Though the tale of Atlantis and its fall has captivated people since Plato’s time (500 CE), Atlantis has special significance in the New Age subculture. It is not uncommon for two complete strangers in the New Age to meet and share remarkably similar stories of the rise and fall of Atlantis.
There is also a significant subset of New Age people who have memories of their own past lives in Atlantis. These memories invariably include stories about the advanced clairvoyant civilization on Atlantis and the unusual technologies used on the island (which are thought to include crystal-based power generation, lasers, flying machines, and cloning technology). The Atlantean culture, in these memories, was also influenced by extra-terrestrial or otherworldly entities. The eventual downfall of this advanced culture, in the New Age retelling of the story, was reportedly caused by the Atlanteans themselves, who courted their own demise (and the sinking of their island) by repeatedly breaking the laws of nature and attempting to attain godlike powers.
Since the story of Atlantis essentially catapulted me out of the New Age and back into college, my first self-directed research study traced the actual origins of the story of Atlantis — not merely in history, but also in the popular imagination. I wanted to know the real story of Atlantis and to discover when and where the very specific New Age stories of the magical, crystal-powered, psychic, alien-infused culture of Atlantis came into existence.
There are dozens of books recounting some version of this New Age, metaphysical history of Atlantis. However, while many controversial (and contradictory) discoveries of the lost island have been made, no reputable record of Atlantis has ever been confirmed by anthropology, archaeology, oceanography, geology, or any other conventional scientific discipline.
In fact, confirmation of a reputable site for Atlantis could be said to be a nearly impossible task, since Atlantis has already been “discovered” in dozens of disparate locations.
In the 1959 version of the Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia2, editor Joseph Morse notes that numerous unnamed explorers “have variously identified the island with Crete, the Canary Islands, the Scandinavian peninsula, Antarctica, Cuba, Bermuda, and America.” (p. 767).
Richard Cavendish, in his 1982 book, Legends of the World1, noted that Atlantis has been variously imagined to reside in Crete, Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Ethiopia, South America, Corsica, Malta, Iran, Sri Lanka, and Siberia (p. 265). In each case, these finds were found to have been incorrect, leaving future explorers to discover Atlantis anew.
Even today in the 21st century, the re-discovery of Atlantis tends to occur fairly regularly. In 2011, a group of researchers working on a television show about Atlantis claimed to have found it in a marshland in Spain. Though these most recent Atlantis discoverers were very hopeful, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that their discovery won’t hold water either, if you’ll excuse the pun. 2014 update: I am all astonishment! This newest discovery of Atlantis turned out to have been a dud.
Sifting through the stories
In addition to the dozens of New Age books on Atlantis, there are thousands of books, songs, poems, and dramatic works about Atlantis written since 500 CE in over twenty-five languages. Atlantis has long been an overwhelmingly popular subject for amateur and professional explorers, archaeologists, oceanographers, fiction writers, filmmakers, philosophers, and Utopian scholars. Writers and thinkers as diverse as Francis Bacon3, Arthur Conan Doyle, Madame Helena Blavatsky4, Arthur C. Clarke, Charles Berlitz, and Jules Verne wrote books about Atlantis. However, to discover the truth about the story of Atlantis, it is necessary to return directly to the source.
Enter Plato and his uncle Solon, the fathers of Atlantis lore
The story of Atlantis first appeared in the Greek philosopher Plato’s 500 BC works, Timaeus and Critias. In these tales, Atlantis is created by the god Poseidon. The original rulers of Atlantis were Poseidon’s eldest son, Atlas the king, and the nine younger brothers of Atlas, each of whom was a prince of Atlantis (these ten brothers were five sets of identical twins born to Poseidon and a mortal woman). This Atlantean creation story is from Plato’s The Dialogues of Critias (500 CE):
He [Poseidon] himself, being a god, found no difficulty in making special arrangements for the centre island, bringing up two springs of water from beneath the earth, one of warm water and the other of cold, and making every variety of food to spring up abundantly from the soil. He also begat and brought up five pairs of twin male children; and dividing the island of Atlantis into ten portions, he gave to the first-born of the eldest pair his mother’s dwelling and the surrounding allotment, which was the largest and best, and made him king over the rest; the others he made princes, and gave them rule over many men, and a large territory.
And he named them all; the eldest, who was the first king, he named Atlas, and after him the whole island and the ocean were called Atlantic. To his twin brother, who was born after him, and obtained as his lot the extremity of the island towards the Pillars of Heracles, facing the country which is now called the region of Gades in that part of the world, he gave the name which in the Hellenic language is Eumelus, in the language of the country which is named after him, Gadeirus. Of the second pair of twins he called one Ampheres, and the other Evaemon. To the elder of the third pair of twins he gave the name Mneseus, and Autochthon to the one who followed him. Of the fourth pair of twins he called the elder Elasippus, and the younger Mestor. And of the fifth pair he gave to the elder the name of Azaes, and to the younger that of Diaprepes.5
Note that Atlantis had hot and cold running water! In Plato’s original story (which was passed to Plato by his uncle, Solon, who purportedly heard it from an Egyptian prince), the ten Atlantean brothers were gods and warriors who eventually ruled the entire Mediterranean. A.G. Hefner recounts the story in Atlantis: The Myth (2002):
As long as they [the Atlanteans] judged and lived by Poseidon’s laws, they and the kingdom prospered. When the laws began to be forgotten, trouble began. More of the rulers eventually began marrying mortals and started acting like foolish humans. Soon pride overtook the rulers who soon began grasping for greater power. Then Zeus saw what had happened to the rulers. They had abandoned the laws of the gods and acted in an evil coalition as men. Zeus assembled all the gods of Olympus around him and was to pronounce judgment on Atlantis. This is where Plato’s story stops.6
Here’s the original story, and the exact place where it stops (Plato may have created the first and best To be continued… ever!).
For many generations, as long as the divine nature lasted in them, they were obedient to the laws, and well-affectioned towards the god, whose seed they were; for they possessed true and in every way great spirits, uniting gentleness with wisdom in the various chances of life, and in their intercourse with one another. They despised everything but virtue, caring little for their present state of life, and thinking lightly of the possession of gold and other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self-control; but they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too great regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with them.
By such reflections and by the continuance in them of a divine nature, the qualities which we have described grew and increased among them; but when the divine portion began to fade away, and became diluted too often and too much with the mortal admixture, and the human nature got the upper hand, they then, being unable to bear their fortune, behaved unseemly, and to him who had an eye to see grew visibly debased, for they were losing the fairest of their precious gifts; but to those who had no eye to see the true happiness, they appeared glorious and blessed at the very time when they were full of avarice and unrighteous power.
Zeus, the god of gods, who rules according to law, and is able to see into such things, perceiving that an honourable race was in a woeful plight, and wanting to inflict punishment on them, that they might be chastened and improve, collected all the gods into their most holy habitation, which, being placed in the centre of the world, beholds all created things. And when he had called them together, he spake as follows ….5 [the rest of this dialogue has been lost or perhaps was never written]
Though The Dialogues of Critias are incomplete, the story of Atlantis is mentioned again in Plato’s work Timaeus, and here we get a fairly accurate location for the island of Atlantis, though remnants of a once-mighty civilization have never been found there:
This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent.
Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes. And when the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars.
But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.7
The takeaway thus far
Though I researched Atlantis for many weeks, it took me only a few days to understand that the New Age version of the story had nothing whatsoever to do with Plato’s story. In fact, the moral of the New Age story — where the clairvoyant, crystal-powered, clone-making, alien-supported Atlanteans had to be destroyed because they attempted to wield godlike powers — is the diametric opposite of Plato’s story.
In Plato’s story, Poseidon’s five sets of twin sons got into trouble for intermarrying with mere mortals and forgetting their godlike powers. They became “full of avarice and unrighteous power,” which led the god over all Greek gods, Zeus, to destroy their island civilization. Clearly, the original story of Atlantis is a myth — it’s a powerful creation myth filled with impossible characters, powerful universal themes, and grand theatrical outcomes. The New Age version of Atlantis is similarly grand, and just like its source material, the New Age Atlantean story is also a myth. Which doesn’t men it isn’t true.
Atlantis was never an actual place — it was a place of mythology and dreams — and in Plato’s time, it was also a riveting teaching story about politics and governance, gods and their fatal mistakes, and the limits of power. However, the fact that Atlantis doesn’t exist as a submerged island in the actual world does not in any way make the story of Atlantis less important; far from it.
The story of Atlantis rightly belongs in the majestic realm of myths and dreams of Utopia. There is a truth to Atlantis that reaches beyond mere facts and beyond history itself.
When we can understand the truth inside the Atlantis mythology, we can focus our study of Atlantis in a much more fruitful direction.
Next Post: The Reality of Atlantis, part 2
1. Cavendish, R. (1982). Atlantis. In R. Cavendish (Ed.), Legends of the World. (pp. 262-267). New York: Schocken.
2. Morse, J.L. (1959). Atlantis. In the Funk & Wagnalls Standard Reference Encyclopedia (Volume 3, p. 767). New York: Standard Reference Works Publishing Company.
3. Bacon, F. (1942). Essays and New Atlantis. New York: Walter J. Black. (Original work published in 1625).
4. Washington, P. (1996). Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America. New York: Schocken.
5. Plato’s The Dialogues of Critias. Accessed June 13, 2011 from The Mysterious and Unexplained (B. Keyes, ed.). http://www.activemind.com/Mysterious/Topics/Atlantis/critias_page4.html
6. Heffner, A.G. (2002). Atlantis: the Myth. Encyclopedia Mythica. Accessed March 4, 2004 from Encyclopedia Mythica Online: http://www.pantheon.org/articles/a/atlantis.html
7. Plato’s Timaeus. Accessed June 13, 2011 from The Mysterious and Unexplained (B. Keyes, ed.). http://www.activemind.com/Mysterious/Topics/Atlantis/timaeus_page2.html