Theosophy and the Seven Continents
BCW H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, TPH, 1950-91 Dia Dialogues of G. de Purucker, TUP, 1948 ET The Esoteric Tradition, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1940 FEP Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1979 FSO Fountain-Source of Occultism, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1974 Isis Isis Unveiled, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1972 (1877) ML The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, A.T. Barker (comp.), TUP, 2nd ed., 1926 OG Occult Glossary, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1996 SD The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1977 (1888) SOP Studies in Occult Philosophy, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1945 TG Theosophical Glossary, H.P. Blavatsky, Theos. Co., 1973 (1892) WoS Wind of the Spirit, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1984
Theosophy teaches that a series of seven root-races or humanities will evolve on earth during the present fourth round, each living on its own ‘continent’. In its broadest sense, the word ‘continent’ is used here to denote all the dry land during the life-period any particular root-race, and in a narrower sense it refers to the central locality where the evolution of a particular race takes place. The midpoint of one root-race sees the emergence of the next, and is marked by a series of geological cataclysms, involving the submergence of old landmasses and the elevation of new ones. Just as the root-races overlap, so parts of the continents of one root-race become incorporated into the continental system of the next race.
H.P. Blavatsky writes:
We believe in the seven ‘continents,’ four of which have already lived their day, the fifth still exists, and two are to appear in the future. We believe that each of these is not strictly a continent in the modern sense of the word, but that each name, from Jambu down to Pushkara, refers to the geographical names given (i.) to the dry lands covering the face of the whole earth during the period of a Root-Race, in general; and (ii.) to what remained of these after a geological (race) Pralaya [cataclysm] – as ‘Jambu,’ for instance: and (iii.) to those localities which will enter, after the future cataclysms, into the formation of new universal ‘continents,’ peninsulas, or dwipas – each continent being, in one sense, a greater or smaller region of dry land surrounded with water. (SD 2:404)
Everywhere, throughout the ages, land is either sinking or rising, usually slowly, but at times with catastrophic suddenness. There is a constant alternation of land and water. Blavatsky writes:
That worlds (also Races) are periodically destroyed by fire (volcanoes and earthquakes) and water, in turn, and renewed, is a doctrine as old as man. . . . Twice already has the face of the globe been changed by fire, and twice by water, since man appeared on it. As land needs rest and renovation, new forces, and a change for its soil, so does water. Thence arises a periodical redistribution of land and water, change of climates, etc., all brought on by geological revolution, and ending in a final change in the axis. (SD 2:725-6)
[O]ur globe is subject to seven periodical entire changes which go pari passu with the races. For the Secret Doctrine teaches that, during this Round, there must be seven terrestrial pralayas, three occasioned by the change in the inclination of the earth’s axis. It is a law which acts at its appointed time, and not at all blindly, as science may think, but in strict accordance and harmony with Karmic law. (SD 2:329)
Thus, since Vaivasvata Manu’s Humanity appeared on this Earth [i.e. since the start of the first root-race], there have already been four such axial disturbances; when the old continents – save the first one – were sucked in by the oceans, other lands appeared, and huge mountain chains arose where there had been none before. The face of the Globe was completely changed each time; the survival of the fittest nations and races was secured through timely help; and the unfit ones – the failures – were disposed of by being swept off the earth. Such sorting and shifting does not happen between sunset and sunrise, as one may think, but requires several thousands of years before the new house is set in order. (SD 2:330)
Broadly speaking, the continents were formed from north to south (SD 2:777).* At the beginning of human life in the fourth round (in the mid-Paleozoic), the whole earth was ‘one vast watery desert’, the only dry land being at the north pole – its ‘head’. During the second race more land emerged from under the waters and was joined to the first one, and during the third race the earth’s ‘waist’ and ‘navel’ appeared above the water – a reference to the Himalayas which, whether above or below the water, are said to encircle the globe (SD 2:400-1).
*‘It should . . . be observed that in the beginning of things the continents were built up from North to South, – such has been, at least, the history of the North and South American and the Europeo-Asiatic and the African continents; and thus it would appear that north of the equator, at least, animals slowly migrated southward, keeping pace as it were with the growth and southward extension of the grand land-masses which appeared above the sea in the Paleozoic ages.’ (A.S. Packard, Zoölogy, New York, 2nd ed., 1880, p. 665)
The submergence and emergence of continents, and the destruction of their races, are brought about by fire and water in turn (SD 2:776fn). The forces of fire and water always work together, though one predominates, and the other elements also play a role. The first, third, fifth, and seventh races may be called the aqueous races, and the second, fourth, and sixth the terreous races (FEP 352-3). During the life of the former there is more water than land on the surface of the globe, while during the life of the latter there is more land than water. The third race, an aqueous race, perished by fire, i.e. mainly by the action of subterranean earthquakes and volcanoes followed by submergence. In Atlantean times there was more land than water, but nature sought a readjustment and the Atlantean continental system perished mainly by floods, but also by earthquakes and volcanoes. Today, at about the midpoint of the fifth root-race, there is twice as much water as land. When our root-race nears its end, seismic and volcanic catastrophes will result in the submergence of our own continental system and the emergence of new lands for the sixth race.
The Imperishable Sacred Land
The first continent – the Imperishable Sacred Land – is the most mysterious of the seven continents. It is said to be located in the region of the north pole.
This ‘Sacred Land’ . . . is stated never to have shared the fate of the other continents; because it is the only one whose destiny it is to last from the beginning to the end of the Manvantara throughout each Round. It is the cradle of the first man, and the dwelling of the last divine mortal, chosen as a Sishta for the future seed of humanity. Of this mysterious and sacred land very little can be said, except, perhaps, according to a poetical expression in one of the Commentaries, that the ‘polestar has its watchful eye upon it, from the dawn to the close of the twilight of “a day” of the GREAT BREATH [In India called ‘The Day of Brahmâ.’].’ (SD 2:6)
The statement that the first continent never sinks or perishes is repeated many times, e.g.:
It is averred in Occultism that the land or island, which crowns the North Pole like a skull-cap, is the only one which prevails during the whole Manvantara of our ‘Round.’ All the central continents and lands will emerge from the sea bottom many times in turn, but this land will never change. (SD 2:400fn; see also 330, 372fn, 400-1, 408fn, 606fn)
The first continent surrounded and included the north pole and extended, like the leaves of a lotus, somewhat southwards from the pole in seven different zones (FSO 287, SOP 260). These zones included Greenland, Spitzbergen, Sweden, Norway, and east and west Siberia (SD 2:327, 775), together with other former land areas in the far north that have since been submerged (SD 2:360).
The central locality of the first continent was right at the north pole. Blavatsky writes:
If, then, the teaching is understood correctly, the first continent which came into existence capped over the whole North Pole like one unbroken crust, and remains so to this day, beyond that inland sea which seemed like an unreachable mirage to the few arctic travellers who perceived it. (SD 2:401)
G. de Purucker draws attention to the phrase ‘If, then, the teaching is understood correctly . . .’, and points out that Blavatsky was not permitted to give out all she knew (SOP 555).
Blavatsky makes several other references to the idea prevalent in her own time that the polar region might be ice free, and might also contain land: ‘Even in our day, science suspects beyond the Polar seas, at the very circle of the Arctic Pole, the existence of a sea which never freezes and a continent which is ever green’ (SD 2:12); ‘Every arctic traveller suspects a continent or a “dry island” beyond the line of eternal ice’ (SD 2:399); the expression ‘from the neck of mother-earth downward’ means ‘from the inland sea now beyond the impassable barrier of ice’ (SD 2:401fn). Since these remarks were written, explorers have reached the north pole, but no land has yet been discovered near the pole, only a polar sea covered with ice. Purucker stated that the discoveries of Commander R.E. Peary and Admiral R.E. Byrd concerning a polar sea about 10,000 feet deep at the north pole needed further confirmation (SOP 555). There is controversy as to whether the exact north pole was reached by Peary (on foot in 1909) and Byrd (by plane in 1926), but there is no doubt that later explorers have done so.
Blavatsky says that the whole globe is convulsed periodically and since the appearance of the first root-race it has been convulsed four times.
Yet, though the whole face of the earth was transformed thereby each time, the conformation of the arctic and antarctic poles has but little altered. The polar lands unite and break off from each other into islands and peninsulas, yet remain ever the same. Therefore northern Asia is called the ‘eternal or perpetual land,’ and the Antarctic the ‘ever living’ and ‘the concealed’; while the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Pacific and other regions disappear and reappear in turn, into and above the great waters. (SD 2:776)
This passage implies that parts of the polar lands do in fact rise and sink, and indeed a Commentary speaks of ‘three polar lands which have changed form several times, at each new cataclysm, or disappearance of one continent to make room for another’ (SD 2:776). It could therefore be argued that the central part of the first continent, which – ‘if the teaching is understood correctly’ – covered the north pole like a skull-cap, is now temporarily submerged. This is also suggested by Purucker:
Though at first a continuous system or massif, the northern continent changes throughout the ages but never completely vanishes. It is subject to continuous secular variations in its topography due to sinkings and risings of portions thereof. The actual geographical center at the Pole may be either above or below the water, but the surrounding system of islands, large and small, peninsulas, etc., will remain, despite all minor changes, from the Round-manvantara’s beginning to its end. It never finds as a whole a watery grave in the abysmal deeps of the ocean’s floor. (SOP 557)
It is possible that, rather than providing here the definitive solution to the mystery, Purucker was actually drawing the veil. After all, all the major continents are known to have very ancient nuclei or shield areas that have remained stable and largely above water for very long periods. These ‘shishta’ (surviving) portions are incorporated into the continental system of each successive root-race. Given the many references to the first continent’s sacred and eternal or imperishable nature, it would seem that while it is true that parts of the polar land do sink beneath the water, the ‘central land’ itself could also refer to something quite different.
Some theosophical writers have suggested that the first continent was nonphysical or astral.* One writer has contended that Greenland was the first continent and invokes the far-fetched idea that it may once have been situated right at the north pole, until a hypothetical slippage of the earth’s crust moved it to its present location.** Neotheosophists of the Besant-Leadbeater tradition claim that the first continent was not situated at the north geographical pole but at the earth’s spiritual pole, which is currently located in the Gobi desert.***
*Boris De Zirkoff (ed.), The Secret Doctrine, TPH, 1979, 2:799; Adam Warcup, Cyclic Evolution, TPH, 1986, pp. 111-12.
**Jean Overton Fuller, Blavatsky and Her Teachers, East-West Publications, 1988, pp. 204-5. For a refutation of the crustal slippage theory, see: Poleshifts, part 2, section 3.
***A.E. Powell, The Solar System, TPH, 1930, pp. 189-90.
Another, far more radical solution to the mystery can be found in a remarkable, long-forgotten article, almost certainly from the pen of H.P. Blavatsky, published in The Theosophist, July 1884, pp. 251-4. The article is a review (actually, little more than a summary) of a book entitled The Hollow Globe, which proposes that the earth is hollow (relatively speaking), and that the inner surface of its solid outer shell is habitable, just like the outer surface on which we live. In this interpretation, the ‘first continent’ therefore refers to two different things: the polar land on the outer surface of the earth, and the sacred central land or ‘inner circle’ in the earth’s interior, which will continue in existence until the earth itself perishes. Likewise, terms such as ‘the blessed land of eternal light and summer’ and the ‘Land of the Eternal Sun’ (SD 2:11-12; TG 186) could refer either to the polar land at a time when the earth’s axis was more or less upright and the earth enjoyed an ‘eternal spring’, or to the inner central land if the earth’s interior is self-luminous or contains a central sun. (See Mysteries of the inner earth.)
The second, Hyperborean continent comprised the regions around the north pole in the arctic circle, including Greenland, Spitzbergen, Scandinavia, and northern Asia (SD 2:7, 11-12, 401, 775; TG 147).
During the Second Race more land emerged from under the waters as a continuation of the ‘head’ from the neck. Beginning on both hemispheres [east and west], on the line above the most northern part of Spitzbergen on Mercator’s Projection, on our side [northern hemisphere], it may have included, on the American side, the localities that are now occupied by Baffin’s Bay and the neighbouring islands and promontories. There it hardly reached, southward the 70th degree of latitude; here it formed the horse-shoe continent of which the commentary speaks; of the two ends of which, one included Greenland with a prolongation which crossed the 50th degree a little south west, and the other Kamschatka, the two ends being united by what is now the northern fringe of the coasts of Eastern and Western Siberia. This broke asunder and disappeared. (SD 2:401-2)
During a cataclysm at the time of the appearance of the second race, northern Asia was cut off from its root-continent at the north pole and divided by glacial waters (SD 2:138, 146, 400-1). Regarding the destruction of Hyperborea, Blavatsky writes:
Esoteric philosophy . . . teaches distinctly that after the first geological disturbance in the Earth’s axis which ended in the sweeping down to the bottom of the Seas of the whole second Continent, with its primeval races . . . there came another disturbance by the axis resuming as rapidly its previous degree of inclination; when the Earth was indeed raised once more out of the Waters . . . (SD 1:369)
The ever-blooming lands of the Second Continent (Greenland, among others) were transformed, in order, from Edens with their eternal spring, into hyperborean Hades. This transformation was due to the displacement of the great waters of the globe, to oceans changing their beds; and the bulk of the Second Race perished in this first great throe of the evolution and consolidation of the globe during the human period. (SD 2:138)
Lemuria, the third continent, embraced large areas in the Indian and Pacific oceans, and also portions of what is now Africa. It projected round South Africa into the North Atlantic (SD 2:781fn), and stretched up to the northern polar regions; it included Sweden and Norway, and also Asia, which was ‘a kind of broken prolongation’ of it (SD 2:769fn). Australia is the largest relic of Lemuria (SD 2:314), and other fragments are the many islands in the Pacific; it also included a large portion of California (SD 2:7, 328, 788).
Lemuria-Atlantis therefore had both northern and southern divisions: the hyperborean and equatorial lands respectively (SD 2:371fn). As regards southern Lemuria:
It covered the whole area of space from the foot of the Himalayas, which separated it from the inland sea rolling its waves over what is now Tibet, Mongolia, and the great desert of Schamo (Gobi); from Chittagong, westward to Hardwar, and eastward to Assam. From thence, it stretched South across what is known to us as Southern India, Ceylon, and Sumatra; then embracing on its way, as we go South, Madagascar on its right hand and Australia and Tasmania on its left, it ran down to within a few degrees of the Antarctic Circle; when, from Australia, an inland region on the Mother Continent in those ages, it extended far into the Pacific Ocean, not only beyond Rapa-nui (Teapy, or Easter Island) which now lies in latitude 26 S., longitude 110 W. . . . This statement seems corroborated by Science, – even if only partially; as, when discussing continental trends, and showing the infra-Arctic masses trending generally with the Meridian, several ancient continents are generally mentioned, though inferentially. Among such the ‘Mascarene continent,’ which included Madagascar, stretching north and south, is spoken of, and the existence of another ancient continent running ‘from Spitzbergen to the Straits of Dover, while most of the other parts of Europe were sea bottom,’ is taught. (SD 2:323-4)
On the Atlantic side, Lemuria
extended in the shape of a horse-shoe past Madagascar, round ‘South Africa’ (then a mere fragment in process of formation), through the Atlantic up to Norway. The great English fresh-water deposit called the Wealden – which every geologist regards as the mouth of a former great river – is the bed of the main stream which drained Northern Lemuria in the Secondary Age. The former reality of this river is a fact of science – will its votaries acknowledge the necessity of accepting the Secondary-age Northern Lemuria, which their data demand? Professor Berthold Seeman not only accepted the reality of such a mighty continent, but regarded Australia and Europe as formerly portions of one continent – thus corroborating the whole ‘horse-shoe’ doctrine already enunciated. No more striking confirmation of our position could be given, than the fact that the ELEVATED RIDGE in the Atlantic basin, 9,000 feet in height, which runs for some two or three thousand miles southwards from a point near the British Islands, first slopes towards South America, then shifts almost at right angles to proceed in a SOUTH-EASTERLY line toward the African coast, whence it runs on southward to Tristan d’Acunha [da Cunha]. This ridge is a remnant of an Atlantic continent, and, could it be traced further, would establish the reality of a submarine horse-shoe junction with a former continent in the Indian Ocean. (SD 2:333)
The Wealden rock strata to which Blavatsky refers are located mainly across southeastern England and date from the early Cretaceous. They are composed of sands and clays, deposited in a river floodplain and a lagoonal coastal plain respectively.
It should be noted that at the time Blavatsky wrote the above passage, scientists had not yet discovered that the southern section of the mid-Atlantic Ridge curved round South Africa into the Indian Ocean.
The mid-Atlantic Ridge, as presented by Ignatius Donnelly (Atlantis: The antediluvian world, 1882, p. 47), based on deep-sea soundings made by the Dolphin, Challenger, and other ships. Blavatsky refers to this map at the end of the above quotation (SD 2:333). The blue dot indicates the location of Tristan da Cunha.
The global ocean ridge system.
Referring to the ancient continent stretching from Spitzbergen down to the Straits of Dover, postulated by science, Blavatsky writes:
The Secret Doctrine teaches that, in the earliest geological periods, these regions formed a horse-shoe-like continent, whose one end, the Eastern, far more northward than North Cornwall, included Greenland, and the other contained Behring Straits as an inland piece of ground, and descended southward in its natural trend down to the British Isles, which in those days must have been right under the lower curve of the semi-circle. This continent was raised simultaneously with the submersion of the equatorial portions of Lemuria. Ages later, some of the Lemurian remains re-appeared again on the face of the Oceans. Therefore, . . . the Fourth Race Atlanteans got some of the Lemurian relics, and, settling on the islands, included them among their lands and continents . . . Easter Island was also taken possession of in this manner by some Atlanteans; who, having escaped from the cataclysm which befell their own land, settled on that remnant of Lemuria only to perish thereon, when destroyed in one day by its volcanic fires and lava. This may be regarded as fiction by certain geographers and geologists; to the Occultists it is history. (SD 2:326-7)
In addition to the Bering Strait (Beringia), the continent in question included whatever dry land then existed in Central Asia (SD 2:329).
There was a time when prehistoric India, stretching from Kashmir into the (now) deserts of Shamo, was doubly connected with the two Americas by a belt of islands and continents:
A pedestrian from the north might then have reached – hardly wetting his feet – the Alaskan peninsula, through Manchooria, across the future Gulf of Tartary, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands; while another traveller, furnished with a canoe, and starting from the South, could have walked over from Siam, crossed the Polynesian Islands and trudged into any part of the continent of South America. (SD 2:327; BCW 5:222, 14:279-80)
In the epoch we are treating of, the Continent of ‘Lemuria’ had already broken asunder in many places, and formed new separate continents. There was, nevertheless, neither Africa nor the Americas, still less Europe in those days, all these slumbering yet on the Ocean floors. Nor was there much of present Asia; for the cis-Himalayan regions were covered with seas, and beyond this stretched the ‘lotus leaves’ of Sveta-dwipa, the countries now called Greenland, Eastern and Western Siberia, etc., etc. The immense Continent, which had once reigned supreme over the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans, now consisted of huge islands which were gradually disappearing one after the other, until the final convulsion engulfed the last remains of it. Easter Isle, for instance, belongs to the earliest civilisation of the Third Race. Submerged with the rest, a volcanic and sudden uplifting of the Ocean floor, raised the small relic of the Archaic ages untouched, with its volcano and statues, during the Champlain epoch of northern polar submersion [ended about 200,000 years ago], as a standing witness to the existence of Lemuria. (SD 2:327-8)
Haeckel argued that the earliest cradle of the human race was ‘Lemuria’. Like Sclater (SD 2:7-8, 171), he meant by this a continent that once lay mostly to the south of Asia in what is now the Indian Ocean, extending eastward to Upper India and Sunda Island and westward as far as Madagascar and Africa (SD 2:327, 329, 679-80, 789). Blavatsky comments: ‘[Lemuria] was the home of the first physical Human Stock – the later Third-Race Men. Previous to that epoch the Races were far less consolidated and physiologically quite different’ (SD 2:789).
Lemuria was destroyed by subterranean fires, i.e. by submarine volcanoes and earthquakes, a series of subterranean convulsions, and the breaking asunder of the ocean floors (SD 2:141fn, 266, 314, 331). Its destruction is also linked to a decrease in the earth’s velocity of rotation (SD 2:324).
The sinking and transformation of Lemuria beginning nearly at the Arctic Circle (Norway), the Third Race ended its career in Lanka, or rather on that which became Lanka with the Atlanteans. The small remnant now known as Ceylon is the Northern highland of ancient Lanka, while the enormous island of that name, was, in the Lemurian period, the gigantic continent described [above]. (SD 2:332)
[I]n the same way that the evolution of the First Race . . . took place on seven distinctly separated regions of the (then) only Earth at the arctic pole – so did the ultimate transformation of the Third occur: it began in those northern regions, which have just been described . . . as including Behring’s Straits, and what there then was of dry land in Central Asia, when the climate was semi-tropical even in the Arctic regions and most adapted to the primitive wants of nascent physical man. That region, however, has been more than once frigid and tropical in turn since the appearance of man. The commentary tells us that the Third Race was only about the middle point of its development when:–
‘The axle of the Wheel tilted. The Sun and Moon shone no longer over the heads of that portion of the SWEAT BORN; people knew snow, ice, and frost, and men, plants, and animals were dwarfed in their growth. . . . This was the third pralaya of the races.’ (SD 2:329)
The third race had almost completely disappeared by the Tertiary, carried away by the fearful geological cataclysms of the Secondary era, leaving behind only a few hybrid races (SD 2:714, 433fn). The final major destruction of Lemuro-Atlantis took place about 4.25 million years ago (SD 1:439), at the midpoint of the fourth root-race and very end of the third. However, the ‘Lemurian’ island of Ruta in the Pacific did not sink until between 850,000 and 700,000 years ago (SD 2:395, 433+fn, 751).
Some theosophical writers, mistaking current geological dogma for fact, have tried to equate Lemuria with the modern notion of Gondwanaland – a supercontinent comprising South America, Africa, India, Australia, and Antarctica, before the supposed onset of continental drift.* Early theosophical teachings, however, support the views of Eduard Suess, the originator of the concept of Gondwanaland, who argued that Gondwanaland consisted of parts of the present continents in their present positions, but joined to one another by other lands that have since been submerged.**
*Warcup, Cyclic Evolution, p. 114. It is true that Blavatsky speaks of Lemuria ‘separating into smaller continents’ (SD 2:324), and there are also references to the ‘shifting’ of continents and oceans (e.g. SD 1:273, 2:141, 150, 325, 333; ML 156). But it is clear that these expressions refer primarily to the submergence of land, resulting in regions that were formerly linked becoming separated. We are told, for instance, that Lemuria broke asunder in many places, forming new separate continents (SD 2:327; see also FEP 352). See Theosophy and shifting continents.
**See Sunken continents vs. continental drift.
Atlantis was an immense continental system that once more or less covered the face of the globe, its main centre being located in what is now the Atlantic Ocean. As well as covering the North and South Atlantic regions, it included portions of the North and South Pacific, and islands in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka (Ceylon) was the northern headland of one of the Pacific-Atlantean land-masses. Sweden and Norway formed part of Atlantis on the European side, and eastern and western Siberia and Kamchatka belonged to it on the Asiatic side. Other surviving remnants of Atlantis are the Azores, the Canaries, and the island of Madeira – all of which were once mountain-peaks of the Atlantean continent (ET 1045fn; SD 2:402, 405).
The Atlantic portion of Lemuria was the geological basis of what is generally known as Atlantis. The latter, indeed, must be regarded rather as a development of the Atlantic prolongation of Lemuria, than as an entirely new mass of land upheaved to meet the special requirements of the Fourth Root-Race. Just as in the case of Race-evolution, so in that of the shifting and re-shifting of the continental masses, no hard and fast line can be drawn where a new order ends and another begins. Continuity in natural processes is never broken. Thus the Fourth Race Atlanteans were developed from a nucleus of northern Lemurian Third Race Men, centred, roughly speaking, toward a point of land in what is now the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Their continent was formed by the coalescence of many islands and peninsulas which were upheaved in the ordinary course of time and became ultimately the true home of the great Race known as the Atlanteans. (SD 2:333-4)
The similar geological structure of parts of the opposing Atlantic coastlines and the fossil similarities in certain periods show that ‘there has been, in distant pre-historic ages, a continent which extended from the coast of Venezuela, across the Atlantic Ocean, to the Canarese Islands and North Africa, and from Newfoundland nearly to the coast of France’ (SD 2:791). Necks of land formerly existed knitting Atlantis to South America somewhere above the mouth of the Amazon, to Africa near Cape Verde, and probably to Spain. Northwest Africa was an extension of Spain before the elevation of the Sahara and the rupture of the Gibraltar connection, and was once connected with Atlantis by a network of islands, few of which remain (SD 2:790, 793).
[I]in the days when tropical nature was to be found, where now lie eternal unthawing snows, one could cross almost by dry land from Norway viâ Iceland and Greenland, to the lands that at present surround Hudson’s Bay. Just as in the days of the Atlantean giants, . . . a pilgrim could perform a journey from what in our days is termed the Sahara desert, to the lands which now rest in dreamless sleep at the bottom of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. (SD 2:423-4)
There was more land than water during the era of the fourth root-race and gigantic mountain chains.
The ancient continents had more mountains than valleys on them. Atlas, and the Teneriffe Peak, now two of the dwarfed relics of the two lost continents, were thrice as lofty during the day of Lemuria and twice as high in that of Atlantis. . . . Atlas was an inaccessible island peak in the days of Lemuria, when the African continent had not yet been raised. It is the sole Western relic which survives, independent, of the continent on which the Third Race was born, developed and fell, for Australia is now part of the Eastern continent. Proud Atlas, according to esoteric tradition, having sunk one third of its size into the waters, its two parts remained as an heirloom of Atlantis. (SD 2:763)
Africa, as a continent, appeared before Europe, but was never part of either Lemuria or Atlantis (SD 2:263, 368). During the early days of Lemuria, the sveta-dvipa, or white continent, of the Puranas, ‘stood out like a giant-peak from the bottom of the sea; the area between Atlas and Madagascar being occupied by the waters till about the early period of Atlantis (after the disappearance of Lemuria), when Africa emerged from the bottom of the ocean, and Atlas was half-sunk’ (SD 2:264). Abyssinia was once an island, and the whole region of present-day Egypt and the deserts was once covered by the sea (SD 2:368). The Sahara was the basin of a Miocene sea, later a fertile continent, and then, after another temporary submersion, it became a desert (SD 2:405, 781-2, 787fn).
Egypt is far older than Europe as now traced on the map. Atlanto-Aryan tribes began to settle on it, when the British Islands and France were not even in existence. It is well known that ‘the tongue of the Aegyptian Sea,’ or the Delta of lower Egypt, became firm land very gradually, and followed the highlands of Abyssinia; unlike the latter, which arose suddenly, comparatively speaking, it was very slowly formed, through long ages, from successive layers of sea slime and mud, deposited annually by the soil brought down by a large river, the present Nile. Yet even the Delta as a firm and fertile land, has been inhabited for more than 100,000 years. (SD 2:746)
America is older than Europe, and was forming while Atlantis was sinking (ML 156; SD 2:407fn, 446). When the Atlanteans were in their prime, the European continent was not yet in existence as we now know it, but there was free communication between Atlantis and such portions of Europe as did exist, and Egypt (BCW 4:447). Geology shows that the British Isles have been submerged and reelevated four times, and that the straits between them and Europe were dry land at a remote former epoch (SD 2:746fn, 787fn).
The large continent of Atlantis ‘first divided, and [was] then broken later on into seven peninsulas and islands’ before Europe in its present form had emerged (SD 2:405). When the main part of Atlantis began to sink, Atlantean settlers migrated to the new lands which were rising to the east, west, and south. These new lands became the Americas, Africa, parts of Asia, and the present European countries, stretching from the Ural mountains of Russia, westward to include the British Isles, and even farther westward than that in former times (Dia 2:90-1). Some emigrants from the remaining islands in the Atlantic settled on new islands to the east which later consolidated into what is now the district of the Abyssinian highlands and lands somewhat to the north (SOP 540).
Atlantis perished through flooding and submergence, and its destruction was brought on by successive disturbances in the axial rotation.
It began during the earliest tertiary periods, and, continuing for long ages, carried away successively the last vestiges of Atlantis, with the exception, perhaps, of Ceylon and a small portion of what is now Africa. It changed the face of the globe, and no memory of its flourishing continents and isles, of its civilizations and sciences, remained in the annals of history, save in the Sacred records of the East. (SD 2:314).
The sinking of Atlantis began in the Eocene, and most of it had sunk by the end of the Miocene (SD 1:439fn, 2:8fn, 314, 395, 433fn, 693, 710, 740). The largest remaining island, Ruta, situated in the Pacific Ocean, was destroyed about 850,000 years ago, at the time of a shifting of the earth’s axis (SOP 24; SD 2:144-5).* Daitya, a fairly large island in the Indian Ocean, though smaller than Ruta, sank about 270,000 years ago (SOP 19, 24; SD 1:650-1).** The last remaining island of noteworthy magnitude, Poseidonis, about the size of Ireland, which was situated in the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, was submerged in 9565 BC in a great cataclysm involving massive earthquakes and tidal waves (ML 151/155; SOP 137; ET 1045fn; WoS 297).
*The date of 850,000 years ago is given in many places (SD 1:650-1, 2:10, 141, 144-5, 250, 313-4, 332, 352, 433; SOP 24). The disaster is said to have lasted 150,000 years, from 850,000 to 700,000 years ago (SD 2:395, 751fn). Dates of 900,000 years ago (SD 2:395), 869,000 years ago (SD 2:147), and 859,000 years ago (letter from H.P. Blavatsky to J.R. Skinner, 17 February 1887) are also given.
**Sometimes both Daitya and Ruta are said to have sunk 850,000 years ago (SD 2:314, 433); this may mean that parts of Daitya sank at the same time as (most of) Ruta.
The fifth continent
The fifth continent was America in point of time, but Europe and Asia Minor have received the name, as they were almost coeval with America and it was there that the fifth root-race evolved (SD 2:8). Most of Asia emerged from under the waters after the destruction of Atlantis, Africa came still later, while Europe is the fifth and latest continent, portions of the two Americas being far older (SD 2:606fn). In the heyday of Atlantis, only a few portions only Europe were rising above the waters; the lands of Europe were not above water before the close of the Eocene* (SD 2:722-3).
*‘Eocene’ as used here comprises the modern Paleocene, Eocene, and Oligocene. See Geochronology: theosophy and science.
America was, strictly speaking, the fifth continent to appear about the time of the sinking of the mainland of the Atlantic continental system. But for ages and ages after the first part of the original Americas had risen above the waters of the ocean, semi-continents, quasi-continents, great islands, of the Atlantean system still endured. And not so very long, geologically speaking, after the Americas had arisen above the waters – not then having their exact present configuration – the first roots of what later became Egypt, ‘the Gift of the River Nile,’ appeared; and a little later than that, the larger part of what is now called upper Asia. (SOP 539)
The early fifth-race stocks migrated from Atlantis to Central Asia, where the Gobi desert and northwestern China now are, beginning some 4 to 5 million years ago. This vast stretch of Asiatic country is now a lofty plateau, but was then comparatively low and fertile, having just begun to rise above the waters. There was an immense inland sea to the north of it, emptying into the Arctic. All that remains of it is the little Sea of Aral, the Caspian, the sea of Azov, and the Euxine or Black Sea. There was also a hidden sea in what is now Mongolia, which has since evaporated. At that time Europe was largely under water. The Alps were being uplifted: only the peaks and a certain amount of the foothills were as yet above the sea. Slowly more land began to rise and the waters drained off; vast stretches of what is now Russia began to appear, together with southern Germany, coastal France, and later the British Isles and Ireland. By about a million years ago the fifth root-race had developed into a distinct human stock in its Central Asian cradeland. Geological and climatic changes then led to a series of migrations to the newly risen lands (SOP 16-25, 137).
Europe in the Quaternary was very different from the Europe of today, as it was then still in the process of forming. Spain was united to what is now northern Africa by a neck of land running across the present Strait of Gibraltar, while the Sahara was a broad sea (SD 2:740).
There was a time when the delta of Egypt and Northern Africa belonged to Europe, before the formation of the Straits of Gibraltar, and a further upheaval of the continent, changed entirely the face of the map of Europe. The last serious change occurred some 12,000 years ago, and was followed by the submersion of Plato’s little Atlantic island, which he calls Atlantis after its parent continent. (SD 2:8-9)
The fourth national race (the European) originated about 9000 years ago and has about another 16,000 years to live, before a series of cataclysms cause the submergence of many parts of Europe, including Britain, most of France, Holland, some of Spain, and a good deal of Italy. This won’t take place in a night, for there will be premonitory signs, such as slow sinkings of the coast and great earthquakes (SD 2:330-1; SOP 35-9, 41, 485-6, 702-3; FSO 163-4; FEP 280/2; OG 143). Like Lemuria, Britain and Europe will one day sink beneath the waves owing to earthquakes and subterranean fires (SD 2:266, 307fn). The cataclysms which will one day destroy Europe, and eventually the whole Aryan race, and which will thus also affect both the Americas, will usher in the sixth root-race (SD 2:445).
Sixth and seventh continents
The sixth and seventh continents will include portions of America, Africa, and Central Asia, including the Gobi region (SD 2:404fn). The principal home of the sixth root-race will be the Americas. Much of the land of the Americas that is now above the waters will then be under them, and new land, now forming the sea bottom, will have risen above its surface. North and South America may then be more widely united. New land will rise out of the present Pacific, thus raising the old Lemurian beds again, to be joined to the western coast of the Americas (FEP 282).
Britain is destined to sink, being the first on the list of victims that have to be destroyed by fire (submarine volcanoes) and water; France and other lands will follow suit.
When they reappear again, the last seventh Sub-race of the sixth Root race of present mankind will be flourishing on ‘Lemuria’ and ‘Atlantis’ both of which will have reappeared also (their reappearance following immediately the disappearance of the present isles and continents), and very few seas and great waters will be found then on our globe, waters as well as land appearing and disappearing and shifting periodically and each in turn. (ML 156)
June 2000. Last updated Jan 2018.
Sunken continents versus continental drift