Join us this Weird Wednesday as we take a journey into the unknown, searching for places we may never find.
Phantom islands have existed (or not) for as long as maps have been made and tales have been told. Sometimes islands were invented to fill out blank spaces on maps, and sometimes sailors would actually see an island, note it on a chart, and then return later to find it gone. Explanations include the finders’ ships unknowingly being off-course, or islands that actually behave like phantoms: cloud banks, pumice rafts, and icebergs can all masquerade as land, and volcanic islands and sandbars can appear and disappear at the will of geological forces.
Today we’re going to look at three of the most interesting phantom islands that may or may not be out there!
No survey of phantom islands can be complete without this most famous of lost lands. The idea of Atlantis, an island (or continent) with an advanced society, which sank beneath the waves in a great catastrophe, traces back to Plato, and was probably always fictional. That hasn’t stopped people from looking for it, and putting it on maps pretty much anywhere there’s enough water to cover it. To my mind, one of the most interesting pieces of the Atlantis saga is the Bimini Road, which is a natural geological feature that resembles a human-made stone road. It was discovered beneath the sea near the Bahamas, close to (or by some sources in) the Bermuda Triangle. Some claim it’s part of Atlantis itself.
Sometimes conflated with Satanazes, a phantom island near Portugal, the Isle of Demons is in the area of Newfoundland, Canada. This island is cool for a few reasons: first, it’s said to be haunted by the spirits of the dead; second, unlike many phantom islands, this one probably actually exists as one of the many islands in the region; and third, it’s said to be the location of the marooning of Marguerite de La Rocque, a French noblewoman who survived several years alone on a subarctic island after her servant, husband, and infant child all died. Marguerite was real, but the exact location of her island is uncertain.
This island was discovered in 1907 near Greenland, but when it was not found on subsequent searches, it was given the name of the form of mirage assumed to have created it: a Fata Morgana. Named for Morgan Le Fay from the King Arthur legend, a sorceress who could conjure castles in the air, this kind of mirage changes the shape of objects near the horizon, like boats or actual islands, making them appear larger and shifted in place. The true identity of Fata Morgana Land is probably Tobias Island in a fairy disguise.
And now for some phantom writing prompts!
- A is for Atlantis, and Aliens. Some say that Atlantis was an alien civilization, or that humans from Atlantis might have been in contact with beings from space who gave them technology and scientific knowledge. If so, where did the aliens go and why? Did Atlantis become a war zone between species? Did the aliens abduct the Atlanteans and sink their island? Did the super-advanced humans build their own space ships and leave the rest of the world to its fate?
- Disaster movie time! The idea of a single cataclysm destroying an entire island is deeply unsettling, whether it meets its fate via volcano, tsunami, earthquake, or storm. Or, paranormally, sea monster, alien weapon, curse, or magic spell.
- But of course, it’s the Bermuda Triangle! The Triangle is a great place for things to appear and disappear at sea. If ships and planes can vanish, why not entire islands? Imagine a fog-shrouded island appearing from nowhere, seeming to offer refuge to lost vessels, only for the passengers to discover that the island likes to time-skip or maybe just sink. Or perhaps it’s a permanent phantom, inhabited by descendants of every ship that’s gone missing in the area.
- Putting the phantom in phantom island. Perhaps a certain island is a gathering place for phantoms of all kinds: ghosts of the drowned from vessels lost in the area, sea monsters, wormholes through space/time, zombies, or demons. Perhaps someone has literally cursed the place, or maybe it’s the site of an evil relic or graveyard of the damned. It could even be the home port of the ghost ship Flying Dutchman.
- See the world from the comfort of your own island. Maybe an island can’t be found again because it’s never in the same place twice. If so, those who live there must not leave or risk being left behind when the island next moves. But what happens when someone from the outside world stumbles on the island? One could also go the Brigadoon route here: a island which only appears for one night every hundred years.
- That’s no island, it’s a space station whale! There are myths of whales and sea monsters so large and slow-moving that trees can grow on their backs, giving them the appearance of islands…until they decide to submerge. Or eat. Or both.
Thanks for spending your Weird Wednesday right here— wherever here is!