The Theosophical Forum – December 1940

A POSSIBLE ATLANTIS TRADITION — Cyrus Field Willard

In looking over my file of THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM for the year 1939, I saw in the July issue an article by C. J. Ryan, M. A., entitled "Atlantis — Romance or Reality?" As I had always thought from study of The Secret Doctrine that Atlantis was a reality, curiosity led me to read the article, and then to look up what H. P. Blavatsky had written as to its reality. On page 8, Vol. II, she said: "Atlantis is the fourth Continent."

It would be the first historical land, were the traditions of the ancients to receive more attention than they have hitherto. The famous island of Plato of that name was but a fragment of this great Continent. The Fifth Continent was America.

There was a time when the delta of Egypt and Northern Africa belonged to Europe, before the formation of the Straits of Gibraltar, and a further upheaval of the continent changed entirely the face of the map of Europe.

How it was possible for the Straits of Gibraltar to be formed, was outlined in an article by the writer in the February, 1939, issue of this magazine, entitled "Isostasy Proves Assertions of H. P. B."

H. P. Blavatsky goes on to say on the same page:

The last serious change occurred some 12,000 years ago and was followed by the submersion of Plato's little Atlantic island, which he calls Atlantis after its parent continent.

It is an absorbing and instructive study to take the Index at the back of Vol. II, and read all the pages mentioned therein, under name of "Atlantis." On page 141 she speaks of various deluges and the submersion of the last little island of Atlantis. On page 408 she says:

whether the peak of Teneriffe or not was a volcano when the sinking of the "western Atala" (or hell) began, and those who were saved told the tale to their children. Plato's Atlantis perished between water below and fire above; the great mountain vomiting flames all the while. "The 'fire-vomiting Monster' survived alone out of the ruins of the unfortunate island."

(I have preserved the curious quotation-marks just as she used them.) Teneriffe is now one of the Canary Islands of volcanic origin and located about 150 miles west of Africa in 27° to 30° North Latitude and about 15° West. The island of Teneriffe, in my encyclopedia, is said to be 60 miles long and about 25 miles wide; and its peak is a notable sight from the sea. Prof. Ryan, in his article in which he discusses a book by James Bram-well entitled Lost Atlantis, after castigating flamboyant misconstructions of some writers on Atlantis, says:

Tradition in the shape of world-wide myths and allegories is the most likely method by which knowledge of a Lost World would survive.

But where shall we look for this "tradition that is most likely to survive"? H. P. B. indicates this when she placed in juxtaposition her statement that Atlantis was the fourth Continent and America the fifth. So it is in America, after the last fragment of Atlantis had disappeared, that we must look for this tradition where "it is most likely to survive." And although Bramwell says Theosophists care little for "scientific discussions," yet the writer desires to submit his investigations which show how untrue this assertion is and the wisdom of following the faint signboards H. P. B. erects; — for the statements taken from the Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, Government Printing Office 1891, should be scientific enough for Mr. Bramwell and prove to him that Theosophists do care for scientific discussions. In this large profusely illustrated volume are preserved the traditions of the Ojibwa Indians as gathered by a scientist, a trained Ethnologist of the Bureau of Ethnology, Dr. W. J. Hoffman, who submits in this Report a very full paper on the traditions, cosmogony and religion of the Ojibwa Nation now living in Northern Minnesota, near the Western end of Lake Superior, which point to these Americans being of Atlantean descent. This paper by Dr. Hoffman begins at page 149 and continues to page 300, and as each page is 7l/2 X 11 inches it is evident that but little can be quoted in extenso of this mass of information. Dr. Hoffman's special paper is entitled "The Mide'wiwin Or 'Grand Medicine Society.' " He says:

The Ojibwa is one of the largest of the Indian Tribes of the United States, and is scattered over a considerable area, from the Province of Ontario on the east to the Red River of the North on the west, and from Manitoba southward through the States of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

On page 151 the term "sorcerer" is used to designate those persons who profess to have the power of prophecy and practice incantations and administer medicinal preparations. Constant reference is made to these personages and their opposition to the introduction of Christianity. The cause of this antagonism seems to lie in the fact that the traditions of the Indian genesis and Cosmogony and the ritual of initiation into the Society of the Mide'wiwin constitute what is to them a Religion, even more powerful and impressive than the Christian religion is to the average civilized man. These initiation rites of the Mide'wiwin are like those of the Egyptian mysteries, or of a Masonic Lodge, which are said to descend from Egypt; where dramatic representations were used to impart ethical or religious ideas. This is done in a medicine Lodge, like a Masonic Lodge, oriented due East and West, with presiding officer seated in the East, and entered from the West. This Lodge is of a form that Dr. Hoffman terms "an oblong square," a technical Masonic phrase, which explains how he, evidently a Mason, was able to get the description of their ceremonies, and to find an ancient birchbark chart with delicately incised hieroglyphics which was interpreted to him by some of the old priest officers of the secret society of the Mide'. In this Lodge there are four degrees instead of three, as in the Masonic Lodge. The similarities are striking in other respects.

While this whole paper is intensely interesting to a Theosophist and Mason, yet the principal thing now is their traditions which link them up with what Plato calls "Atlantis." Dr. Hoffman quotes much from The History of the Ojibway Nation, by W. W. Warren, an Ojibwa of mixed blood, an educated man and later a member of the Minnesota Legislature, published in Vol. V of Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, 1885. He spoke the language perfectly, was related to them, was initiated, and yet he said (p. 160) that he stood, "as it were, on the threshold of the Me-da-we Lodge." Mr. Warren says on p. 161 of this Report:

In the Me-da-we Rite is incorporated most that is ancient among them — songs and traditions that descended not orally, but in hieroglyphics for at least a long line of generations. [Italics mine. C. F. W.]

The ritual of the Mide'wiwin is based on traditions pertaining to the Cosmogony and genesis of the Ojibwas and to the thoughtful consideration of the Great Spirit for the Indian; so it is looked upon by them as their religion, as they themselves so designate it. They fully believe, and it forms a part of their religion, that the world has once been covered by a deluge, and that we are now living on what they term "the new Earth." This idea is fully accounted for by their vague traditions; and in their Mide'wiwin religion, hieroglyphics are used to denote this New Earth. Furthermore they fully believe that the red man mortally angered the Great Spirit, who caused the deluge, and at the commencement of the new earth, it was only through the medium and intercession of a powerful being whom they name Mana-bo-sho that they were allowed to exist, and means were given them whereby to subsist and support life; and a code of religion was more lately bestowed on them whereby they could commune with the offended Great Spirit, and ward off the approach and ravages of death. Each tribe has its medicine man or woman, and here the word "medicine" means something above the material. They form an order of priesthood, who are consulted and employed in times of sickness. Those who wish to join it are taught the virtues of certain plants, certain incantations, how to chant the medicine song, how to pray, which prayer is addressed to the Master of Life. The Ojibwas believe in a multiplicity of spirits who inhabit all space, whom they call man'ido. The chief or superior one is called Ki'tshi Man'ido, approaching to some extent the God of the Christian religion.

Dr. Hoffman was fortunate enough to find at the Red Lake Minnesota reservation an ancient birchbark mnemonic chart on which were delicately incised hieroglyphics of which a photographic reproduction is given on large plates in this volume. It was interpreted to Dr. Hoffman by some of the priests of the Mide'wiwin showing positions of the priests and the "snakes" in the initiations. It tells of the origin of the Mide'wiwin and their traditions and cosmogony. It tells of one who was feared by all and was called "He- who-lives-on-the-Island." On page 170 it tells of the 4th degree Mide" priest who was supposed to be able to accomplish "the greatest feats of necromancy and magic" (for which Atlantis was destroyed, according to H. P. B.). He is also not only endowed with the power to read the thoughts of others but to call forth the shadow (soul) (put in parentheses on page 170 of report), and retain it in his grasp at his pleasure as long as he wished. In Theosophic language this would be called the "astral body," and it will be seen that this is what is termed "Black Magic" in Theosophic literature. On the chart deviations from the right-hand path are shown. Plato says, as does H. P. B., that the Egyptians are descendants of the Atlanteans. Sir E. Wallis Budge, the celebrated Egyptologist, has openly declared his belief in Egyptian magic. The plates showing the Medicine Lodge has rows of figures on the side-lines resembling Egyptian figures. On page 174 reference is made to the one central island from which the Ojibwas originated. The tradition of their origins and their migrations from what may have been what Plato called "Atlantis" is the most interesting to Theosophists and is given on page 183 by the intelligent and partly initiated Mr. Warren. He informs us that he was told, during an initiation, by one of the officiating priests:

Our forefathers, many strings of lives ago [they believed in reincarnation] lived on the shores of the great salt water in the east. Here, while they were suffering the ravages of sickness and death, the Great Spirit at the intercession of Man-a-bo-sho, the great common uncle of An-ish-in-aub-ag [Original people], granted them this rite, wherewith life is restored and prolonged. Our forefathers moved from the shores of the great water and proceeded westward. The Me-da-we lodge was pulled down and it was not again erected until our forefathers took a stand on the shores of the great river [St Lawrence] where Mo-ne-aung (Montreal) now stands. In the course of time, this town was again deserted and our forefathers, still proceeding westward, lit not their fires till they reached the shores of Lake Huron . . .

Two other migrations are mentioned in repetition, which, for brevity will be omitted here, but which took the Ojibwas from the gulf of St. Lawrence to the far end of Lake Superior. Whether it was fear of the fire-vomiting mountain that took them as far as they could go in their canoes to which they would have to go when they reached the west end of Lake Ontario, at Niagara Falls, is not told. But the fact of the migrations of the Ojibwas from the shores of the Great Salt Water far to the east is preserved in the 7th annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. It has taken time to condense and gather the full sense of the many statements that have confirmed belief in the writer that the Ojibwas are descended from the Atlanteans.

Teneriffe, which H. P. Blavatsky intimated vomited fire on the island of Atlantis which must have been close by, is on one of the Canary Islands, 150 miles west of Africa, in Latitude of about 29° North and Longitude about 15° West, while the Gulf of St. Lawrence is about 60° North and 60° West. This would be but a short slant to the west before the north-east trade wind, for such skilful sailors as the Atlanteans, "the people of the sea," who were some of the survivors of the deluge, and H. P. Blavatsky intimates that there were some. The preserved traditions of the Ojibwas show that they came across the great Salt water to the Gulf of St. Lawrence from shores far to the East. An island is spoken of in one place "fleeing before a great deluge" that had destroyed many caused by their doing some wrong things that angered the Great Spirit, and the sorcery that is described in this report is similar to the black magic, for which the Atlanteans were destroyed, according to H.P.B. Enough has been given to fill the specifications given by Prof. Ryan. More could be given, but the traditions mentioned have another potent fact to support them, and that is that the Egyptians, the descendants of the Atlanteans, in depicting themselves always painted their faces as having the same coppery-red color as the Red Indians of North America, the fifth continent. This would seem to fill the bill of proof.

NOTE by C. J. Ryan

It is indeed significant that the ancient American traditions so definitely indicate that the Indians came from the Eastern sea after some world-shaking disaster. This story is widely spread in both north and south America, and is a very strong argument for Atlantis. Many anthropologists insist that the Indians must have come to this continent by way of Bering Strait, but this is not supported by Indian tradition. Why should those stories, many of which were handed down in picture writing and held very sacred, be utterly ignored or rejected? We believe there are many great surprises in store in regard to the origin and past history of the Indians. Even during the last few years the length of man's habitation of America has had to be extended from as little as 4,000 years, according to some leading Americanists, to more than 30,000 according to more daring investigators. It is the opinion of some authorities that man was here a good while before the end of the great ice age, a terrible heresy until recently!

In regard to the cause of the destruction of Atlantis referred to by Mr. Willard I should like to draw attention to a certain ambiguity in this matter which has puzzled many students. Several passages in The Secret Doctrine deal with the alleged result of Atlantean sorcery. In Vol. II, p. 350 we are told that the Fourth Race was not destroyed because of its depravity but because the end of the cycle had arrived. This is repeated on page 410, but on page 636 we read "the Atlanteans became the terrible sorcerers now celebrated in so many of the oldest MSS. of India only toward their fall, the submersion of their continent having been brought on by it." On page 427 it is said that Atlantis was doomed and the sorcerers "have to descend with her." In Isis Unveiled there is a reference to a final battle between the black and white magicians, after which the end came. Somewhere H. P. Blavatsky, I think, indicates that the rapid disappearance of the Atlantean civilization prevented humanity from descending to greater depths from which it would have been very hard to rise. In The Secret Doctrine, II, p. 178, H. P. Blavatsky speaks of the untimely end of the Atlanteans.

Does it not seem that the most reasonable interpretation of the statements about Atlantis is that while its cycle was running to its natural end, the final crisis, the actual "submersion," was hurried up by the violence and rapidity of the descent into sorcery? Perhaps someone can suggest a better explanation?


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