In the beginning when indigenous man dwelt upon the Earth, it was a garden paradise under the watchful eye of the gods. This period was a Golden Age... until, a rebellious angel led us to a fall from grace and we lost the innocence of Eden. After this descent, an admixture of 'demi-gods' and earthlings created a new, materialistic civilization and prosperous, powerful empires flourished. The good gods looked on... interceding whenever possible to assist mankind through what had become a tortuous existence.
However as the aeons past, humans forgot their divine heritage, became spiritually arrogant and greed and avarice consumed them. The Atlantean race embarked on a conquest to colonise more lands, inflicting slavery and tyranny, until they met a formidable adversary in the brave Athenians. From beneath Poseidon caused the Earth to quake during this epic battle; 'and seized with fear in the world below was Aidoneus, lord of the shades... lest above him the earth be cloven by Poseidon, the Shaker of the Earth, and his abode be made plain to view for mortals and immortals... so great was the din that arose when the gods clashed in strife.'
The victorious men of Athens saved themselves from subjugation and liberated others. But Zeus the lawgiver and supreme god of shining Mount Olympus, wishing to purge the Earth of this wretchedness; 'collected all the gods into his most Holy habitation, which being placed in the centre of the World, sees all things that partake of generations'.
After the gods had convened, Zeus inflicted a severe punishment on the surface dwellers. He unleashed a mighty thunderbolt and in a single day and night of torrential rain, earthquakes and tidal waves, a deluge engulfed the lands and mankind was virtually annihilated! When the waters receded the continents were unrecognisable, where there had been land there was now sea and seas, desert and fertile fields were entombed in permafrost. The Atlantic was no longer navigable and the few, scattered survivors were isolated.
People had been reduced to a rudimentary lifestyle, amongst the ruins of their once resplendent cities, but they each retained some memories of their lost heritage and their history and cosmogony became our 'myths.' Many cultures, supposed to have developed independently of each other on opposite sides of the globe had counterpart heroes, and deities corresponding to nature's elements,
only their names were different and this global pantheon dramatised similar stories, including floods.…
Noah, like Utnapishtim, prepared an ark, while Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha were cast adrift in a chest for nine days and nine nights, until it landed on Mount Parnassus. There the couple made a sacrifice to Zeus and begged him to replenish the Earth with people.
Every nation the World over shares legends of fire-breathing dragons, titanic sea serpents and magical winged-beasts. Ancient mariners were lured to their deaths by the haunting melodies of sea-nymphs, while giant squids lurked beneath the murky depths. Odysseus, the hero, on his return voyage from the Trojan war, sailed on the current of Oceanus to the 'house of the dead,' at the boundary of Earth to speak with the ghost of his departed mother, and that of Tiresius and Lord Agamemnon. When he passed by the isle of the bewitching Sirens, who would entice him into the abyss, Odysseus plugged the ears of his men and was tied to the mast to hear their sweet singing, without plunging to a watery grave.
Orpheus, the celebrated poet and musician, saved his companions on the Argonautic expedition from yielding to the Sirens, by playing magical music on his golden lyre. Taught by his muse-mother Calliope, the dulcet tones of the minstrel could calm the waves and send dragons to sleep. But Orpheus, in his inconsolable grief at the death of his lover Eurydice, pleaded with Zeus for permission to visit the underworld and beg for her release. The rulers of the lower-world, seduced by the ravishing music of Orpheus, restored Eurydice to life and allowed her to follow him home, on the condition that Orpheus did not look back until they had reached the land of the living. Orpheus could not resist and turned his head to see his lovely wife... Eurydice uttered a cry and vanished forever from his sight, to the world below.
All mythologies refer to an underworld, the domain of the gods, (where mortals occasionally ventured) which scholars presume to be
an imaginary location but it was clearly portrayed as a geographical region, with access in specific areas. How could so many diverse peoples, deemed to have no prior contact, conceive of a separate world beneath the Earth’s crust... unless of course, it was real?
Egyptians called it Amenti, or Duat, the land of the dead and it was a place where souls were judged in the Afterlife, by Osiris, the god
of renewed life, represented by the imperial dragon. Described as a valley, bordered by mountains with a river harbouring serpents and demons, it had secret gateways in the east and west, guarded by sphinx. In the papyrus of Nebseni, (The Book of the Dead) it was shown with a canal, at the end of which is a boat, containing a flight of seven steps, the symbol of ascent.
It was also the source of the Nile, as the visionary Akhenaten's hymn to Aten declared: 'It is in the underworld that you make the Nile. And bring it forth at your will. So that mankind might live.' The spirit of Osiris, rose up yearly with the life-giving innundation from three fountains at the Equator.
In Greece, the netherworld called Hades, meaning unseen, was also the realm of the dead, which was well mapped as a mirror image of the outer world (as above, so below.) It had plains and mountains with deep cave systems but so far beneath the surface, an object dropped would take nine days to land. Reached by the River Styx, after paying Charon the ferryman, it was divided into the regions of Erebus and Tartarus, where Minos and his brother Rhadamanthus were judges.
Those who had been good and virtuous were destined to remain in Elysium, a land of bliss and perpetual sunshine with gold, mineral riches and treasures guarded by griffins. There was the Asphodel Fields where the souls of men remained in limbo or became birds and the Punishment Fields, where it was the destiny of evildoers to endure damnation, scourged by the Furies in the darkness of Tartarus, the deeper part where no light shines and all waters originate. All rivers flow into the chasm of Tartarus and flow out of it again. The worst offenders were those who had sinned against the gods themselves, with the greatest crime of all being abuse of the gods' hospitality.
At the confluence of the deep Acheron and the river Styx in the land of the dark Cimmerians, hidden in vapour and cloud, Odysseus
had discourse with the ghost of Tiresias by necromancy. He invoked the dead by digging a pit, into which flowed the blood of an unblemished black ram. A black sheep was sacrificed in honour of Zeus, Hades and Gaea, the primeval prophetess and source of the vapours which influence the seer. This practise is still prevalent in some countries, such as Haiti.
The dead of Erebus flocked to the pit and Odysseus kept them at bay with his sword until he had spoken to the seer Tiresias, who drank of the blood, before he prophesied. Tiresias spake; ''For whomso of all these spirits departed on earth, Thou sufferest to drink of the blood, he will tell thee the truth, But whomso thou grudgest will silent return to his place.'' So saying, the spirit of Lord Tiresias tells Odysseus the way home and then 'enter'd the mansions of Hades, his oracles told.' Acheron is also the name of a river in modern Greece, still reputed to give access Hades.
Hel was the goddess of the Scandinavian underworld, called Niflheim. It was a land of mist in the far north, surrounded on all sides by the River Gioll, and entered through a cave. As queen of nine worlds, she divided the dead into categories, the righteous went to a place of heavenly bliss but transgressors were condemned to torture. Hel, the daughter of Loki the trickster, was half black and half blue and lived in the dark, damp, dank region beneath the roots of Yggdrassil, the World Ash.
Yggdrasill is the Tree of Life, which the Aesir, (gods of Asgard) say is invisible but without it's support everything would disintegrate and explode into infinity. Odin wishing to acquire the secret of the runes, had to endure terrible sacrifice and physical torture hanging from a bough of Yggdrasill, over the fathomless abyss, for nine days and nights. He gained universal power, which he used to benefit gods and men.
In Slavonic religious beliefs the dead returned to the womb of Moist Mother Earth by embarking on a journey across a wide sea and money was placed in the grave to pay the passage. Or the spirit may have to climb a steep mountain made of iron. This celestial 'other world' of eternal goodness was situated in the rainbow.
The entrances to the subterranean world were on the banks of the Ocean (vortices) and at the edge of the circle of the Ocean, (the poles) there were also crevices and openings in the floor of the Earth. The Alcyonian Lake in the swamps of Lerna, in which Heracles fought the Hydra, was used as a portal to Hades by the wine-god Dionysus when he rescued his mother Semele from the underworld. The heroine asked her illicit lover Zeus to reveal to her his true nature as storm god and was burned up by the awful glow of that revelation. To retrieve Semele from the nether regions, Dionysus went to Lerna and dived into the bottomless lake.
The guardian of this Holiest of places was the Celestial Dragon, but knowledge of the realm at the Earth's core was lost in the mists of time. However, in 1819 Lord Nathaniel Parker, educated in the classics at Oxford and son and heir of the 6th.Earl of Saltmarshe Manor in Herefordshire, unwittingly stumbled upon this 'mythological' world, while fulfilling his ambition to circumnavigate the Globe. The sloop he chartered was the HMS Argonaut (surely an augury) and he set sail, to satisfy his wanderlust, with Captain Barnaby Ralph, a Royal Navy veteran and a crew of over fifty sailors, from Portsmouth Harbour in 1817.
Nathaniel was a keen naturalist and a fine artist, influenced by Sir Joseph Banks, a friend of his father, who had sailed on the Endeavour with Captain James Cook. Nathaniel expertly illustrated the flora and fauna he discovered, his handwriting was immaculate and he made at least nine journals detailing his voyage, which he addressed to his betrothed, Belinda Sedgewick, whose interest was botany.
While exploring the South Pacific west of the Peru-Chile trench, the ship entered a raging tempest, the next entry in Nathaniel's journal was in April, which stated; “We are lost. The desperate storms we suffered during the last week (the worst yet) have driven us finally to islands somewhere in the Pacific. The Captain's navigational skills so far have failed him and he, with all his experience does not recognise our latest harbour.” They were washed up on an unknown archipelago and the damaged sloop limped into a pleasant cove, surrounded by rolling green hills with volcanic peaks in the distance, which they named Salvation Bay. The climate was temperate and they grounded the ship on a wide sandy beach for repairs. Nathaniel, as ever, sketched the activity.
Soon, with a warm wind on their backs, the crew set off on foot to explore. Their first experience in this terra incognito was rather alarming. A peculiar roaring sound could be heard overhead... suddenly, Nathaniel and Barnaby were engulfed by flames as a flying creature swooped past! Nathaniel was relatively unscathed but the Captain was quite badly burned and in the panic, he lost the precious sextant given to him by Captain Cook. Mystified, they returned to the camp for first aid. When Barnaby had sufficiently recovered, the men resumed their trek northwards and luckily found the sextant glinting in the sunlight on the plateau where the unfortunate incident had occurred.
In a gentle stream, they discovered a species unlike anything they had seen before, Nathaniel described it as a water rat with a shrewish snout and sharp teeth protruding from it's lower jaw, and webbed feet! It looked like a cross between an otter and a pike. He made exquisite paintings of these animals and a myriad of insects, including colourful scarabaeus beetles. He also found fascinating spiders with five pairs of legs, all unique to these islands.
The next encounter was with gigantic carnivorous plants containing a caustic liquid, which caused a nasty rash. They had a tantalising odour, disguising their deadly intent and Nathaniel recorded all the features of this plant which he knew would interest Belinda. It's seed pods exploded like cannon fire when they hit the ground and small hovering birds, one inch tall, flitted between the spiky foliage.
Each step they took exposed more mysteries. Heading along a ridge of volcanic peaks they came across a clutch of huge eggs, one foot across, nestling in warm ash. They marvelled at what type of bird this nest could belong to and collected specimens. The men lay in wait all night for a glimpse of the mother, but she never returned.
Then one of the crew spotted a strange beast half-buried in sand, they scrambled down the rocks to the beach and were amazed at the sight, it was a sea-serpent whose remains were thirty six feet long! Nathaniel could not estimate it's original size. It had both dorsal and ventral fins along it's length. Much to the relief of the crew, Captain Ralph informed them that it only eats krill. Noticing sucker marks on it's shimmering flesh which Nathaniel recognised as those of an octopus, he never mentioned the 'kraken' large enough to have killed this enormous serpent.
In the Old Testament, God created sea monsters on the fourth day and they occur in the folklore of most native coastal tribes. Since then, serpents have been witnessed throughout the 'Seven Seas,' some are said to reach proportions of ninety feet! The Papyrus of Nu says; 'There is a serpent on the brow of that mountain, and he measureth thirty cubits in length; the first eight cubits of his length are covered with flints and shining metal plates.' (Osiris knew the name of this serpent.)
That evening as the party sat around the camp fire, eating fresh sea-serpent, which tasted like eel, they felt bewildered by the discovery
of an animal believed to exist only in myths. Further bemused, they witnessed a display of fiery lights in the sky. The following day revealed the source of the baffling flames. Dragons! No-one dared move... only Kelly whispered, ''it is a dragon, m'lud.''
With wings outstretched these legendary beasts were gliding with grace and ease, they seemed to be translucent and did not flap their wings but ''appear to tack, beat westwards and run before, making the most of the winds'', as noted by Seaman Savage in nautical terms. They counted fifteen of them and after making observational drawings, Nathaniel did not feel threatened by the dragons, finding them to be docile, rather like cows. They had an elongated neck which they extended to sift the surface of the water when feeding and Nathaniel drew them in detail from every conceivable angle.
Later, with the good fortune to find a dead one, scorched by a rival, Nathaniel was able to do anatomical studies and found it's bone structure to be honeycombed, which made it strong but light, enabling it's humungous bulk to fly. It had inflated sacs on it's underside filled with lighter than air gas, making it buoyant and presumably the source of it's flaming breath, as Nathaniel deduced, ignited by some mineral in it's throat, as Barnaby was made painfully aware!
A week later, as they crossed a grassy plain towards a dense forest, they were startled by an ear-piercing shriek. Looking up they saw sinister shapes hovering above, which to their horror landed and encircled them. They were griffins! They began to attack, hissing and slashing at a crew member, fortunately Mr. Pearson Fenn had the presence of mind to discharge his musket, killing the leader and scaring the others off. Taking cover in briary bushes they attended to Miller the afflicted man, administering the juice of an abundant fruit with powerful narcotic properties.
As Seaman Miller slept deeply, Nathaniel scrutinized the dead griffin, it was exactly how legends describe it with the body of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle and claws on it's feet. It's wingspan was fifteen feet and it's weight about that of a large dog, and it ran on it's knuckles due to the heavily developed talons, which had so badly wounded the seaman. Needless to say, Nathaniel painted the griffin in his journal.
As they set up camp beside the forest, a movement in the trees alerted the men, and yet another new species emerged. They came crashing through the campsite. Large flightless birds up to twelve feet tall, (like the extinct giant moa) with no fear of humans, apparently never having met them before. Apart from the havoc they wreaked in the camp, these inquisitive birds were completely harmless, and when Nathaniel had reorganised his materials, they posed for the artist!
Next, an unusual rumbling sound was heard getting closer and to their utter astonishment, a herd of unicorns galloped by! There was around a hundred of them and Nathaniel wrote ''they are truly glorious, dazzlingly white but not as legends say the size of a horse. They cannot stand more than seven hands high, yet have all the elegance and grace of thoroughbreds.'' These charming creatures looked part horse and part deer, with a goat's head.
But the griffins were preying on the unicorns, who bunched together with the horn on their forehead (more like an antler) providing an effective defence, until an injured one was singled out and the others ran towards the trees, leaving the fated unicorn to be rent asunder by the voracious griffins. As Nathaniel quickly sketched the scene, the crew looked on, awestruck by this contest between these 'mythical' animals.
Unicorns were said to avoid capture by their swiftness and could only be tamed by a virgin, thus becoming a symbol of chastity. The ground horn, mixed with water was medicinal and effectively prevented or cured poisoning, but travellers soon confused this creature with another’ single-horned’ beast, the rhinoceros, which is still being hunted for it's horn, to the point of extinction.