Atlantis and the Cycles of Time: Prophecies, Traditions, and Occult Revelations

Atlantis and the Cycles of Time: Prophecies, Traditions, and Occult Revelations

Joscelyn Godwin
Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2010, xii + 436 pages, $19.95

A new book from Joscelyn Godwin is always a cause for celebration. There are few scholars in the field of esotericism who are both as readable and as reliable as Godwin. His 1994 book, The Theosophical Enlightenment, was a particularly masterful overview of the occult subculture in the English-speaking world of the nineteenth century.

Atlantis and the Cycles of Time takes a much more tightly focused look at one recurring meme within the occult universe: Atlantis, the legendary lost continent that supposedly sank in prehistoric times, some say because of the inhabitants’ misuse of occult power. The book’s final two chapters also provide a brief overview of various schematic cycles of time that have seized the imaginations of occultists, theologians, and New Agers.

There is a paradoxical quality to this book of which potential readers should be aware. If one particular interpretation of the Atlantis myth looms large in your personal belief system, Godwin’s book may cause a mild crisis of faith, as he methodically summarizes the numerous Atlantis myth variations, most of them based on either clairvoyant revelations or bold assertions of authority on the part of authors. It is difficult to come out the other end of these variations without feeling that all are equally valid or, perhaps more likely, equally suspect.

On the other hand, unless you find Atlantis intrinsically fascinating, this book may be too much of a good thing, as it delivers plenty of well-organized detail on the Atlantis story, but almost no justification for why one should care.

One has the sense, more so than in any other Godwin book, that the author felt obliged to write it—perhaps to share years’ worth of research—but didn’t experience much pleasure in doing so. Godwin’s usual relish for the odd detail and his dry wit in relating the obviously ludicrous with a straight face are still present, but are mostly drowned out by the deluge of data comparing British, German, French, Theosophical, channeled, and New Age versions of Atlantis.

As a reference work, this book performs a useful public service: should you wish to compare, say, H. P. Blavatsky’s Atlantis with that of Fabre d’Olivet or Dion Fortune, Godwin summarizes each, and the book’s index facilitates further cross-comparisons. But as a cover-to-cover read, Atlantis and the Cycles of Time feels a bit like a long march through a stack of file cards.

The final chapters on various systems of cyclic time—the Hindu yugas, the Four Ages (Golden to Iron), astrological ages, and so on—are useful for their attempt to make sense out of further contradictory esoteric schemes.

Yet when all is said and done, does it really matter whether Atlantis existed as a historical location once upon a time or whether there really was a Golden Age tens of thousands of years ago? Godwin doesn’t directly answer these questions, but the cumulative implication is that it matters not.

If the essence of a spiritual orientation is simply to practice compassion for others and to minimize the grandstanding of one’s own ego, these can be practiced regardless of religious beliefs, esoteric revelations, or grand abstract systems of time and cosmology.

Yes, the Atlantis myth can serve as a warning against the hubris of humankind and as a reminder of the impermanence of life. But like all great myths, it conveys its lessons whether strictly factual or not. Godwin, I suspect, would agree.

Jay Kinney

Jay Kinney was publisher and editor in chief of Gnosis magazine during its fifteen-year span. His recent book, The Masonic Myth (Harper Collins), has been translated into five languages.