Joscelyn Godwin is Professor of Music at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. He was born in England and came to the USA in 1966 to study musicology at Cornell University. Since then he has written, edited, or translated over 30 books on aspects of music and the Western Esoteric Tradition. Titles that have remained in print for many years include Robert Fludd: Hermetic Philosopher and Surveyor of Two Worlds (1979), Harmonies of Heaven and Earth (1987), Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival (1993), and The Theosophical Enlightenment (1994). In 1999 he published the first complete English translation of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Francesco Colonna’s erotic-architectural fantasy novel of 1499. He has also collaborated with his son, Ariel, on the translation of modern Pythagorean and Hermetic masterworks by Hans Kayser, Petrus Talemarianus, and Saint-Yves d’Alveydre. His most recent books are The Golden Thread: the Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions (2007), Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World (2009), and Atlantis and the Cycles of Time (2010).
For Joscelyn Godwin’s authorized biographies, see Who’s Who in America, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, and Gale’s Contemporary Authors. A complete list of his writings is at his website: https://sites.google.com/a/colgate.edu/jgodwin/
Ever since Plato described his Atlantis, many authors have claimed to have found it.
Some say it was in the Atlantic Ocean, with the Azores as its former mountain peaks. Others prefer the Mediterranean: Malta, Crete, Cyprus, Santorini, and Troy all have their champions. British Atlantologists find its legacy in Cornwall or the Irish Sea; Germans, in the sinking isle of Helgoland; Swedes, in Sweden. Some favor the Arctic, or the Antarctic. Others turn to the New World, finding Atlantis in Cuba, San Domingo, Central America, Bolivia, even Wisconsin. All these authors must have finished their books with a serene smile and the certainty that they, and they alone had put a stake through the heart of the matter. The fact that it now looks like a pincushion gives one pause. Since these theories cannot all be right, it is quite probable that many are wrong.
So I search for Atlantis in a different way. To begin, I see a wiser group that takes a global perspective. Rather than planting the Atlantean flag in a single location, it finds evidence in the worldwide “fingerprints of the gods” for a prehistoric seafaring culture, expert in mathematics and astronomy, and given to moving large stones. Some of the particularists, to give them their due, find their place as contributors to this broader vision. Plato aside, each has found something of value and added in some way to knowledge of the distant past.
Anyone who keeps abreast of the “New Archaeology” is well aware of all this. He or she may also have noticed that the New Archaeology has a New Age aura about it. Among its prime movers, Colin Wilson is one of the most popular authors on occult traditions. John Anthony West has written a defence of astrology and an exposition of the Hermetic adept Schwaller de Lubicz. Graham Hancock now writes about experiences with entheogens. Robert Bauval’s theories touch on equally Hermetic doctrines of astral immortality. Robert Schoch is now concerned with parapsychological research. However, their prime material is still the monuments themselves; their prime intent, to understand why they are as they are. The only explanation that satisfies them is that prehistoric peoples experienced states of being incomprehensible through the materialist paradigm. The reasonable course, then, is to try a different paradigm.
Another type of Atlantologist has been doing this all along, by taking a supra-rational approach to the question of prehistoric high culture. It is wrong to call them irrational, because they do not reject reason. However, they consider other avenues of knowledge supplementary if not superior to it. The traditionally minded put their faith in scriptures and sacred authorities, while those open to the paranormal rely on intuition, initiation, clairvoyance, or mediumship. One might call them occultists, but only in the sense that they all claim access to knowledge that is “occulted” or hidden from the rationalists.
The occultists’ Atlantis is a colorful and often beautiful tapestry, woven by visionaries, prophets, and receivers of divine revelation. But I cannot leave it at that. I want to turn the tapestry over to see how the knots are made, then snoop around in their workrooms.
One of the first facts to emerge is that there are distinct national schools. The first Atlantologists of the modern age were two Frenchmen of the Enlightenmen, the astronomer Jean-Sylvain Bailly and the theosopher Fabre d’Olivet,. Together they launched a particularly French strain, carried onward by Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Edouard Schuré, Papus, René Guénon, and Paul le Cour. After World War II this spawned a more popular genre with Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians, the review Planète, and the books of Robert Charroux, who blended it with the Ancient Astronaut theory.
The French Atlantologists tend to give information ex cathedra, keeping their sources to themselves, as though what they have to say about prehistory is obvious to any reasonable person. Reason does not exclude immaterial or even spiritual realities, but once these are accepted as part of the natural order of things, certain consequences follow. From the start, they envisaged prehistory in a context of the variously colored races (Yellow, Red, Black, White), to which they attribute separate origins. Each arose on a different continent, or, according to some, on a different planet. This is a constant of French occultism, together with the caution that no race is deemed superior or inferior to the others. One of the later writers, Jean Phaure, says that we are all of mixed blood, but “whether we are yellow, white, black, or red, we possess that fragment of the divine Spirit that makes us humans and not animals.” (Le cycle de l’humanité adamique, 1988, pp. 273-74)
The Germanic strain of Atlantology is rather different, and its earlier proponents have harmed our subject, and occultism in general, by association. The Ariosophists of the pre-Nazi era were racial supremacists, and their Atlantean theories conformed to that outlook. In 1904 Lanz-Liebenfels, a “New Templar,” set the trend in his Theozoologie, writing of how the tall, white race of Atlantis interbred with apes. The result was a hybrid race of “sodomitic apelings” that survived into classical times and left its genetic stain in almost all of us. Lanz’s solution was a rigid eugenic program that would, in time, breed out the animal element, though he added that purified humanity would still need some subhuman creatures as slaves. Few of the Ariosophists veered so far towards the lunatic fringe as Lanz, but none of them challenged his authority.
After the defeat of World War I, Ariosophical doctrines were in place to comfort the battered German soul and hold out a glorious future for it. Here is one version of the myth, which I paraphrase from Hermann Wieland’s Atlantis, Edda und Bibel (1922):
The Arctic region, where a temperate vegetation flourished, was home to the Aryans, a blond, blue-eyed, brachycephalic race. They lived there happily until a regularly recurring alteration of the earth’s axis brought on an ice age, then were forced to migrate southward. Leaving their polar homeland, the Aryans settled on the island-continent of Atlantis, setting up a twelvefold nation that would later become the model for the zodiac and the divisions of time by hours and months. They were forbidden to kill animals and lived whenever possible as vegetarians, unlike the lower races who already inhabited the land and were little better than beasts themselves. The Edda and both Testaments of the Bible are really chronicles of the Aryans’ history. Whenever the Bible speaks of Beasts, it refers to lower races, as do all the laws of Moses and injunctions of Jesus.
Readers of my earlier book Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival (first published 1993; now reprinted by Adventures Unlimited) will be familiar with much of this, and with later developments.
Germanic Atlantology also included some who were caught against their will in the maelstrom of events. Herman Wirth, for instance, was busy with his own theory of a prehistoric Arctic culture that left its symbols in petroglyphs throughout the circumpolar regions. Anticipating later anthropologists like Maria Gimbutas, Wirth believed that this was a matriarchal society, and that the trouble began later with patriarchy and its aggressive monotheistic religions. Wirth was co-opted by the Ahnenerbe (the think-tank of the SS) because his theories superficially seemed to support the Nordic-Aryan myth, but he disappointed them. Himmler fired him, and Wirth was forbidden to publish for the remainder of the Third Reich.
One who managed to keep out of trouble was the little-known occultist known as Peryt Shou. His career spanned both world wars, during which he ran a small and secretive group, teaching methods for regaining one’s spiritual birthright through a mixture of astrology, posture, and mantra. He wrote two books on Atlantis, and is probably the first to have seen any significance in the names Plato gives for the ten Atlantean kings. He analyzes them into their phonetic contents and tabulates their correspondences with star names, the Egyptian decans, the Sephiroth of the Kabbalah, the antediluvian patriarchs of Genesis, and the multiples and divisions of the “mother number” 432. (Esoterik der Atlantier, 1913, pp. 40-42, 59-61)
Peryt Shou’s object was to retrieve the spiritual awareness and autonomy that were lost with the fall of Atlantis. In his words, “Man forms himself, creates himself, for he possesses the divine guardian, the angel in his breast, who watches lest he thereby violate the divine law… In the course of his development, man grew ever further from this primordial religion. He believed that the Godhead was there to care for him, and so he should entrust everything to it… Through the Fall, man lost the right to free self-determination. He had to lean on God for everything and thereby forgot that God burned with its holiest rays in his own breast.” (Atlantis: Das Schicksal der Menschheit, 1930, p. 78)
After Germany’s second defeat, anything occult was shunned owing to its associations, real or attributed, with the Third Reich. Rare exceptions were Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophic movement, which was obviously innocent of any complicity with Nazism, and the Externsteine Circle. This was founded in the 1960s by Walther Machalett, a school teacher enthralled by the genii loci (spirits of place) and by a theory of prehistoric geodesy (earth measurement). His scheme linked Atlantis and the Pyramids with the Externsteine, an awe-inspiring natural formation in northwest Germany. Meeting each year on Ascension Day in the shadow of those towering rocks, the Machalett forum brings together psychics and engineers, scholars and eccentrics, in a non-dogmatic exploration of prehistoric cultures and earth mysteries.
Each of the major strains of occult Atlantology has its own style. The Germans are more indebted to Theosophy and its concept of root races (see below), which the Ariosophists developed in one direction, the Anthroposophists in another. They almost never claim supersensible powers themselves, but believe that such existed in ancient times and may be revived in the future. The third major national strain is the British, which differs from the French and German by its openness about its methods and the great variety of these.
From Britain, we have accounts of Atlantis from self-trained trance mediums (Dion Fortune, Margaret Lumley Brown); dictation by an inner voice (H. C. Randall-Stevens); vision of the past induced by meditating at an ancient site (Paul Brunton); open-eyed vision on site by a medium (Olive Pixley); manuscripts made available during initiation into an arcane order (Lewis Spence); a discarnate entity who takes the subject on a tour (Daphne Vigers); the return of a well-known nineteenth- century medium (Mandasoran); another medium who acts as mouthpiece for his controlling entity (Anthony Neate); a person who has a single flash of inspired vision (Katharine Maltwood), from which she develops a system; an enthusiast for outlandish theories (Brinsley le Poer Trench) who constructs his own eclectic model; and another (John Michell) whose enthusiasms lead to a geometric revelation of his own. The variety of methods is matched by the variety of Atlantises thus received.
Beside these three principal strains there are undoubtedly Russian Atlantologists, and certainly some scientific interest there and in Eastern Europe, but apart from Nicolas Zhirov and Zdeněk Kukal (who have been translated), these await researchers who know the relevant languages. In any case, to classify modern Atlantology by national schools overlooks the biggest contributor of all. None of the twentieth-century authorities, whatever their alleged sources, could avoid the influence of Theosophy.
Modern Theosophy has passed through two distinct eras, often mistaken for a single one. The earlier one is represented by the writings of H. P. Blavatsky and her contemporaries; the later, by Charles Webster Leadbeater and Annie Besant. Blavatsky made some remarks on Atlantis and prehistoric cultures in Isis Unveiled (1877), but it was a series of letters signed by the Mahatmas Koot Hoomi and Morya that outlined the definitive scheme of human evolution from the occultist point of view. Blavatsky amplified it in The Secret Doctrine (1888), which chronicles five “root races” that have nothing to do with the colored races of French Atlantology, but are large-scale stages of human evolution. They begin with humanity in an ethereal or gaseous state (the first two root races) and devolve through a gradual coagulation and division into sexes (the third, called Lemurian) into full physicality with the fourth root race (Atlantean). With the fifth (Aryan: our current state), we are on the long return journey to spiritualization.
In Blavatsky’s scenario, every root race except the first suffered one or more cataclysms. Continents disappeared, new lands appeared, mountain chains rose. “The face of the Globe was completely changed each time; the survival of the fittest nations and races was secured through timely help; and the unfit ones—the failures—were disposed of by being swept off the Earth. Such sorting and shifting does not happen between sunset and sunrise, as one may think, but requires several thousands of years before the new house is set in order.” (The Secret Doctrine, 1888, vol. 2, pp. 636-37, italics original) The immediate cause of these cataclysms was not outside agency, such as a comet, but changes in the inclination of the earth’s axis (another topic treated at length in Arktos).
As to the dating of these events, Blavatsky was aware that the most advanced scientists of her day allowed an age of the earth of 500 million years. Humanity is virtually coeval with the planet: the first root races appeared in the Primordial and Primary periods, the Lemurians in the Secondary period (age of reptiles), and the Atlanteans in the Tertiary (age of mammals). There is no fossil evidence because early human bodies were not fully materialized. Most of Atlantis was destroyed 850,000 years ago, leaving a fragment that finally vanished as recorded by Plato. As for him, he was an initiate who was forbidden to tell the whole truth about the human past. “Aiming more to instruct as a moralist than as a geographer and ethnologist or historian, the Greek philosopher merged the history of Atlantis, which covered several million years, into one event which he located on one comparatively small island.” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, pp. 760-61)
After Blavatsky’s death in 1891, the Theosophists kept the basic structure of root races while seeking to improve on the details. They tended to move the Atlanteans closer to the present day, so that they could be made responsible for Stonehenge and the Pyramids. One such was Alfred Percy Sinnett, to whom the Mahatmas’ letters had been addressed. After the correspondence ceased, he started his own private circle in which an entranced medium gave out further information. Sinnett’s friend Charles Webster Leadbeater, in contrast, used his own clairvoyance to penetrate the distant past, the astral plane, past lives, etc. The most popular book of occult prehistory, Walter Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria, derives its Egyptian material from Sinnett’s medium (whom Scott-Elliot married) and the rest from Leadbeater.
Scott-Elliot’s book includes four maps of Atlantis, first published in 1896, which have been reproduced countless times since. Sinnett, in his preface, says that these maps come from “records physically preserved,” and Scott-Elliot describes them as “a globe, a good bas-relief in terra-cotta, and a well-preserved map on parchment.” From later sources we learn that they are in Tibet, in the Museum of Records of the Great White Brotherhood, and that Leadbeater was given permission to visit it in his astral body and copy the maps there.
The Atlantis myth carries a powerful psychic charge, and has served many groups and individuals in their manipulation of people’s belief systems. I am not in the business of debunking, but I like to get to the bottom of tall tales like Scott-Elliot’s maps. Other popular clichés would be James Churchward’s Mu, the last words of Jesus, reputedly spoken in “pure Mayan,” Katharine Maltwood’s Glastonbury Zodiac, the Lemurians of Mount Shasta, and the various Atlantean scenarios put out by Rosicrucian orders. By clearing away such growths, one has a better chance of tackling the genuine enigmas of human origins and evolution.
Whom then should we trust? I listen to them all: Rudolf Steiner, Alice Bailey, the ill-matched Tradionalist couple of René Guénon and Julius Evola, the Avalonians from Dion Fortune to John Michell; the excruciating Oahspe, wily Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub, Phylos the Tibetan, who starts the Mount Shasta business; Edgar Cayce, the “I AM” folk, William Dudley Pelley of Silver Shirts fame, Doreal-Doggins with his Emerald Tablets; the teasing trio of George Adamski, Richard Shaver, and George Hunt Williamson; wise old Seth, tough old Ramtha, James Merrill with his Ouija board, and quite a few others.
Am I laughing at them, or with them? It depends on the degree to which they were deliberately putting one over on their disciples or audiences. And having said that, who is meant by “they”? The channelers themselves, or whatever is communicating through them? Most channelers seem sincere: almost all of them started their careers unwillingly after a transcendent irruption into their lives. But I am suspicious of their sources which, when they are not total bores, often seem to be stretching our credulity for their own amusement. Since they do not agree with one another, they cannot all be right: for example, they date the Great Pyramid at anything from 200,000 to 6000 years ago. Yet each source has an amazing consistency and personality, and a seemingly inexhaustible fund of knowledge.
In former times, possession by a god, demon, or spirit was the only explanation for this phenomenon. Once those were eliminated, it seemed that everything had to come from the channel’s subconscious mind, or conscious fraud. I offer a lightly held alternative hypothesis. It combines Buddhist doctrine with the allegory of cyberspace, and goes as follows. When sentient beings die, they release mental energies that may form congelations of intelligence, perhaps combining with other free-floating energies in resonance with them (N.B. Buddhism has no immortal soul to keep them together). These act like files containing a mishmash of information, memory, dogma, and speculation, ordered as in life by a logical program akin to language. Given a suitable recipient, they download into it, blending with the recipient’s own information, beliefs, and so forth. The way it emerges—through trance, automatic writing, and so on—is merely a matter of style. This suggestion somewhat resembles the idea of the “egregore,” a wandering influence that takes on a pseudopersonality and may be nourished by attention, belief, and sacrifice. But it does not hold out much hope for finding the truth about Atlantis.
If we are sincere in our desire for this, we have to face the mystery of time and its connection with human consciousness. To be brief, it is a question of whether sequential time exists at all outside our minds. The metaphysical doctrines of East and West suggest rather that time, like space, is part of the illusion inherent in human consciousness. We feel caught in its coils and rhythms, but from a higher point of view past and future coexist. Some channeled communications do help us understand this, and so (I’m told) does quantum physics. There is the further possibility that the Atlantis visited through clairvoyance, astral travel or entheogens might be not in the earth’s past, but in a parallel and present universe.
Coming down to earth, there is an idea that time proceeds not in a straight line but in cycles. There are two main schemes: the Four Ages or Yugas, and the astrological Ages based on the precession of the equinoxes. The weightiest chapters of Atlantis and the Cycles of Time survey the origins and permutations of these theories. My object is to give the reader solid information, properly sourced, so that it is clear where the various claims come from and what assumptions (cosmological, historical, metaphysical) underlie them. For instance, Hindu orthodoxy puts us in the Kali Yuga, which began in 3102 BCE and lasts 432,000 years, getting worse all the time. Others reject these figures, especially the French traditionalists who have made time-cycles their particular study. René Guénon, Alain Daniélou, Gaston Georgel, and Jean Phaure all come up with a reduced duration for the Kali Yuga of something over 6000 years. Their calculations of its end-date and the consequent return of the Golden Age vary: AD 1999, 2000, 2012, 2030, 2160, and 2442 are all mentioned.
There are also contrarian theories. Fabre d’Olivet reversed the Yugas, convinced that the Kali Yuga was not the worst period but the best. Some Buddhists, Jains, and the modern guru Sri Yukteswar have them going alternately up and down, like a sine wave. Each of these conflicting theories needs to be examined for its roots and motives, rather than accepted on anyone’s authority.
There is similar disagreement about the end of the Age of Pisces and the dawning of the Aquarian Age. The earliest date I have found is 1760, one of four dates suggested in Godfrey Higgins’s Anacalypsis. The year 1881 was once a popular choice, seeming to agree with another cycle: that of the Reigns of the Seven Archangels, which was part of the teachings of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.
Carl Jung took the trouble to consult astronomy, and pointed out that dating the Age of Aquarius depends on which star marks the beginning of the constellation. That gives a wide range, from 1997 to 2154, but the actual year does not matter much: it is the whole period of transition that interests him.
Calculating the Aquarian Age also depends on whether you take the traditional precessional number, 25,920 years, giving 2,160 years for each age, or whether, like Jung, you follow the current scientific estimate of about 25,770. Furthermore, you may divide it into twelve ages according to the astrological constellations, which are exactly 30 degrees each, or the astronomical ones, which are of unequal length and whose borders may shift along with the proper motion of their component stars.
To put the final wrench in the precessional machinery, many traditional texts assert that the earth’s axis used to be perpendicular to the ecliptic, so that in former times there was no precession and no seasons. Some connect this with the Golden Age and with human habitation in polar or arctic lands. If precession is a recent phenomenon, large-scale cyclical theories based on its invariance are null and void.
All of this may seem mean-spirited, for it undermines many cherished assumptions, but that is not the case. There is a positive joy in this kind of research. The material is philosophically challenging, the parade of characters fascinating. Some of them may be rogues, paranoiacs, deluded and deluding, but what else do we find in profane history? This study, like no other, stretches the imagination over all of space, from Mediterranean islands through crustal shifts and crashing moons, right up to the center of the galaxy. It ranges over all of time, from the dawn of the historical period back to the birthday of this present earth. And as we reimagine the past, so we help to form our future.