The Lost Continent



Of the High House of Atlas,
Of Its Inhabitants, and of Their
Manners and Customs,
and of the Living Atla.

The High House was separated from its nearest neighbor by over twenty miles of sea. Its diameter was about an half-mile and its height four miles. It had no plains at the base, and its cliffs went absolutely sheer and smooth into the water. It was in shape a flattish cylinder, but the top broadened into a pointed knob, somewhat in the style of St. Basil's at Moscow. There was not a trace of vegetation, which by the way was despised by the Atlanteans. A child would kick a flower contemptuously thinking "You cannot even move about," or pet it as an English degenerate woman does a dog. The only entrance was by an orifice at the top. But the base was tunneled so that from every house was a channel for the Zro which having been brought to the highest perfection was thus transferred to headquarters. The receptacle at the base being far below the Earth, and the Zro further heated by friction, it seethed continually into a bluish or purplish smoke. This was the sole sustenance of the inhabitants of the High House. In early days the old High House, in an island since destroyed by order of the Atla, had been called the House of Blood, the inhabitants subsisting only on blood sucked from the living. The improvements in Zro had changed all that; but the idea was the same, to live on the Quintessence of Life. Hence while the 'houses' ate and drank Zro, the High House drank its vapour. No children were born in it, and none below the rank of High Priest dwelt there.
Except for one matter which was never thought of, though constantly spoken, the inmost mystery of the High House was the 'Living Atla.' This had many names, "Wordeater," "Unshaven" (because the razors of Zro were turned on its hair), "Fireheart," "Beginning and End" and so on: but especially a word I can only translate as "To Her," a defective pronoun existing only in the dative. What the Living Atla really was, is a secret of secrets.[1] We know it only from its epithets, its veils. Thus it was "That Black which makes black white." It was "twenty-six feet high and fifteen feet across — Oh my Lords, it is the essence of the Incommensurable!" It was "the wife of Zro," "the heart of Zro," "desire of Zro," "the Atla that eats Atlas," "the swallower up of her own house," "the pelican," "the fire-nest of the Phoenix," according to the greatest of the poets. And the burden of his hymns of worship was that it must be destroyed.
It was impossible to approach the Atla without being instantly sucked up and devoured by it. This was the greatest death, and ardently desired by all. The favour was accorded only to those who discovered improvements in Zro, or otherwise merited signal and supreme recognition from the state. Hidden men listened to the cries of the victim, and thus learned the nature of the death. It appears that the black suddenly broke into a fiery rose, "the only[2] luminous thing in Atlas," and shooting forward enclosed him. For some reason which was never even guessed the Atla refused women. Those who had seen Atla were however useless to instruct. They came forth from the Presence smiling, and even under the most fearful tortures that the magicians could devise, continued to smile. This smile never left them during life, and the conscious superiority of it was so irritating, and so contrary to the harmony of life in Atlas that the women were killed, and their companions for the future forbidden to approach the Atla.
Whatever theories as to its nature may have been formed by the magicians were upset by a famous experiment. A most holy high priest, a man who at puberty had insisted on immediate marriage with all the women of his house, a magician who had formed four new compounds of Zro, and discovered how to pass matter through matter, was honoured by the great death. On reaching the last corridor, where the concentrated spirals of Zro vapour whirled up into the Presence of Atla, he bade farewell to the appointed listeners in the manner suitable to his dignity, and then, taking a last deep draught of Zro into his lungs, rushed into the antrum. They heard him cry aloud "O!" with surprise, and then with inexpressible rapture the words "Behind Atla, Otla!" which were, and still are, completely unintelligible. Their surprise was greater, when, seven days later he came striding past them without greeting. He went to his 'house' and shut himself up, was never seen or heard again, but was assuredly living at the time of the 'catastrophe.' This man founded a school of philosophy, or rather, it founded itself on what it supposed him to have discovered; and this school disputes with the orthodox the credit of the final success.
The lesser mysteries of the High House were concerned almost entirely with the creation of life, and the bridging of the gulf between Earth and Venus. These were connected intimately; the theory was that if Atlantean brains could exist in bodies sufficiently subtle to traverse aether, the task was done. Some of the experiments were crude enough, and, to our minds, horrible. They attempted to breed a new race by crossing with snakes, swans, horses and other animals.[3] The Greek legends of such monsters as Chimaera, Medusa, Lamia, Minotaur, the Centaurs, the Satyrs and the like are mere filtrations of the Atlantean tradition. The only theory behind such experiments was that they were contrary to the natural order, and so worth trying. Men of more scientific mind more plausibly passed Zro vapour through sea-water; but they only created serpents of vast size, which they cast into the sea about the High House as guardians. The sea-serpent, whether legend or fact, is derived from this experiment. It is quite possible that some such survive. Another school, objecting strongly to the sex-process, "which must be transcended as the Lemurians overcame gemmation" vivisected men and women, taking various parts of the brain, especially the cerebellum, the pineal gland, and the pituitary body, and cultivated them in solutions of Zro under the invisible rays of black phosphorus. The best results of this work was a race of translucent jelly-folk of great intellectual development; but so far from being able to travel through space, they could hardly move in their own element. Another school argued that as Zro in vapour combined the virtues of the liquid and the solid Zro, so a fiery state might be produced which would so impregnate their bodies as to make them "mates of the aether." This school held that fiery Zro already existed in Nature, "in the heart of the Living Atla," and asserted that those who died by absorption into Atla passed straight to Venus. Many of them therefore tried hard to obtain messages from that planet. Familiar with Newton's first law of motion, they further held it possible to prepare Zro in such a state that a current of it could never be deflected or dissipated, and so, if it could be made in sufficient quantity, a bridge to Venus might be built by which they might travel. They therefore tunneled through the planet, as previously explained, to have a sort of cannon for the Zro. But as their supply was pitifully insufficient, they endeavoured also to prepare a Zro which would have the power of multiplying itself. Alchemical tradition has some record of this problem.
Yet another group of Magicians argued that as Nature had cast off the planets from the Sun — a disputed point, some thinking this due to Magic, which if so completely destroys the argument — it would be contrary to Nature to cause the planets to fall back into it. They busied themselves with attempts to increase the Earth's gravitational pull, and (alternatively) to check her course. Their schemes were generally regarded as Utopian — yet they could boast of the discovery of the Zro that lightened bodies, and of a kind of aether-screen which generated mechanical power in inexhaustible quantities by making matter slightly opaque to aether. This engine only worked on a very small scale. A screen two inches long would tear itself from fastenings that would have held an earthquake, while the rocks in its neighbourhood would melt in a few minutes, and the sea boil instantly where its rays struck. The most brilliant of this school asserted "Matter is a strain in the aether." He explained gravitation in this way. Place two ivory spheres in a rubber tube; the strain on the tube is least when the balls touch. The tendency is therefore for them to come together. Friction alone checks them. Now aether is infinitely elastic and without friction. From these data he calculated the Law of Inverse Squares.
A more mystic school saw life everywhere. It knew all that we know, and more, about ions and electrons; it saw every phenomenon as a manifestation of will. The crowning glory of this school was the discovery that Zro in its ninth stage, eaten and drunken with concentrated intention, produced the desired result, whatever (within wide limits) that result might be. This went far to supersede the use of all specialized forms of Zro, and so to unify the magical practice.
It seems curious with all this Magic, Magic itself should be the thing most deplored. But it was the means, and, as such, "that which is in particular not the end." The word for Magic, Ijynx, was the only dissyllable in the language, for Magic was the essentially two-fold thing, more two-fold (in a way) than the number two itself. It is interesting here to sketch briefly the mathematics of Atlas. The task is not easy, as their minds worked very differently from ours.
The number 1 was a fairly simple idea; but two was not only two, but also "the result of adding 1 to 1" and "the root of 4." The numbers grew in complexity out of all reason. Seven was 6 plus 1, and 5 plus 2, and 4 plus 3, and so on; as well as "the root of 49," "half 14" and the like. They even distinguished 4 plus 3 from 3 plus 4. Each number also represented an idea or group of ideas on all sorts of planes. It would have been quite possible to discuss dressmaking in terms of pure number. To give an example of the way in which their minds thought, consider the number three. Three, in so far as it gives the first plane figure, suggests superficies; with regard to the dimensions of space, solidity. Three itself is therefore "that ineffably holy thing in which the superficies is the solid." Of course hundreds of other ideas must be added to this; and to grasp and harmonize them all in one colossal supra-rational idea was the constant task of every mathematician. The upshot of this was that all numbers above 33 were regarded as spurious, illusionary; they had no real existence of their own;[4] they were temporary compounds, unreal in very much the same sense as our √1. They were always expressed by graphic formulae, like our own organic compounds. To take an example, the number 156 was regarded as a sort of efflorescence of the number 7; it was never written but as

77 + 7 + 7 + 77.

Again 11 was usually written 3 plus 5 plus 3. It was always the aim to find symmetry in these expressions, and also "to find an easy way to 1." This last is difficult to explain.

Eleven was their great "Key of Magic." It is a twofold number in "the act of becoming 1." Thirty-seven was the essence of 1 inasmuch as multiplying it by 3 gives 111, three ones, which divided again by 3 in another manner, yield 1. "One would rather think of 48 as 37 plus 11 than as 4 times 12" is the statement of an elementary text-book dating from the earliest days of Atlas. It was a sort of moral duty to teach the mind to think in this manner.
The number 7 was the "perfect number" with them as with us, but for very different reasons. It was the link between Earth and Venus, for one thing; I cannot explain why. It was "the number of Atla," and the "house of success" (two being the "house of battle"). It was also grace, softness, ease, healing and "joy of Zro" as well as "play of phosphorus." Many mathematicians, however, attacked it with rigour; there was at one time an almost general consent to replace it by 8, and its "rapture-combination" 31, by 33. Despite the intense preoccupation with such ideas, mathematics as we know them had reached a perfection which if it does not surpass that of our own civilization, fails principally because its theorems, handed down to Euclid and Pythagoras, although imperfectly, formed a springboard whence we might leap.
The initiation of children was also a matter reserved for the High House. Weaned at three months, the children were tended by the lower classes until the age of puberty, an occurrence which fitted them at once for initiation. A legate from the High House was sent for, and in his presence the child was brought, acquainted with Zro by its father and mother, and full instruction in 'working' was further conferred by any member of the 'house' who chose to do so, this in practice meaning by everybody. The ceremonies were frequently long and exhausting; children often enough died in the course of them. This was not regarded as a serious calamity; some schools of Magicians even pretended to rejoice. The representative of the High House had a prior right to the parents of the child; at times he conducted the initiation in person, a high honour, but invariably fatal. On rare occasions male children were sent over to the Atla to be devoured. The parents of so fortunate a child were advanced in rank on the spot, and had special privileges conferred on them, sometimes even being transferred to a 'House of Houses.' All those who dwelt in the High House were veiled whenever they appeared, in order to prevent it being known that they were of the same appearance in all respects as their inferiors. This ordinance had been made after the Great Conspiracy, with which I shall deal in the chapter on History.

[1] There are various theories; one a sort of avatar affair, another that the Atla is a quintessence of some kind; another calls 'To Her' the 'Angel of Venus, the force of our aspiration.'

[2] A mere compliment.

[3] Especially monkeys. The results of this experiment were sent to colonize an island, but escaped, and after many journeys, reached Japan, where their descendants flourish still.

[4] A partial exception existed for prime numbers, as being self-generated, and each of these which had been investigated had its special (and comparatively simple) signification.

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