Tourist boom boosts profits of doom
Doomsday hour came and went - and it appears it isn't the end of the world.
According to legend, the ancient Mayans' long-count calendar ended at midnight, ushering in the end of the world. It didn't happen.
"This is not the end of the world. This is the beginning of the new world," Star Johnsen-Moser, an American seer, said at a gathering of hundreds of spiritualists at a convention centre in Mexico's Yucatan city of Merida, an hour and a half from the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.
"It is most important that we hold a positive, beautiful reality for ourselves and our planet. ... Fear is out of place."
As the appointed time came and went in several parts of the world, there was no sign of the 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."
In Merida, the celebration of the cosmic dawn opened inauspiciously, with a fumbling of the sacred fire meant to honour the calendar's conclusion.
Gabriel Lemus, the white-haired guardian of the flame, burned his finger on the kindling and later had to scoop up a burning log that fell from the ceremonial brazier on to the stage.
Still, he was convinced that it was a good start, as he was joined by about 1,000 other shamans, seers, stargazers, crystal enthusiasts, yogis, sufis and swamis.
"It is a cosmic dawn," he declared. "We will recover the ability to communicate telepathically and levitate objects ... like our ancestors did."
Celebrants later held their arms in the air in a salute to the morning sun.
"The galactic bridge has been established," intoned spiritual leader Alberto Arribalzaga. "At this moment, spirals of light are entering the centre of your head ... generating powerful vortexes that cover the planet."
Despite all the ritual and banter, few actually believed the world would end today - the summit was scheduled to run until Sunday. Instead, participants said they were here to celebrate the birth of a new age.
A Mexican Indian seer who calls himself Ac Tah, and who has travelled around Mexico erecting small pyramids he calls "neurological circuits", said he held high hopes for today.
"We are preparing ourselves to receive a huge magnetic field straight from the centre of the galaxy," he said.
Briton Terry Kvasnik, 32, a stuntman from Manchester, said his motto for the day was "be in love, don't be in fear". As to which ceremony he would attend today, he said: "I'm going to be in the happiest place I can."
At dozens of booths set up in the convention hall, visitors could have their auras photographed with "Chi" light, get a shamanic cleansing or buy sandals, herbs and wholegrain baked goods. Cleansing usually involves having copal incense waved around one's body.
Visitors could also learn the art of "healing drumming" with a Mexican Otomi Indian master, Dabadi Thaayroyadi, who said his slender hand-held drums were made with prayers embedded inside. The drums emit "an intelligent energy" that can heal emotional, physical and social ailments, he says.
During the opening ceremony, participants chanted mantras to the blazing Yucatan sun, which quickly burned the fair-skinned crowd.
Violeta Simarro, a secretary from Perpignan, France, taking shelter under an awning, noted that the new age would not necessarily be easy.
"It will be a little difficult at first, because the world will need a complete 'nettoyage' (cleansing), because there are so many bad things," she said.
But not all seers endorsed the celebration. Mexico's self-styled "brujo mayor" or chief soothsayer, Antonio Vazquez Alba, warned followers to stay away from gatherings today.
"We have to beware of mass psychosis" that could lead to stampedes or "mass suicides, of the kind we've seen before", he said.
"If you get 1,000 people in one spot and somebody yells 'Fire!', watch out. The best thing is to stay at home, at work, in school, and at some point do a relaxation exercise."
Others saw the gathering as a model for the coming age.
Participants from asian, North American, South American and European shamanistic traditions mingled amiably with the Mexican hosts.
"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."
Gabriel Romero, a Los-Angeles based practitioner of crystal skull channelling, was so sure it was not the end of the world that he planned a welcome ceremony for the new age at dawn on Saturday, when he will erect a stele, a stone monument used by the Mayans to commemorate important dates or events.
The Maya, who invented an amazingly accurate calendar almost 2,000 years ago, measured time in 394-year periods known as baktuns.
Some anthropologists believe the 13th baktun ends on December 21. Still, archaeologists have uncovered Mayan glyphs that refer to dates far, far in the future, long beyond December 21.
Yucatan governor Rolando Zapata, whose state is home to Mexico's largest Mayan population and has benefited from a boom in tourism, said he too felt the 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," he said.
Thousands of tourists and spiritualists are expected for today's once-in-5,125-years event. "All the flights to the city are completely full," Mr Zapata said.