By John Anthony, Staff Writer
With Dec. 21, 2012, approaching, anyone in FM’s auditorium still holding doomsday fears would have been put at ease hearing Paul Pines speak recently about the symbolism of Mayan art.
The lecture, intitled Reflections in a Smoking Mirror: The Aztec/Maya In and Through Time, was sponsored by the Barlow Speaker Series in conjunction with the Perella Gallery. It focused on symbols and markings on artifacts that Pines says tell about civilizations without an alphabet to tell their own story.
Though now an accomplished author and practicing psychotherapist, Pines’ interest in Mayan civilization began many years ago when he returned from Vietnam as a merchant seaman. He says he wasn’t comfortable living in the U.S. and found refuge in a small Mayan community in Mexico. Life there resembled what he was used to seeing in Vietnam.
Using slides and readings, including some of his own poetry, Pines discussed the Mayans’ connections to their dreams and how spiritual awareness affected their daily lives.
“In many ways Mayans were far more developed than the European cultures that conquered them,” Pines said, describing European culture as “what you see is what you get.”
This difference in culture is present in the patterns and symbols in Mayan art and architecture, according to Pines. Using a circle on a blank sheet of paper as an example, he explained how a simple drawing establishes the idea of an inside and an outside. Pines claims that these circles display the Mayans’ awareness of themselves in relation to the universe around them.
These celestial influences explain the underlying theme in Mayan architecture and art, which is, as Pines says, “life, death and rebirth.” The life-cycle is everywhere in Mayan culture, according to Pines. “Stone Age cultures were geared towards patterns,” he said.
Pines’ says this concept of renewal is what makes the end of the Mayan calendar harmless. He claims a misunderstanding of astrological patterns is responsible for the hype surrounding a looming apocalypse.
The idea of starting over is not foreign to our culture, Pines says, pointing to our celebration of New Year’s as the death of something old and the birth of something new.
“December 21 is something to look forward to,” Pines said.