Mythological Islands in Folklore and the Collective Subconscious

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Voyage of King Arthur and Morgan le Fay to the Isle of Avalon by Frank William Warwick (1888) (Public Domain)

Mythological Islands in Folklore and the Collective Subconscious

To quote the poet John Donne: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”, but every person may also venture to the mythical islands of the collective subconscious where a wounded soul goes to recover and uncover the Hidden Self. Reminiscent of hunter gatherers gathering around their fires in their winter caves, the tradition of storytelling is replete with islands representing places of extremes, and of dreams, and they served in folklore as both Utopias and purgatories.

Athanasius Kircher's map of Atlantis, placing it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from Mundus Subterraneus (1669 AD). Published in Amsterdam, oriented with south at the top. (Public Domain)

Athanasius Kircher's map of Atlantis, placing it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from Mundus Subterraneus (1669 AD). Published in Amsterdam, oriented with south at the top. (Public Domain)

While much has been written about the Greek Atlantis, which is perhaps the grandfather of the mythological island archetype, there are other legendary land masses and cartographic wonders reported by early explorers that were not based ‘purely’ on myth. These islands are magical, and inhabited by priestesses, witches, wizards, gods and goddesses, but they all have real world islands whence they might, or might not have been inspired. While these islands are in a great part imaginary, they all have a very important place in world history, literature, and mythology, even if today they do not have longitude and latitude coordinates on maps and charts.


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