Dry As Dust

A Fortean in the Archives

Walking to utopia

The Land of Cockaigne, in an engraving after a 1567 painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Cockaigne was a peasant’s vision of paradise that tells us much about life in the medieval and early modern periods. A sure supply of rich food and plenty of rest were the chief aspirations of those who sang the praises of this idyllic land.

Men and women have always dreamed of paradise – and for many, in the years
before the world was fully explored, it was somewhere that might have a
physical existence in some distant corner of the earth. This week's Smithsonian essay takes
a look at what's been said about an earthly arcadia, from the medieval
Land of Cockaigne (a villein's playground that offered a mirror image of
life as it was led in this period, with plenty of rest, a ban on work,
and food that literally threw itself into the mouths of inhabitants) to
Russia's much more spiritual peasant paradise, Belovode, the "Kingdom of
White Waters." More intriguingly, it tracks some of the many very real
expeditions that set out over the years to locate these lands of dreams –
and focuses on one especially remarkable myth in particular: widespread
belief among the first Irish convicts who were transported to Australia
that it was possible to walk from the penal colony near Sydney all the
way to sanctuary China.

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