Croatoan or Bust: Finding The Lost Colony

Jan 10, 2000

“My lost delights, now clean from sight of land, Have left me all alone in unknown ways; My mind to woe, my life to fortune’s hand? Of all which passed the sorrow only stays.” — Sir Walter Raleigh

Twenty years before Jamestown, and 33 years before the Pilgrims, a magical group planted the first English colony in North America — and promptly let it disappear into thin air. Ever since 1590, when Captain Cocke fired an unanswered signal gun off the shore of Roanoke Island, the fate of that Lost Colony has been an insoluble enigma. Is it any wonder that America is the way it is? The Old World can keep its maternally-inclined wolves and its giant-killing Trojan refugees — occult conspirators built the United States on a foundation of High Weirdness indeed. The windup is easily told; in 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh received a charter from Queen Elizabeth I allowing him to claim any territories in the New World that he explored which were currently outside the rule of “any Christian Prince.” Raleigh, his mind on the Spanish colonies in Florida, sent expeditions to find a convenient anchorage to use as a piratical base — and if they could find gold, so much the better. Raleigh’s second expedition, in 1585, planted a colony of 110 men on Roanoke Island (on the coast of North Carolina) which the 1584 expedition had mapped. By the next year, they’d managed to irritate the local Indians enough that they were in some danger of starvation. The colonists took advantage of a fortuitous visit from Sir Francis Drake and boarded his ship en masse to return to England — two weeks before Raleigh’s resupply expedition arrived to find the first colony gone. Raleigh’s third expedition, in 1587, included women and farmers, and only wound up on the by-now unpalatable Roanoke Island because the ship captain Raleigh hired was too eager to go pirating to carry the colony up the Chesapeake to its planned site. The Spanish Armada interfered with the next supply ships, and by the time Raleigh could send a relief expedition, the colony (including Virginia Dare, the first English baby born in America) had vanished. Some of the colony’s supplies had been looted by the Indians and others had been carefully buried (like the cannon and some chests of books). On a tree at the colony’s gate, the word “CROATOAN” was carved into the bark; the letters “CRO” were cut into another tree near the moorage. Croatoan was the name of a nearby island, with a different (and friendlier) tribe of Indians, but Cocke’s ship was caught in a storm and never got around to looking on Croatoan Island. No convincing trace of the Lost Colony ever turned up, although the Jamestown colonists put a great deal of effort into looking, spurred on by rumors of “gray-eyed Indians” in the area. It’s equally likely that Roanoke was wiped out by Powhatans, that the colony uprooted itself and died trying to march north to the Chesapeake (their original destination), or that the colonists got sick of copper mining for Raleigh and “went native,” interbreeding with the Indians. North Carolina’s government recognizes a local tribe of Lumbee Cherokees as the “Croatan” Indians — they have last names like “Dare,” “England,” and other surnames of the Lost Colonists. “We are half persuaded to enter into the journey of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, very eagerly whereunto your Master Hakluyt hath served for a very good trumpet.” — letter of Sir Philip Sidney, dated 21 July 1584, a year after Gilbert’s disappearance But that’s less fun — although many of the Croatans joined the runaway slaves in the Great Dismal Swamp as part of the Seven-Finger-High Glister” hoodoo society therein. Mass faerie or alien abduction sounds much cooler, as does (in a darker mode) the appearance of some shambling Cthulhoid entity (named Croatoan?) out of the aforementioned Great Dismal Swamp. Simple time-space distortions along the lines of the pretty much directly-east-of-Roanoke Bermuda Triangle can also be invoked, and they’ll also explain the “ghost ships” seen on Albermarle Sound west of Roanoke, and why Verazzano thought that Albermarle Sound was an arm of the Pacific that led straight to California (itself a fairyland of legend — no, really). The Bermuda Triangle scenario might also involve or explain or at least spice up the disappearance of the explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert in mid-Atlantic in 1583. But it’s to Gilbert’s younger stepbrother, Sir Walter Raleigh, that we turn now. “O paradox? Black is the badge of hell, The hue of dungeons and the school of night.” — William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, IV:iii:253-4 Raleigh makes a dandy figure in any tale of Elizabethan intrigue, conspiracy, magick, action, or wonder. In History, he was a pirate, an alchemist, a grandstanding gigolo turned conspirator, and one of the leading lights of a group of occult and “atheistic” students known as the School of Night. Other Schoolmen included Henry Percy the “Wizard Earl of Northumberland,” Christopher Marlowe (born in 1564, the same year as Percy — and Shakespeare and Galileo), John Dee, Arcadian poet Sir Philip Sidney, and other poets, mathematicians, alchemists, and explorers. Before Percy joined the group in the early 1590s (and moved its headquarters from Raleigh’s house at Sherbourne in Dorset to Percy’s euphoniously named Sion House in London), its leading aristocratic figure (besides Sidney) was the too-wonderfully-named-for-words Lord Fernando Strange, the Earl of Derby. Lord Strange holds yet another qualification — he may have been the first patron to employ William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, which tells the story of a band of aristocrats (led by a “King Ferdinand”) who withdraw from the world to study arithmetic, astronomy and geometry (cabala, astrology and magia), may have been a coded reference to the School of Night — or it may have been written as a private performance for them, and encoded certain arcana within its discursive allusions. The School spins plenty of threads to follow for occult fun and games. Frances Yates postulated that the magus Giordano Bruno may have founded the School during his 1583-1584 sojourn in England. Percy’s Sion House headquarters recalls the Prieure of Sion, as does Sidney’s poem Arcadia. For this and other reasons, people who find proto-Masons find them riddling the School. In this connection it’s interesting to note that the first confirmed record (1575) of Raleigh’s whereabouts in adulthood places him at the Middle Temple, former Templar headquarters in London — and that the Roanoke colony was supposed to carve a Templar cross in a tree (rather than a cryptic island-name) as a warning of danger. Marlowe’s Faustus can be seen as a reaction to what he learned from Dee and others in the School, as can Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist — or they can be seen as plays encoding occult truths for the elite, disguised as horror or satire. “There, whether yet divine Tobacco were, Or Panachea, or Polygony, She fownd, and brought it to her patient deare Who al this while lay bleding out his hart-blood scare.” — Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, III:vi, 32 One thing the School liked was tobacco, Raleigh introduced it in court, and Marlowe and his crowd made it popular in lower society. Tobacco, of course, is the primary crop of North Carolina and Virginia. The Indians saw it as a magical plant, and Spenser identifies it as a healing herb in The Faerie Queene (where he also identifies “fruitfulle Virginia” as Faerie — more evidence for our Roanoke abduction scenario, although it’s beginning to look like Raleigh set them up). Most tribes used tobacco as a means of shamanic communication with the gods (alien ultraterrestrials? fae nature spirits?). The magick of tobacco is somewhat outside the pale of this discussion (although I’ve always found it interesting that Jean Nicot, discoverer of nicotine, shares a name with the Basque vegetation god Jannicot — and that the Basques have legends of transatlantic travel to magical islands), but it’s worth noting that some tribes scattered tobacco on the water before taking a journey by sea — an apt magick for an occult School including Raleigh, Drake, and Hakluyt to learn. Other vegetation themes work in the interstices of the Roanoke legend. The name itself echoes two trees — Rowan-Oak — of central importance in Celtic lore. (The name “Roanoke” actually comes from an Algonquin word meaning “place of white shells,” but bad linguistics makes good occultism.) According to Robert Graves’ delightfully daft The White Goddess, druidic lore attaches great meaning to trees, using them as coded letters. Rowan-Oak is Luis-Duir, the quickening fire and the gateway of kingship. Birth (in fire) and gateways (in empire) — a more than adequate “baptismal name” for America. “The opening of the ‘new’ world was conceived from the start as an occultist operation. The magus John Dee, spiritual advisor to Elizabeth I, seems to have invented the concept of ‘magical imperialism’ and infected an entire generation with it . . . The Tempest was a propaganda-piece for the new ideology, and the Roanoke Colony was its first showcase experiment.” — “Hakim Bey,” T.A.Z. So what exactly is the Grand Conspiracy of Roanoke? The first expedition, made up of occultist-scientists like the “English Galileo” (and Mason — or builder) Thomas Hariot (who, speaking of linguistics, assembled a dictionary of Algonquin which has unaccountably been “lost”) on orders set down by the Welshman John Dee (master of Druidic lore who identified America with Atlantis), established the occult soundings and ley lines of the island. The second expedition had to establish Arcadia, a gateway colony to create the New World in an alchemical marriage between the Red King (Powhatan, or the Indian sachem who stole a “silver cup” from Hariot’s ship) and the White Queen (Elizabeth, whose name became the land’s, as Virginia, while Spenser tied her to Faerie as Gloriana in his poems) to bring about the Golden City. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, the four nobles wed four ladies from over the sea — in black, red, white, and gold — in alchemical sequence, in other words. In 1587, the stars were right as Neptune (the planet governing the “tides of history”) was on the cusp between Cancer — the moon, the Virgin white goddess, patroness of the School of Night — and Leo — the fiery king. And the colony arrived at the island of the Rowan-Oak (the fiery birth gateway) on July 22 — the cusp day when the sun itself is between Cancer and Leo, and the day before the Day of the Dog Star, when the Egyptian calendar celebrated the New Year. In other words, a powerful magickal date for beginnings. The colonists dug mines (as Warden of the Stannaries, Raleigh supervised the ancient tin mines of Cornwall — did he cut a deal with the tommyknockers therein?), and after the birth of Virginia Dare (a new gateway — Virgin Duir) — the Lost Colony completed the gateway. Did it succeed? Well, a new and golden empire was born in fire (and in the sign of Cancer, on July 4). Did the gate (and the Colony) go where the Scholars of Night thought it would? To Faerie? To Calyferne/California, as one of Dee’s maps showed? Or to somewhere else? Go through it, and just hope it doesn’t lead to the voodoo altar where the sacred Basque tobacco smolders before mighty Croatoan.

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