Friday, September 18, 2009

So how did the Point get on a Mayan calendar?

The Mayan world tree A road map to the Point?

The fountain in Point State Park is a place to play and to soak in cool mist on a hot day. But to Vikki Hanchin and a local network of spiritually eclectic devotees, it is also a sacred place, a portal between Earth and heaven that they find depicted in the ancient Maya calendar.
According to that calendar, a new age is predicted to begin in 2012. Before that time, these local believers say, the aquifer feeding the fountain will develop miraculous healing powers.

The Maya, who flourished in southern Mexico and Central America from 2500 B.C. to 800 A.D., believed that certain places on Earth matched constellations in the sky, and were portals between this world and heaven.

These Pittsburghers today believe that the confluence of the three rivers at the Point, together with the "underground river" that feeds the fountain, are an exact match for the "Tree of Life" or "World Tree" that the Maya saw at the center of the Milky Way. That, they say, makes it a very important portal to another world.

Ms. Hanchin, a psychotherapist from Swissvale, inadvertently became the spokeswoman for the network when she wrote about it in the local bimonthly magazine Point of Light.

"The more I have sat with this material, I have asked myself, 'Why is this coming to us? Why me?' " she said.

She says her interest in integrating ideas from different faiths -- her parents practiced an array of beliefs, from Rosicrucianism to Eckankar, when she was growing up in the '60s -- led her to the Maya. Their complex hieroglyphic calendar depicts an accelerating series of epochs, one of which is set to end around 2012. Many doomsday scenarios have been constructed around that date.
Ms. Hanchin believes the next age will be one of peace and renewed harmony between humanity and nature.

"The idea is that planetary consciousness would go through a great, evolutionary leap. It disturbs me that the media was making it into a fear-mongering thing about the end of the world," she said.

Meadowcroft connection
But if confluence of the four rivers is depicted on the calendar, how did the ancient Maya come to know about it?

Here's her thinking: The Meadowcroft Rockshelter, just south of Pittsburgh, is the oldest known human settlement in North America, dating back about 16,000 years.

What if its inhabitants had migrated South, like a prehistoric Steeler Nation, carrying a cultural memory of the Point? She envisions them leaving a trail of burial mounds as they went, with their descendents eventually arriving in the Yucatan to become the great pyramid builders of the Maya.

She discovered that a local mystic and spiritual healer, Nance Stewart, of Valencia, had had visions of just such a migration, with ancient humans crossing on a glacier and settling in Meadowcroft before moving south to the Yucatan. Ms. Stewart, a retired crisis intervention worker, believes the heavenly portal at the Point is why Pittsburgh has been the birthplace of so many things, from the first Hindu temple in the United States to the Catholic charismatic movement.

In the vision, Ms. Stewart saw that the confluence at the Point was one of 12 portals worldwide -- some of the countries where others are located include Australia, China and Israel -- "that would bring universal light." Before 2012, she said, the aquifer feeding the fountain, known as the Wisconsin Glacial Flow, will produce healing waters so powerful that people will come from all over the world.

"It will be something like Lourdes," she said.
She says her visions showed modifications to the park that have only recently been done, making it more accessible to wheelchairs.

"I think the city fathers were guided to prepare Point State Park as a place where people can go to receive physical healing. We are all being guided, but we don't really know the whole plan," she said.

Skeptics weigh in
Such visions don't convince academics who study the ancient Americas.
James Adovasio, director of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute, led the Meadowcroft excavation. He calls the theory that the Maya came from here "far-fetched."

He said it is impossible to link Meadowcroft to any group because there is no evidence one way or the other. The Indian mounds between here and Mexico mean little because it was a logical way to bury the dead that many groups might have devised independently.

"We don't know who [the Meadowcroft dwellers] are except that they ultimately came from northeastern Asia," he said. "They may or may not have had any genetic progeny who migrated south. They may have become locally extinct and have no descendents today."

Olivier de Montmollin, a University of Pittsburgh archaeologist specializing in the
Maya, said there is little resemblance between the beliefs of these Pittsburghers and those of the ancient Maya.

Some North Americans "are attracted to aspects of Maya religion, and kind of mash them together with ideas from western religions to create what is essentially a new religion," he said.

Most modern Maya are Catholics or Protestants who integrate vestiges of Maya religion into their Christian faith, he said.

"The Maya living in Central America today aren't really into [the 2012 prophesies] as far as I can tell," he said. "That is not part of their religion. The vast excitement about the big cycle is more in North America."

He's not impressed with the configuration of the Point.

"The Maya idea about portals is that there are lots of them in lots of places," he said. "The Maya people today think of their own village as the center of the world. They are kind of ethnocentric -- like we all are. The residents of Pittsburgh think it's the greatest city ever."

Blessing the waters
But Ms. Hanchin cites support from an influential Maya elder, Don Alejandro Oxlaj, who offered prayers at the inauguration of Guatemala's president and is described as a high priest and "grand elder of the Mayan Council of Elders of Guatemala" and "Day Keeper of the Mayan Calendar." After learning of her article about Pittsburgh and the Maya, he came to visit in December, and blessed the waters at the Point.

He envisioned the city having many worries, but also many good people and predicted that "solutions are coming for these serious problems," according to an oracle he gave to the city of Pittsburgh during his visit that was distributed by Ms. Hanchin and others.

Speaking of the waters at the Point, he said, "The rivers show us oneness, with the understanding that all life flows to the ocean, to the source. ... The rivers show us this unity that is the future. ... Mayan prophecy tells us the dawn is coming for this unity. This is the predicted time of the return of the Ones of Wisdom."

Fernando Cardoza, a board member of Pittsburgh's Latin American Cultural Union, said that among Latinos, Don Alejandro is regarded as "the Dalai Lama of the Mayan tradition" because of his message of reconciliation.

Mr. Cardoza said he is drawn less to the mystic aspect of Don Alejandro's teachings than to his practical message of care for the earth and reconciliation among all people.

"He said yes, indeed there are prophecies that refer to the alignment of the rivers here in Pittsburgh. But the essential part of the message that I picked up is that you people in Pittsburgh can choose to do something to make a better future," he said.
"He said that if your leaders want to do this for the higher good, your city is going to be a powerhouse."

Be thankful for the rivers

Ms. Hanchin isn't asking anyone to practice the Maya religion. She believes all faiths encourage people to be thankful for the rivers and use them as places of prayer. That is all that is called for, she said.

"Western culture has been cut off from the wisdom of nature," she said. "It's gotten lost in an overly materialistic way of life. The imbalance is such that it threatens our survival.

"The messages about the rivers remind us to reconnect with our sacred geology and to reconnect with the ancient, indigenous wisdom of how to live in harmony with the Earth."

The only preparations Pittsburghers need make for 2012 are things they should do anyway, Ms Stewart said.

"We need to spend as much time on our spiritual hygiene as we do on our physical hygiene. That means taking time for prayer or meditation, and practicing nonjudgment and unconditional love," she said.

"If all the people in this area did that, that would prepare them for whatever is going to come tomorrow, or in an hour."

Ms. Stewart's Web site is Ann Rodgers can be reached at or 412-263-1416.

First published on June 22, 2008 at 12:00 am