Lost Continents

Ever since the days of the Greeks, people have tried to prove that thriving civilizations once existed on huge islands that have since sunk beneath the sea.

A similar objection is fatal to one of the two Pacific continents proposed by the Scottish mythologist Lewis Spence. He has a continent stretching east-west from the Hawaiian Islands to the Malay Archipelago. This ignores one of the sharpest faunal boundaries on earth, the line through Celebes and Timor that separates the animals of the Orient from those of the Australian region. As you go from Borneo to New Guinea you pass in two short steps from the Indo-Malayan world of monkeys, cats, buffaloes, and elephants to the vastly different Australasian world of kangaroos and echidnas. The only placental mammals that have reached New Guinea are dogs and pigs which could have been brought by men and probably were, small rodents that could have come by the driftwood ferry, and bats that could have flown. These facts indicate that the water-barrier of the Celebes, Banda, and Timor Seas and their connecting straits has been where it is for a long time, probably for more than 50 million years.

Then we have pseudoscientific Atlantists like Augustus Le Plongeon, who spent many years among the Mayan ruins of Yucatán. Dr. Le Plongeon was an expert in his way, but was as ready to fit the facts to the theory as Donnelly. He considered the Egyptian hieroglyphics similar to the Mayan and claimed to be able to read the latter, using a modification of Brasseur de Bourbourg’s modification of de Landa’s alphabet. Sad to say, people who tried to decipher Mayan writing by Le Plongeon’s code got nothing but gibberish, as did those who used the “Mayan alphabet” of de Landa.

From the Troano Codex in the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid—one of the few Mayan manuscripts that survived de Landa’s burning and one which nobody but a few gifted pseudoscientific Atlantists can read—and from some pictures on the walls of Chichen-Itza, Le Plongeon built a romantic tale. It concerned the rivalry of the princes Coh and Aac for the hand of their sister Móo, queen of Atlantis or Mu. Coh won, but was murdered by Aac; and then the continent sank and Móo fled to Egypt where, as Isis, she founded the Egyptian civilization.

In 1912 Paul Schliemann, grandson of the great Heinrich Schliemann who dug up Troy, gave the New York American a sensational tale of how his grandfather left secret papers instructing him to break open an owl-headed vase. Schliemann did and found therein archaeological specimens bearing Phoenician writing that told of Atlantis. He also claimed to have read the Troano manuscript and a Chaldean manuscript from Tibet, both of which told of the sinking of the Mu. Further revelations were promised but never came, nor did the vase and its contents ever see the light of public investigation.

Finally there was James Churchward, who in the 1920’s and 30’s wrote the Mu books, such as The Lost Continent of Mu, containing perhaps the greatest mass of drivel to be found in modern literature. Churchward’s primary source was the mysterious “Naacal tablets,” which he said had been shown and translated to him by an anonymous Hindu temple priest. His “authorities” were the discredited Schliemann and Le Plongeon. His “facts” were mostly wrong, like the Otomi-Japanese identity. His theory was an enlargement of the Le Plongeon and Schliemann aberrations. He had Atlantis in the Atlantic and Mu (the occultists’ Lemuria) in the Pacific.

How geologists believe the world may have looked about 100 million years ago, early in the Cretaceous Period, when Gondwanaland had probably begun to break up. However, changes as extensive as the ones indicated here all occurred long before man came on the scene. The large island west of Spain is the nearest thing to Plato’s Atlantis, but most geologists believe it sank 15 million years or more before the most primitive man appeared on earth. And even the very ancient continent of Gondwanaland is not a scientific certainty.
After Schuchert,1916

Churchward’s reasoning processes were a marvel. He claimed a preternatural ability to read the “symbols” of various ancient peoples (a favorite occult obsession). Churchward said that the rectangle was M in the Muvian alphabet, hence the symbol for Mu; therefore any decorative use of a rectangle was evidence of derivation from Mu. As the ordinary brick is entirely bounded by rectangles, Churchward easily derived everybody and everything from Mu. He misquoted Plato and printed nonsensical footnotes reading, “4. Greek record.” or “6. Various records.” He disbelieved in the “monkey theories” of evolution, holding that man was created fully civilized in the Pliocene epoch; also that continents subsided because great gas-filled chambers under them (“gas belts”) collapsed.

Lemuria and Gondwanaland

A word about Lemuria: About 1875 the scientists Haeckel and Blanford suggested that the distribution of lemurs and their relatives could best be explained by a former land bridge connecting Africa, Madagascar, and the East Indies. P. L. Sclater proposed the name Lemuria for this land, and the word came into general use among geologists. But more recent investigations show that the vanished continent of Lemuria is not necessary to explain the distribution of lemurs, and in fact fails to do so. Lemuria was conceived to be part of a much larger continent, Gondwanaland, which was supposed to have reached three-quarters of the way around the Southern Hemisphere, with a gap in the Pacific. Scientifically, these continents have little to do with Atlantism, and even Gondwanaland is considered speculative, although it is still widely accepted.

The Lemuria theory was picked up by that fascinating thaumaturge, Heliona P. Blavatsky, and incorporated into her own gaudy cosmos along with Atlantis. According to her works and those of her disciples, the Lemurians were the Third Root Race: gigantic apelike men, hermaphroditic and oviparous, some with four arms and some with a third eye at the back of their heads. They interbred with animals, the offspring being the ancestors of the apes. Their discovery of sex (of which Mme. Blavatsky took a poor view) caused their downfall. They were succeeded by the Atlanteans, the Fourth Root Race and the ancestors of the modern Mongoloids. Both the Third and Fourth Races were full of Cosmic Consciousness. There is much more, but interested readers can consult the works of Blavatsky, A. P. Sinnett, A. W. Besant, Scott Elliott, R. Steiner, T. L. Harris, J. B. Newbrough, and other seekers after the higher wisdom. It is hardly worthwhile to argue with them, as they profess contempt for the methods of “materialistic” science and as their “evidence” consists of records in secret libraries in Tibet to which nobody but occultists have access.

Some occult Atlantists moved Lemuria from the Indian Ocean (where Mme. Blavatsky had the grace to leave it) to the Central Pacific (where it is unlikely there ever was a continent). In 1894 a novel, A Dweller on Two Planets by “Phylos the Thibetan” (F. S. Oliver) described, along with the last days of Atlantis, an occult brotherhood living on Mt. Shasta, in northern California. The “Mt. Shasta Legend” was incorporated into the occult Atlantis tradition, and tales are published now and then of Lemurians in white nightgowns living on the mountain and practicing mystic rites, despite the fact that campers and state forest officials wander freely over Shasta without meeting these interesting persons.

Let’s look at Plato’s story again. It is certainly not, as it implies, a stenographic record of a real conversation that took place three-quarters of a century before. Putting imaginary speeches in the mouths of historical characters was accepted practice in Plato’s day—even the conscientious Thucydides did it—, and it has not utterly disappeared yet. Eliminating things obviously fictional, such as the god Poseidón, the tale has nothing that Plato could not have derived from the knowledge of his time: the defeat by Athens of barbarian invaders from the Persian wars, the city plan of Atlantis from Babylon, the harbor works from Syracuse, the Atlantean ceremonial from Orphism, and the earthquake from the real tremor that shook Greece in 373 B.C. The unity and verisimilitude of the tale are not beyond the abilities of a competent storyteller, especially one of Plato’s intellect.

In about 1875 scientists suggested this ancient land bridge connecting Madagascar with Africa and India. A drop of 4000 meters in the relative level of the sea would produce it. It was offered as an explanation for the distribution of the lemurs and other relatives of the monkeys, and thus got the name Lemuria. But authorities do not now consider this lost continent a scientific necessity.

It is, in fact, hinted that Plato is writing what we should call a science-fiction story to illustrate his political theories. In Timaeus, Critias says, “And the city with its citizens which you described to us yesterday,” (i.e., The Republic) “we will now transport hither into the realm of fact; for we will assume that the city is that ancient city of yours, and declare that the citizens you conceived are in truth those actual progenitors of ours, of whom the priest told.”

The strange ending of Critias may be significant. Perhaps old Plato lost interest, or perhaps he had plot trouble. He started out to show how his Republic would work in practice, and then brought in the gods, which involved him in hopeless logical difficulties about free will and divine justice. The ruin of Athens by the quake, necessary to provide a gap in history between Plato’s fictional Athens and the real one, did not square with divine justice. So maybe he puzzled a while and gave it up.

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