A Study of the Hollow Earth

Exploring forgotten realms of literature

God’s Terra Cava: Religion and the Hollow Earth

A significant feature of Nineteenth-century ‘science fiction’ was that, for all of the science (without attaching the qualifier of accuracy) contained within their pages, there was often reliance upon divine providence to underpin the narrative. Many social observers over the last century have been consumed with the perception of continuous acrimony between science and religion as conceived by John W. Draper in his 1873 text The History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. However during the nineteenth century’s ever-increasing scientific knowledge there was a societal push to reconcile the new with the dogmatic. The study of science and religion in the nineteenth century is significant for the rapid growth in the polarization of the two domains. Before this time science was referred to as ‘natural philosophy’; the world’s natural philosophers saw a heavenly hand in all they observed. This transition from ‘natural philosophers’ to ‘scientists’ was first proposed by a member of the British Association, William Whewell, to that body in 1833, and as Britain’s natural philosophers went, so went America’s, but in a distinctly American fashion. Craig James Hazen explains that ‘In the spirit of democracy – especially the antielitism it entailed – it became more common for ordinary people to discuss, debate, create, synthesize, modify, demonize, or embrace religious, scientific, and philosophical ideas.’[1] New religious and philosophic movements arose in conjunction with scientific developments, including Spiritualism (‘Science of the Soul’) and mind-cure, or Christian Science. These arose as part of the widespread use of the popular ‘inductive method’ developed by Francis Bacon. ‘Baconian philosophy’[2] was popularly implemented because it provided a framework of reasoning via demonstration, the origins of the modern scientific method. In terra cava narratives from this time, detailed descriptions of scientific reasoning to explain how a hollow world functions are often worked into the text, in addition to the author’s philosophies.

This connection between hollow Earth literature and religion has not gone unobserved. In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction the entry on the hollow Earth states that ‘A religious note is not uncommon. In the later stories of the paranoid Shaver mystery the inner world is a hell; however, edenic stories in which creation took place inside the Earth…are more common.’[3] Incorporating Darwin’s theory of human evolution with the account of the Garden of Eden in Genesis, the North Pole and/or the interior of the Earth became one of the nineteenth century’s prime locations for narratives of human origin and the lost Garden. These works are not all purely Judeo-Christian in theological orientation but are wider in their philosophic scope and tempered with serious examination of contemporary scientific theory. More than dime-novel adventures for boys, these works take the focus off of plot movement to engage in the reader’s education. Unlike traditional works of fiction, these narratives should be viewed as didactic dialogues between science and religion, author and reader, told through allegorical narratives of exploration. Experimentation with the nature and definition of religion was a common intellectual exercise.

Spiritualism, which reached the apex of its influence at the end of the nineteenth century, was the ultimate convergence of science and religion. Making use of the scientific method and evolving technologies meant to measure the physical world, practitioners applied these tools to ethereal realms in an effort to measure, catalogue and define the human spirit. Séances to contact the dead were a common social activity. Patients on the verge of death were placed upon scales to see if they lost any mass at the moment of their passing so that the weight of the soul could be empirically measured. Spiritualism can be seen in works like John Uri Lloyd’s Etidorhpa and to some extent William Bradshaw’s The Goddess of Atvatabar, with its use of spiritual batteries and its amalgamation of technology and the soul. Other works, such as Al-Modad and The Sovereign Guide are dedicated to scriptural synthesis with contemporary socio-political issues.

The relationship between the hollow Earth and Spiritualism continues. Works on the possibility of a habitable/inhabited terra cava can still be found in the ‘New Age’ section of book stores (now also associated with UFOs) as a part of the Spiritualist movement in America that extends into the present. These texts were not an explicit rejection of a singular deity, but did reject biblical dogma in favour of scientific testing of the ethereal.

[1] Craig James Hazen, The Village Enlightenment in America: Popular Religion and Science in the Nineteenth Century (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 3.

[2] Ibid. 9.

[3] Clute, John and Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, (London: Orbit, 1999), 580.


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