Blavatsky on Atlantis

Atlantis is a Western myth that many have written about. The source of all the stories about Atlantis are the Ancient Greeks. In Blavatsky’s words:

The story about Atlantis and all the traditions thereon were told, as all know, by Plato in his “Timæus and Critias.” Plato, when a child, had it from his grand-sire Critias, aged ninety, who in his youth had been told of it by Solon, his father Dropidas’ friend—Solon, one of the Grecian Seven Sages.  No more reliable source could be found, we believe. (S.D. Vol. 2, p. 743)

All that which precedes was known to Plato, and to many others.  But as no Initiate had the right to divulge and declare all he knew, posterity got only hints.  Aiming more to instruct as a moralist than as a geographer and ethnologist or historian, the Greek philosopher merged the history of Atlantis, which covered several million years, into one event which he located on one comparatively small island 3000 stadia long by 2000 wide; (or about 350 miles by 200, which is about the size of Ireland), whereas the priests spoke of Atlantis as a continent vast as “all Asia and Lybia” put together.  But, however altered in its general aspect, Plato’s narrative bears the impress of truth upon it. It was not he who invented it, at any rate, since Homer, who preceded him by many centuries, also speaks of the Atlantes (who are our Atlanteans) and of their island in his Odyssey.  Therefore the tradition was older than the bard of Ulysses. (S.D. 2, p. 760, 761)

Blavatsky also connects Chinese and Indian mythology to the story (p. 326, 332, 365) and biological and geological evidence of her time (p. 778 etc.) The whole continent of Atlantis was submerged in water, or so the story goes. Blavatsky claims this cataclysm was the source of all stories of Deluges in mythology – including the Bible (idem p. 751).

Harder to believe is Blavatsky’s claim that the inhabitants of Atlantis were giants (p. 753). No physical remains survive, not only because the continent is gone beneath the sea, but also because they practiced cremation.

The reason for all the secrecy surrounding the topic was, again according to Blavatsky, the great spiritual knowledge and power of the Atlanteans (p. 764). In theosophical terminology the Atlanteans were the fourth root-race (p. 353). Now the concepts of races, rounds, root-races and so on are very hard to keep track of. Let’s for now just add that the present humanity is mostly of the 5th root-race and that the whole concept is more sociological and spiritual than physical and genetic.

Blavatsky compared her figures with those of geologists, but could not find agreement. She says:

This event, the destruction of the famous island of Ruta and the smaller one Daitya, which occurred 850,000 years ago in the later Pliocene times, must not be confounded with the submersion of the main continent of Atlantis during the Miocene period.  Geologists cannot place the Miocene only so short a way back as 850,000 years; whatever they do, it is several million years ago that the main Atlantis perished. [fn, p. 314]

In this case Blavatsky was closer to the mark than the geologists of her time, about the Miocene period anyhow. Wikipedia has it that: “The Miocene is a geological epoch of the Neogene period and extends from about 23.03 to 5.33 million years before the present.”

One of the more curious aspects of the story of Atlantis is its name. Though Blavatsky makes it clear in The Secret Doctrine that this is not the original name of the continent, she still quotes a curious fact of linguistics associated with it:

how could the name of Atlanta itself originate with Plato at all?  Atlante is not a Greek name, and its construction has nothing of the Grecian element in it.  Brasseur de Bourbourg tried to demonstrate it years ago, and Baldwin, in his Prehistoric Nations and Ancient America, cites the former, who declares that “the words Atlas and Atlantic have no satisfactory etymology in any language known in Europe.  They are not Greek, and cannot be referred to any known language of the Old World.  But in the Nahuatl (or Toltec) language we find immediately the radical a, atl, which signifies water, war, and the top of the head.  From this comes a series of words, such as atlan, or the border of or amid the water; from which we have the adjective Atlantic.  We have also atlaca, to combat. . . .  A city named Atlan existed when the continent was discovered by Columbus, at the entrance of the Gulf of Uraha, in Darien, with a good harbor.  It is now reduced to an unimportant pueblo (village) named Aclo.” (Isis Unveiled, Vol. 1, p. 591; Baldwin:  “Prehistoric Nations,” p. 179)

After all this evidence, though most of it more than a century old, a word about the spiritual story of Atlantis. Again, in the words of Blavatsky:

To continue the tradition, we have to add that the class of hierophants was divided into two distinct categories:  those who were instructed by the “Sons of God,” of the island, and who were initiated in the divine doctrine of pure revelation, and others who inhabited the lost Atlantis — if such must be its name — and who, being of another race, were born with a sight which embraced all hidden things, and was independent of both distance and material obstacle.  In short, they were the fourth race of men mentioned in the Popol-Vuh, whose sight was unlimited and who knew all things at once.  They were, perhaps, what we would now term “natural-born mediums,” who neither struggled nor suffered to obtain their knowledge, nor did they acquire it at the price of any sacrifice.  Therefore, while the former walked in the path of their divine instructors, and acquiring their knowledge by degrees, learned at the same time to discern the evil from the good, the born adepts of the Atlantis blindly followed the insinuations of the great and invisible “Dragon,” the King Thevetat (the Serpent of Genesis?).  Thevetat had neither learned nor acquired knowledge, but, to borrow an expression of Dr. Wilder in relation to the tempting Serpent, he was “a sort of Socrates who knew without being initiated.”  Thus, under the evil insinuations of their demon, Thevetat, the Atlantis-race became a nation of wicked magicians.  In consequence of this, war was declared, the story of which would be too long to narrate; its substance may be found in the disfigured allegories of the race of Cain, the giants, and that of Noah and his righteous family.  The conflict came to an end by the submersion of the Atlantis; which finds its imitation in the stories of the Babylonian and Mosaic flood: The giants and magicians “. . . and all flesh died . . . and every man.” All except Xisuthrus and Noah, who are substantially identical with the great Father of the Thlinkithians in the Popol-Vuh, or the sacred book of the Guatemaleans, which also tells of his escaping in a large boat, like the Hindu Noah — Vaiswasvata.
If we believe the tradition at all, we have to credit the further story that from the intermarrying of the progeny of the hierophants of the island and the descendants of the Atlantian Noah, sprang up a mixed race of righteous and wicked.  On the one side the world had its Enochs, Moseses, Gautama-Buddhas, its numerous “Saviours,” and great hierophants; on the other hand, its “natural magicians” who, through lack of the restraining power of proper spiritual enlightenment, and because of weakness of physical and mental organizations, unintentionally perverted their gifts to evil purposes.  Moses had no word of rebuke for those adepts in prophecy and other powers who had been instructed in the colleges of esoteric wisdom* mentioned in the Bible.  His denunciations were reserved for such as either wittingly or otherwise debased the powers inherited from their Atlantian ancestors to the service of evil spirits, to the injury of humanity.  His wrath was kindled against the spirit of Ob, not that of OD.

* 2 Kings, xxii.  14; 2 Chronicles, xxxiv. 22

[Isis Unveiled, Vol. 1, p. 592-594]

This is the start of a whole other theme in the work of Blavatsky: the difference between white and black magic. Or the difference between (unconsciously) selfish use of spiritual ability and consciously unselfish use of the same. Note that in this early work she believes that it is moral training combined with spiritual teachings that make for ‘son of God’, while mere following of natural mediumship is likely to lead to evil.

9 thoughts on “Blavatsky on Atlantis”

  1. I love all the different myths Plato’s myth has spawned (and by “myth” I am speaking in the Joseph Campbell sense). My scientific side is amused and appalled at the random references to geological periods which seem to be plucked out of a hat: we’re talking a time when human ancestors were tiny, very primitiveearly hominids who had not developed tool use and may not yet have had the anatomy to talk! As usual, the big mistake Atlantis buffs make is in assuming that just because world mythologies have recurring themes, they are referring to the same historical episode. The same things occur in our lives (and dreams, and fears) over and over, so similar myths are spawned. Volcanoes erupt. Tidal waves happen. Each natural disaster can feed into the myths of natural disasters, without necessarily all referring to the SAME natural disaster, or any particular one.

    So every Katrina, every Krakatoa, every Lisbon Earthquake in ancient times, even in pre-human times, is regarded by somebody as THE Atlantis, and then they start trying to look for evidence of THAT disaster in every world mythology.

    Plato invented several myths for teaching purposes, usually saying “a friend of a friend” told him about it. The myth of Er and the myth of the –whatever the name of the spring was in the Phaedrus, I’ve forgotten– don’t seem to have captured our imagination like the Atlantis myth, though.

    I say this as someone who wrote a 300+ page book about Atlantis as a child. Who loves the Atlantis Myth. Who went to Santorini and stood in the ruins of that ancient city which is my Atlantis, destroyed in a cataclysm in the Minoan period (just prior to Greece) which really must have left its imprint in the people around the Mediterranean, such that it would’ve been recorded in Egypt and remembered by word of mouth in Greece. It was four times the size of Krakatoa, and the Indonesian tsunami a few years back gives us some idea of the scale of the devastation it wrought.

    I wrote at length on Atlantis on my own blog a while ago and should stop typing here… but anyway…

    while I can’t believe anything Blavatsky says, I’m falling into the same trap: being too literal. Literally, no, that’s all bunk. Metaphorically, though, humans have a strange yearning for what’s lost, a sense that “We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven” — Tennyson, “Ulysses”. Every cataclysm speaks to us of a reason why things aren’t the way they used to be. And cataclysms, mighty civilizations laid low, fascinate us. We keep projecting farther back, all the way to Eden, this fall from grace, or this fall from a time when things are better than they are now. We keep looking for Atlantis. We want to know that magic once existed, which still lives in our imaginations and dreams, and which doesn’t seem to be in the world around us. We want wonders to be true. Rather than admitting that the mythic world we yearn for doesn’t literally exist (though again, that doesn’t mean it’s a lie… see Joseph Campbell on metaphor, the Sufis, and imaginal reality), we say it once existed, and is gone.

    I always fall back on the wisdom of Tolkien, who understood this about myth, even while writing his own myths about a world that wasn’t but might-have-been: “In the cosmogony there is a fall: a fall of Angels we should say. Though quite different in form, of course, to that of Christian myth. These tales are ‘new’, they are not directly derived from other myths and legends, but they must inevitably contain a large measure of ancient wide-spread motives or elements. After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’, and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear. There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall – all stories are ultimately about the fall – at least not for human minds as we know them and have them.” — JRR Tolkien Letters 131

    And there, I’ve given you a reply longer than your post, when I meant to be working on my own lenses. I apologize for taking Blavatsky to task and exploding some of your post! But it just proves the ultimate truth: Plato may have (as I think) mostly invented the Atlantis legend, or else that it wasa very local episode nothing like what many “Atlantis experts” now say it is… yet in the imaginal world, Atlantis has taken root, and many of us are fired by it and gripped by its aura. We seek it. It holds some truth for us, the truth Tolkien describes, which can only be conveyed through myth, not literal facts and reason.

  2. Well, you know, Blavatsky wrote all that at a time when science hadn’t quite decided on what those geological periods were themselves. It’s also not quite clear from her writings whether she was referring to physical humans, or spiritual beings at the time of Atlantis (or not clear to me anyhow). Her definition of ‘human’ is rather wider than most – it’s any being that thinks for themselves. And that would include angels for instance (who she refers to as former human beings, as they are thought to have evolved beyond the human state).

    Thanks for replying though 🙂

  3. Hi Katinka,
    Great post. In regards to “Greekgeek’s” comments, I personally don’t feel that we have enough knowledge yet to make absolute statements about the development of humanity, Scientists tend to speculate using the information available to them at the time, and somehow these speculations become “fact”. However, I am also quite skeptical to accepting literally the tales of millions of years of human development and civilization. Amongst esoteric writings their are countless contradictory accounts of the “Real History of Humanity”. However, from what I’ve heard of Edgar Cayce’s writings on Atlantis, their did seem to be some common elements with what Blavatsky had written.

    I wonder whether you’ve read of Graham Hancock? He wrote an excellent, serious and scholarly book “Underworld” showing the mountain of evidence to support the thesis that human civilization extends alot further back than most Archeologist’s and Historian’s are willing to accept. He showed how all around the world there were cities off the coasts that were either 30 metres or 30 feet (I forget) below the surface. (Look up the Yonaguni Monument). He concluded that when the last Ice Age came to an end (I think around 10 – 7,000 BCE) the sea level rose and flooded all the major cities of the various civilizations. As today, we tend to build major cities at sea level close to the ocean for obvious practical reasons.

    My personal feelings are that many ancient civilizations retained culture from this pre-deluge civilization, but that most of the histories of this have been destroyed, much of which due to the Christian madness of the Dark Ages. I suspect however, that the Vedic library is an unbroken tradition dating back way into pre-history. It’s not that they are the only civilization to have passed through these periods, only that their’s is the only library to have survived.

    Thanks for the explanation of Blavatsky’s definition of Black Magic, I see the point. I have met quite a few people who have had natural psychic abilities but have not wanted to seriously study Spirituality. In EVERY case, things have gone badly as they have stepped into very dangerous ground. I think an essential part of Spiritual development is acknowledging that we need instruction from those that have gone before us.

    However, due to the dogmatic acceptence of the masses in some regards, many people today are skeptical of any authority, and any orthodoxy, even an Occult orthodoxy.

    Sorry about the length of my comment, I haven’t yet mastered the art of keeping it short (as anyone that has seen my blog would know! LOL).

    Take care,
    God Bless,
    Hari Om,
    Jim Clark

  4. I tend to agree with Greekgeek that not all Blavatsky’s details can be fit into what we know about the fossil record. I think it’s rather remarkable that Blavatsky managed to get the date of the Miocene more closely correct than the scientists of her time did. But that does not mean the rest of her story can bear closer scrutiny. I’m not yet decided on this issue. On the one hand I do feel that the evolution of consciousness does not have to have been dependent on the physical as it is now. On the other: I do feel science should be respected for what it DOES know – and it does know an awful lot about these things by now. The physical evolution of humanity for one.

    And Jim: I don’t mind long comments 🙂

    1. quote
      Harder to believe is Blavatsky’s claim that the inhabitants of Atlantis were giants (p. 753). No physical remains survive, not only because the continent is gone beneath the sea, but also because they practiced cremation
      Many pictures are surfacing on the web showing skeletons of the giants.
      I cannot verify the authenticy but it looks real.

  5. Hi Katinka, I agree that Evolution of Consciousness doesn’t necessarily have to correspond directly with physical evolution. Do you find it interesting that the Hindu’s have a Monkey God: Hanuman? I have heard that some scholars believe that modern man lived alongside a less evolved species. Is this merely a coincidence. There are many extraodinary things found in Vedic writings that correspond extraordinarily well with modern findings.

    God Bless,
    Hari Om

  6. Many people stumble on the timing of things, did it occur 50,000 yr ago or 5,000,000 yrs ago? It could very well be both and all these stories may very well be of the same event and of the same time. Science shows us time is relative. What may appear to us as 5,000,000 could very well be only 5,000 yr to another race/alien/God it would just all depend on how fast “things” moved in relation to light (note that in the big bang theory there is a “time” when light did not exist- thus humans would be unable to relate any accurately of time until after light was created- one might even go so far as to say before light time as we perceive it could not have existed). Another thing, concerning time, to point out is that science shows the earth has been impacted (weather from ancient nuclear bombs like what is mentioned in ancient India texts or from asteroids like science says) and from that the earth rotates on a wobble also at one time all the continents were 1 land mass this of course would cause the earth to rotate at a different speed than it does today which would affect the way we experience time- (possibly the cause for the reported long life spans of ancient people), There is also theories/observations that at 1 time there was another planet with-in our solar system, but was destroyed and is now an asteroid belt. This “other” planet would also have an effect on the speed and rotation of the earth- thus effecting the way we experience time. Even large earth quakes which shift continents slightly effect the speed the earth rotates. The problem I find with many theories and current science is they all try to fit everything together as time being linear in nature but they are not. Like in calculus you can take the most curved line and make it straight (to get the slope of the curve) ONLY if you look at an infinitely small section of the curve, that does not mean the whole curve is straight only that portion of curve bounded by the 2 points on the x axis is straight. Similarly science uses “recent” history as it’s 2 point on the x axis to determine a “slope” of events in a linear fashion, but instead of bounding those assumptions of time between the 2 points of known time “he” treats all of history as if it has this same slope of time.
    If one compares the events of ancient texts they all seem to describe a very similar event- though told from different points of views by different people- and only the timing of these events seems to perplex us because of how we traditionally think of time. Yes, it has been nearly 100yr since Einstein showed time was not linear but relative depending on speed of mater relative to the speed of light. yet the overall majority of people and science still think and consider time as linear and absolute.

  7. my teacher told me that when the karma of a continent is finished the sea will take the land back and start a new cycle

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