A History of the Bermuda Triangle in the Popular Imagination (Part Two): `Under the Slime of Ages of Sea Water’

Atlantis 1961

U.S. lobby card for George Pal’s Atlantis, The Lost Continent, 1961

The myth of the “lost continent” of Atlantis originates in Plato, who wrote in the dialogues Timaeus and Critias about a great military power “insolently advancing” from an island in the Atlantic “which was larger than Libya and Asia together.” The Atlanteans, formerly of “divine nature” but presently “visibly debased,” were defeated by the noble Athenians (Plato’s countrymen), and Atlantis was later “swallowed up by the sea and vanished.” (Note: the translation here is by J.B. Bury, an influential early 20th century Classics scholar whose works on Ancient Greece were standard issue textbooks; compare the description of Atlantis’ fate to E.V.W. Jones’ 1950 article on the “misty limbo of the lost” into which ships and planes are “swallowed up” and “vanish”).

Modern interest in the subject began with U.S. Congressman Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882) and became a mainstay of the Western occult tradition with the publication of Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine (1888), in which the co-founder of the Theosophical Society formulates and describes the seven “root races,” the fourth race originating in Atlantis.

Scotsman Lewis Spence, in an effort to rescue Atlantis from esoteric figures like Blavatsky and continue the serious “scientific” study begun by Donnelly, wrote The Problem of Atlantis in 1924 (several volumes on the subject would follow). Here he argues that Atlantis was once a great continent that took up a substantial portion of the ocean it was named after, and that towards the end of the Miocene epoch tremendous volcanic activity caused the continent to break apart into two island continents, Atlantis and Antillia. The smaller of the two, Antillia, lies directly within what is now called the Bermuda Triangle.

Spence Map

Illustration showing locations of Atlantis and Antillia according to Lewis Spence

L. Sprague de Camp, who wrote the definitive study on Atlantis and “lost continent mythology,” 1954’s Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science, and Literature, details Spence’s view of how the sprawling civilization came to ruin:

Final disaster appears to have overtaken Atlantis about 10,000 B.C. Antillia, on the other hand, seems to have survived until a much more recent period, and still exists fragmentally in the Antillean Group, or West Indian Islands. [Italics mine]

Spence also speculates that the Mayan civilization was actually of Atlantean origin, the result of forced Antillian migration.

Enter Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), the alleged psychic who became a national phenomenon during World War II for the “life readings” he gave while in a state of trance. (A 1943 article in Coronet magazine may have been the genesis of his popularity.) Cayce, who became known as “The Sleeping Prophet,” was heavily influenced by the writings of Blavatsky (who drew heavily on Donnelly and Spence), and had elaborate theories of his own about Atlantis and its sister lost land, Lemuria (Mu), supposedly once located in the Pacific. During a trance state in 1933 (reading 440-5), Cayce described ancient records existing

in the sunken portions of Atlantis, or Poseidia, under the slime of ages of sea water—near what is known as Bimini, off the coast of Florida.*

And in 1940, during another reading (958-3),

Poseidia will be among the first portion of Atlantis to rise again. Expect it in ’68 or ’69; not so far away!*

This caused some excitement in the 1960s among a cultural milieu that was openly exploring the “Aquarian frontier” and generally sympathetic to psychic prognostications. The first edition of the still-in-print Edgar Cayce on Atlantis, “interpreted” and edited by Cayce’s sons, appeared in 1968, though his readings were en vogue and widely circulated by Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) before that.

Bimini diver

A diver examines the Bimini stones

In August 1968, a former Yale zoology professor and amateur archaeologist, Manson Valentine, discovered what he called a “temple” off the coast of North Bimini Island that he hoped “might be part of Atlantis.”* Now called the Bimini Road and pegged by geologists as a natural rock formation, Valentine had been a “student of the Bermuda Triangle” since 1945* and reportedly engaged in the dive “in hopes of confirming Cayce’s prophecy.”* Valentine would later collaborate on the Charles Berlitz blockbuster The Bermuda Triangle (1974). The book, which I’ll cover in a later installment, offers many possible supernatural explanations for disappearances within the Bermuda Triangle, one of them centering on advanced technology (energy crystals called “firestones”) said by Edgar Cayce to be left over from the destruction of Atlantis.

Press mentions of strange happenings within the Northwest Atlantic “triangle” area start to appear soon after publication of Vincent Gaddis’ Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea in 1965. (Gaddis had coined the moniker “Bermuda Triangle” in a 1964 Argosy article, and I’ll talk more about him later.) George Butler, who penned a column called “It’s a Strange World” for Alabama’s the Gadsden Times (Edgar Cayce at one time lived in Gadsden) from the mid-1960s through the late ’70s, wrote several articles on Cayce’s reported psychic powers, including his Atlantis predictions, the earliest I’ve found (“Lost Continent: Myth or History“) dating from 1966. The following year Butler wrote a piece called “Mystery Hovers Over Florida Waters,” identifying the area in question as a “Mystery Triangle” (capitalization his). Despite being “guarded by radio and radar,” Butler writes,

and under constant surveillance… from dozens of commercial airliners… military planes, airliners, private planes, fishing boats and yachts have disappeared—all without a trace.

He goes on to describe many (four out of five) of the same “baffling” disappearances mentioned by E.V.W. Jones, using much the same language and tone as the writer of the earlier article.

(Images via Lobby Cards Tumblr, Natural History Magazine, and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry)

One response to “A History of the Bermuda Triangle in the Popular Imagination (Part Two): `Under the Slime of Ages of Sea Water’

  1. Pingback: A History of the Bermuda Triangle in the Popular Imagination (Part Three): `The Heart of the Dread Sargasso Sea’ | A Higher Strangeness

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