Religions, philosophy and literature have created fantastic places on Earth that are still the subject of speculation and research today.
Atlantis, Shangri-la and Agartha are some of the fantastic places conceived by artists, philosophers and spiritual teachers of the past. The artists created places for their narratives. The thinkers and men of religion as support for their teachings.
These places have captured people’s imaginations to the point where historians and scientists today wonder what is true about these imagined places. The Nazis sought them out with the pretense of recovering ancient technologies and arcane powers.
Believers in the myths remember that the millionaire Prussian archaeologist Heinrich Schlieman used the stories of Homer’s Iliad as documentation to find the remains of Troy in 1872. Until then, the city described by the Greek poet was considered an invention.
Let’s remember some of these places that could be close to us… or not.
“This is a story that a friend told me that happened to a friend,” someone says. And we thought: she is a trola.
Atlantis is another story told by another told by another…
Plato writes in The Dialogues how the disciple of Socrates named Critias told the story of Atlantis remembering the manuscripts that belonged to his grandfather, written by an Athenian politician, according to stories narrated by Egyptian priests of events that occurred 9,000 years ago.
According to Critias narrates or as Plato writes, Atlantis was a continent to the west of the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar) between present-day Portugal and Great Britain.
With his powerful army he devastated part of Europe and North Africa, but succumbed to Athens. Shortly after, an earthquake and a flood made the continent disappear. (According to the Nazis, the survivors of the cataclysm were primitive Aryans who hid in the Himalayas).
After Plato’s death, one part of his disciples considered that Atlantis existed and another, that it was an allegory about how arrogance can lead to fatality.
In our days, the search for Atlantis and its study by science continues to attract the public and fantasy writers.
A myth that has been transformed over time. Hence, a civilization described by Plato as warlike has become in the popular imagination a paradise of technological marvels inhabited by wise and peaceful men and women.
In 2006 Umberto Eco wrote the article “Fantastic Theories” for the International Herald Tribune. In it he lamented that the hollow Earth theory had numerous followers on the internet.
Today, this theory is one of the favorite topics on radio and television programs about paranormal phenomena, aliens, strange creatures…
Eco exposes that the astronomer and physicist Edmund Halley (who calculated the orbit of the comet that bears his last name) proposed the first theory of the hollow Earth. He did not receive support from the scientific community, but the idea caught on in the society of his time in such a way that some enthusiasts financed expeditions to find the gateway to the hollow world at the North Pole.
These places have captured people’s imaginations to the point that historians and scientists today wonder what is true about these imagined places.
Jules Verne echoed the theory to write Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) locating the crater of the Icelandic volcano Snæfellsjökull as access.
The theory was losing force until the Polish writer, university professor, explorer and political conspirator Ferdynand Ossendowski published in 1922 the book Beasts, men and gods. With this work, Ossendowski launched modern travel writing.
The last few pages of Beasts are devoted to Mongolia, where he heard from expedition guides, lamas, and royals about an underground kingdom known as Agarthi (Agartha).
This kingdom is ruled by the king of the world who, according to the stories, «knows the ideas of all those who direct the destinies of humanity: kings, tsars, war chiefs, great priests, sages, powerful men. He knows your intentions and his plans. If they please God, the king of the world will favor them with his supernatural help».
The stories also announce a world war in 1940 after which the king of the world will rise to the surface to rule the entire Earth.
Beasts became a worldwide success. Ossendowski doubted that Agarthi ever existed, but the book sparked enthusiasm among adherents of conspiracy theories and the occult. Among the latter were some advisers to Hitler.
Shangri-La became famous in the world thanks to the film Lost Horizons (1936), directed by Frank Capra, based on the novel of the same title written by James Hilton (1933).
Shangri-la did not exist before the novel, but the public soon built the myth. During the effects of the crash of 1929 and at the gates of a world war, the hidden city in the Himalayas represents a paradise with a welcoming climate, without crime and without hunger in which one can live for 250 years.
Hilton was inspired by the Hunza Valley in Kashmir, near the Chinese border, and local legends about a kingdom hidden behind the Himalayas. This realm is called Shambhala in Buddhist texts.
The Nazis organized several expeditions in order to find Shambhala. They believed that it was hidden in the hollow Earth and to reach it they had to find the door in Tibet.
They hoped to locate there the primeval Aryans who fled the cataclysm of Atlantis. Hitler’s true intention was not to be twinned with his ancestors, but to get his technology and vril (a psychokinetic energy) with which he would defeat his enemies.
The belief in Atlantis, Agartha and Shangri-La should make us reflect on the strength of the written word. Cities born of the imagination have become true myths. Perhaps because “the myth gives a meaning to a world that does not have it”, according to the psychologist Rollo May. Or perhaps as George RR Martin writes on his blog NOT A BLOG, because myths and fantasy speak to “something deep inside us, to the childish heart that dreamed of wandering the woods of the night, feasting under the hollow hills and find eternal love somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.”