Atlantis by Sun Ra (Impulse!, 1973)

Sun Ra-1

Sun Ra-2

Sun Ra-3

Originally released on Sun Ra’s Saturn Records label in 1969 (below), the LP, a collection of live recordings made between 1967 and 1969, was re-released on Impulse! in 1973, when the Atlantis legend had gone mainstream. (John Michell’s The View Over Atlantis [1969], Charles Berlitz’s The Mystery of Atlantis [1969], and Brad Steiger’s Atlantis Rising [1973] all followed the bestselling Edgar Cayce on Atlantis [1968]).

The liner notes of both releases include this passage:

THE DEAD PAST: The civilizations of the past have been used as the foundation of the civilization of today. Because of this, the world keeps looking toward the past for guidance. Too many people are following the past. In this new space age, this is dangerous. The past is DEAD and those who are following the past are doomed to die and be like the past. It is no accident that those who die are said to have passed since those who have PASSED have PAST.

Interesting, since every track on the album is named after a mythical civilization of the past. (I’m assuming “Yucatan” refers to the Mayans and their supposed relationship to Mu, even though there’s already a track named “Mu”). Unless you’re a diehard free jazz completist, the album is a tough listen.

Album cover art on the Impulse! release is by John Lykes. Art on the Saturn Records release is by James McCoy.

Sun Ra-4

Sun Ra-5

(Some images via Discogs)

Sargasso by Edwin Corley (Dell, 1978)

Sargasso Corley 1977

Sargasso Corley 1977-2

The novel was originally published in 1977 by Doubleday and seems to hit all the hot topics of 1970s paranormal sci-fi: The Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, UFOs, time warps, etc. The cover art is by Paul Alexander and continues the dead and buried astronaut trope that I talked about here. There is something peculiarly haunting about the deep space explorer buried in the sands of time—a reminder that even the noblest and most audacious of human endeavors ends in a handful of dust.

A History of the Bermuda Triangle in the Popular Imagination (Part Three): `The Heart of the Dread Sargasso Sea’

Sargasso Lawson2

Early 20th century engraving by Robert Lawson depicting the Sargasso Sea as a “watery graveyard” for “derelict ships from another time”

The Sargasso Sea, probably first crossed by Christopher Columbus in 1492, is an area in the North Atlantic known for its still waters and named for the large masses of Sargassum seaweed found there and kept there by the circular tides. In nautical lore, the Sargasso Sea is the proverbial “graveyard of lost ships” and has been discussed and avoided by mariners since ancient times.

In fiction, the region becomes a plot device starting in the late 19th century with Julius Chambers’ In Sargasso (1896) and Thomas A. Janvier’s In the Sargasso Sea (1898).* In Lost Worlds, L. Sprague de Camp describes the latter work:

Some odd ideas are current about the Sargasso Sea because in 1896 [sic] the novelist T.A. Janvier wrote a gripping novel, In the Sargasso Sea, in which he described the tract as an impenetrable tangle of weed holding fast the remains of ships of all ages from Spanish galleons down.

The “impenetrable tangle” would become a distinctly supernatural “borderland” in the Sargasso Sea cycle of William Hope Hodgson, a collection of short stories published between 1906 and 1920. In “From the Tideless Sea” (1906), Hodgson’s narrator describes the horrors of being stuck

… in the heart of the dread Sargasso Sea—the Tideless Sea of the North Atlantic. From the stump of our mizzen mast, one may see, spread out to the far horizon, an interminable waste of weed—a treacherous, silent vastitude of slime and hideousness!

The literary trope was integrated into science fiction beginning in the early 1930s.*

Explicit identification of the Sargasso Sea with Atlantis (see part two of this series) begins with W.H. Babcock’s Legendary Islands of the Atlantic (1922) and Lewis Spence’s Atlantis in America (1925). Both authors ascribe Plato’s description of post-cataclysm Atlantean waters as “unnavigable” to the “dead waters of the Sargasso Sea.”* The vast body of water spans the entire area of Spence’s island of Antillia, as well as the southern portion of his Atlantis.*

Sargasso Hodgson

E.S. Hodgson painting of the Sargasso Sea, early 20th Century, referencing Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)

The Atlantis-Sargasso Sea connection is picked up by Edgar Cayce, who mentions in a February 1932 reading (364-4) that Atlantis “near what would be termed the Sargasso Sea first went into the depths…”* In an April 1932 reading (364-11) Cayce is asked to “Describe in more detail the causes and effects of the destruction of the part of Atlantis now the Sargasso Sea.” He responds:

As there were those individuals that attempted to bring again to the mind of man more of those forces that are manifest by the closer association of the mental and spiritual, or the soul forces that were more and more as individual and personal forms in the world, the use of the these elements – as for the building up, or the passage of individuals through space – brought the uses of the gases then (in the existent forces), and the individuals being able to become the elements, and elementals themselves, added to that used in the form of what is at present known as the raising of the powers from the sun itself, to the ray that makes for disintegration of the atom, in the gaseous forces formed, and brought about the destruction in that portion of the land now presented, or represented, or called, Sargasso Sea.*

Charles Fort (1874-1932), an originator of the field of anomalous investigation (his biographers have called him the “prophet of the unexplained” and “the man who invented the supernatural“), postulates the existence of a “Super-Sargasso Sea” starting with his first book, The Book of the Damned (1919). Part reportage (“a procession of data that science has excluded”), part satire, and part nonsense literature, the text is an attack against what he saw as the arrogance of the exclusionary scientific worldview (“pale ignorances, presiding over microscopes”).

The Super-Sargasso Sea—a motif that runs throughout his work—is a stationary, upper-atmospheric, extra-dimensional holding tank from which things unaccountably appear (i.e., fish falling from the sky during an earthquake) and into which things unaccountably disappear (i.e., the crew of the Mary Celeste). After introducing the phrase as a sentence unto itself, Fort goes on:

Derelicts, rubbish, old cargoes from inter-planetary wrecks; things cast out into what is called space by convulsions of other planets, things from the times of the Alexanders, Caesars and Napoleons of Mars and Jupiter and Neptune; things raised by this earth’s cyclones: horses and barns and elephants and flies and dodoes, moas, and pterodactyls; leaves from modern trees and leaves of the Carboniferous era—all, however, tending to disintegrate into homogeneous-looking muds or dusts, red or black or yellow—treasure-troves for the paleontologists and for the archaeologists—accumulations of centuries—cyclones of Egypt, Greece, and Assyria—fishes dried and hard, there a short time: others there long enough to putrefy—*

He concludes, as far as any thought can be concluded in a book devoted to undermining the basis of all conclusion, that the Super-Sargasso Sea “functions very well as a nucleus around which to gather data that oppose Exclusionism,” though “something else… may overthrow it later.”

Sargasso Map

The Sargasso Sea is not mentioned in Vincent Gaddis’ Fortean Invisible Horizons (1965), but John Wallace Spencer devotes a small section of his Limbo of the Lost (1969) to the fabled area, rejecting the notion that it has anything to do with mysterious vanishings as unsubstantiated (Spencer’s theory is that UFOs are abducting craft from the area). The National Geographic Society describes the Sargasso Sea as “a legendary twilight zone for mariners” and compares it to the “legend of the Bermuda Triangle” as early as 1968.*

Charles Berlitz reintroduces the Atlantis-Sargasso Sea connection of Babcock and Spence in his first book, The Mystery of Atlantis (1969),* and slots the Bermuda Triangle into the equation with his next book, 1974’s myth-cementing The Bermuda Triangle.

The Sargasso Sea was almost completely demystified by the middle of the 20th century,*** being easily subject to repeated scientific study. The mantle of the “graveyard of lost ships” has long since been transferred to the Bermuda Triangle, whose alleged supernatural properties are inherently unfalsifiable.

(Images via the Goldstein Lawson Collection, Art and Sea, and National Geographic)

Atlantis in Marvel Comics #1 and Action Comics #18 (Timely/DC, 1939)

Sub-1

Sub-5

Sub-2

Sub-3

Sub-4

Marvel Comics #1 was published by Martin Goodman’s Timely Publications, which became Atlas Comics in the 1950s and Marvel Comics starting in 1961. According to Nostomania, it is the 6th most valuable comic book in existence.

One of the first comic book anti-heroes, the Sub-Mariner also bears a passing resemblance to Nietzsche’s Übermensch, literally “overman,” but often translated as “superman.” (Interestingly, the character of Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was based on a confused interpretation of the Übermensch, and first appeared as a villain bent on world conquest in a story called The Reign of Superman [1933]). Here Sub-Mariner’s creator Bill Everett refers to him as an “Ultra-man of the deep,” an “avenging son” who will soon wreak catastrophe upon the “white Earth men.”

The only image I could find from “The Atlantis Mystery” of Action Comics #18 is below. The story’s hero is Zatara, a magician (invisibility, mind control, telekinesis, matter manipulation, etc.) who casts spells using backwards speech. The creative team is Gardner Fox (writer) and Fred Guardineer (pencils and inks).

Zatara-3

And here are some pages from Action Comics #17, featuring an Atlantis reference along with a panel showing “the temple of ancient Atlantis.”

Zatara-1

Zatara-2

These are the first two appearances of Atlantis and the Atlanteans in the Marvel and DC universes: it’s immediate at Marvel, and sixteen issues short of immediate at DC.

(Images via The Great Comic Book Heroes, Comic Book Bin, and Aquaman Shrine)

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)