A long time ago, in 1926 to be precise, a man named James Churchward, who fraudulently called himself a colonel, invented a new lost continent called Mu, placed it in the Pacific, and populated it with the castoff detritus of Theosophy’s Atlantis and Augustus Le Plongeon’s Atlantic island of Mu. For him it was a racist paradise, one where “the original white race,” who of course, reigned over all others, the Master Race. In The Lost Continent of Mu he wrote that “The dominant race in the land of Mu was a white race, exceedingly handsome people, with clear white or olive skin, large, soft, dark eyes and straight black hair. Besides this white race, there were other races, people with yellow, brown or black skins. They, however, did not dominate.” According to Churchward, the white race of Mu colonized all the earth, founded all civilizations, and created all ancient monuments. To support this, he quoted the Ramayana and followed Le Plongeon in asserting that the Maya who appear in that epic are the Mexican Maya and therefore that there is an ancient Aryan origin for both.
Churchward has a great-grandson who works to explore the elder Churchward’s legacy, such as it is. Jack Churchward is not uncritical of the Mu views of James Churchward, and in a recent blog post on the Madrid Codex he did some good work explaining how James, copying from Le Plongeon, fell victim to decades of wishful thinking—and bequeathed to fringe history yet another in an endless series of false claims.
The problem began, as so many fringe history problems related to Mexico do, with the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, who found a partial Mexican codex known as the Troano Manuscript in a Madrid library in 1865. The Abbé had been influenced by claims made for Greek, Roman, and Phoenician influence at Mayan sites like Palenque, and from that he had concluded that the Maya lands were populated by refugees from Atlantis. Thus, in attempting to decipher the Troano manuscript, a portion of the Madrid Codex (a.k.a. the Codex Tro-Cortesianus), he imagined that he had cracked the code of Mesoamerican languages (he hadn’t) and discovered an account of cataclysmic destruction of Mexico beyond even Plato’s imaginings (he didn’t): “The Troano Mansucript does not contain the story of but a single disaster, like the one Plato gave left for us in the destruction of Atlantis.” No, the Abbé believed that the manuscript actually recounted a series of disasters that “separated the old and the new worlds” (p. 223, my trans.).
As the younger Churchward notes, the “translation” was wholly imaginary in that the Abbé wrongly decided that each Mayan glyph represented a letter, which could then be decoded into an alphabet, words, and a language. The glyphs were not actually alphabetic, as would be discovered a century later when the Mayan writing system was deciphered.
Le Plongeon was thrilled to read Brasseur de Bourbourg’s book because he saw in it the key to finding Atlantis in America, particularly because the book seemed to be, as he said, “describing the events that took place during the awful cataclysms that caused the destruction of ten different countries, one of which, called Mu, was probably Plato’s Atlantis.”
James Churchward borrowed from this quite heavily but changed the details, now making the Maya into the original (white, Aryan) people of the world, and the inhabitants of Atlantis who colonized Egypt.
Le Plongeon and Churchward both give a fictitious translation from the second section of the Madrid Codex, known as the Codex Cortesianus, which neither author recognized was actually part of the same book, even though they had been identified as such in 1880 and reunited in 1888. Churchward was a faithless copyist, though, and in plagiarizing Le Plongeon, he made many errors. Consider this paragraph about the “destruction” of “Mu,” allegedly translated from the Codex Cortesianus:
Le Plongeon: “Twice Mu jumped from its foundations. It was then sacrificed with fire. It burst while being shaken up and down violently by the earthquake. By kicking it, the wizard that makes all things move like a mass of worms sacrificed it that very night.”
Anyway, the claim continued on its merry way, with Peter Tompkins praising it in Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids (1976) without quite endorsing it. Jack Churchward correctly notes that a correct translation of the text reveals that it has nothing to do with lost continents and sunken civilizations but is rather an astronomical and calendrical text. Lewis Spence correctly discounted the claim as “manifestly imaginary” in The Problem of Lemuria (1932), but as late as 2004 Shirley Andrews was still repeating James Churchward’s claims as fact in Lemuria and Atlantis: Studying the Past to Survive the Future.
Jack Churchward’s praiseworthy blog post concludes this way:
If you find references to the Troano Manuscript or the Codex Cortesianus that claim these documents to be other than almanacs, horoscopes, or astronomical tables, the author is basing their work on a fraudulent translation and is not to be believed.
The interesting thing about this weird episode is that the people who went into their investigation of the text looking for Atlantis found it, regardless of whether it was actually there.
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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