Lewis Spence
Born(1874-11-25)25 November 1874
Monifieth, Angus, Scotland
Died3 March 1955(1955-03-03) (aged 80)
Edinburgh, Scotland
OccupationJournalist, folklorist, occult scholar
SubjectScottish folklore, old British, German, and Aztec mythology, Atlantis
The grave of Lewis Spence, Dean Cemetery

James Lewis Thomas Chalmers Spence (25 November 1874 – 3 March 1955) was a Scottish journalist, poet, author, folklorist and occult scholar. Spence was a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and vice-president of the Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society.[1] He founded the Scottish National Movement.

Early life

Spence was born in 1874 in Monifieth, Angus, Scotland. After graduating from Edinburgh University he pursued a career in journalism. He was an editor at The Scotsman 1899–1906, editor of The Edinburgh Magazine for a year, 1904–05, then an editor at The British Weekly, 1906–09.


In this time Spence's interest was sparked in the myth and folklore of Mexico and Central America, resulting in his popularisation of the Mayan Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Quiché Mayans (1908). He compiled A Dictionary of Mythology (1910), an Encyclopedia of occultism and parapsychology (1920)[2] and numerous additional volumes.

Turning his interest closer to home, he investigated Scottish folklore. An ardent Scottish Nationalist, he unsuccessfully contested a parliamentary seat for Midlothian and Peebles Northern at a by-election in 1929. He also wrote poetry, collected in 1953.

Spence wrote about Brythonic rites and traditions in Mysteries of Celtic Britain (1905). In this book, Spence theorized that the original Britons were descendants of a people that migrated from Northwest Africa and were probably related to the Berbers and the Basques.[3][4]


Spence's researches into the mythology and culture of the New World, together with his examination of the cultures of western Europe and north-west Africa, led him to the question of Atlantis. During the 1920s he published a series of books which sought to rescue the topic from the occultists who had more or less brought it into disrepute. These works, including The Problem of Atlantis (1924) and History of Atlantis (1927), adopted theories inaugurated by Ignatius Donnelly and looked at the lost island as a Bronze Age civilization that formed a cultural link with the New World, which he invoked through examples he found of parallels between the early civilizations of the Old and New Worlds. Despite Spence's erudition and the width of his reading, the conclusions he reached, avoiding peer-reviewed journals,[5] have been almost universally rejected by mainstream scholarship. His popularisations met stiff criticism in professional journals, but his continued appeal among theory hobbyists is summed up by a reviewer of The Problem of Atlantis (1924) in The Geographical Journal: "Mr. Spence is an industrious writer, and, even if he fails to convince, has done service in marshalling the evidence and has produced an entertaining volume which is well worth reading."[6] Nevertheless, he seems to have had some influence upon the ideas of controversial author Immanuel Velikovsky, and as his books have come into the public domain, they have been successfully reprinted and some have been scanned for the Internet.

Spence's 1940 book Occult Causes of the Present War (ISBN 0766100510) is an early book in the field of Nazi occultism.

Personal life

In 1899 he married Helen Bruce.

Over his long career, he published more than forty books, many of which remain in print to this day. Spence was also the founder of the Scottish National Movement which later merged to form the National Party of Scotland and which in turn merged to form the Scottish National Party.


Spence died in Edinburgh in 1955 aged 80 and is buried in the north-west section of the 20th century northern extension to Dean Cemetery in western Edinburgh. His wife, Helen S. Bruce (d. 1942) lies with him.

Selected works

Ancient Britain


Atlantis and other lost worlds



See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Brief details of his career are available in the introduction to the 1997 reprint of An Encyclopaedia of Occultism (on-line text).
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of occultism and parapsychology (PDF). Vol. 2 vol. J. Gordon Melton. 2001. OCLC 60531255. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 August 2020.
  3. ^ The Mysteries of Britain, Lewis Spence, Health Research Books, 1996, p. 21
  4. ^ More nuanced recent views, based on early DNA research, are presented by the Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes, in Blood of the Isles, 2006.
  5. ^ Though Spence wrote reviews of popularizations of mythology and folklore for Folklore.
  6. ^ R.N.R.B. in The Geographical Journal 64.2 (August 1924:181-182).
  7. ^ The reviewer R.N.R.B. in The Geographical Journal 64.2 (August 1924:181-182) remarked that "in reading this book one cannot help feeling that the author believes more than the evidence warrants" and that "he is rash in stating that there is proof that Greenland has moved 2500 yards in forty years."
  8. ^ The reviewer O.R. in The Geographical Journal 81.2 (February 1933:181-182) found Spence's evidences well marshalled and noted that biological and geological evidences were set aside as conflicting with Spence's view that a fair-complexioned race "remarkable chiefly for their arcane knowledge and their prowess as builders" inhabited now-sunken lands of the Pacific; the reviewer notes Spence's lack of bibliography and casual references to books whose titles he rarely offers.
  9. ^ "Review of The Myths of Mexico and Peru by Lewis Spence". The Athenaeum (4478): 186. 23 August 1913.
  10. ^ Catalogue Hathitrust
  11. ^ "A readable popular account" began the reviewer in The Biblical World, (51.2 [February 1918: 112-113]) who found its breezy attempt to "contain the pure gold of Babylonian romance freed from the darker ore of antiquarian research", in Spence's words, a camouflage for Spence's "totally inadequate preparation."