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Atlantis the Religious

Atlantis Rising readers have learned much over the last twenty-three years about the geological fate and checkered history of the sunken civilization from which our magazine derives its name. But no less significant were less-appreciated religious convictions that, it is said, characterized the lost kingdom, because they not only survived its destruction but also were carried by its survivors to the outside world, where they influenced the belief systems of post-deluge cultures, even to the present day.

No less a figure than the Athenian philosopher, Plato, among the most influential thinkers of the classical era, provides us a penetrating, if cursory, glimpse of the Atlantean soul. Although his mid-fourth century BCE dialogue, the Kritias, states that “there were many temples built and dedicated to many gods” in Atlantis, we are not told anything concerning the nature of those immortals or their worship, save only one. At the city center was “Poseidon’s own temple—a stadium in length (185 meters or roughly 606 feet long) and half a stadium in width, and of a proportionate height (about 100 feet)—having a sort of barbaric splendor (for Plato, anything foreign was “barbaric,” and hence, inferior to Greek standards).

“All the outside of the temple, with the exception of the pinnacles, was covered with silver and orichalcum (classical Greek for “red copper,” or “mountain copper,” signifying the highest grade ore). All parts of the walls and pillars and floor were lined with orichalcum. In the temple, they placed statues of gold. There was the god himself, standing in a chariot—the charioteer of six, winged horses—and of such a size that he touched the roof of the building with his head. Around him were one hundred Nereids (sea nymphs), for such was thought to be the number of them in those days (half as many were known in Plato’s time). Nearby was “the grove of Poseidon, where were growing all manner of trees of wonderful height and beauty, owing to the excellence of the soil.”

Plato’s succinct description of the Altanteans’ largest sacred structure offers a revealing insight into their leading spiritual conceptions. He states that Poseidon’s temple was profusely adorned with gold, silver, and copper. These metals were not chosen for aesthetic considerations alone, but far more importantly, reflected their mythic inference. Gold and silver self evidently symbolized the sun-god and his lunar sister, while orichalcum, a copper-gold-silver alloy, less obviously embodied a blend of male and female in the sacred Androgyne. Copper also belonged to Venus, as both the planet and goddess of love.

Such a cosmic conciliation, Plato relates, complimented incorporation of the fifth and sixth numerals into city planning (of three moats encircling two artificial islands), ceremonial activities (such as the bull sacrifice he stated occurred alternately every fifth and six year), even military organization of land and naval forces into fifth and sixth multiples, including the empire’s ten kings. “Showing equal respect to both odd and even numbers” was the core principle of Atlantean metaphysics, which strove to put human society in accord with natural law through a harmonization of opposites. This concept likewise became the foundation of pharaonic Egyptian religion in Maat, or “balance,” identified hieroglyphically by a single, upright feather.

The occurrence of leading celestial figures in Atlantis corresponds to the capital’s concentric layout, itself a vast urban zodiac. Additionally, its first king was Atlas, Sanskrit for “the upholder,” because he is portrayed in myth as a man down on bent knee, supporting on his shoulders the sphere of the heavens. He was, after all, the founder of astrology, which was certainly a powerful influence on Atlantean theology. The coppery Venus was symbolically associated with the number six, the other sacred numeral of Atlantis, where Poseidon’s chariot was drawn by as many winged horses. Conjointly, they signified, in Plato’s account, the first woman—Leukippe, “white mare”—whose daughter bore the first five sets of Atlantean kings to the sea-god. Wings adorning his white horses symbolize divinity.

Five stood for male energy as manifested in full consciousness; i.e., the five physical senses, the five fingers of the human hand, etc. Six represented the inward power of female energy as sub-consciousness: intuition, premonition, and so forth, that has come down to our time as the “sixth sense” of extrasensory perception, commonly expressed as a hunch or gut instinct.

These interpretations are repeated and embodied by Poseidon himself, because the ocean he personifies simultaneously reflects the outer world of light from its surface, while, just beneath, an entirely different dimension of dynamic life forms grows progressively darker with depth. In this mythic dichotomy is mirrored the same conscious/subconscious contrast expressed between the sacred numerals Five and Six, or their metallic symbols, gold and silver. It also returns to that foundational concept of Atlantean spirituality in the harmonization of opposites —their balance, not their dissolution.

Like every such conception, Poseidon had his exoteric and esoteric sides. To most Atlanteans—especially sailors—he was simply the sea-god prayed to for fair weather, safe passage and prosperous voyage. For initiates, though, he exemplified the holy duality of contrary forces that made up the perpetual exchange of polarities in an ever-shifting, elusive equilibrium. As the spirit of the ocean, Poseidon was at once its surface, in which we see ourselves, and unknown depths beneath, which reserve perception. He differentiated the realm of appearances from the underworld; this life from the afterlife, while demonstrating they were opposing, if organically, the same dimensions of a single reality. Accordingly, the sea is a metaphor of the human mind, making Poseidon the first god of psychology.

His name—like the word bronze (Classical Greek broncea)—is among the few, identifiable specimens of the long-dead language of Atlantis, because it stands out among his fellow Olympian deities as decidedly non-Indo-European. “Poseidon” stems from a contraction of the non-Greek Posis Das (“Husband of the Earth”) and Enosichthon (“Earthshaker”), together with the very Greek Hippos, “He of the Horses.” This synthesis implies that Poseidon did indeed originate outside Greece, where he was eventually adopted as one of the supreme deities. With no linguistic or mythic parallels among any eastern cultures, he arrived, stated the fifth-century-BCE Greek historian, Herodotus, from the western direction of Atlantis: “Alone of all nations, the Libyans have had among them the name Poseidon from the first, and they have ever honored this god.” Plato adds that Libya was part of the Atlantean empire.

Poseidon’s famous emblem signifies the triune nature of his godhood: creativity. Three is associated in various ancient cultures with divine power through his phallic trident, wielded as a fecund scepter over all creation. It is not unlike the three-pronged wand held by ancient India’s “Master of Creation,” Shiva. He joins Brahma and Vishnu in a cosmic trinity personifying, respectively, ananda (love), sat (being), and cit (consciousness)—mystical elements that create, maintain, and destroy the universe in a recurring pattern of birth, florescence, decline, purge, and rebirth.

A non-Platonic version of Atlas describes his Garden of the Hesperides (doubtless the same “grove of Poseidon,” the sea-god father of Atlas) tended by the daughters of Atlas (and, hence, Atlantises, because the name, “Atlantis,” means “daughter of Atlas”) by a female variant of Hesperus, or Venus, an important figure, as previously mentioned, in the Atlantean pantheon and after whom the girls were collectively known. Their most important charge was the Tree of Life. Its golden apples granted immortality to anyone fortunate enough to eat them. Ladon, a powerful serpent entwined about the bough, guarded the Tree itself.

The seven Hesperides correspond to the seven, major chakras, or metaphysical energy centers that, altogether, comprise the human soul. So, too, the Tree of Life is the spinal column along which the chakras are arranged from its base to the crown of the skull. The Hesperides mystery cult promised immortality for successful initiates, as signified by the Tree of Life’s snake—a universal symbol of regeneration because of the animal’s ability to slough off its old, dead skin and emerge with a new one. Comparisons with the Garden of Eden in Genesis are unavoidable and surely represent an Old Testament corruption of the Atlantean original. As such, kundalini yoga, with its identical imagery, began in Atlantis, from which it spread to India and elsewhere.

In Norse myth, for example, the goddess Iduna likewise tended a tree bearing apples filled with the nectar of immortality, while the Celtic otherworld, Avalon, was the Old Welsh Yns Avallach, or Avallenau, the “Isle of Apple Trees.” The lost Druidic Books of Pheryllt and Writings of Pridian—both described by generations of scholars, including Sir James Fraser of Golden Bough fame, as “more ancient than the Flood”—celebrated the return of King Arthur from Yns Avallach, “where all the rest of mankind had been overwhelmed.” Avalon, with its life-bestowing apples and watery destruction, was clearly the British version of Atlantis.

It was there, in the Temple of Poseidon, that the base of his towering colossus was surrounded by the representations of one hundred Nereids. The children of Nereus, a merman, and the sea nymph, Doris, aunt to Atlas, they were the female spirits of oceanic waters, patrons of sailors in trouble amid the waves, and may have actually epitomized the dolphins, upon which they rode more than themselves. As much has been suggested by the names of several Nereids, like Pherusa, for “carrying” rescued seafarers, or Sao “of the safe passage.”

The Greeks referred to dolphins as hieros ichthys, or “sacred fish,” because the Sun God was said to have appeared before a group of Cretan businessmen at sea, declaring, “Behold, I am Apollo Delphinus!” Assuming the form of a dolphin, he guided their ship into the Gulf of Corinth and toward Mount Parnassus, at the summit of which he founded his famous oracle.

The name “Delphi” derived from the Greek delphís, for “dolphin,” itself a play on the word delphys, or “womb.” No other animal was so deeply revered by the Greeks, who honored the uniquely mystical relationship between dolphins and themselves. Athenian law protected dolphins long before Plato’s time. Claudius Aelianus, better remembered as Aelian, was an early-third-century-CE Roman teacher of rhetoric and author of De Natura Animalium, “The Nature of Animals,” in which he reported, “The inhabitants of the shores of the Ocean tell that, in former times, the kings of Atlantis, descendants of Poseidon, wore on their heads, as a mark of power, the fillet of the male sea-ram, and that their wives, the queens, wore, as a sign of their power, fillets of the female sea-ram.”

The dolphin was commonly referred to as a “sea-ram” for its rostrum or snout, beginning in the Roman Era to at least the mid-sixteenth century, when the animal was similarly known in France as the oye, or bec d’oye; i.e., the “goose,” or “goose’s beak.” An early Greek nickname commonly applied to a dolphin was Simo, “snub-nosed.” A Hawaiian term for “dolphin” is mano ihu wa’a, or “Mano with a beak—like the prow of a canoe.” All these characterizations identify Aelian’s “sea-ram” as a dolphin. The “fillet” he mentions is a band or ribbon worn around the head, especially for binding one’s hair.

Aelian learned about Atlantis in Lusitania, Rome’s Portuguese colony, where local traditions were rife with tales of the sunken civilization—naturally enough, if only because the capital’s name, Lisbon, was a derivation of Elasippos, mentioned by Plato as the Atlantean king of Portugal.

Delphi, or Delphoi, was known as “the navel of the world,” or omphalos, a sacred stone signifying the Cosmic Egg, from which all life sprang at the beginning of time. Its oracle was governed by a hoisioi, or “college” of priests who traced their family lineage to Deucalion, because he was believed to have brought the principles of divination to Delphi from a former Golden Age overwhelmed by the deluge. Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, were the only survivors of a catastrophic inundation that otherwise exterminated all mankind. The human race is descended from this pair, a way of expressing in myth the Atlantean heritage of every Greek born thereafter, because Deucalion’s uncle was none other than Atlas himself. Deucalion’s “ark” was said to have come to rest on Mount Parnassus—itself consecrated to Poseidon—where the most important religious center of the Classical World, Delphi, was instituted.

It seems clear, then, that the mythic and spiritual traditions of many, different cultures trace back to Atlantean origins, including modern psychology. But any examination of spirituality in Atlantis would be incomplete without at least addressing its last days of religious strife, as cited in the “life readings” of the twentieth century’s most famous psychic. Beginning in 1935, Edgar Cayce told of a final descent into social upheaval culminating in a natural catastrophe that obliterated the entire kingdom. Immediately previous to that finalizing event, the old gods and their lofty ideas were mostly forgotten, replaced by two, contentious belief systems: the Followers of the Law of One versus the Sons of Belial. The former were proto-monotheists intent on establishing a theocratic paradigm with themselves in dominance, while the latter preached a gospel of technology as the means whereby, they said, all earthly desires materialize and men become gods. [Many today believe they were the originators of genetic engineering and other dangerous sciences. —ED]

Rising levels of hatred and violence between these groups were such that the Atlanteans grew increasingly distracted, becoming so obsessed with their pursuit of self-indulgence, they irresponsibly exploited the natural environment, which backfired and destroyed them. The appearance of such contentious creeds and their opposites is said to be symptomatic of any hopelessly declining society nearing the end of its history. Cayce focused on this last phase of Atlantis because, he claimed, it so closely paralleled the degeneration of our modern world. In such views, he was not alone. Many have noted society’s dire condition, including twentieth-century historians, Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler, who, in their influential 1922 book, The Decline of the West, catalogued the condition in great detail.

Additionally, Cayce was not the first public figure to discuss the “Sons of Belial,” which are mentioned in the Jewish Torah, where they are portrayed, beginning around 400 BCE, as devil worshippers. The name is much older, however, going back at least seventeen centuries to the Epic of Gilgamesh and its Sumerian hero’s encounter with Bel, the storm-god responsible for the deluge that drowned a former high culture. As for the followers of the Law of One, they may not have entirely perished in that ultimate Atlantean cataclysm, but, perhaps, as some believe, have reincarnated in some of the spiritual movements that characterize our own times.

Ancient Mysteries

Jan/Feb 2018 – #127