Review Article

The Mysteries of Carnac and Atlantis

By Paul Johnson

The Megalithic structures of Western Europe have long haunted the imagination, but we are still far from understanding their origin or their meaning. Their continuing fascination is well indicated by the critical and popular success of the fourth volume of Jean Markale's Histoire de la France Secrete (Secret History of France), entitled Carnac et l'enigme de l'Atlantide [Number 7 on the best-seller list of "le Grand Livre du Mois," the French Book-of-the-Month Club; Editions Pygmalion/Gerard Watelet, Paris, France, 1987; illus., 90 Fr. See review article of Markales first volume of the series, Monsegur and the Cathar Enigma, SUNRISE, April/May 1988.] (Carnac and the Enigma of Atlantis). Carnac is the most dramatic of all the Breton sites, with more than 3,000 prehistoric stone monuments. These include long avenues of menhirs (single standing stones) and dolmens (multi-stone arrangements supporting horizontal slabs). Hewn from local granite, they were erected at different periods from early to late Neolithic (c. 4000-1500 B.C.). Now worn by nature and time, they are covered with white lichen. Theosophical literature contains numerous references to Carnac:

A very ancient site in Brittany (France) of a temple of cyclopean structure, sacred to the Sun and the Dragon; and of the same kind as Karnac, in ancient Egypt, and Stonehenge in England. . . . It was built by the prehistoric hierophant-priests of the Solar Dragon, or symbolized Wisdom (the Solar Kumaras who incarnated being the highest). Each of the stones was personally placed there by the successive priest-adepts in power, and commemorated in symbolic language the degree of power, status, and knowledge of each. — The Theosophical Glossary, p. 74

In The Secret Doctrine we find repeated assertions of the existence of giants in the remote past, and the megaliths are cited as evidence: "had there been no giants to move about such colossal rocks, there could never have been a Stonehenge, a Carnac (Brittany) and other such Cyclopean structures" (II:341). H. P. Blavatsky further wrote "that most of these stones are the relics of the last Atlanteans" (II:343). Markale's conclusions about Carnac closely parallel those expressed by Blavatsky in the 1880s.

In an extended discussion of the relationship between the Atlanteans, the megalith builders, and Egypt, The Secret Doctrine states:

And yet there are records which show Egyptian priests — Initiates journeying in a North-Westerly direction, by land, via what became later the straits of Gibraltar; turning North and travelling through the future Phoenician settlements of Southern Gaul; then still further North, until reaching Carnac (Morbihan) they turned to the West again and arrived, still travelling by land, on the North-Western promontory of the New Continent. — II:750

Or, as she adds in a footnote, "on what are now the British Islands, which were not yet detached from the main continent in those days."

What was the object of their long journey? And how far back must we place the date of such visits? The archaic records show the Initiates of the Second Sub-race of the Aryan family moving from one land to the other for the purpose of supervising the building of menhirs and dolmens, of colossal Zodiacs in stone, and places of sepulchre to serve as receptacles for the ashes of generations to come. When was it? The fact of their crossing from France to Great Britain by land may give an idea of the date when such a journey could have been performed on terra firma. — Ibid.

Contemporary science estimates that the last land bridge connecting England to the continent at Dover was submerged 8,000 years ago. In interpreting those "archaic records," HPB cites Carnac as the prime example of a type of prehistoric architecture which is also to be found in "almost every latitude":

They are found in the Mediterranean basin; in Denmark (among the local tumuli from twenty-seven to thirty-five feet in height); in Shetland, and in Sweden, where they are called ganggriften (or tombs with corridors); in Germany, where they are known as the giant tombs (Hunengraben); in Spain (see the dolmen of Antiguera near Malaga), and Africa; in Palestine and Algeria; in Sardinia (see the Nuraghi and Sepolture del giganti, or tombs of giants); in Malabar, in India, where they are called the tombs of the Daityas (giants) and of the Rakshasas, the men-demons of Lanka; in Russia and Siberia, where they are known as the Koorgan; in Peru and Bolivia, where they are termed the chulpas or burial places, etc., etc., etc. — II:752

Although burial mounds may be a worldwide phenomenon, is Blavatsky here overlooking the specifically Druid nature of the monumental architecture of Brittany and the British Isles? HPB emphatically denies the Druidic origin of these relics:

It is with the so-called Druidical remains, such as Carnac in Brittany and Stonehenge in Great Britain, that the travelling Initiates above alluded to had to do. And these gigantic monuments are all symbolic records of the World's history. They are not Druidical, but universal. Nor did the Druids build them, for they were only the heirs to the cyclopean lore left to them by generations of mighty builders and — "magicians," both good and bad. — II:754

Jean Markale, an expert on the Celtic civilization, also rejects all theories linking the Celtic Druids to the megaliths. The Celts arrived from the East around 1000 B.C., millennia after the construction of the megaliths. But if the Druids did not build them, who did? Blavatsky's mysterious records and Markale's painstaking research both point to Atlantean sources.

The existence of Atlantis is of course still widely debated. According to Blavatsky the era of Atlantis lasted for eight to ten million years, and the cataclysms which caused its main continental formations to sink occurred perhaps four to five million years ago. Furthermore, because the transition from one root-race [In theosophical literature a root-race constitutes one of seven stages in the evolution of humanity, each lasting several million years.] to the next is gradual, we may not expect scientific confirmation of Atlantean giants, as man has been his present size for a million years or more. As the most recently submerged areas of Atlantis are the most likely to retain traces of human culture, they are the least likely to contain evidence of giants. Markale, as we will see, interprets giants symbolically.

Plato's version of the Atlantis story is attributed to an Egyptian priest of Sais, revealing the traditions to the Greek Solon. Solon is told by the priest that of the many wonderful deeds recorded of Athens in the Egyptian histories, one exceeds all the rest:

For these histories tell of a mighty power which was aggressing wantonly against the whole of Europe and Asia, . . . This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which you call the columns of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from the islands you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent . . . Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, as well as over parts of the continent, and, besides these, they subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. The vast power thus gathered into one, endeavored to subdue at one blow our country and yours and the whole of the land which was within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth. . . . and freely liberated all the others who dwell within the limits of Heracles. But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of rain all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared, and was sunk beneath the sea. — Timaeus, §§24e-25d, Jowett trans., 1885 ed.

In another dialogue, Critias, we find a description of Atlantis itself, listing among its features temples of many gods, gardens, places of exercise, a race-course, a stadium, guardhouses, and docks full of triremes and naval stores. Critias' narration breaks off after this foreshadowing of the causes of the submersion:

For many generations, as long as the divine nature lasted in them, they were obedient to the laws, . . . practicing gentleness and wisdom in the various chances of life, and in their intercourse with one another. . . . but when this divine portion began to fade away in them, . . . then they, being unable to bear their fortune, became unseemly, and to him who had an eye to see, they began to appear base, . . . filled with unrighteous avarice and power. — §120, Jowett trans., 1885 ed.

Perhaps the greatest exposure to the Atlantis hypothesis came from the work of the clairvoyant seer Edgar Cayce. In trance state, he gave many descriptions of Atlantis, usually as part of readings for individuals. In these readings, Atlantis is portrayed as having achieved great technological advances before the misuse of natural law caused an upheaval which plunged most of the continent into the ocean, leaving five main islands. Some 11,000 years ago, the remaining islands were submerged. Another lost continent, Lemuria, also figured in Cayce's readings, which brings to mind Blavatsky's teaching that Atlantis "must be regarded rather as a development of the Atlantic prolongation of Lemuria, than as an entirely new mass of land upheaved to meet the special requirements of the Fourth Root-Race" (SD, II:333).

According to HPB, black magic, or the misuse of spiritual powers, led to loss of spiritual vision by the end of the fourth (Atlantean) race, as well as the gradual disappearance of the third eye, until "Its functions, owing to the materiality and depraved condition of mankind, died out altogether before the submersion of the bulk of the Atlantean continent" (II:306).

Is there any scientific evidence for the existence of Atlantis? Although seventeen titles on Atlantis are listed in Books in Print, no studies by scientists have affected the general scientific view of Atlantis as an unfounded myth. No encyclopedia, general or scientific, defines it otherwise, and recent periodical literature is quite silent on the subject of evidence for Atlantis. A noteworthy study of recent date is the two-part monograph entitled A Geological Study of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The author, Dr. C. Cedric Leonard [Reviewed by Blair Moffett in SUNRISE, April/May 1980], concludes that Wegener's Continental Drift theory, now called "plate tectonics," does not imply that a mid-Atlantic continent is an impossibility, as has been suggested. Leonard demonstrates that even if all the continents formed one mass 200 Million years ago, as is believed, there has still been sufficient room for Atlantis in the North Atlantic for at least 60 million years.

The ocean floor along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is known as the most unstable portion of the earth's crust. This assumes importance in evaluating the discovery by the Wood's Hole Oceanographic Expedition in 1948 of samples of rocks characteristic of continents along the Ridge. About the same time, the Swedish Deep-Sea Expedition took diatom samples from deep-sea cores. Only those from the mid-Atlantic Ridge contained "a layer consisting exclusively of fresh-water diatoms." In 1957, on the basis of these diatoms and silicified remains of land plants found in the same region, Dr. Rene Malaise of Stockholm's Riksmuseum deduced that parts of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge must have been above water until the end of the last Ice Age 10-13,000 years ago. This corresponds to the dates given by Plato, Blavatsky, and Cayce for the final submersion of Atlantis (Moffett, 233-5).

How do Markale's findings in Carnac relate to Atlantis? A recurring phenomenon of the Armorican peninsula, on which Carnac is located, is strong radioactivity and an unusually tight network of telluric lines. Markale suspects that the seismic and magnetic peculiarities of this region of Brittany may account for the placement according to certain alignments of stones weighing up to hundreds of tons. Legends about Stonehenge include tales of Merlin directing the building and using magic to transport the stones; another version attributes the construction to an "ingenious art." All this seems more plausible to Markale than legends of giants:

Certainly it is easy to suppose that, throughout the centuries, several generations, astonished by the menhirs and the dolmens, had imagined the intervention of supernatural beings for the transport and placement of these colossal blocks. Giants are quite naturally brought to the fore — as much for their magic [as their size]. One thus has the right to ask if this tradition does not hide a reality . . . by which certain prehistoric men, inheritors of unknown civilizations, could move enormous stones by psychic means. . . .
There is also the question of solar energy. . . . Why could this not have been utilized for the handling and erection of grand megalithic sanctuaries like Carnac and Stonehenge? — Markale, pp. 157-9

Since the menhirs are not placed by chance, and their arrangement follows the telluric lines which run along the earth's surface, Markale concludes that:

perhaps the alignments of Carnac corresponded to a particularly perturbed zone of the earth's crust, and the raised stones were placed there . . . to channel and align telluric currents. . . . In short, a menhir would be analogous to an acupuncture needle: planted in the soil, it would arouse and focus a profound energy which until then had been unused or diffuse. — pp. 170-1

If this is true, then we have at Carnac a huge sanctuary established according to precise currents of magnetism, tellurism, seismic activity, and subterranean waters. Markale sees in this the "optimal conditions to permit contact between visible and invisible forces, which is the essential function of any sanctuary" (p. 296). The solar significance of the megaliths is well established since HPB argued for it a century ago. In New-Grange in Ireland, the funereal basin in the depth of the dolmen is struck by the rays of the rising sun at the Winter Solstice, making it a "chamber of the Sun." Solar illuminations take place at certain times of the year in Irish megaliths such as those at Dowth, Knowth, Loughcrew, and Brugh-na-Boyne, as well as at other sites in the environs of Carnac (p. 153).

The technological sophistication required to produce the solar phenomena of these sanctuaries implies a level of civilization far different from that of any known people in subsequent European history. This has led to speculations, not only upon their connections to Atlantis, but also to other centers of ancient civilization, particularly Egypt. Although Egyptian civilization is presumed to be a direct heir of Atlantis, Markale suggests that the megalithic monuments of New-Grange, Barnenez and Gavrinis are older than the pyramids and seem to have inspired them. Therefore, the megalith builders bordering on the Atlantic are more likely to be direct heirs of Atlantis (p. 266).

One intriguing possible connection which Markale does not address is the Archaic Maritime civilization of North America, which flourished 7000 to 3000 B.C. from Maine to Labrador. This seafaring culture built dwellings up to 270 feet long and erected primitive alignments of standing stones on the Atlantic coast, which predate the European megaliths by millennia. As some of these alignments are also oriented to solstitial sunrise, they may indicate a missing link between Atlantis and the European megaliths.

What became of the cyclopean builders of Western Europe? What traces of their civilization are left to us? Markale recounts various Breton tales of drowned cities, particularly the Ville d'Is (City of Is). According to some versions, a non-Christian and libidinous island nation is submerged after it refuses to listen to a Christian missionary 's warnings. In another, a maiden charged with the key to the dike protecting the city yields it to the wrong person, who opens the dike. Other versions give different reasons for the submersion. Markale's interest in these tales is that they provide possible culture traits from Atlantis or the megalith builders. About the mixed population of Roman Gaul, Markale quotes (p. 254) Ammianus Marcellinus (XV:9), citing a lost work of the Greek Timagenus:

According to Druidic lore, the population of Gaul is not indigenous except in part, and was increased at various times by absorbing foreign islanders from across the seas and by peoples chased from their lands across the Rhine either by the vicissitudes of war (a permanent state in these countries) or by the invasion of the violent element which thunders on their coasts.

This leads Markale to the hypothesis that the Celtic myth of a deluge is based on history — the emigration of the Celts being due to catastrophic flooding of their land. He speculates further that this area is the Baltic and Jutland coasts which experienced severe climatic changes around 1200 B.C., and that the migrants eventually blended with the "foreign islanders" of Atlantean stock who built the megaliths.

The most comprehensive discussion of the Atlantis hypothesis is still Ignatius Donnelly's Atlantis: the Antediluvian World, first published in 1882. Donnelly examines geological, botanical, linguistic, and cultural evidence for the existence of a lost continent in the mid-Atlantic. A passionate advocate rather than an objective inquirer, Donnelly provides mind-numbing masses of data to support his thesis. A masterpiece of overinterpretation, his book nevertheless remains the most ambitious treatment of the subject. Blavatsky accepted much of Donnelly's interpretation, which is implicit in most twentieth-century studies on Atlantis, including those of Cayce and Markale. Plato's legends, Donnelly's analyses, Blavatsky's archaic records, Cayce's vision and Markale,s speculative interpretations all provide intriguing approaches to the Atlantis mystery. Yet a mystery it remains.

With HPB placing the emergence of human consciousness eighteen million years ago, and contemporary science estimating the age of the universe as being over ten billion years, our "history" appears puny indeed. Yet if our "prehistory" eludes our conscious awareness, it still permeates the depths of our being and is imprinted on every atom, cell, and organ of our bodies — not to mention our nonphysical aspects. Atlantis symbolizes, therefore, that which we know to be true that the unknown history of humanity vastly exceeds the known, and that our species has passed through immense changes, as has the globe we inhabit. Whether or not there is much of literal truth in the myth, the symbolic truth of Atlantis is undeniable and, indeed, self-evident. The scientific and archaeological inexplicability of the megaliths makes them our only tangible link to the lost past, and therefore powerfully symbolic of the fact that most of our human past is occult — unknown. For whatever reason, the story of Atlantis is psychologically compelling, and may have as much to do with the present as with the past: a technologically sophisticated civilization which acquires powers before it is morally and spiritually capable of rightly using them. Perhaps the racial or soul memory which is surfacing through contemporary fascination with sunken lands is doing so precisely because of the relevance of the Atlantic legend to our own situation.

The vastness of the unknown in relation to the known is something that humans seem unable consciously to accept. Yet denial of the unknown cuts at the root of our ability to extend the limits of the known. The most remarkable and commendable aspect of Jean Markale's approach, in Carnac and the Enigma of Atlantis and throughout his Secret History of France, is that he celebrates the unknown rather than denies it. He amplifies the mysteries of Carnac and Atlantis rather than claiming to "solve" them, and leaves the reader with many new questions and few answers.

(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1988; copyright © 1987 Theosophical University Press)


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