Impossible, improbable or imaginary geographies, as things turned out, are both on planet, in planet, and off planet. Here are a few examples.
Hollow Earth: We all know in this modern enlightened space age era that our home planet isn’t flat, which wasn’t always the case. You can’t really fault our ancestors for that, because, on the surface, unless you’re really cluey, despite hills and dales, the ground is flat! Okay, that’s one misconception about Planet Earth tossed into the rubbish bin, but there’s another. The Earth is a round 3-D sphere. But is it solid through-and-through? Some have suggested the Earth is hollow, and inhabited! That’s been a popular sci-fi plot device since the days of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs though the idea and its promotion both predates and postdates them and not always as a plot device for mere storytelling. Some took the idea very seriously indeed.
But the real modern kick-start of that concept, not as sci-fi but as sci-fact was spawned by Richard Shaver (claiming personal knowledge and firsthand experiences) and hence publicised extensively by Ray Palmer, a sci-fi and UFO guru publisher. Not only was the Earth hollow, but there was a mini-star in the centre to provide heat and light (seen by surface dwellers as the auroras) to the technologically advanced inhabitants and of course that explains where UFOs came from – not outer space but inner space. There were holes-at-the-poles that served as the gateways between inner Earth and outer Earth.
Alas, geophysical analysis of seismic waves and theoretical celestial and mechanical physics rule out any such notion of a hollow Earth. Satellites show no polar holes – ditto ground-truth findings by polar expeditions which actually preceded the spy-in-the-sky verification. Of course diehards put all that down to worldwide cover-ups and conspiracy theories! The truth is out there – or rather down there.
Still, the idea retains its popularity from Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” (as popular as ever) to Edgar Rice Burroughs and his series of Pellucidar novels (“At the Earth’s Core”, etc. – even Tarzan got into the act in one novel) right down to modern times and the “Sanctuary” TV series. The Verne and Burroughs novels have of course provided fodder to those in Hollywood to make many a film promoting the hollow Earth, though unlike Shaver/Palmer, there was never any attempt to pawn off the idea as reality.
Atlantis: A one-off reference by Plato has spawned zillions of books, articles, movies, documentaries, web sites, and all-round everyday references to this reference, etc. The topic of all the fuss is called or known as Atlantis, or sometimes Atlantis, the Lost Continent. Self-made, even bona-fide scholars, past and present (and no doubt future) have located the lost ‘continent’ of Atlantis on just about each and every square mile on the surface of Planet Earth. You name the location; someone has suggested that’s where Atlantis was. While not everyone can be right, everyone can be wrong. Atlantis, especially Atlantis, the Lost Continent, doesn’t exist. Rather, a place of an entirely different name, coupled with a disastrous event, collectively conspired apparently to give Plato the inspiration for the tale of Atlantis.
The pretty much accepted view, by scholars anyway, is that the southern Aegean Sea island of Santorini, at least what remains of the island known more to the ancients as Thera, being a volcanically active sort of place, blew it’s volcanic top some 3600 years ago, and when I say blew, I mean BLEW! The explosion was one of the absolute largest volcanic Ka-Booms in ancient or modern history. Now the Minoan civilization, on the nearby island of Crete (a mere 70 miles away), had a front row seat view of the fireworks. Unfortunately, sometimes close encounters can be too close for comfort. And so it came to pass that between the eruption itself, and the massive tsunami that followed as most of Thera collapsed into the Aegean, the Minoan civilization went the way of the dodo. Thus, the initial spark of the Atlantis myth was born. A bit of someone who told someone who told someone who told someone, plus a bit of artistic licence, and Atlantis was thrust onto the world stage where it remains to this very day.
Atlantis isn’t of course the only ‘lost continent’ that’s been popularised. To balance out the maritime locations, Atlantis obvious being associated with the Atlantic Ocean, is joined by Lemuria (Indian Ocean) and Mu (Pacific Ocean). These are the Olympic silver and bronze medallists in the New Age promotion of those lost continents geographies, though the latter two don’t have the distinguished parentage of Atlantis itself.
El Dorado & Cibola: What do we want – gold! When do we want it – now! That may not have been the actual mantra of the Spanish when marching through the Americas, but gold was never far from their minds while converting the heathen (Aztecs, Incas, etc.) to Christianity and otherwise having a grand old time doing their exploration/conquest thing. And the American natives certainly had a lot of gold cultural artefacts, which the Spanish conquistadors were all too happy to relieve from the natives and send them all off to Spain (to be melted down).
But what they actually appropriated from the natives paled in comparison to the tales they heard about undiscovered cities hidden deep in the interior made out of pure gold; Cibola, those ‘seven cities of gold’ was one such, but most of all there was the fabulous golden city of El Dorado, the ‘lost city of gold’. And so it came to pass that, for purely scientific and geographical reasons of course, that many tried to find this golden city (and of course Cibola too) and endured all manner of hardships in their quest. To that end, the natives too endured hardships, like torture to tell all where exactly El Dorado and Cibola was, but it all boiled down, even with the natives, to again someone who told someone who told someone fifty times removed. Nobody had a precise clue. Well, to make a long story short, all the hardships were for nought. It all came to a lump of solid nothing. El Dorado and Cibola didn’t exist. The Americas aren’t home to El Dorado or golden cities of any kind. It’s just another one of those numerous examples of imaginary geography.
Oh, and while I’m at it, just a passing mention that Shangri-La, based on Shambhala, a mythical kingdom in Tibet, is well, also totally mythical. Still, “Lost Horizon”, the novel and the film featuring Shangri-La (plus the hit tune), are part of our cultural heritage now so you can expect that this geographical utopia will be with us for some time to come.
Hell, Hades & Hel: Here’s a trilogy of terrestrial underworld places that many believe in but nobody has verified.
If Hell exists, it certainly exists in terms of terrestrial geography since Earthlings don’t go up to Hell (and Jesus descended to the underworld, or Hell) and the vivid physical descriptions give little doubt to its physical nature. Can anybody however verify the actual existence of Hell? That is the question!
Hades, the ancient Greek trilogy of heaven, hell and in-between, is all placed in the same physical location and had absolute geography as one had exact directions on how to get there, and demigods and mortals alike made many a quest to Hades for various reasons. Return from Hades wasn’t always a sure thing, but some pulled it off. Hades the place was ruled by Hades the god, bother to Zeus and Poseidon and offspring of the goddess Rhea and the god Cronus. Anyway, Hades too has somehow slipped off the geographical map, or maybe Hades was converted to an underground parking lot, the inmates relocated and rehoused elsewhere.
Hel was the Norse version of Hades, oft called the Niflheim Land of the Dead. Hel is akin to Hades in two ways. It’s the land of the dead not just the damned, except for those true Viking warrior heroes who die in battle – they go to Valhalla which is upstairs. So if you weren’t in the category of slain warrior hero, if say you died of old age, illness or accident, you went to Hel, the underworld equivalent of Valhalla and not at all what it sounds like. There was no torment. The other Hades equivalent was that overseer had the same name as the place. Hel was the monstrous offspring of the trickster god Loki. Monstrous she may have been but the goddess Hel supplied food and drink, and the distinguished got mead in Hel’s reception hall.
Now Earth, even subterranean Earth, has been pretty well explored. Guess what, no Hell, Hades, Hel or any other underworld of the dead and/or damned has been found. But for arguments sake, say intrepid alive-and-kicking explorers found Hell on Earth (or under it). What would we do? Well, after Iraq and Afghanistan, why not? The war on terrorism knows no limits when it comes to geography!
Vulcan: We all know that Mercury is the closest planetary object to the Sun. But that’s not celestial physics set in stone. There could be objects even closer in, though difficult to see in the intense glare of our parent star, just as many of us haven’t ever seen Mercury being too close to the Sun to be seen with the unaided eye unless conditions are absolutely spot-on. So, way back when, when astronomical instrumentation and technology wasn’t as good as today, coupled with expectations and the thrill of the chase, well it’s not too surprising that astronomers ‘found’ that there was a planet even closer to the Sun than Mercury. Such a planet would be hot property indeed, and so when looking for mythological names that were ‘hot’ with which to christen it, well Vulcan fit the bill. And so it came to pass that Vulcan was the planet closest to the Sun; Mercury relegated to next in line. Unfortunately, they were wrong. Wishful thinking trumped less than ideal observations and so Vulcan was created in the mind as opposed to being actually verifiable. Mercury was restored to first rock from the Sun status – Vulcan became imaginary real estate. But, as Star Trek fans all know, the name lives on as the (non-solar) home of Mr. Spock and kin.
Neith: Venus, the Goddess of Love, should have a lover – a companion. Venus, the planet, should too have a companion. After all, Venus is the near twin of Earth in terms of size and proximity to the Sun (Venus is second rock out), and Earth has a natural satellite so it stood to reason that Venus should have one too. Alas, it was not to be, but not for lack of trying. Take Neith – companion (but in mythology not lover) to Venus the planet. As with the case of Vulcan, wishful thinking, plus perhaps less than ideal telescopes (relative to modern scopes) led to a flurry of sightings of that expected satellite of Venus, named Neith, so confident were the discoverers that this was no illusion but a physical object. Now there’s a slight problem here. Venus isn’t that close in proximity to the Sun that solar glare should have caused problems. It wasn’t just one professional astronomer who sighted Neith, but many. And while the optical equipment of the day wasn’t 2012 state-of-the-art, it was more than adequate, or should have been more than adequate, to see a reasonable sized satellite in orbit around Venus. So, one could argue that Neith was indeed an actual bit of celestial real estate that went walkabout. Natural satellites don’t have a habit of going walkabout and disappearing. Unnatural satellites on the other hand… Now, might our own Moon be such an unnatural satellite?
Spaceship Moon: Once upon a time there was no real scientifically satisfactorily explanation for the Moon, or rather how the Moon came to be our Moon. One idea that the Moon was an independent body in an irregular and rogue orbit that somehow in a just-so kind of way happen to get gravitationally captured by the Earth was really too implausible. The Moon could have formed jointly with the Earth out of the same cosmic interstellar dust cloud that gave rise to the rest of the solar system. Some bits of that cosmic dust clumped together to form the planets around the parent star, the Sun, and in like fashion other bits of that dust came together around the planets to form natural satellites. Alas, post Apollo, chemical analysis of Moon bits compared to Earth bits ruled that out. For a similar reason, as well as problems in celestial physics, the Moon wasn’t born of a rapidly spinning proto-Earth leaving behind the Pacific basin as its scar, in the same way water droplets would be flung off a globe that was rapidly spinning.
Enter stage left the far-out-star-scout alternative idea that the Moon had nothing to do with the proto-Sun and proto-solar system and proto-Earth. The Moon wasn’t a rogue object captured by the Earth’s gravity, but it was a rouge object that was deliberately steered into an Earth orbit. The Moon was actually a hollow artificially constructed spaceship, covered with lots of dust and rock debris as a natural shield against cosmic radiation and other cosmic bits that would now and again slam into this spaceship – hazards of an interstellar voyage. Anomalies like Transient Lunar Phenomena (strange glowing lights seen on an irregular basis on the lunar surface) are explained as artificial. The Moon’s aliens are the source of the UFO phenomenon. The reason for the aliens steering the artificial Moon into Earth orbit in the first place is that Earth provided all the close at hand next door resources the aliens could ever want.
Of course to spoil that good artificial hollow Moon theory, some bright scientist comes up with yet another natural lunar origin explanation that now fitted all of the facts – a rogue near Mars-sized planet slammed, albeit just a glancing blow, into the proto-Earth, and the resulting mixture of thrown off debris from the proto-Earth and the near totally destroyed smaller rouge planet came together under gravity in near Earth proximity to become, the Moon. So, alas, the artificial hollow Moon proved to be another bit of implausible geography.
Face on Mars: The ‘is there or isn’t there life on Mars’ game was set afoot when the American Viking space probes arrived in the Martian arena in 1976. On the scale of micro-organisms, that question still hasn’t been resolved. There are those who are convinced the Viking craft that landed on the Martian surface hit biological pay dirt. Most others say it was only chemical, not biochemical pay dirt. The fence is being sat on by others to this day. However, the other Viking craft that orbited Mars boldly detected not microbial life, but intelligent life on Mars. One photographed the ‘face on Mars’, and by Jove, that’s exactly what it looked like – one huge monolithic massive stone structure on the Martian surface that resembled down to exacting details, a human face. Well, appearances can be, and often are, deceiving. All of us, at one time or another has seen geometry and recognizable shapes, including faces, in the clouds or in rock formations or on toasted cheese sandwiches. Images of ‘Jesus’ appearing on all manner of things are regular fodder for the tabloids. Anyway, the whole ‘face on Mars’ issue spawned an entire mini publishing boom, though sceptics were 99 & 44/100’s % convinced that it was all just an illusion. And so it came to pass that NASA went back to Mars post-Viking, and, under pressure, had a new orbiting probe take another look under differing lighting conditions. The score – sceptics one; ‘face on Mars’ advocates zero. It really was all just an illusion, a trick of those lighting conditions that when coupled with some wishful thinking produced another example of imaginary geography.
Hollow Moons of Mars: But wait, we’re not quite through with Mars yet. Mars has two relatively tiny satellites discovered in 1877 and both named after offspring of Ares/Mars – the god of war – that orbit around it. The one farther out and smaller of the two is called Deimos (about 4 miles radius and over 12,400 miles altitude) and the other larger and closer moon is Phobos (about 7 miles radius; altitude 3700 miles from the Martian surface). Actually it would be more accurate to say that neither is a perfect sphere; potato-shaped is a more spot-on description.
Now it came to pass that some scientists monitoring the relative orbits of Deimos and Phobos noticed that they were shrinking much, much, faster that they should have been. The moons were spiralling in towards the planet, eventually destined to have a close encounter of the Ka-Boom impact kind. The very tenuous Martian atmosphere isn’t much of a drag to what must be solid rock moons. The only alterative explanation is that these satellites were hollow; much less dense than solid rock, and therefore, wait for it, artificial, probably relics of a long extinct Martian civilization. Well actually, there was another alternative explanation – the observations of the shrinking orbits were at the limits of resolution technology and were erroneous. Space probes that have since passed up-close-and-personal to and photographed these satellites, and show exactly what you’d expect – not gleaming metallic hollow space stations or the image of a Star Wars type of Death Star configuration, but irregular, potato-shaped, cratered hunks of rock.
Heaven: If you accept the literal truth of Biblical passages, you can draw no other conclusion other than that Heaven is a physical place not of this Earth since there are lots of passages relating beings ascending and descending twixt the two. Therefore Heaven must be located somewhere up there or out there and as the Bible points out, home to an assorted range of supernatural deities (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) and staff, presumably angels (or extraterrestrial officers and crew depending on point of view). Unfortunately, despite Heaven being physical geography, it ain’t been seen by man, telescope or space probe. Heaven would have to be fairly conspicuous – deities and staff don’t reside on a quarter acre block. Try something more like the Taj Mahal or Buckingham Palace or Angkor Wat all cubed.
Of course perhaps Heaven is located light-years away among the stars, but that would hinder rapid interventions by the Heavenly residents here on Terra Firma. Prayers can’t travel faster than the speed of light, and like radio broadcasts, rapidly fade according to the inverse-square law – twice the distance, one-quarter the strength; thrice the distance, one-ninth the strength, etc. So, Heaven, if it makes any sense at all, should be nearby, in cosmic terms. Maybe Heaven resides and is hidden within the cloud bands of Jupiter, though that’s hardly a tranquil or ideal location as is in fact most of the solar system’s real estate. Of course if Heaven were a spaceship, a large spaceship – think Buckingham Palace cubed again – well perhaps that explains Neith. It just moved from the Venus environs to a less conspicuous location like in the asteroid belt or within the rings of Saturn – hidden in plain sight as it were. The upshot is, until proven otherwise, Heaven must be considered a mythical place.
Perhaps we all should be satisfied with the geography we got for real, keeping in mind that the geography we know is but a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny (repeat several hundred more times) of the geography yet to be discovered and explored – the vast cosmos beckons.