Thule (from the ancient Greek, Θούλη, Thoulē), often referred to as Ultima Thule, was a legendary land in Northern Europe. Although there is much dispute about where this land was, and even whether or not it existed, it has sometimes been associated with Shetland, and appears in some Shetland names, e.g. the Thule Bar in Lerwick. The name Foula also has a resemblence to it, but this may be coincidental.
Thule is often used as a kind of poetic/Romantic by-name for Shetland, much like Caledonia for Scotland or Albion for England. While some descriptions of Thule place it near the vicinity of Shetland, other descriptions, which appear to describe pack ice suggest it may have been much further north.
Other places which it has been associated with are Orkney, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, Finland, the island of Saaremaa off Estonia and Northern Russia. It has also been identified with Hyperborea, a legendary civilisation said to live beyond the North Pole. The occultist Helena Blavatsky, who founded Theosophy, identified it with Plato's Atlantis.
Modern Scottish Gaelic uses "Innis Tile" (The Isle of Tile) to refer to Iceland.<ref>Rannsaich an Stòr-dàta Briathrachais Gàidhlig</ref>
The name has come to be used for an element, thulium, an island in the Antarctic (Southern Thule), and for an area in Greenland, now known as Avannaa. A pre-Inuit culture in Greenland is called the Thule Culture.
Thule and the Far Right
Thule has frequently had an appeal to the Far Right, particularly Teutonists, who believe it to be the cradle of the Aryan Race.<ref>http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/n-s/nazimyths.html</ref>
The Thule-Gesellschaft (Thule Society) was set up in Munich just after World War One. It was to be an occult and racist organisation, which came to sponsor the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, which later became the NSDAP, aka the Nazis.<ref>http://www.relinfo.ch/thule/info.html#sebottendorf</ref> Hitler does not appear to have been particularly interested in their activities, but Rudolf Hess and Heinrich Himmler were. However, the Thule Society can be described as the "midwife" of the Nazi Party.
The Thule Society identified Thule with a submerged landmass, somewhere in the North Atlantic, or to the north of Greenland and Iceland. They were very influenced by Ignatius L. Donnelly, and the Oera Linda Boek<ref>http://oeralinda.angelfire.com/</ref> in this view.
- The Thule Gesellschaft name originated from mythical Thule, a Nordic equivalent of the vanished culture of Atlantis. A race of giant supermen lived in Thule, linked into the Cosmos through magical powers. They had psychic and technological energies far exceeding the technical achievements of the 20th century. This knowledge was to be put to use to save the Fatherland and create a new race of Nordic Aryan Atlanteans. A new Messiah would come forward to lead the people to this goal."<ref>Dahm, Wilhelm Der Mann, der Hitler die Ideen gab, Munich 1985</ref>
In his history of the SA (Mit ruhig festem Schritt, 1998), Wilfred von Oven, Joseph Goebbels' press adjutant from 1943 to 1945, confirmed that Pytheas' Thule was the historical Thule for the Thule Gesellschaft.
The first account of Thule appears to come from Pytheas of Massalia (Πυθέας ὁ Μασσαλιώτης, c. 4th century BC), in τὰ περὶ τοῦ Ὠκεανοῦ (Ta Peri Tou Oceanon, On the Ocean). However, this work is now lost, and is only alluded to in other sources. Pytheas was a Greek from Gaul, and appears to have circumnavigated Britain. Pytheas (according to Strabo) said that "[Thule] is a six days' sail north of Britain, and is near the frozen sea."
Polybius' Histories (c. 140 BC), Book XXXIV says:
- Polybius in his account of the geography of Europe says that he dismisses older authors, but that he will examine those who find fault with them, Dicaearchus and Eratosthenes, the latest author who has dealt with geography, and Pytheas who has led many people into error by saying that he traversed the whole of Britain on foot, giving the island a circumference of forty thousand stades, and telling us also about Thule, those regions in which there was no longer any proper land nor sea nor air, but a sort of mixture of all three of the consistency of a jelly-fish in which one can neither walk nor sail, holding everything together, so to speak. He says he himself saw this jellyfish-like substance but the rest he derives from hearsay. That is the account that Pytheas gives, and he tells us that he came back thence and starting again followed the whole shore of the ocean from Cadiz to the river Tanaïs.<ref>Polybius' Criticism of previous Geographical Writers</ref>
Although the jelly-fish substance (translated as "sea lungs" elsewhere) described here sounds bizarre, it may well refer to a form of broken-up, floating ice.
Strabo doubts Pytheas' account, and claims that he is unreliable, possibly a liar, and that people could not live so far north:
- Now Pytheas of Massilia tells us that Thule, the most northerly of the Britannic Islands, is farthest north, and that there the circle of the summer tropic is the same as the Arctic Circle. But from the other writers I learn nothing on the subject — neither that there exists a certain island by the name of Thule, nor whether the northern regions are inhabitable up to the point where the summer tropic becomes the arctic circle. But in my opinion the northern limit of the inhabited world is much farther to the south than where the summer tropic becomes the Arctic Circle. For modern scientific writers are not able to speak of any country north of Ierne [probably Ireland], which lies to the north of Britain and near thereto, and is the home of men who are complete savages and lead a miserable existence because of the cold; and therefore, in my opinion, the northern limit of our inhabited world is to be placed there. But if the parallel though Byzantium passes approximately through Massilia, as Hipparchus says on the testimony of Pytheas (Hipparchus says, namely, that in Byzantium the relation of the index to the shadow is the same as that which Pytheas gave for Massilia), and if the parallel through the mouth of the Borysthenes is about three thousand eight hundred stadia distant from that parallel, then, in view of the distance from Massilia to Britain, the circle drawn through the mouth of the Borysthenes would fall somewhere in Britain. But Pytheas, who misleads people everywhere else, is, I think, wholly in error here too<ref>[
http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Strabo/2E1*.html Strabo Geography, Book II, 5]</ref>
In Book IV, chapter 5, Strabo concludes: "Concerning Thule, our historical information is still more uncertain, on account of its outside position; for Thule, of all the countries that are named, is set farthest north."<ref>Strabo Geography, Book IV, 5</ref>
Pliny the Elder also describes Thule, whcih he says has no days in mid-winter:
- Also betweene Britaine and Hibernia, Mona [Anglesey], Monapis [Isle of Man], Ricnea, Vectis [Isle of Wight], Silmnus, and Andros: but beneath them, Siambis and Axantos: and on the contrarie side toward the Germane sea [North Sea], there lye scattering the Glessariæ, which the later Greeke writers have named Electrides, for that Amber there, was engendred and bred. The farthest of all, which are known and spoke of, is Thule; in which there be no nights at all, as we have declared, about mid-summer, namely when the Sunne passeth through the signe Cancer; and contrariwise no daies in mid-winter: and each of these times they suppose, doe last sixe moneths, all day, or all night. Timaeus the Historiographer saith, That farther within-forth, and six dayes sailing from Britaine, there lyeth the Iland Mictis, in which white lead groweth: and, that the Britaines doe sail thither in winter vessels covered with leather round about and well sowed. There be that make mention of others beside, to wit, Scandia, Dumna, and Bergos, and the biggest of all the rest Nerigos, from which men saile to Thule. Within one daies sailing from Thule, is the frozen sea, named of some Cronium.<ref>[ http://penelope.uchicago.edu/holland/pliny4.html THE FOURTH BOOKE OF THE HISTORIE OF NATVRE]</ref>
While daylight is highly variable in Shetland during the seasons, and the simmer dim, the effect is not as noticeable as in northern Scandinavia or Iceland.
Gaius Julius Solinus in the 3rd century AD, wrote in his Polyhistory that:
- Thyle [sic], which was distant from Orkney by a voyage of five days and nights, was fruitful and abundant in the lasting yield of its crops.<ref>http://www.orkneyjar.com/placenames/pomona.htm</ref>
This places it nearer Orkney, and makes it sound less frozen. Around the same period, the Roman writer Servius says that is
- an island in the Ocean between the northern and western zone, beyond Britain, near the Orkneys and Ireland; in this way Thule is with the sun in Cancer, in perpetual daylight without night, it is said<ref>http://fjor.net/etome/grecoroman/servius-bi.html</ref>
Tacitus in his account of his uncle Agricola's military campaigns, uses the phrase "Dispecta est et Thule." The phrase is usually translated as 'Thule too was observed from afar,' but in recent years the classicist Stan Wolfson has argued at length that it actually means: 'A close examination of Thule also was made,' indicating that Agricola's troops landed in Shetland. He also argues that a hitherto puzzling reference in the text, where Agricola's troops are said to land at 'Trucculensis' harbour, actually refers to 'Tulensis' (Thule) harbour, which he suggests might be Bressay Sound. Wolfson's detailed argument can be read at http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/fartherlands/ and he has produced a book-length treatment of the subject (Tacitus, Thule and Caledonia, ISBN: 9781407302744).<ref>Tacitus, Thule and Caledonia</ref>
In the fifth century, Claudian in On the Fourth Consulship of the Emperor Honorius (Book VIII) writes:
- "The Orcades [Orkney Islands] ran red with Saxon slaughter; Thule was warm with the blood of Picts; ice-bound Hibernia [Ireland] wept for the heaps of slain Scots."
These punitive actions were attributed to Count Theodosius and would have taken place as part of the aftermath of the barbarica conspiratio in 368 during the reign of Emperor Valentinian I.
Pomponius Mela, and Pliny the Elder elsewhere, place Thule to the north of Scythia (modern day Ukraine and Southern Russia), i.e. nowhere near Shetland.
In A General Geographical Description of Zetland by Hugh Leigh, he makes strenuous efforts to associate this with Shetland and its environs:
- However it be now named, yet it is certain, it must be that old Thule so frequently mentioned by the Poets ; as Tibi serviat Ultima Thule by Virgil; nec sit terris Ultima Thule by Seneca; For 1. Heylyn in his Geography on ... declares, that Solinus sayes, Multae sunt circa Britaniam Insulae, equibus Thule Ultima: consequently this Island must be one of the British Isles. And again that Tacitus sayes Insulas, quas Orcadas vocant, invenit domuitque; dispeca est et Thule: and therefore this true Thule cannot be far from Orkney. 2. Ross in his Virgilius Evangelizans not only agrees with Heylyn, but adds more to the Confirmation hereof, those words are Revera Shetlandia Scotorum regno subjecta est ipsissima Thule, quam ideo nautae Thileusel vocant. Elevatio Poli cum Ptolomaica exacte consentit, et opponitur Bergen Norvegiarum, & moreover adds Haec vera esse experentia comperi: transegi namq tres menses oestivos in hoc Thule. And truly the middle part of this Countrey answereth in latitude to Bergen in Norway: for the south end of it lyeth under the 60 and the north end of it under the 61 degree of North Latitude and lyeth under the 24 degree of Longitude. About the Aestival Solstice here is no darkness; yea a moneth before and after it, if the Horizon be any thing clear, all the night time one can read a Letter.
In A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland by Samuel Lewis, he mentions "Foula, supposed to be the Ultima Thule of the ancients".
The Scottish poet, James Thomson in his poem Autumn (1730) talks of
- Where the Northern Ocean
- Boils around the Naked Melancholy Isles
- of Farthest Thule.
Goethe included the legend in his poem, Der König in Thule (1774)
Some Shetland uses
- Thule Bar, pub in Lerwick.
- Princess of Thule and Maid of Thule, boats.
- Ultima Thule, a disbanded act of the 1990s.
- Beloved Thule, a song by Friðarey Folk
- Tales of Thule by John Nicolson
- Laurence J. Nicolson, referred to as the "Bard of Thule", and the author of Songs of Thule
- Rough island story: Being cavalcade of Ultima Thule, by William Moffatt
- Thule Badminton Club
- Thule Cottage, Scalloway, former home of George Ross
- Thule Records
- Thule Studio, a photographic studio, now World Tastes.
- Thulecraft Ltd
- myweb.tiscali.co.uk/fartherlands Article by Stan Wolfson on the account by Tacitus of Agricola's British journeys.
- Thule dot org, website illustrating continuing interest in Thule in the UFOlogical community.
- Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. 1985. The Occult Roots of Nazism: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany 1890-1935. Wellingborough, England: The Aquarian Press. ISBN 0-85030-402-4.
Republished 1992 as The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany, 1890–1935 (New York University Press, ISBN 0-8147-3060-4)
and in 2003 as The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology (Gardners Books, ISBN 1-86064-973-4).
- Phelps, Reginald H. 1963. "'Before Hitler Came': Thule Society and Germanen Orden". Journal of Modern History 35(3): 245-261. ISSN 0022-2801/63/3501.