harmonic: in agreement with each
convergence: to come together at one point
It was billed as "a planetary operation." The "cosmic trigger" would be pulled when 144,000 "rainbow" humans created a "human battery through resonant attunement" along a psychic grid of earthly acupuncture points. The goal: world peace and harmony.
The faithful rallied on August 16 and 17, 1987, at more than 350 "sacred sites" from New Mexico's Chaco Canyon and California's Mount Shasta to Machu Picchu, Peru, and the Great Pyramids in Egypt; from 83rd and Central Park West in Manhattan and Haleakala Crater in Maui to the Temples of Delphi in Greece and Stonehenge in England all to "synchronize the Earth with the rest of the galaxy."
Harmonic Convergence founding father Jose Arguelles promised massive UFO sightings as well as "great, unprecedented outpourings of extraterrestrial intelligence that will be clearly received."1
As it happened, however, there were no official sightings of UFOs, and no ETIs were known to have landed during the forty-eight-hour extravaganza of worldwide humming, chanting, dancing, hugging, and hand-holding at Harmonic Convergence "be-ins." Turnouts at what had been hailed as the
"Woodstock of the '80s" were considerably less than predicted (the worldwide total was estimated at 20,000).
But predictions can always be adjusted in retrospect. A month later, Arguelles, a Colorado art historian, amateur archeologist, and author of The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology, declared: "The timing was exquisitely correct. When Woodstock happened, the time was absolutely perfect. There was a juncture of different energies occurring for the Harmonic Convergence. Whether people understood it or not, they felt the signal it was on the level of when a species gets a signal to change its migration pattern. The message is that ultimately peace will come through [and we will] return to a respect for the Earth and the ways of nature."2
The media sensed the signal for sure. Suddenly Harmonic Convergence grabbed front-page attention across the land. It was written up in the Wall Street Journal, satirized in Gary Trudeau's "Doonsbury" cartoons ("B.D." called it "moronic convergence . . . sort of a national fruit loops day. Lots of windchimes . . . [and] a crafts fair"), and put down as the "maximum bummer" by People's Weekly.3 Talk-show host Michael Jackson suggested wryly that it would be better if 144,000 New Agers "donated one hour a week to work with the homeless."4
The Arguelles vision for worldwide resonance came into focus on December 4, 1983, when he was motoring down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles to return a rental car: At sunrise on August 16, 1987, 144,000 people would gather to participate in "ritualistic surrender" to the Earth. By early 1987 Arguelles had fleshed out the dream: His book speaks about a confluence of astronomical and chronological phenomena making August 16 and 17 an unprecedented "turning point" in human history.
This would be "the first Mayan be-in for well, for a long time," he told Los Angeles Times writer Dick Roraback.5 "Kind of sexy. We represent the hot, luminous tip of a galactomagnetic vortex."
The convergence, Arguelles elaborated, was lined to Mayan and Aztec calendars, and the 144,000 convergers (which interestingly corresponds to the 144,000 elect servants of God described in the seventh chapter of the biblical book of Revelation), were needed to "create a field of trust, to ground
the new vibrational frequency." The Mayans, according to Arguelles, were really extraterrestrials.
The Aztec calendar, with thirteen cycles of heaven and nine of hell, came to an end on August 16, 1987, according to Arguelles the date he said Aztecs had circled on their calendars for the second coming of Quetzalcoatl, the god of peace. According to Hopi Indian legend, that was also to be the day 144,000 enlightened Sun Dance teachers were to "dance awake" the rest of humanity. And, according to Arguelles, who holds a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Chicago, the time was also ripe because on convergence weekend, nine planets were aligned in an unusual configuration called a grand trine.
Finally, the Mayans' "great cycle," which runs from 3113 B.C. to 2012 A.D. is nearing an end. This "galactic beam 5,125 years in diameter through which the planet passes" will phase out in 2012 and we'll slip into a "galactic synchronization phase," in Arguellean lingo. Exactly twenty-five years before that August 16, 1987 was the critical "cosmic trigger point when we shift gears or miss the opportunity" to save humanity through "vibrational toning."6
As this cycle draws to a close, to spin out the Arguelles agenda, humans are to launch a new world order. By 1992, he wrote: "[T]he phase shift transiting civilization from a military state of terror to a de-industrialized, decentralized, post-military society will be complete at least in its foundations. Present governmental and political structures will by and large be replaced by vast numbers of bioregional local cells. Information will be . . . presented as edu-tainment: video and ritual participation that informs as much as it affords pleasure."7
Some, like Detroit astrologer and New Age bookstore owner Bob Thibodeau, envision an age of cosmic communications as well: "The possibility is there now for anyone to receive a personal WATS line to their own god or goddess," he said enthusiastically.8
But Harmonic Convergence drew instant fire from those who didn't groove on getting it together with their divine sparks.
Paul Kurtz, a philosopher at the State University of New York at Buffalo called Harmonic Convergence a "non-event
. . . a hodgepodge . . . . It's like the ancient Hopi rain dance. The only thing that will bring on rain is if enough Hopis sweat, the water will condense."
The Hopis themselves weren't having any truck with Harmonic Convergence, thank you, and Mayanist Rosemary Joyce, assistant director of the Peabody Museum for Harvard University, said Arguelles's Mayan theories were "truly out to lunch. And I'm being polite."9
"Summer madness," opined James Cornell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
"It's really crazy to extrapolate from the Mayan and other mesoamerican traditions," added Berkeley anthropologist John Graham. "It's a game that has become popular with amateur archaeologists."
New Age sympathizers, for the most part, were only slightly less critical of the wobbly foundations of Harmonic Convergence.
Sy Safransky, editor of The Sun, a "magazine of ideas," said Arguelles struck him as "a brilliant trickster who delightedly mixes cosmic wisdom and whimsy, kneeling before the mysteries with a rascally twinkle in his eye."10 Safransky was kinder toward those who were drawn to the gatherings: "I don't question the deep longing," he editorialized, "the wish to reach out to others in the gathering darkness of a troubled time, the yearning for communion and for a resurrection of hope. But as an event . . . it represented the worst kind of spiritual showmanship. Elitist, flamboyant, bewitchingly unreal, it parodied the New Age better than any satirist."11
But even "If all these Second Coming scenarios are nothing but metaphorical spurs to get us to live as if they were true," New Age votary Marilyn Ferguson told Wall Street Journal reporter Meg Sullivan, "they can be an inspiration to get our act together."12
Jean Callahan, a onetime editor of the New Age Journal, rose well before dawn to celebrate the Harmonic Convergence on Mystery Hill in the southern New Hampshire Woods. "There was an undeniable feeling of peace and joy in that gathering," she said, then wondered aloud whether expectations have anything to do with creating reality.
"Isn't it better," she concluded, "for us to expect a new age to dawn, an age that will bring us from hunger and ignorance
and war to peace and plenty and tranquility? Isn't it better for us to work and hope for that than simply to live our lives believing in nothing at all?"13
Believing in a myth, however, is something else again. As Safransky pointed out in his editor's note, the linchpin of Arguelles's Harmonic Convergence is the theory of the Hundredth Monkey, which suggests that when enough members of a species notice a new idea, it triggers a change in the consciousness of the entire species.
To Arguelles, the 144,000 individuals linked together through "resonant attunement" represented "the minimum human voltage to leap the imagination" of 550 million persons, or 11% of the total world population. This, said he in obfuscatory language, is the "minimum critical mass of humanity" needed for "the significant turn-around stage for establishing the infrastructure of a new world order."14
So how, in Arguelles's arcane reasoning, was he making monkeys out of convergers?
The Hundredth Monkey theory is based on a 1953 study of a troop of macaque monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima. To attract the apes and thus make them easier to observe, they were given sweet potatoes. Before eating them, Imo, one of the female monkeys, began washing the dirt and sand off the potatoes by dunking them in the sea; soon her playmates and mother learned the trick. According to researcher Lyall Watson, after a certain critical number of the macaques for sake of example, he said it was 100 had copied this behavior, suddenly all the monkeys in the colony began the practice. Apparently they had crossed a new threshold, or achieved a "critical mass."
The habit then seemed to spread spontaneously in a kind of miracle to colonies on other islands and even the Japan mainland, according to Watson's account in his 1978 book, Lifetide.15
This tale and its implications were so catchy and persuasive, said Ravi Dykema, writing in Colorado's New Age-related publication, Nexus, that it spawned a million-copy bestseller (The Hundredth Monkey by Ken Keyes), a film, and three articles in semi-scientific journals.
Ever since, New Age social-change leaders have been using the myth as though it were scientific evidence, drawing
upon it to support their theory that when awareness of an idea reaches the critical level, it spreads exponentially and becomes universal.
But Watson, who also wrote on occult themes, was guilty of faking his findings, and journalists eventually blew the whistle on his monkeyshines.
"It is a metaphor of my own making," admitted Watson in the fall 1986 issue of the Whole Earth Review, "based . . . on very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay. I have never pretended otherwise."16 Only a few of the primates washed potatoes; the practice never spread to a whole colony, let alone unrelated colonies, according to primatologist Masao Kawai.17
Quite aside from the bogus nature of the Hundredth Monkey motif, if something becomes "true" for a "critical mass" of people, does that make it true for everyone? The inference is that when a myth is shared by large enough numbers of people, it becomes a reality. More likely, suggests Tim Farrington, "it simply becomes a widely shared myth."18
Myth taken as truth can be scary indeed. The hundredth Nazi "monkey" believed Hitler's super-race myth. The "final solution" had reached critical mass.
The rest is history.
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1. Deirdre Donahue, "New Era for Earth or Just Moonshine?" USA Today, 12 August 1987.
2. Quoted in Jean Callahan, "Cosmic Expectations," New Age Journal (NovemberDecember 1987): 82.
3. Jack Friedman, "Hum If You Love the Mayans," People's Weekly, 31 August 1987, 26.
4. KABC-AM, Los Angeles, 12 August 1987.
5. Dick Roraback, "Resonating with Jose Arguelles, a New Age Scholar," Los Angeles Times, 12 August 1987, pt. 5, 1.
6. "The End of the World (Again)," Newsweek, 17 August 1987, 69.
7. Reprinted in Jose Arguelles, "Harmonic Convergence, Trigger Event: Implementation and Follow-Up," Life Times Magazine, no. 3, 65.
8. EP News Service, 21 August 1987.
9. Quoted in Roraback, "Resonating with Jose Arguelles."
10. Sy Fransky, "Editor's Note: A New World," Sun [Chapel Hill, N.C.], no. 143, October 1987, 5.
11. Ibid., 4.
12. Meg Sullivan, "New Age Will Dawn in August, Seers Say, and Malibu Is Ready," Wall Street Journal, 23 June 1987.
13. Callahan, "Cosmic Expectations," 82.
14. Arguelles, "Harmonic Convergence, Trigger Event," 63.
15. Cited in Ravi Dykema, "The Mythical Monkey Miracle," Nexus (Fall 1986): 4.
16. Quoted in Maureen O'Hara, "Of Myths and Monkeys: A Critical Look at Critical Mass," Nexus (Fall 1986), reprinted from The Whole Earth Review (Fall 1986).
17. Ibid., 4.
18. Tim Farrington, "The 101st Monkey," Node 2, no. 2 (Winter 1987): 2 [Performing Arts Social Society quarterly, San Francisco].
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