Another lost continent was added to the Theosophists’ multiplicity of sunken lands in the 1920s by an Anglo-American occultist, James Churchward (1851-1936), who claimed to have discovered evidence for a sunken landmass in the Pacific Ocean named Mu. Churchward was born in Hatherley, Devon, and liked to be known as ‘Lieutenant-Colonel’ (and although no-one seems to have discovered where he served, his claims to knowledge of India and/or Tibet suggest that it was in British India: at least one author (Kolosimo 1971 , 56) makes him a Colonel in India during 1868, at the impossibly tender age of seventeen!). By 1872, he was living in Sri Lanka and borrowed money to finance a tea plantation in 1879 (he appears as owner of a plantation in a directory published in Colombo in 1878). Two years later, he was back in England, where he is listed in the census of 1881 as a tea planter, now living in Croydon (Surrey); before the end of the decade, though, he was living in Brooklyn (USA). After writing a Big Game and Fishing Guide to Northeastern Maine, published in 1898, he published five volumes during the 1920s and 30s, dealing with his ‘discovery’ of the ‘lost continent’ of Mu (The Lost Continent of Mu, The Children of Mu, The Sacred Symbols of Mu, The Cosmic Forces of Mu and The Second Book of the Cosmic Forces of Mu). The first volume (published in 1926) set out his theory, employing a “vast knowledge of science, ancient art and history, mythology and the occult” to recreate the splendour of this antediluvian world.
Churchward claimed that he had discovered the existence of the long lost continent of Mu from his reading of ancient texts. It had been home to an advanced civilisation, located in what is now the Pacific Ocean. It was almost completely sunk 60,000 years ago, with the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island being virtually the sole traces left of it. He called his main source of information ‘the Naacal tablets’, which said he had deciphered after being taught the Naacal language (apparently the original language of all humanity) by a Hindu priest in India during the famine of 1866 (although he also claimed to have seen them in Tibet); he would have been fourteen or fifteen at the time! Although the monk had no idea what the tablets contained, and in spite of having no formal linguistics training whatsoever, Churchward was able to translate the tablets (partly through psychic inspiration) and so learned the history of the lost continent. In addition to the Naacal tablets, Churchward publicised others found by the geologist William Niven (1850-1937) at San Miguel Amantla, Mexico, which he claimed tell the same story. He had seen them during his travels in Central America, which seem to be even worse documented than his travels in India and Tibet; somewhere in a Central American jungle, he was apparently attacked by a flying serpent!
According to Churchward’s reading of the tablets, the first humans had appeared in Mu two million years ago; the population grew to 64 million but was almost completely destroyed with the continent. The survivors were the ancestors of all the remaining peoples of the world, who carried elements of their culture with them. The continent itself was plunged beneath the waves when the subterranean ‘gas belts’ on which it rested collapsed. Elsewhere, the gas ignited, creating mountain ranges (which, according to Churchward, had not existed previously).
Curiously, Churchward was not the first person to ‘discover’ Mu, although he never mentioned this. It was the name of the sunken land in Brasseur de Bourbourg’s ‘translation’ of the Troano Codex, although Ignatius Donnelly and Auguste le Plongeon (1826-1908) had identified it with Atlantis. The location of Churchward’s Mu owed more to the Theosophists’ Lemuria and he seems to have regarded the recurrence of the phoneme mu as significant, apparently not understanding the latter name to be modern and based on the word ‘lemur’. The Naacal tablets are a more intractable problem. Since Churchward never revealed the location of the ‘secret’ Indian monastery where he saw and translated them and no known monastery has claimed to possess the tablets, their existence cannot now be confirmed, nor can they be studied independently of Churchward. He said that he had shown a friend the tablets; he did not reveal the identity of the friend, nor did anyone ever come forward as this person. The Mexican tablets, unlike the Indian (or Tibetan) examples, have been identified, but no one other than Churchward has ever claimed them to be ‘tablets’: they are flattened figurines that the locals made in recent times as aids to prayer and worship.
There is no evidence that the Naacal ever existed outside Churchward’s over-fertile imagination: every reference to them links back to Churchward – no one knows where or when they lived, and they left absolutely no evidence of their existence outside the tablets Churchward claimed to have deciphered. Moreover, there is no evidence that the tablets existed, either, despite a recent claim on his great-grandson’s website that they have been relocated in a tunnel system beneath the Sri Ekambaranatha temple in Kanchipuram (Tamilnadu, India) by one Thomas Ritter.
As soon as we look for confirmation of just about any of Churchward’s assertions, we fail to find any and the only reasonable conclusion to draw is that Churchward invented almost everything in his books. In other words, he was a fraud whose works owe more to fantasy than to scholarship. Nevertheless, Mu has entered the fringe literature, where authors are rarely fussy about checking their sources for confirmation.
The resurrection of Mu?
In 1970, a book claiming to present a translation of a diary compiled by a boy called Kland was published by Tony Earll. Mu Revealed told the story of how the boy had moved to Mexico around 21,050 BCE and his scrolls had become trapped in the ruins of a temple destroyed by an earthquake. Excavated in 1959 by Reedson Hurdlop, an archaeologist who had set out to test Churchward’s hypothesis of Mu, their contents not only confirmed Churchward, but went further. The cover blurb claims that “the diary scrolls provide breathtaking glimpses into the everyday life of Mu at the height of its splendid, doomed culture.” In the words of the introduction, the book reveals “the long-lost civilization of Muror. Throughout the main body of this book the translations of the scrolls have been rendered, as far as practicable, into modern-day English, though the poetic style has been retained where possible. Kland’s style is, admittedly, rather stilted. But the scrolls have been quoted at some length simply because they are the actual “voice from the past” speaking to us. To read of life in those far-off days in the actual words of an inhabitant of the now-dead continent means far more, the author feels, than to simply interpret his words. Interposition… has been carried out, but the main body is that “voice from the past” – from the lost continent of Muror.”
Alas, the story was a hoax. The author’s name is an anagram of ‘Not Really’, whilst the archaeologist is ‘Rednose Rudolph’; by 1976, it had been shown that the hoax was carried out by Raymond Buckland (1934-), who has written extensively on neo-paganism and Wicca. His own website openly lists it among his books. What is not clear, though, is how he would now regard it. Was it a youthful prank? Was it a work of fiction that backfired? Would the author now claim that the account was ‘channelled’? At any rate, it is not further evidence to back up Churchward’s fantasies.