Joscelyn Godwin. Atlantis and the Cycles of Time. Inner Traditions, 2010.

With its Harry Potter-like title and cover showing celestial spheres and sunken classical columns I at first thought this was yet another book on the secrets of lost civilizations and the revelation that we're probably all doomed - either to extinction or a boring-sounding Utopia - some time in the near future.

But not at all. This book proves to be a scholarly and detailed account of the way that the Atlantis myth has provided an important and formative influence on the whole of Western occult thought.

The Atlantis story starts with the account given in Plato's Dialogues, of the destruction of a land "beyond the Pillars of Hercules". Godwin first looks at those writers who have attempted to identify this with a particular geographical location in a specific historical era. His first chapter looks at such exegeses, but in his preface warns us that he considers "the least interesting interesting books are the ones that toe this line, that Plato's Atlantis was really somewhere quite normal and recent ..."

That said he presents a fascinating range of 'Rationalist' (his word) interpretations from texts dating back to the seventeenth century which place a physical, geographical Atlantis anywhere from Sweden to the Arctic, and from the Sahara Desert to Bolivia, as well as writers who have identified existing Mediterranean islands - Cyprus, Sicily, Malta and Crete - as the last remnant of the lost territory. Unsurprisingly this 'remnant' Atlantis often seems to be the writer's own birthplace!

Perhaps the most interesting of these literalistic theories are those which locate Atlantis as having been 'everywhere'; it being the memory of a world-wide culture which was destroyed by some cataclysm, either physical or social. Here we meet writers such as Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval with radically revisionist views of the distant past and their controversial dating of the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.

The inhabitants of these legendary realms ranged from creatures which seem to be animated Gladstone bags living at almost solar temperatures, to angelic supermen. A common theme in many of these accounts is that the end of Atlantis was the result of a gigantic geophysical calamity. These cataclysms often followed on from the decline of a Utopian Atlantean civilisation, either through internal strife or the population's descent into strange and unnatural depravities. Unfortunately because of the era in which most of these works were written, we get very few details of these!

In many of these accounts Atlantis does not correspond to any commonly accepted historical or geographical reality, and seems to be used as a medium for expressing the writers' own views on the evolution of mankind and the development of civilization. A great deal of this is based around Mme. Blavatsky and the early Theosophists, where her book Secret Doctrine involves a complex series of 'Root Races'. She tells us that the fourth of these 'races' - a gigantic super-human species - was largely destroyed when Atlantis was flooded in a cataclysmic flood following the shift in the Earth's axis.

At first, the 'root races', as described by the Theosophists and later groups like the Steinerites and the Rosicrucians, had little to do with races in the modern sense. Even when terms like 'black' or 'aryan' are used these seem to have been rather vague philosophical labels rather than description of particular human groupings in the way they are used in general speech. Many of the 'races' described are scarcely human.

Of course this was not always the case and Godwin looks at the dark legacy of Germanic Atlanteanology. Jorg Lanz-Liebenfels, seen as one of the philosophical fathers of Nazism, saw Atlantis as the homeland of a tall, blonde, 'Aryan' race which gradually became degraded by breeding with semi-human creatures - 'sodomite hobgoblins' - until only a small group of Aryans retained their purity. These included, not surprisingly, a select group of Germans, and also, rather more surprisingly "Jews, those of true Israeli descent". These ideas - with one obvious exception - were later developed by Alfred Rosenberg in his Myth of the Twentieth Century, and into Himmer's Ahnenerbe racial purity organisation.

In contrast to this the British Atlateanologists were a much gentler crowd, although just as sure that their own land was the true heritage of the 'nice' Atlanteans. One successor to Blavatsky was the English occultist Dion Fortune who in her book The Esoteric Orders and Their Work presented a history of the world based on great cataclysms that swept Atlantis and caused the spread of its people across the world. The history of the British Atlaneanists soon moves into areas that Magonia readers will be very familiar with - Glastonbury, terrestrial zodiacs, Avalon, John Michell, Brinsley le Poer Trench and Desmond Leslie. Trench's Atlantis as outlines in his book Men Among Mankind, was inhabited by a technologically advanced race in contact with other planets, which was destroyed in a conflict which involved weapons even more powerful that nuclear bombs. Luckily one part survived as the 'Fortunate Isles' - Britain.

Godwin is clearly very familiar with the UFO contactee movement and traces how it developed from pre-WWII occult groups based around the Atlantis myth, through figures like William Dudley Pelley, George Adamski and George Hunt Williamson. In the 1940s and 1950s Atlantis was transplanted from its traditional earthly location to outer space and the imagery of Atlanteans and Space Brothers became interchangeable. It was thus easy for Adamski to move from the Royal Order of Tibet to Orthon.

The book concludes with two chapters examining the chronologies of various Atlantean beliefs, and the significance of various cycles of years which leave me baffled and in the latter case seems to be moving into numerology.

This is a long and complex book, and certainly not an easy read. The narrative is not helped by the welter of unpronounceable names that the Atlanteans bequeathed us: 'Djwal-Khul', 'Rmoahal', 'Tllavatli', and 'ring-ga-se nud si-i-kelze', (which displays a series of diacritical marks which my computer has no hope of reproducing). However, it repays the effort of reading and reveals a fascinating story of the way in which the Atlantis myth has permeated almost every strand of mystical thinking in the West from the occultists of revolutionary France to the New Agers of Modern California. It has a substantial bibliography and is fully annotated.

And in all the Atlantises here, the one which I find particulalry appealing is that described by the Rosicrucian William Phelon as a socialist, theocratic, vegetarian Utopia. All pretty dreary, but saved from total damnation by having an extensive network of tramways, powered of course by "a secret force that only the magi understood" - an Atlantis fit for Anoraks! -- John Rimmer

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