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The Psychology of Atlantis


Manly P. Hall


Excerpt from: [Landmarks of Esoteric Literature]

Little by little, we build over the surface of the past, until this past seems to retire into an obscurity and darkness. Yet, periodically and under certain pressureful circumstances, this past bursts through out of its own subjective darkness and has a distinct and definite bearing upon our present way of life. Some have held that Plato, under the fable of the Lost Atlantis, described the fall of man, or the fall of destruction of the Golden Age which preceded the present experience of mankind. He could only mean by this the fall of man from a state of spiritual luminance into a state of material obscuration. That perhaps this fall of man is therefore the descent of the human being into the material world and the creation of a physical material dilemma in which his ancient spiritually-awakened state is no longer remembered by him. As the child coming into birth loses all memory of a pre-existence, so man gradually descending into materiality loses likewise all record of any previous conscious experience. This in turn leads gradually to the fall of human consciousness into the darkness of material embodiment.

The lost Atlantis therefore is the lost Golden Age. The lost better world that preceded the state we know. This brings us to a very interesting problem that has never also been well settled, and that is: Why history, from the beginning, from all the history that we know, is always the history of the decline of peoples? Everything we pick up, every history that we read is the history of something falling apart over great periods of time.

When did Egypt rise? What history do we have of the magnificent ascendancy of Egypt? The first time Egypt comes to us, we find it already strewn with monuments to the heroic dead. Little by little as Egypt's history unfolds, Egypt falls apart, until finally it disappears as a powerful nation.

What do we know of the history of the rise of China? What do we know of the great classical Chinese civilization that must have long preceded Confucius and Lao-Tzu? Nothing. We only pick up China misgoverned and badly managed, exploited and corrupted, and gradually falling apart under a succession of selfish or inadequate rulers.

One dynasty after another, and in their arts the same. Where is the great art of China? The great art of China is prehistoric. The great art of China belongs to the Dynasty of the Shang, and we have very little of it. This was the great classic period of somewhere between four or five hundred and twelve or 1400 BC. Then we come down a little later and we have pretty good art in the Han Dynasty. Then we get some fairly good things, but not quite so good, in the Dynasty of the Wei. These dynasties early in the Christian centuries.

Then comes a fine diffusion of art, but not quite so good, in the Tang Dynasty. The Tang Dynasty moves inevitably into the Sung and things are getting worse artistically every minute. Finally it collapses into the Ming Dynasty when art falls apart. So that today, art of a hundred years ago in China is for the most part totally uninspired. An art of three thousand years ago is the highest in China. Why? Why do these things always fall apart?

If we go to Greece, we have no knowledge of the true culture of Greece, except a few fragments. These fragments we know so little about that it was perfectly possible to fabricate a whole group of Etruscan Antiquities and deceive the best curators in the museums of the world. That these ancient fabrications, based upon fragments, were far better than anything produced in the Classical period. Babylonian culture went to sleep almost before history began as far as we are concerned, and we know that when the Spaniards reach the coast of Central America, the Indians living there had already forgotten the builders of the great monument cities that dot that area.

All these things belong to some other time. Time that was sometime good, but little by little, fell apart.

What is the history of Europe, but the history of a great continent falling apart - ethically, culturally, morally and spiritually? Until today we are truly at a very low end in all European consideration. If we want to look for anything that is interesting or important in Europe, we must go back to The Druids, to Stonehenge, to the monuments of Carnac and Brittany. We have to go back to the ancient Nordic mysteries, the Scythian invasions, the Phoenician merchants. There was where Europe was. It is true that culturally, Europe was greater 500 years ago in some respects than it is today, but it was not too much even then.

The great history of Europe is unknown. Back in the very dawn of things - there must have been and was - great universities like the [bractus] where the Druid colleges were, and where men were measuring accurately the motions of the stars while most of what we call Europe was still in the hopelessly primitive state.

Where were the beginnings of these things? Where were the great rises of empires? Where were the magnificent foundations of culture? Who taught the Egyptians their great philosophies? We don't know. Where did Orpheus come from? We don't know. Where did the great rites of Babylonia come from? We can only guess. What came before India? What before Persia? No one knows. Yet, practically every institution that we know is born fully developed and matured like Athena from the head of Zeus. These things do not quite fit together and make sense. But we are faced with them, and the psychological possibility seems to be that there was at the beginning of things some kind of a tremendous dynamic. This Dynamic gradually over a vast period of time sank, and is now utterly immersed under the surface of the dissonant cultural fragments that we today call civilization.

There are even traces of a world language now forgotten. There are evidences of world art. There is great deal of proof of world navigation thousands of years ago. What was it all about? How did it happen? When did it happen, and why was all of this slowly and inevitably broken down? While we have a certain scientific achievement today, we have built our modern civilization not upon a magnificent monument but upon a classic ruin.

This is perhaps in some way related to the psychology of Atlantis. The psychology that somewhere, there was the positive side of this thing we call culture. Whether we wish to assume that Atlantis was a place, or that we wish to assume is that Atlantis was a state of consciousness, perhaps the thing we are seeking for this - rise of life - was never a physical thing at all. Perhaps this rise of life took place within man himself. Perhaps civilization rose in man and fell in the world which man fashioned. Perhaps the human being himself was the great reservoir of culture.

It may well be, therefore, that this mysterious older time was a time in which man's consciousness was more free from the obsessions which now afflict it. That man growing - unfolding - in the light of truth, achieved a great level of reason, and then reason prompting him to a series of material achievements. Gradually this reason was buried or ground in the objective civilization which man attempted to build. Man shifted from the idea of evolution as unfoldment, to the idea of evolution as amassment, and in this his whole pattern of existence began to fall apart.

So it's possible that this rise of empires was hidden inside or within the conscious unfoldment of collective humanity, even as the fall of empires is manifested outwardly in the institutions which man has fashioned. Certainly at some time we got off on the wrong foot and we've never been able to get back. But prior to that perhaps we were on the right foot, and perhaps in this case out great problem was that we were building great persons, unfolding great principles within ourselves by natural means, and somewhere along the line, this unfolding intelligence took the bit in its teeth, and turned upon its own source, attempting to apply itself to the conquest of other things rather than to the continual unfoldment of its own nature. Such a psychological situation, did it arise in a person, would result in the same composite confusion that we seem to find traced in the civilization of our world.