind.
"Wait until the dawn on the 22nd; that is when we Maya will speak," Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu said earlier in Guatemala, another Maya area.
Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History even suggested that historical calculations to synchronize the Mayan and Western calendars might be off a few days. It said the Mayan Long Count calendar cycle might not really end until Sunday.
Whatever the details, the chance to welcome a new time seemed to be the main concern among celebrants drawn to the Yucatan peninsula.
Many people who came to Yucatan for the occasion were already calling it "a new sun" and "a new era."
"The galactic bridge has been established," announced spiritual leader Alberto Arribalzaga at a "galactic connection" ceremony Thursday in Merida. "The cosmos is going to take us to a higher level of vibration ... where humanity is in glory, in joy,"
What nobody was calling it is the end of the world, as some people in recent years have interpreted the meaning of the end of the 13th Baktun — despite the insistence of archeologists and the Maya themselves it meant no such thing.
"We'll still have to pay taxes next year," said Gabriel Romero, a Los Angeles-based spiritualist who uses crystal skulls in his ceremonies.
If the chanting and dancing of a crystal skull ceremony held Thursday weren't end fears of an apocalypse, scientists chimed in, too.
Bill Leith, the U.S. Geological Survey's senior science adviser for earthquake and geologic hazards, said that by late Thursday, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary had been detected in seismic activities, solar flares, volcanos or the Earth's geomagnetic field.
"It's a fairly unremarkable day on planet Earth today, and in the last few days," Leith said. "There are no major eruptions going on."
There had been about 120 small earthquakes and a moderate temblor in Japan, he said. "That's very much a normal day."
Still, there were some who wouldn't truly feel safe until the sun sets Friday over the pyramids in Yucatan peninsula, the heartland of the Maya.
Mexico's best-known seer, Antonio Vazquez Alba, known as "El Brujo Mayor," said he had received emails containing rumors that a mass suicide might be planned in Argentina.
He said he was sure that human nature represented the only threat Friday. "Nature isn't going to do us any harm, but we can do damage to ourselves," he said.
Authorities worried about overcrowding and possible stampedes during celebrations Friday at Mayan ruin sites like Chichen Itza and Uxmal, both about 1 1/2 hours from Merida, the Yucatan state capital. Special police and guard details were assigned to the pyramids.
As Friday's dawn began sweeping around the globe, there was no sign of an apocalypse.
Indeed, the social network Imgur posted photos of clocks turning midnight in the Asia-Pacific region with messages such as: "The world has not ended. Sincerely, New Zealand."
Average residents of the Yucatan, where the Mayas invented the 394-year calendar cycles known as baktuns, the 13th of which ends Friday, were pretty upbeat about the day.
Yucatan Gov. Rolando Zapata said he felt growing good vibes.
"We believe that the beginning of a new baktun means the beginning of a new era, and we're receiving it with great optimism," Zapata said.
Even before the baktun's end, hundreds of spiritualists from Asian, North American, South American and European shamanistic traditions mingled amiably with the Mexican hosts at a convention center in Merida on Thursday.
Dozens of booths offered people the chance to have their auras photographed with "Chi" light, get a shamanic cleansing or buy sandals, herbs and whole-grain baked goods.
"This is the beginning of a change in priorities and perceptions. We are all one," said Esther Romo, a Mexico City businesswoman who works in art promotion and galleries. "No limits, no boundaries, no nationalities, just fusion."
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