What I Don’t Believe: Atlantis (1/3)

This is the first in a three post series on subjects in the occult that I don’t believe in.  Partially, I expect to stir some controversy, but really I want to talk about credulity and credibility, and also the pernicious nature of some of the teachings of the occult.

So: I don’t believe in Atlantis.  Or rather, I don’t believe that Atlantis, as Plato in Timaeus 24e-25a describes it:

For it is related in our records how once upon a time your State stayed the course of a mighty host, which, starting from a distant point in the Atlantic ocean, was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe, and Asia to boot. For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, ‘the pillars of Heracles,’ there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travelers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses that veritable ocean. For all that we have here, lying within the mouth of which we speak, is evidently a haven having a narrow entrance; but that yonder is a real ocean, and the land surrounding it may most rightly be called, in the fullest and truest sense, a continent. Now in this island of Atlantis there existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvelous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent.

There is not any particularly good evidence that such a continent ever existed.

That’s not to say there aren’t lost civilizations, lost knowledge, and lost wisdom.  By no means!  One of the single most important books to a working theurgist — the Chaldean Oracles — is lost.  All we have are fragments, many of which are just a phrase or two quoted by someone else.  Moreover, there are whole writing systems, such as Rongorongo, that we cannot read, presumably with lost wisdom of their own.  But none of these come from Atlantis.

It’s not the assertion that Atlantis exists that I have a problem with.  It’s the racist and dismissive undertones that go along with it. One claim often made in occult circles about Atlantis is that every ancient culture got a “leg up” by settlers from the failing Atlantis. If the colonialist assumptions here don’t jump right out at you, well, you need to read Edward Said.  After all, if the poor benighted people of whatever country couldn’t get their stuff together until some external colonialists taught them how to do it, that justifies our own colonialism, doesn’t it?  At the same time, you got a nice dose of orientalism: the mystical and wise teachings of Other Culture Here all come from the same foundations.  They’re all the same, just as those Other People are all the same.

This is a bit like the old claim of the Perennial Philosophy, but it’s got extra scoops of ignorance, because rather than just saying “there are a lot of similarities between the teachings of diverse cultures” (something I do agree with), it says “and this similarity must be because of some sunken continent.”  Couldn’t it — wouldn’t it, more likely — be from the fact that human beings are very similar and are perceiving very similar truths?  If we all perceive an elephant, no one suggests that our ways of seeing and touching the elephant must have come from Atlantis.

Will we find sunken remains of cities?  Sure.  Underwater archeology is actually a thing.  Are they Atlantis?  Not in the sense of a wise and terrible continent sunk for its own arrogance and also the font of all the wisdom of the Orient and elsewhere.  Could there have been a historical Atlantis, perhaps not so large as Plato suggests?  Absolutely.  But it’s not the Occult Atlantis of the New Age movement.

And don’t even get me started on Lemuria.

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7 Responses to “What I Don’t Believe: Atlantis (1/3)”

  1. The New Age idea of Atlantis also owes a lot to Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis, which was explicitly written as fiction in 1626. The text can be found here:

    http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/bacon/atlantis.html

    It’s an interesting snapshot of the utopian vision of the late Renaissance, though toward the end it tends to degenerate into “we have this” and “we have that” based on Bacon’s idea of what technological wonders would look like.

    Whenever a New Ager tries to tell me that some civilization of the past developed a level of technology that surpassed our own and was then somehow lost or destroyed, I ask them to show me the ancient plastic. Or ancient styrofoam. In landfills the early non-recyclable versions of those technologies are supposed to endure for thousands upon thousands of years. If they’re smart it shuts them up pretty fast, since nobody has ever found any.

    There’s some evidence that in Indonesia a civilization might have developed before the end of the last ice age that then sunk below the ocean when the sea levels rose. According to this theory, that civilization re-established itself in the Indus Valley. It’s about the closest you’re likely to get to Plato’s tale, and it still bears little resemblance to the mythical lost island.

  2. I enjoy a good story! Atlantis is a lot of fun, and it can inspire the imagination. I personally take it as mythic in nature and potentially useful on that level. Others seem to take it more literally.

    I love “Magic, Power, Language, Symbol”. Thank you for writing it. (Had to say that.:)

  3. Kind of brings to mind the items from Egypt which were ‘thought’ to be a battery and finally shown could work as a battery and after a few more decades, most seemed to think the Egyptians were gold plating silver icons and jewelry with it. What was ‘impossible to consider’ later becomes something potentially plausible.

    The similarity between the cultures spanning the world seem to indicate some spread of influences. Not floating cities or super high tech cultures but similar building styles (step and regular pyramids, etc.) which seems to favor the idea that someone made it across the oceans at one time or another… and in many areas.

    Nothing the says it is ‘Atlantis’ (or Mu) but, that someone was definitely playing out past the break waters.

  4. It all really started with Donnelly. I love how silly his premise was, seriously “Plato was the greatest philosopher, great philosophers never lie therefore Plato must have been telling the truth” paraphrased. Of course he completely forgot that Plato frequently and admittedly used the ‘noble lie’, in other words an invented myth or fable, as a teaching method. Then later one of the heads of the Theosophical society picked up Donnelly’s ideas and they became entrenched in occultism. And since we occultists are so ridiculously credulous, most have just accepted it.

  5. How can you probe you have evidence that it does not exist? the problem with people like you, is that you need to see things to believe.
    Your colonialism problem is not a proof and a solid base of what you say and on the other hand, you are not a reliable authority on the subject either.
    I really don’t care what you don’t believe, it’s not my problem, but it catches my attention posts like this because you only reflect ignorance.

    • Well, one can’t prove (I assume you meant “prove” rather than “probe) a negative, so no, no one can prove it doesn’t exist. It’s logically impossible to prove that *anything* doesn’t exist. But the burden of proof, of course, is on those who claim it does exist, especially when it has such detrimental effects to believe in it.

      • If we move the discussion away from “believing in Atlantis” and toward “speak openly about and expect others to share a belief in Atlantis” then we get closer to the real damage that such beliefs cause.

        Promulgating spiritual beliefs that are not physically provable as “truth,” without explaining what kind of “truth” they are, is a problem. It is as much a problem for Atlantis as it is for the Garden of Eden.

        Atlantis, as proposed by the New Age, is with utmost certainty not a physical reality. It does not match other existing models of reality–not even most magical ones. Evidence for its existence is unavailable or hearsay.

        Atlantis is a myth, and is subject to the same forms of analysis as other texts. These myths about Atlantis say something about the culture it came from: mostly colonial-era Western cultures. Do we share a common view of the world with the 19th century? Krikey, I hope not.

        Can someone “believe” in Atlantis? Sure. No skin off my back.

        But when someone tries to act publicly as if these myths are “true” in a consensual “I have the only truth” way, he or she should not be surprised that other people might disagree.

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