Peter Tompkins's Son Describes His Father's Hunt for Atlantis and His Own Belief in Sex-Crazed Demons
A few days ago I mentioned that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called for activists and government to stand up against professors indoctrinating students. Now in Arkansas a ridiculous new bill introduced by one extremist state legislator aims to ban all books by leftist historians Howard Zinn from public school libraries and classrooms for being, essentially, liberal. While likely unconstitutional, the bill is a reminder that government is never more than a minute from trying to legislate truth and corrupt history for political ends. Banning authors—and historians no less!—is the first step toward imposing official government truths. Fortunately, for now it’s just one legislator’s bad idea.
Publishing executive and writer on esoterica Mitch Horowitz directed my attention to a recent interview that the fringe magazine New Dawn ran with Ptolemy Tompkins, the son of 1970s mystery-monger Peter Tompkins (1919-2007). It was by turns charming and depressing, and painted a picture of a family steeped thoroughly in an imaginary belief system born of fabrications and fantasy. The most interesting thing is that, as the younger Ptolemy tells it, his father differed from modern purveyors of nonsense about ancient history by actually believing with his whole heart and soul in the reality of a lost Atlantis and also spending significant amounts of his own money on a fruitless quest to document its ruins.
Peter Tompkins is probably best remembered for his classic bit of ’70s nonsense The Secret Life of Plants (1973), which alleged that plants had sentience which could be studied with a lie detector. Claims found in that book, derived from the work of CIA agent Cleve Backster on the psychic powers of plants, never entirely went out of style among the fringe and appeared, for example, in alt-right intellectual Jason Reza Jorjani’s Prometheus and Atlas (2016) as proof of a mystical level of reality. Oddly, Tompkins had once been a spy for the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA.
But for our purposes, Tompkins is better remembered for his “ancient mysteries” books such as Secrets of the Great Pyramid (1971) and Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids (1976). While these volumes are considered classics in their genre, I have mentioned many times over the years that Tompkins was a poor researcher, deeply credulous, and happy to repeat any false fact without checking the source. His books are filled with misrepresented quotations, dubious claims, hoaxes, and completely made up stuff. I find it ridiculous, given the sheer volume of evidence against his scholarship, that anyone would take him seriously, but the world of esoterica is a strange one, where emotions and feelings are more important than facts, and the perception of being a True Believer forgives scholarly sins.
New Dawn asked Tompkins’s son Ptolemy about his father’s occasional belief that Atlantis was a real place. Here is how Ptolemy Tompkins responded:
My dad was convinced that the Edgar Cayce readings about the rising of Atlantis were correct. He spent thousands and thousands of dollars photographing the limestone formations off Bimini – the so-called “Bimini Road.” My father loved the idea of Atlantis returning because he wanted the world to become a kind of new Eden. He was a true father of the New Age in this sense – he had the core New Age belief that the world once was, and would be again, a better place. But not better in some mundane sense, but in the sense of being elevated back into a spiritualised condition that it had fallen away from. That’s what the Bimini stuff was all about. Generally speaking, one had to be naked during the filming. There were often times when I was the only one aboard the various boats he hired with a bathing suit on. It drove my dad nuts.
Here we see a number of the key themes I’ve discussed over the years boiled down to their essence. I’ll leave aside the weird naturist fetish. The first theme is the unquestioning acceptance of earlier fringe claims. Even though it has always been quite clear that Edgar Cayce was recycling material from Theosophy, fringe literature, and pulp fiction, the elder Tompkins believed in him because he had the right ideology. Cayce was very clear in terms of citing the sources he stole shamelessly from, and he literally said that he was repeating claims previously found in the book Dweller on Two Planets and in Theosophical literature (reading 364-1).
The second theme is the more important one. Advocacy of strange claims about the past isn’t really about history at all but rather about modern social and political concerns. Here, the elder Tompkins, like Graham Hancock today, allegedly believed that Atlantis represented a superior ancient spirituality and thus by proving that it once existed, he could justify belief in that spirituality and thus the changes to society and politics necessary to enact its principles. This sort of primitive utopianism, the search for a lost Golden Age, has long been part of human mythology. It will probably never go away.
For what it’s worth, Tompkins came out of his Bimini adventure disappointed. He concluded that the rock formation that believers in Cayce hoped would prove to be the ruins of Atlantis was nothing more than beach rock. He remained ambivalent about Atlantis to the end, sometimes speculating that it might represent nothing more than pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic trace and other times embracing unusual claims that an Atlantic continent had been destroyed by an asteroid.
In his last fifteen years of life, he came to embrace “alternative Egyptology” based on John Anthony West and Robert Bauval fantasies, and he told J. Douglas Kenyon that hidebound academics would never accept it because “they would have to rewrite all their archeological schoolbooks if some of this is proved.” In his last years, he devoted himself to proving that Theosophy’s elemental spirits were real because he had come to see Theosophy as a prophecy of the future.
The younger Tompkins, however, moved from his father’s New Age spirituality into a more mainstream Judeo-Christian framework. He writes books about heaven and angels, but he betrays his father’s credulity. When asked about angels and demons, he talks about wet dreams (nocturnal emissions) and sex dreams as proof that horny demons are read: “The whole succubus/incubus business, with people engaging in what, to hear them talk, is entirely satisfactory sexual congress with nonphysical beings, I find fascinating. There is much literature on this subject, and so much is just so believable. So belief in demons is a great sort of gateway drug to belief in angels.” He also, naively, believes that Ouija boards work through mystical power rather than the ideomotor effect. The quote of the month must be his ode of thanks to demons for awakening him to spirituality: “So I’m very grateful to the demonic world. It had a hand in breaking down my culturally engrained positivist/materialist tendencies that were hardwired into me as a member of modern culture.”
How does one have a rational discussion with someone who believes that demons communicate with him through a Ouija board? Or that wet dreams come from demons? The interviewer tried to get at that with his final question, asking the younger Tompkins how he separates fantasy from reality. Tompkins fell back on a Cartesian philosophical answer: He knows nothing but that he himself exists. Everything else, he implied, is a story we tell ourselves based on uncertain stimuli from beyond our brains. The great thing about that philosophy is that I don’t have to tell myself the story that makes any of that true, or that gives any credence to the idea that demons provide “entirely satisfactory” sex.
3/3/2017 10:59:21 am
If Howard were still alive... and I did get to know him personally at one time long ago... he would have been pleased as punch by being singled out like this. Not only as a badge of honor, but confirmation of his worst prognoses.
3/3/2017 11:47:08 am
A bill was proposed in Iowa that would require all university faculty hires to be done in such a way that the overall faculty body would be 50-50 liberal and conservative. No new hires could be made if that person's personal political beliefs would skew the balance one way or another. Of course what it's actually aiming at is purging the university of liberal professors.
3/3/2017 12:44:16 pm
I recently acquired a copy of Tompkins' Secret Life of Nature, apparently a sequel to Secret Life of Plants. Glancing at the table of contents, it mentions "Occult Chemistry", Devas, and the Great White Brothers, so I guess by the time he wrote it (it was published in 1997) he was pretty deep into Theosophy.
3/3/2017 01:24:05 pm
Interesting take on the weird world of spirit beings, of which humans and angels share a commonality.
Not the Comte de Saint Germain
3/3/2017 03:11:20 pm
If you think those commenters are all the same person, you really haven't been paying attention.
3/3/2017 03:58:37 pm
1. I'm not Joe Scales.
3/3/2017 07:36:38 pm
re. Tarot cards, etc. The same principle applies to the I Ching. You are not getting advice from any supernatural source but the ritual, when performed sincerely, focuses and opens your mind. The meaning of the "answer" revealed by the sticks is whatever you interpret it to mean. The cat, on the other hand, has her own idea of what to do with the sticks.
3/4/2017 01:29:02 pm
UNCLE RON, interesting that some famous authors thought spirits were behind "automatic writing." I wonder how they could have been so gullible?
3/3/2017 04:21:28 pm
Thank you, D. Yes, separating fact from fiction is key when considering the lore of Vikings in the New World. I notice this conference is coming from Canada, and fledgling professionals are being given a voice. By coincidence, D, I just wrote an email to an esteemed professional archaeologist in Canada (no help in America?) a few days ago, and here are segments from it:
3/3/2017 05:45:50 pm
How does your demonology take into account lying spirits sent by YHVH your god, such as were recounted by Micaiah Ben Imlah?
3/3/2017 07:20:25 pm
In addition to demonic possession, the Catholic Church believes in a bunch of other non-sense, including but not limited to Satan, Jesus's physical ascent to "Heaven", Virgin birth, resurrection from the dead without technology, Original Sin, the Assumption of Mary...
3/3/2017 07:32:04 pm
The most nonsensical thing about the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary is that it is not found in the Bible!
3/3/2017 07:44:02 pm
Besides The Assumption, The Ascension, and the entire book of Genesis, I would like to point out that it is not until gentiles are preaching to other gentiles that Christian don't need to be circumcised. No grown man wants a blade near their sword, know what I mean? Once you question one thing about a religion, you need to question everything
3/4/2017 12:15:25 pm
A BUDDHIST, God will interact with spirits as He wishes, for His own purposes. Recall how a young David soothed the wild beast (King Saul) with demon-chasing music:
3/3/2017 10:00:28 pm
Thanks for the word of warning At Risk. I will now think twice before I consort with demons on Friday nights.
3/3/2017 02:10:50 pm
“The whole succubus/incubus business, with people engaging in what, to hear them talk, is entirely satisfactory sexual congress with nonphysical beings"
3/3/2017 03:59:07 pm
Why, he's clearly already using two!
4/8/2019 07:58:46 am
Bob, you may live in a strangely warped world, if you have never experienced a truly awesome "wet dream". Sex, where all possibilities are open, with a stupendous orgasm. Your bed sheet is wet, sticky wet. You have a problem getting out of the dream. Well, if you missed that, I must pity you. You have not mapped apparently much of the terra incognita which is yourself. Perhaps you may start one day. Who knows. I wish you all very best
3/3/2017 03:32:50 pm
Banning authors due to their political views? Unbelievable.
3/3/2017 07:28:38 pm
Regarding the proposed bill, it's so far from unconstitutional that the light from unconstitutional will never reach it. Jason, your italics suggest you're more concerned with a ban from classrooms than a ban from libraries. I take the opposite view, Zinn's books belong in libraries.
3/3/2017 07:51:36 pm
Oh good old Walter Duranty! Govt is force and violence nothing more. Govt should be tied tight with chains less it rip our liberty in the name of fairness and security. Democracy does not mean govt can do whatever it wants.
3/3/2017 08:41:05 pm
My concern about banning books from classrooms is that it presumes that a book is read only to endorse it, and never to critique it. Challenges to library books are a dime a dozen, sadly. I can remember when I was in high school having to read excerpts from authors who supported slavery and opposed women's suffrage. These passages were used to show opposing views and to critique them. This stupid publicity stunt at least has the benefit of crediting books with the power to change minds.
3/3/2017 11:38:16 pm
Howard's gift to me was his plea for re-examining accepted truths from differing perspectives. Whether you agreed with him or not, the point was to engage you; and this was also his warmth of character. Perhaps he was ahead of his time... with the ability to perceive alternative facts.
3/3/2017 07:52:55 pm
Years ago on another Website forum some people recommended, after I said that I thought Tompkins Secrets of the Great Pyramid was utter nonsense, that I give it another chance.
3/3/2017 11:43:56 pm
"Alternate History" always goes down to one of the following:
3/3/2017 11:59:31 pm
African-Americans are "a mongrel population without a sure ethnic identity"?
3/4/2017 01:35:30 am
"Tell you what, if you're so certain, by all means, do see how it turns out when you make that same statement to a group of African-Americans in person. Come back and let us know the results."
3/4/2017 02:01:24 am
Salmed calls African-Americans a mongrel population in a blatantly derogatory way and you think what I said is kind of racist? Uh huh.
3/4/2017 04:04:05 am
What would make you comfortable in your safe space? Mulatto? Octaroon or any other -roon? I just don't see the derogation that you do. Migration and intermixing of peoples was a thing long before the Africa -> New World slave trade.
3/4/2017 04:16:53 am
I may be wrong, but I believe the original post was referring to the purposeful suppression of the slaves native culture and the forced mixing of different people's drowning out their culture, not to any interracial mixing.
3/4/2017 08:37:02 am
For me, the problematic aspect of the phrase "a mongrel population without a sure ethnic identity" is that the term mongrel is often applied to animals; when applied to humans, it implicitly dehumanizes them.
3/4/2017 10:35:50 am
What would make me more comfortable? How about less disingenuousness?
3/4/2017 12:48:03 am
How about waspy alt-righter neo-nazis. That would be a mongrel group without a clear ethnic identity.
3/5/2017 06:16:48 pm
On the subject of New Dawn magazine, have you read the recent New Dawn Special Issue, Vol. 11, No. 1? It contains an article by former Nazi and fringe writer Frank Joseph "Is Trump Another Hitler?" In contrast to trump's immigration policy, Joseph writes "Hitler formed important alliances with and respected various non-white peoples, such as the Japanese, and many foreign workers were granted guest status in the Reich". It sounds like he still thinks Hitler was not that bad.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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