Defenders of Atlantis

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

Nicholas Roerich’s The Last of Atlantis

Something came up in my feed recently on abandoning the myths of Atlantis and Lemuria, an idea that returns every so often in the magickal world. Critiques include the lack of archeological evidence, plus hatred of anything aligned with the New Age and its flawed Victorian worldview. The occultism of Victorian England is both a rich and fertile bed where so much of our teachings arose, and a crossroads of the times where racism, classism, patriarchy, and homophobia can be found. And I understand all of that. I really do. Yet I still defend Atlantis.

Not that Atlantis needs a defender. It’s sunk. It’s a lost cause already. That is the point. That’s part of the magick. But as an occultist, the teaching has served me, and I pass it on because I see how it serves others. I find it ironic today that in the social media world of Witchcraft, many who critique ideas like Atlantis are all about using the Bible in their magick to be more rooted and authentic in their folk traditions. All the critiques of Atlantis through a Victorian lens can equally be charged against the Bible, as Christianity has a pretty long history of violence and abuse. Rather than simply throw something out, I think it’s far more interesting to ask why someone uses something. Why does it have value to you?

As an occultist, I’m interested in consciousness, cosmology, and all the things hidden that most people don’t care about. I’m not looking for religion when I practice Witchcraft, I’m looking to the truth that is obliquely pointed to by the mystery. While I find the creation stories of all mythologies interesting, I want to know what is behind them. None speak to me and satisfy me completely because I don’t live in that place, that time, with that language and context. My world is wider than those things of the past. It’s not that they’re wrong or bad, but in a study of comparative myth, you have to hold a lot of paradoxical mythological truths at once. None are right. All are right. What is “right”? So as a magician, I know the stories are patterns, potentials, ways of expressing inexplicable truth. What is the meta-story behind it? What is the pattern that empowers it? How do we tell new stories today?

Philosophers have always been looking for this. While the ancient Greeks might have their own stories, myths, and cosmologies, many sought to know more by seeking the wisdom of Egypt. Egypt’s high society pointed to the hope of some distant first civilization, an enlightened time when the gods and humans were one with nature. Plato’s original Atlantis is framed in this context. It can be read as a moral parable of the corruption of his time. It can be read as a mystical allegory of consciousness rising and sinking. It can be read as myth of a distant land and forgotten civilization. His telling is fractured and fragmentary, even as our “original,” and we’ve been filling in the pieces ever since, because the idea of a larger story fascinates those of us unsatisfied by what we are taught.

Those who are only moved by archeological evidence and academic acceptance of a theory don’t interest me. If you’ve been doing this long enough, you’ll find science is constantly updating paradigms with new evidence, which is the role of science, but not necessarily the role of the magician seeking myth and folklore. While we will update our magickal paradigms with different results, we know not to build our house solely on today’s scientific understanding, otherwise our magickal paradigm will be dismissed ten or twenty years from now as obsolete while we are purporting a timeless wisdom. Science is one of many lenses. What is the science speaking to in the greater paradigm?

There are tons of theories and data that speak to a variety of interpretations of Atlantis, and all of us Atlantis fans have our favorites, but none are conclusive and accepted by the mainstream, or even amid the majority of mystics. Most evidence or flaws in current paradigms get automatically dismissed as fringe science, yet the whole point of Atlantis—and ancient Egypt, Sumer, and a wide variety of mysterious cultures—is the evidence of advanced civilizations operating in different ways than we do today, so our current measure of civilization might not be the best barometer, and logic alone might not be the best way of solving all questions.

I think back to the dismissal of Troy as a mythology, until it wasn’t. What about the evidence of a Global Maritime Civilization? Perhaps Atlantis wasn’t in any one place but everywhere. That’s why we can’t find it. I think about Gobekli Tepe. How do we fit that technologically advanced blip into our accepted chronology of human history? That discovery alone should be forcing us to reevaluate the origin stories of humanity, but most ignore it. Why do we still teach the old paradigm in school? Because we haven’t fit the new evidence into a new story upon which we can all agree.

Though artistically expressed in different cultural contexts, with different materials, there is some consistent geometry found in ancient temple structures and stone circles. Is this a universal conclusion, a pattern that all ancient humans come to eventually? Or is there some unifying factor to these ancient monuments cutting across the globe and different time periods? There is even some possible evidence of knowledge of the Precession of the Equinoxes in their creation. This greater meta-story provides mythic context for why the world’s ancient sites have so many similarities, with similar mounds, pyramid shapes, and petroglyphs found all over. Being devoted to no single culture alone, it can even hold new information, such as emerging data on the mysterious Denisovans and their influence on the emerging post-flood civilization. The history of the Earth is much weirder than most realize, and our stories help us magicians navigate the currents of power and information. It’s no different than those in Asian mystical traditions, yet they can hold the paradox of modern science and ancient myth a bit better. Although besieged with their own historic problems (and without the rise of Christianity as in the West), they are not in the same inner war with their magickal past. I distinctly remember speaking to a Tibetan Buddhist who could talk about Buddhism being present at the founding of Tibet, and how Buddhism was imported into Tibet from India. He could hold both truths without dissonance.

As an occultist, I have lots of experience with non-material realities. If the lack of archeology dissuades you, then you’ll not want to hear about things such as the reality of fallen angels, ghosts, faeries, past lives, psychic ability, the Witch’s sabbat, gods, goddesses, and actual operative Witchcraft. Yet I know these are realities. Perhaps Atlantis, Lemuria, and the like are operating in these types of frequencies. I find it funny that one could believe in the reality of a goetia demon bound by King Solomon, but find a lost civilization too far out there to be open to the possibility of its existence.

Much of the Theosophical interpretation of these times and ages conflicts with our current views of geology and archeology, much in the same way that the largest interpretation of the Hindu Yugas doesn’t quite fit an earthly time scale, but perhaps one more cosmic. From a Theosophical interpretation, I was taught the Great Ages were a descent into matter by consciousness. One arc descends downward, and the material universe’s evolution, including biological life, ascends upward. Our world now is where the two meet, but they haven’t always. There are literal truths measured by science and mystical truths marked with a different yardstick. You wouldn’t use the criteria of poetry to measure the worth of scientific study of bacteria. Likewise the criteria of science alone on esoteric understanding is flawed.

As a thought form, an egregore, or an occult memory, Atlantis is a living current. Just like when one is not seeking the gods but is nonetheless touched unbidden by their mystery, many seekers, looking for someone else, awaken Atlantis and have profound experiences. Past-life memories in particular are strong and semi-consistent. I’ve had people moved to tears with no previous interest in lost civilizations. I’m personally privy to two systems that use the Atlantis narrative, one Hermetic ceremonial and one very New Age, and I was stunned to find them tell the same story from the antagonistic viewpoints of—another story for the times—the ruling class and the opposing rebels. Wise rulers addressing greed and chaos? Freedom fighters seeking the removal of tyrants? Depends on your side. But the long epoch of Atlantis, from the Golden Age to Fall, shows us in these experiences different ways we could be living, but which, despite all our technological advancements, we are not.

The use of Atlantis in mythos and initiatory tales can be powerful. Often secret societies reveal a secret history, something otherwise not accepted, known, or believed by most. The idea of a hidden, unbroken Witch Cult was the story for some of us, now debunked as a literal truth, but still a profound esoteric truth. If it were not, we couldn’t be practicing it. Shocks that break expectation and paradigm are part of the occult process of transformation, and new revelations bring people together in shared experience. The power lies in the questioning of old assumptions and new teachings, not blind adherence to either.

Yet so many new Witches have not been brought in that way. We therefore have an incredibly large community with very few common points and bonds, and a lot of conflict driven by ego and opinion, not experience or wisdom. There was a time even among fighting Witches that a common bond of Witchcraft could bridge the personal rift. It’s the sister/brotherhood of the ceremonial lodge. Now witness a similar mechanism throughout society, due to a lack of shared story that all are participating in. Even our modern stories are fairly tribal. I look to the myths of the Confederate South fueling a lot of conflict in America and the inability to move beyond it to a bigger inclusive story.

When one looks to the magickal cosmologies and time-keeping practices in ancient cultures, they all speak, in some form, of past ages, past Earths, often characterized by metals, with a previous Golden Age. We have descended from it, and to the mythologist, we do not live in a world of perpetual progress, but one of cycles. In this cycle, there is the hope to return to the Golden Age. It’s not just a return, but an alchemical principle. We were divided and purified and seek to be reunited. The dark ages are necessary in the global story, as much as the dark night of the soul is necessary to the individual, or the alchemical stages of dissolution, putrefaction, and fermentation are necessary to the alchemist. The stories of the ages are filled with destruction scenarios that seem quite alchemical—fire and water. Memories of past terrestrial cataclysms? Or alchemical allegory? Perhaps both, I think. Are they a different way of expressing the Platonic Great Year as embodied by the Precession of the Equinoxes? When you look at history, it’s not hard to see its influence on the rise and fall of the civilizations we know about, so how about those we don’t? Are the poetic interpretations of geological and evolutionary ages the intuitive biological memories of evolution and ice ages? Maybe. Remember, leading-edge natural scientists of antiquity saw dinosaur bone fossils as giants and monsters. When the seer looks back psychically in time without the context of dinosaurs, what shape does that consciousness take? Giants and monsters? Makes sense to me if you have experienced true seership.

For those who look to Plato’s story as a parable against corruption, its reinterpretations are ideally the same, showing we still need the warning against abuses of power. Atlantis is the Shamballa of the West. While Shamballa withdraws from an imperfect world, awaiting the worthy seeker, Atlantis collectively fell, like so many of our western “Fall” myths, and must be collectively redeemed and risen again.

What it does that is helpful to me as an occultist is attempt to codify the meta-story that is global and cosmopolitan. It creates the potential of a narrative that unites, without dismissing the individual cultural stories and traditions. It’s a living document. We keep adding to it and reinterpreting it for the context of our time and traditions.

In a time we can’t name, and a place we can’t really point to, there is a story for us all that we can participate in it. The people there were flawed. Once great, they lost their way. They abused their power. They sunk and destroyed themselves in the imbalance of the Earth. We are reliving their story! How can we, together, write a different ending to it? How can we each play a part in the unfolding tale?

Atlantis, Lemuria, Hyperborea, and Pangaea are a meta-story from which new stories, rooted in old, can help us understand where we are, where we have been, and where we might be going. The previous age was destroyed by the same issues we face today. Before that, an age of the elder race, of the Faery Folk after their arrival to the world, from a unified consciousness to the schism of polarity and gender. Before that, an Earth ruled by giants, titanic forces shaping the Earth. Do these have parallels in the evolution of mineral, vegetable, and animal life? Maybe if we are looking for scientific parallels, but I’m just as comfortable with seemingly alien intelligences of otherworldly beings permeating the planet. This “neutral ground” in myth—not belonging to any one culture and theoretically relating to all with the common myth of the flood—gives us a way to place other myths in a larger paradigm, creating a container that allows for all mythologies simultaneously while holding a context for the modern magician.

The Bible, despite describing a very small territory and a very specific few theologies, has become extrapolated as a global story by so many and for such a long time that it has been deemed infallible, as potential scientific proof. For some, the Garden of Eden wasn’t just in Mesopotamia, but speaks to a state of Edenic consciousness across the world. As the Bible became dismissed by science, we seem to have thrown out our conscious desire for a collective narrative, and I think that is part of what is killing us. The Bible is not the narrative I want. So what narrative has some roots to it, that as a current of energy has been and is being worked on a magickal and psychic level, that can aid a more global consciousness? In the Age of Aquarius, the Age of the Water Bearer, the redemption of a sunken city which embodied utopian ideals, but which abused technology and lost social consciousness is a powerful narrative. The Flood Myth crossed so many cultures and included Judaism and Christianity, but also predates them.

Imagine a world where the default story is of globe-spanning ancients who did not belong to any one place, who did amazing things but also made ghastly mistakes. You don’t have to imagine it entirely as we are also writing it for future generations if we don’t turn our own ways. Imagine the call to redeem them, by our own actions rather than waiting for the return of a savior figure. A magickal myth of actions and consequences. The rising from the waters like a cosmic rebirth, embodying an Aquarian ideal, can be our story of the age if we tell it to ourselves often enough and enact it. This is the true treasure of Atlantis. And that is the Atlantis I defend.