Plana Velut Terra (The Flat Earth) and The Historia Illius Itineris
Belief in a flat Earth may be more popular today than in times of old. Just take a look on youtube and type in “flat earth conspiracy” to see how far the belief and conspiracy theory extends.
However, the historical “belief” of a flat earth may have been as genuine as a belief in Santa Claus. i.e. It is there in the culture and evidence for it is everywhere, but no-one other than children and a few idiots actually believe it.
Interestingly, “The Flat Earth” designs from antiquity can be found to parallel the structure of the metaphorical plane of existence. Examination of this plane reveal that it extends infinitely out in all directions and is very much geocentric. Thus the “Flat Earth” metaphor fits the metaphoric plane perfectly. Conspiracy theories and paranoid delusions are entirely optional though.
More pervasive in history than flat Earth was the belief that the Earth was geocentric, i.e. the central point of the universe about which everything rotated. This was very much reinforced by a religious doctrine that abhorrently punished those “blasphemers” who dared to publicly disagree. Presented with a choice between agreeing with the geocentric doctrine or being thrown on a bonfire, understandably most chose to at least outwardly agree with with the false doctrine.
By the 2nd century, astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus had formalised the geocentric model of the universe and planets which corresponded to the Seven Heavens religious cosmology found in the major religions as well as Hermeticism and Gnosticism.
A creation story is told in the Hermetic text, Corpus Hermeticum. By an act of will, God creates the primary matter that is the cosmos. From this primary matter God separates four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and orders the elements into the seven heavens, the spheres of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Sun, and the Moon, which govern destiny.
The Flammarian engraving by French astronomer, Nicolas Camille Flammarion, in 1888 pictures a traveller penetrating through the veil of the firmaments. Ever the cheery fellow, he wrote that he the inhabitants of Mars had tried to communicate with the Earth in the past and that the gas from Halley’s Comet “would impregnate [the Earth’s] atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.”
“Whether the sky be clear or cloudy, it always seems to us to have the shape of an elliptic arch; far from having the form of a circular arch, it always seems flattened and depressed above our heads, and gradually to become farther removed toward the horizon. Our ancestors imagined that this blue vault was really what the eye would lead them to believe it to be; but, as Voltaire remarks, this is about as reasonable as if a silk-worm took his web for the limits of the universe. The Greek astronomers represented it as formed of a solid crystal substance; and so recently as Copernicus, a large number of astronomers thought it was as solid as plate-glass. The Latin poets placed the divinities of Olympus and the stately mythological court upon this vault, above the planets and the fixed stars. Previous to the knowledge that the earth was moving in space, and that space is everywhere, theologians had installed the Trinity in the empyrean, the glorified body of Jesus, that of the Virgin Mary, the angelic hierarchy, the saints, and all the heavenly host…. A naïve missionary of the Middle Ages even tells us that, in one of his voyages in search of the terrestrial paradise, he reached the horizon where the earth and the heavens met, and that he discovered a certain point where they were not joined together, and where, by stooping his shoulders, he passed under the roof of the heavens…“
The firmament, that huge dome referenced in Genesis, represents a juncture between realities: ‘Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.’ Successful penetration through this juncture leads to vision of other realities and has been attempted by mystics and occultists for centuries with varying reports of success, failure, madness and death.
With the metaphorical plane we reach a paradox: Whilst being geocentric, the metaphoric plane extends infinitely in all directions. Yet, no matter where we are positioned within this realm, we are always at its very centre. The central tenet of The Historia Illius Itineris is the successful resolution of this paradox – how to remain at the centre and yet penetrate through the veil.