Thursday, April 21, 2011

Atlantean Hermeneutics - A Review of Jocelyn Godwin's Atlantis & the Cycles of Time

by David Metcalfe

“Yea, on all the divisions of the earth have there been great cities and nations, and men and women of great learning. And as oft as they are raised up in light, so are they again cast down in darkness, because of the great desire of the spirits of the dead to return back to the earth.”
- Oahspe, Kosmon Bible (1882)

When straight history doesn’t provide the right set and setting to explain archetypal interplays of force visionaries seek elsewhere to embody their ideals. Atlantis has been a rich receptical for such ruminations since Plato first penned the Timaeus. His enduring image of that fallen civilization “between the Pillars of Heracles” has become the perfect place for all our Golden Age dreams to foment. In Jocelyn Godwin’s latest book from Inner Traditions, Atlantis and the Cycles of Time, the eminent scholar of esotericism examines the continuing fascination of this myth and the surprising effect it has had on the Western world’s intellectual history.

Godwin gives us more than just an extensive survey of various theories of Atlantis. Through examining the numerous alternatives to the Atlantean question we find an in depth study of amateur archaeology, occult politics, trance channeling and the interstices of mythopoeia and culture. Notably absent are the more reasoned Atlantean musings of philosophers such as Francis Bacon in his political allegory New Atlantis. In Atlantis and the Cycles of Time we find a feast of error prone visionary fruit from the investigations of thinkers often radically separated from the mainline historical narrative.

“As someone has pointed out, Plato’s Atlantis story has turned out like the buried treasure in Aesop’s fable “The Farmer and his Sons”: there was no treasure buried in his vineyard, but in digging for it the sons so improved the soil that they raised a bumper crop.”
- from Atlantis and the Cycles of Time, by Jocelyn Godwin

Existing in the liminal spaces of the cultural narrative Atlantis has been a magnet for alternative theories of history and a tool for those looking for a vision of unity in the evolutionary development of human culture. With the solidification of allegory during the Enlightenment Atlantis provided the perfect mythic capstone for rationalists in a quest for historical accuracy in their explorations of the possibilities of a perennial culture.

From the 17th century inquiries of Athanasius Kircher to the publication of Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: The Antediluvian World in 1882, the empirical search for Atlantis has provided an impetus for archaeological speculation on the unification of cultures across the globe. Where present facts show disunity, the idea of an advanced and far reaching civilization in prehistory gave momentum for theorists to develop complex models of cultural evolution using Atlantean civilization as the missing link.

Godwin surveys the work of authors such as Colin Wilson, Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock whose musings on Atlantis support their theories of an advanced prehistoric civilization. Less archaeologically inclined theories such as John Mitchell’s mathematical allegory, and Ernest McClain’s musical allegory, show the depth of speculation possible when approaching an enigmatic piece of writing like Plato’s account of Atlantis.

One of the most successful aspects of the book is Godwin’s ability to use Atlantis as a hermeneutic device for exploring the ways in which knowledge is received and interpreted. Godwin brings to light connections and intersecting lies of influence by comparing and contrasting various theories. Atlantis, as Plato presents it, provides the control, each interpretation shows how the individual or group is projecting some additional dimension onto the picture. As the book proceeds we find hints of familiarity and strange significance mingling through diverse groups.

“The Germanic strain of Atlantology brings us to the most sensitive point of our study. If the reader does not already know it, this chapter will make it plain that the Ariosophists, an obscure group of romantic nationalists, were a breeding ground for the racial doctrines of National Socialism.”
- from Atlantis and the Time Cycles, by Jocelyn Godwin

The Atlantis myth had a surprising role in 20th century nationalist ideology. Within Germany, Britain and even the United States, theories were developed on the racial significance of the Atlantean myth. Godwin provides a fascinating account of the search for traditional roots which lead some theorists to travel into the haze of prehistory to find cultural justification in imagined civilizations.

Searching for ancestral customs lead some German Ariosophists to claim antediluvian antecedents to their radical views of culture and race. Atlantis provided the ultimate myth of origins, providing a mythic background to base nationalist ideals on. Dion Fortune and the occultist milieu in the United Kingdom also found value in focusing their ethnic mythology back to the fabled island. On the British side Atlantis a key component for moralizing on psychical and occult phenomenon. Even in the United States a number of mystically minded patriots wrote up Atlantean allegories on the national myth of technological progress.

Through an Atlantean lense Godwin delivers an insightful examination of the phenomenon of channeling and visionary states. Whether transmitted through past life remembrance and reincarnation, spirit mediums or supposed extraterrestrial intelligences, the Atlantean myth has been fertile ground for those seeking communication with the invisible world. Coincidences and contradictions are exposed by comparing the various Atlantean messages and histories that have been received through channeling. This helps to provide insight into what is at play during some instances of trance mediumship.

Visionary experiences have always been a root motivation for artists and leaders of every inspiration. Messages from Atlantis seem to attract a more dubious progeny, but Godwin proves that even here the interweaving stories, however dissimilar, create an interesting area of study. As a vessel for myth building Atlantis is still capable of empowering physical sites with narrative magnetism. The book’s detailed examination of the cultural effects of mythopoesis allows for further insight into how this process of mystification occurs.

As Godwin points out much of the fascination with Atlantis is centered on our fascination with history and the possibilities of predicting the future based on past events. The rise and fall of Atlantis is often used as a starting point for explorations of cyclical movements in the world. With the furor around 2012, this book provides a timely introduction to the concept of time cycles and a method for understanding how these theories have affected cultural movements in the past. It also provides a means of interpreting and exploring mythopoetic cultural narratives.

For Utopian theorists the myth of Atlantis provides an integral archetype on which to base both hopeful ideals and dire warnings. When it becomes a destination for clairvoyant voyages, or the origin of channeled messages, it can fluidly hold diverse narratives without loosing its mystery. Investigating the story of Atlantis gives us a deeper understanding into how we process and interpret information and build meaning into narrative. As cultures collide in these curious times of advanced communications examinations such as Godwin's open the door to alternative methods for understanding our place in the world.

A short selection from the book is available on Reality Sandwich:

Atlantis & the Time Cycles (excerpt)

Additional articles from Jocelyn Godwin can be found at:

The Eudaimonia of Jocelyn Godwin

Note: Many thanks to Inner Traditions for providing a copy of Jocelyn Godwin's Atlantis & the Cycles of Time for research and review.


David Metcalfe is an independent researcher and artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is author of “Of Dice and Divinity – Some Thoughts on Gambling and the Western Tradition,” forthcoming in The Immanence of Myth.

Writing and scrawling regularly for The Eyeless Owl, his illustrations were brought to life in the animated collaborative grotesquery A Serious Enquiry Into the Vulgar Notion of Nature featured at select venues in downtown Chicago during the Spring and Fall of 2010. He also co-hosts The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.


  1. Anonymous1:50 PM

    It's Ernest G. McClain, not Edgar.

  2. Thanks. I changed it. That's a rather obscure catch. :)



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