Phantom Islands

Donald S. Johnson. Phantom Islands of the Atlantic. Souvenir Press, 1997.

Today we have contactees who visit strange worlds beyond the boundaries of known habitation. In earlier times these liminal places were lost islands just beyond the frontiers of the explored world.

Some of the seven lost islands discussed by sailor and writer Donald Johnson are, like many UFOs, the result of misidentification of real places, or phenomena such as fog banks or mirages. But others such as Hy Brazil or St Brendan's Islands are countries of the imagination about which contactee-like voyage narratives were recorded. Johnson shows that the descriptions of these lands demonstrate their allegorical nature, paradisallocations whose descriptions were inspired by passages from the Bible, not least the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelations.

Though the tale of St Brendan may have used descriptions of real places such as Iceland, its author(s) did so to add scenery and interest to the tale: it is a complete misunderstanding of such stories to see them as somehow embroidered but essentially factual descriptions of real voyages. Similarly it would be a mistake to argue that Hy Brazil was nothing but a mirage - certainly, mirages may have been the building blocks out of which the myth was constructed, but what we have is a powerful visionary location of the imagination.

It seems a pity that so few seem to be willing to accept that the strange experiences, locations and personnel of today's visionary narratives are the product of cultural imagination, or that being such does not rob the stories of meaning or authenticity but greatly enhances it. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 63, May 1998



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