“My Atlantis-haunting. This legend or myth or dim memory of some ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green inlands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcized by writing about it. It always ends by surrender, and I awake gasping out of deep water.” “Of all the mythical or 'archetypal' images Atlantis is the one most deeply seated in my imagination, and for many years I had a recurrent Atlantis dream : the stupendous and ineluctable wave advancing from the Sea or over the land, sometimes dark, sometimes green and sunlit.” -From the letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
The image of the lost kingdom is found deep in our memory. The sunken white-citadel, abandoned outposts, crumbling fortresses. Contrary to the modern notion of continual human “progress”, the attitude throughout history has typically been that our greatest days are behind us, that we are the lesser sons of greater fathers.
Why do we have this memory ingrained in our subconscious?
Just as every nation has their founding myths and creation stories, there is also the universal myth of the great empire, at first noble, in the end punished for its arrogance. Of a time when we were advanced beyond comprehension, powerful, god-like. An era that was brought to ruin by some great calamity, not by chance, but the wrath of God.
It is generally common knowledge that similarities are found around in world in various myths of golden ages and the flood that brought them down. But to call them “similarities” is an understatement. Upon close examination, it becomes clear that these myths do not just happen to be “similar”, but are describing the same events.
We did not make up this archetypal lost city, we remember it.
We find that the memory of these events lives on in the minds of many of the greatest modern authors. It is a story that refuses to go away and pops up over and over again. Tolkien was forced to write about it, tortured by dreams of the great Wave.
Searching for lost cities is almost a tired trope at this point- or we would be tired of it, if there wasn’t a reason we are obsessed with it. If our collective subconscious was not so traumatized by the memories.
Despite mainstream history having written this story off as myth for years now, no one seems to care. The memory of the sunken city is too engrained in our psyche, too real to be discarded.
After looking into this archetype, we can dive into where it comes from- a story told of 12,000 years ago told to Solon in Egypt, also recorded in the Scriptures and the oral traditions of nations across the globe.
Let’s back up a bit and forget about Atlantis. We’ll start with the archetype itself- the lost kingdom. We can sketch out the core elements of the archetype before we start attaching it to names.
Stories of this kingdom usually follow something like this:
A nation performed some great deed, showed extraordinary bravery or virtue, or in some other way gained the favor of God.
In return, God blessed them. He set them up as a great kingdom with vast territories and unrivaled power.
The kingdom, in communion with God and the angels/lower gods, began to learn the arcane arts and great mysteries. The kings of the kingdom ruled virtuously, carried out God’s will, and worshipped him faithfully.
All was well in this Golden Age.
Then the Darkness crept in.
A demon, or some dark god began to whisper in the ears of the king and the people. He offered even more power, even more knowledge of the occult arts- even the secret to everlasting life.
The kings forgot their God and began to worship this new power, began to worship themselves.
They grew their physical and magical power, yes, but at a cost. Their society began to decay, they became cruel, tyrannical, and most importantly, arrogant. This kingdom set itself up as the supreme ruler of the world.
As the kingdom’s pride grew, so did God’s anger. Eventually he decides to punish them.
God tells one righteous family or clan in the kingdom of the imminent destruction, and instructs them on how to save themselves and preserve whatever legacy of the kingdom that was not corrupted.
Then God’s judgment comes down. The Kingdom is wiped off the face of the Earth.
It’s legacy is persevered by the one righteous man, who rebuilds civilization from the ruins.
For all of Western history, one name has stuck out as the primary example of this archetype.
Atlantis has become the “haunting” of the West, as Professor Tolkien described it. It is our definition of the lost kingdom archetype. Western writers, historians, and mystics have been universally obsessed with it for thousands of years. Whenever a lost kingdom or history is mentioned or hinted at, glimpsed in some line of poetry, this is the kingdom being spoken of.
Plato first learned of it in Egypt, and preserved the story.
Historians and archaeologists have spent careers looking for it. Novelists have used it in their stories extensively. Mystic schools have long held the belief that it was real, and claim to have preserved some of its secret knowledge and practices.
Atlantis itself is believed, by those who believed it existed, to have been located around the Atlantic Ocean, along the coasts of Europe and Africa, and into the Mediterranean. Popular suggested locations of its capital city and namesake are the Canarian islands, the now sunken Mid-Atlantic ridge, and the Richat structure in Mauritania.
The belief in Atlantis’ historical existence is important. If it had been considered a fiction or allegory, it would not have had the same effect on the Western mind. Plato did not present the story as fiction, and those obsessed with the tale have not been obsessed with something they believe to be fictional.
Only genuine belief can preserve a tale for thousands of years.
As our “haunting”, Atlantis becomes the backdrop for all our stories. It becomes where our divine/royal bloodlines originated from. It becomes the source of our secrete knowledge and ancient histories. Its fate becomes a warning to our own arrogance and pride. It haunts us with its mystery, with the idea that we are descended from fathers that were far greater than us.
But what exactly was this civilization? If the Western attitude towards the story has (until very recently) been that it was real, what else can we figure out? We don’t get enough information from Plato to paint the whole picture. To figure it out, we have to practice some universal history.
To get a grasp on the universal history of the matter, we need to connect Atlantis to other stories and names that speak of it. If you want to examine these stories as historical fact, you have to learn to fit things from different cultures together.
Atlantis is usually talked about separately from comparative mythology regarding flood myths and lost empires. Why, I have no idea. The only way to understand these stories is to understand them together.
Atlantis is just the Greek name given to this civilization. We have to look at the bigger picture.
We can say what Atlantis is very clearly. We are told it was the great civilization that existed before the flood. So, we should look at the other stories about pre-flood civilizations.
Most importantly, we can identify Atlantis as the civilization described in the Bible, in the Genesis account of the flood. We can identity Noah as a citizen of this kingdom, in fact, more likely as a patriarch or king of this kingdom.
The Genesis account tells us of a great empire that had become wicked, was run by demonic demigods (the Nephilim), and was punished by God. I have heard some Christian commentators say that this kingdom was wicked from the beginning, but this seems unlikely. It is more likely that it followed the archetypal story, a descent into evil practice.
Genesis tells us that one righteous man, Noah and his family, survived the flood. But to learn more about Noah, we can look at other accounts from Mesopotamian myth that give more details on the last righteous man.
Noah is listed as one of the Patriarchs, descended from Adam, but is not specified as a king. However, other cultures, such as the Sumerians, list these Patriarchs (their list matches the biblical one- this is the same story) specifically as Kings of the pre-flood world. The Noah character was not just the last righteous man, but the last righteous king or nobleman.
Don’t waste time worrying about whether the Bible account is “based on” the Sumerian one. They are both telling a story that took place 12000 years ago. Neither is the “original”. Even as Christians, we can acknowledge that the Hebrew account would not have remembered all the details after 10,000 years. Universal history is about finding the common threads. My point is simply that a Christian that believes the flood story is true must logically agree that other cultures will have retained their own details from the original story. With that in mind, let’s move on….
This story is not only found in Europe or the near-East. No, this is truly universal history.
The story of the great empire punished by God with a devastating flood is also found in the Americas, in China, even as far as the Pacific islands. The further you get from the near east, the more muddied the details become, naturally. But it is all telling the same story. Each version has just preserved different details.
All of these stories are about “Atlantis”.
Once you start to find these connections, you realized that Atlantis is not just the haunting of the West, but of the entire world. All cultures remember, tell some version of the story, of the great sea kings.
But as I said before, all of the accounts are incomplete. Even the Bible gives an incredibly small account of the story.
So if we want to do Universal history, we have to reconstruct the story from the surviving pieces and comparative mythology. We have to take the Biblical account and add the missing details we find in Plato, and other world mythologies, until we have a coherent tale.
Luckily we are not alone, because this has already been done- by none other than Professor Tolkien.
The reason Tolkien’s account is so important is because of how he reconstructs the myth so completely.
Tolkien was the master Universal historian.
Tolkien’s story of the fall of Numenor and the race of the Men of the West did not come from pure imagination. Neither was it merely an intentional retelling of the Atlantis story that Tolkien created for his own enjoyment.
In fact, I believe Tolkien’s tale captures what truly happened in Atlantis more fully than any of the fractured legends that have been passed down from that time.
I’ll give the Numenor story very briefly. The Numenoreans were a group of men given a island kingdom as a blessing from God for their aid to the elves in the wars against darkness. They become a powerful, sea faring kingdom.
However, the demon Sauron infiltrated their kingdom and they fell to idol worship and occult magic. Eventually, they began to covet immortality, and Sauron convinced them in their pride to make war on the gods themselves.
God (Eru) crushed them and sank their island into the deep. One righteous clan was saved, sailed to the shores of Middle-Earth, and preserved the righteous legacy of Numenor.
Now to get into the details of Tolkien’s universal history and how this all fits together, I’m going to walk through the universal story using three accounts at once: Genesis, Plato’s Atlantis, and Tolkien’s Numenor.
I’ll use these names interchangeably in an attempt to show how they fit together, and how Tolkien’s story fills in some holes.
Here is the Universal history, based on Tolkien’s reconstruction…
The civilization told of in Genesis originally worshipped the one God, as Numenor and Atlantis did. We can make a strong guess that in this ancient time, far before the incarnation of Christ, the kingdom of Atlantis worshipped God through the imagery of the Sun. This inference is based on the primarily Solar imagery found in all ancient world religions, that would logically be descended from memory of this time. Of course, this element is just my own theory. The main point is that the kingdom began as a monotheistic, holy kingdom.
Atlantis was a seafaring empire that spread its technology, culture, and religion around the world. It was the pinnacle of civilization. The Numenoreans received their kingdom as a divine gift for their valor and faith, and Numenor became second only to the sons of God in beauty and civilization. They spread their civilization to the lesser kingdoms of humanity. As the Bible and other Mesopotamian accounts tell us, they were ruled by a line of Patriarchs that began with the first King, Adam. In Tolkien, the first Numenorean king was Elros, the half-elven lord. Unfortunately, this golden age would not last.
The kingdom of Atlantis fell to dark occult magic and idolatry, losing sight of their faith in the arrogance they developed due to their power. Legends say they became obsessed with forbidden knowledge and perversions such as the crossing of men and animals, creating monsters. Greek myth tells us all about the creation of giants and hybrids like centaurs and sirens through unholy unions.
The Bible speaks of the Nephilim, the tyrannical, bloodthirsty Giant children of fallen angels and human women. It is likely that the domination of these children are the ones that instigated the cultural decline of Atlantis and the rise of the occult.
The Men of Numenor fell in a similar way, abandoning their faith to worship Sauron and Morgoth, committing human sacrifice, and obsessing over immortally. Finally, they had the impudence to assault the land of the Valar to try and take godhood from them. This sealed their fate.
With all this, we can make the distinction between the righteous and demonic legacy of this kingdom. There was the original monotheistic (perhaps solar) worship of God, and then the fall to demonic/occult worship. (Today, the demonic/occult legacy from this kingdom lives on in mystery schools like the Freemasons and Gnostics).
“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”
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
This fall to evil, perversion, and the occult sealed the doom of Atlantis. The great empire was utterly destroyed for its wickedness and its capital was sent down to the depths just as it is told in the Old Testament and countless other ancient myths.
“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.”
“Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens”
But there was the righteous man. Named Deucalion in the Greek, Noah in the Abrahamic- Tolkien called him Elendil. This man was chosen for his steadfast faith during Atlantis’ fall to the occult, and he and his family are spared by God and chosen to preserve whatever was worth saving.
It was Noah’s line who would preserve the pure and holy knowledge of their lost city and spread it to the rest of the world. They would inspire the legends we find around the world of prophets of the Sun who brought knowledge of agriculture, writing, astronomy, mathematics, and religion after a great cataclysm.
In Tolkien, Elendil his sons sailed to Middle-Earth after the flood where they set up the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor and sought to preserve the memory and glory of Numenor. Their descendants would become known as the Men of the West, and they would retain some of the nobility and virtue of their ancestors. They would regarded as heroes and be kings over the other inhabitants of Middle-Earth.
Looking at all these accounts together, it becomes easy to see the universal story, and how well Tolkien pieced it all together in his own version. He succeeded in combining the Biblical account with the Atlantis myth.
Universal history like this is important. If we believe something to be true, we should use all the available information to discover the full truth. Atlantis is the backdrop of our entire history, and we will never understand ourselves if we do not understand how our current world came to be, if we do not heed the warning of our ancestors’ destruction.
It is also important for Western Christians to be able to understand that the Biblical story of the flood is not incompatible with their cultural memory, the European archetype or blood-memory of the sea-kings and the white towers. These stories are one and the same.
We should fully appreciate Tolkien’s gift to us, his ability to write a version of the story that expresses the European memory of theses events, our own cultural version of Noah and the flood.
Through Tolkien, perhaps we can catch just a glimpse of the history of the real sunken city behind the waves that lies deep in our memory. A glimpse of the source of all our archetypes and heroes and legends and song.
As always, thank you for supporting my writing. I hope this piece provides some insights and inspiration.
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You are a mythological archeologist. My hat is off to you. This is a great piece, and you are a thoughtful man.
A beautiful illustrated essay of our re-imagined history. It is really important to do this and share it with others. For re-imagining our history at this point is critical in having the slightest idea how to go on. A James Joyce said - our current "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."