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Reply to 'The Ley Line Mystery' Page

A reply to skeptical views about leys or ley lines, by the editor of The Ley Hunter

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Dear Mr Pollock

I have read with interest the entry on leys (or ley lines as you prefer) on your Web Site. Whilst your general comments about Watkins and the flaws in his ideas are fairly sound you seem woefully unaware of important developments in the subject of alignment research which have been going on in the last five years and have been regularly published in the authoratative journal on the subject, The Ley Hunter.

I come across articles on leys all over the Web and few if any seem to know what they are talking about. There is no evidence whatsoever that leys (of the Watkinsian persuasion) were ever created by peaceful ancient tribes. This is pure speculation as is the idea that these people were survivors of a lost civilisation. As for leys being lines of earth energy.... This is a totally modern invention which was imagined into existence in the 1960s and 70s for which there is no objective evidence.... If you are interested in updating your Web Site on leys I attach a file document which briefly outlines the history of this subject and which introduces some of the recent research and thinking on this subject.

Yours sincerely

Danny Sullivan
Editor,  The Ley Hunter

Ley lines: dead and buried

A reappraisal of the straight line enigma

Seventy years after Alfred Watkins alerted the world to the existence of ley lines, his simple vision of prehistoric traders trackways has evolved into a confusing and tangled web of delusions, falsehoods and superstition. Today's pendulum swingers, channellers and self-styled pagan mystics perceive leys as lines of power in a global energy matrix, divorced from Watkins' original vision and ignorant of the evidence on the ground. In recent years a radical reassessment of the evidence for archaic landscape lines has resulted in a remarkable paradigm shift. The old straight tracks are the routes of spirits over the land, the trackways of the ancestors and the roads of the dead. Ancient cultures have left traces of such spirit paths all over the world and the belief that the dead choose to travel by the shortest route can be shown to have survived into Medieval Europe.

In this article I intend to show how the popular 'ley' concept is inadequate to explain the nature of the archaic landscape line and that it is a product of an idealistic, insupportable and ultimately arrogant attitude towards our ancient past.

In 1925 Alfred Watkins brought the idea of leys to the public. Essentially he 'discovered' that ancient mounds, prehistoric earthworks and standing stones and old moats and churches seemed to fall into dead straight alignments across country. He chose to call these alignments leys because of the frequency with which this Saxon place name occurred along them. In places they overlaid stretches of ancient straight roads and trackways. Watkins' explanation for this seemingly bizarre phenomenon derived almost entirely from his own experience. He was a business man and trader and spent a great part of his working life travelling around Herefordshire in connection with the family's brewing business. It was therefore inevitable that he should have concluded that his leys were the remnants of prehistoric traders routes. His argument was published as The old straight track in 1925.

At a time when Diffusionist theory held sway in the archaeological establishment it was to be expected that Watkins' ley idea should be derided and ignored by academe. How could the 'woad painted savage' have been capable of such feats of engineering skill? The ultimate insult was the refusal by the then editor of the establishment organ, Antiquity, to accept a paid advertisement for The old straight track. Later this drawing of lines in the sand was to form the bedrock of a lasting antagonism between ley hunters and archaeologists which culminated in the 1970s by the refusal of Antiquity to take a paid advertisement for The Ley Hunter.

Undeterred by the orthodox rejection of leys the Straight Track Club was formed in the wake of Watkins' revelations and it spent many a delightful Sunday afternoon in the bucolic, pre-war Herefordshire landscape chasing leys and chasing paper, as a postal portfolio made its peripatetic way around Club members. But by 1939 it was all over. The exigencies of war put pay to ley hunting for the next twenty years.

Towards the end of the 1950s the flying saucer craze was to give ley hunting a new lease of life. French UFO enthusiasts (clearly with nothing better to do) had been plotting the locations of sightings on the map and had convinced themselves that they fell into straight lines. These linear phenomena were named orthotenies and formed the basis for the rabid speculation that was Aime Michel's Flying saucers and the straight line mystery which was published in 1958. In Britain, Tony Wedd, an ex-RAF pilot and flying saucer enthusiast, published a slim booklet entitled Skyways and landmarks in the early 1960s, in which for the first time the ideas of leys and flying saucers were brought together. A melding of French orthotenies, Watkins' leys and a love of countryside had Wedd proclaiming that UFOs used hills and mounds crowned with Scots Pines as navigation beacons!

Two acolytes of Wedd, Philip Heselton and Jimmy Goddard decided to revive the Straight Track Club, a move which saw the first stirrings of what was to become The Ley Hunter. Goddard expressed his enthusiasm for leys and UFOs in Flying Saucer Review in 1964:

"Could it be that the intelligences behind the flying saucers built the ley markers for navigational purposes, or perhaps in order to find readily a form of magnetic current (my italics) that is helpful to them? It is a theory that is extremely difficult for the scientist to swallow...."

The powerful concoction of UFO fever, cultural revolution, drugs and rock 'n' roll in the 1960s stretched the bounds of credulity to the extreme. Anything was possible. The real revolution in attitudes towards the ancient past was, however, not to be found on the fringes but in academe itself. The first body blow to received archaeological wisdom came in the form of Stonehenge decoded in 1965 in which Professor Gerald Hawkins suggested the unthinkable; that the builders of Stonehenge had a working knowledge of astronomy and were able to predict eclipses by the use of their "stone age computer". Close behind Hawkins came Professor Alexander Thom, whose meticulous surveys of megalithic monuments from Scotland to Brittany attempted to prove the advanced mathematical, astronomical and engineering skills of Neolithic people. Such radical ideas from within the system appealed hugely to an audience stretching themselves both spiritually and intellectually. The fact that the archaeological establishment were as hostile to these incursions as they were to the ley idea made them all the more attractive.

If the revolution was never going to be televised in the 1960s it was certainly going to be published. John Michell, an advocate for the lost Golden Age, made tangible by Thom and Hawkins, had been contributing regularly to the alternative scene's main publication International Times, concocting a synthesis of Ufology, folklore, leys and archaeology which reached its zenith in The view over Atlantis published in 1969.

Another long standing Golden Age myth developed around this time. Michell referred to The goat foot god, a novel by the occult writer Dion Fortune (written in 1939) which linked the alignment of ancient sites to power centres and lines of force. Thus was born the notion of leys as lines of energy. This idea - fundamentally a purely fanciful and poetic one - has been the bane of serious ley research for years. The mish-mash of ideas about leys, flying saucers and energy lines, now in one big melting pot, was described by an unknown journalist as - earth mysteries.

By 1976 The Ley Hunter, which had established itself as the flagship earth mysteries magazine was taken over by Paul Devereux who attempted to fashion the subject into one worthy of serious study. Examples of leys were submitted to TLH, examined and put to the statistical test. The archaeological establishment was tackled head on by Devereux and his colleagues in a major confrontation in the early 1980s. In 1978 the subject of dowsing entered the debate proper. Since the 1930s, French dowsers had claimed that menhirs had been placed over the crossing points of two or more underground streams. In the 1950s Guy Underwood took these ideas a step further by claiming he could detect a complex web of dowsable forces under megalithic monuments, hill figures, earthworks, old roads and paths and ancient churches. Underwood's ideas encouraged a whole new wave of energy dowsers all claiming to be able to detect hitherto undiscovered 'earth forces' at ancient sacred sites.

This idea was taken to its ultimate (and ultimately flawed) conclusion by Tom Graves in 1978 in his book Needles of stone. This was primarily an ideas book in which he attempted to verify the claims of the dowsers by dowsing the sites himself. He claimed he found an overground, a dowsable line of force above ground (my italics) at the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. Before he knew it leys had become dowsable lines of force linking ancient sites (and some not so ancient). Graves has since retracted his original claims in The Ley Hunter, but his protestations have fallen on deaf ears.

Many implausible and unproveable claims have been made for energy lines and leys and for the best part this is how leys are now perceived by most people. This is particularly the case in the USA where Watkins is practically unheard of. Now we have global energy grids and power lines - concepts entirely alien to ancient cultures. Ancient tribal people built their sacred sites within their own distinct cultures and mindsets, not ours. The energy line/global grid concept comes not from some arcane lost wisdom, but straight out of today's modern and mechanised view of the world. These ideas are nothing short of retrospective cultural imperialism.

Devereux, uncomfortable with the energy line ideas and fed up with being shunned by the archaeological and scientific communities (who saw the modern ley concept for the farrago of nonsense that it is), decided to instigate a research programme in which he would apply the scientific method to test whether the earth energy claims held water. This was the Dragon Project (now a charitable trust) which for ten years, at the Rollright Stones and other sites, employed scientific monitoring instruments, dowsers, psychics and even magnetically sensitive shrimps!. The conclusion was that apart from variable and rare anomalous features in the earth's geomagnetic field, natural background radioactivity and ultrasound there was no evidence at all for an unknown 'earth force' and even less for Graves' overgrounds. The whole project was described neatly in Devereux's Places of power, published in 1990.

So where does that leave us now? We know what a ley isn't - so what is it? The key to understanding this enigma is go back to basics; to get back to what is actually on the ground. Straight landscape lines can be found all over the world and if we examine these we may be able to identify a link between them all that might point towards an explanation for them.

At Nazca in Peru, dead straight lines were marked out for miles on the desert plain by ancient tribal people. Some of these lines connect burial places, are associated with ancestor cults and were, known, as early as 1945, from folk tradition, to have been the routes of spirits. They were also ritually swept by local people, a practice which is still carried out today, though in a Christian context.

Similar straight paths can be found in the Bolivian altiplano, running unchallenged for miles over hostile terrain and undulating topography. These were investigated by Tony Morrison in the 1970s and eagerly seized upon by Watkinsian ley hunters as evidence for leys outside of Britain. Like Watkins' leys the Bolivian tracks ran from prominent hills and mountains to isolated shrines (all now Christianised). Mountains and hills were seen by the local people as being the dwelling places of spirits.

More recently ritual roads have been discovered in New Mexico through the medium of infra-red satellite photography. These roads, barely visible at ground level, run straight out from Chaco Canyon on whose floor lie the ruins of ancient settlements and sacred buildings known as kivas. These roads were made by clearing surface stones and piling them in berms alongside the routes. Some roads run parallel to one another and some go nowhere, petering out in the desert, suggesting that the primary function of these roads was not simple transportation. Further, their function as physical roads must be questioned - the Anasazi did not have the wheel or, inded, the horse.

The spirit route concept can be found on the other side of the Atlantic, in Ireland, where fairy passes run invisibly and straight between fairy forts or raths, circular earthwork enclosures of known antiquity. Folk beliefs hold that otherworld beings or spirits inhabit fairy forts and that they have been seen dancing on the banks as anthropomorphs and as lights. It was considered bad luck to block a fairy pass. A famous story concerns a fellow who built a house on a fairy pass. Thereafter he was plagued with bad luck and ill health. Not until he had sliced off the offending corner of his abode and allowed free passage of the pass did his fortunes improve. Most of this spirit geography exists only in the folk mind, although some routes are overlaid by later (straight) roads. And remember, the Romans never reached Ireland.

In imperial China straight lines in the landscape were considered unlucky and avoided at all costs, except where the divine influence of the Emperor was concerned. Malign spirits were believed to travel along straight paths and good luck could be drained from a site along a straight route. The ancient Chinese art of placement, or feng shui, was primarily concerned with the auspicious location of tombs, although this was later adapted to the location of houses for the living too. Again we have a connection between straightness, spirits and the dead.

What linear features can be found in Britain? An obvious candidate are the cursus monuments. These are long parallel banks and ditches enclosing what is believed to have been a sacred or ceremonial space, These run for up to several miles in straightish sections and are aligned on Neolithic long barrows. Other long barrows are found to have their axes aligned to the ends of cursuses. Later Bronze Age round barrows have been found to be connected to cursuses via straight avenues of timber posts. The still visible Greater Stonehenge Cursus has one of its sides aligned to a megalith known as the Cuckoo Stone and beyond to the now lost mortuary house at Woodhenge. No-one knows the purpose and function of cursuses, but again the link with death and ritual is apparent.

Elsewhere in Britain and Europe the prehistoric interest in linearity manifests itself in the stone row and avenue. In Brittany straggling lines of megaliths link together cromlechs; ovoid settings of stones, believed to enclose symbolic sacred space which were associated with the dead. In England the Dartmoor stone rows often lead to or from a stone circle or cist. Sometimes a burial cist is incorporated into the row. The function of stone rows is unknown. They may have been ritual processional ways or purely symbolic routes connected with the dead.

Moving forward in time, but still in Europe, Viking cult roads ran straight to burial places and it was the practice to carry dead chieftains along these straight ceremonial roads to their final resting place. In historical times the link between straightness, death and burial can still be found. In Holland, medieval doodwegen or death roads still survive in the landscape and it was along such dedicated roads that the dead were carried to a burial ground. Documentary evidence shows that in some circumstances it was illegal to carry a corpse on another road. The route had to be straight. Elsewhere rules were laid down as to their width and so on. Such routes were also common in Germany where they were known as geistewege or ghost roads. Such funeral paths were often straight, though not always. Also in Germany, some straight roads were deliberately engineered in the medieval period to link churches. These well documented church lines often underlay the plan of a town.

Similar funeral paths survive in England as corpse ways, coffin paths and church roads. Some of Watkins' leys may have been the vestiges of medieval corpse ways. This might explain, more convincingly than site continuity, the occurrence of non-prehistoric features such as medieval churches and burial grounds on his leys.

So what is the connection? Consistently we find spirit travel, death, sacred space and ritual procession. The Nazca lines were ritually swept - a process for creating scared space and there may be a parallel with the Northern European tradition of sweeping disused paths to clear spirits away. The ritual sweeping of sacred pathways occurs in the culture of the Kogi indians of Colombia. These people inhabit a remote mountainous region and have managed to preserve many of their traditional beliefs and way of life despite the depredations of Spanish invaders and the pervasive spread of Western culture. They were the subject of an evocative film by Alan Ereira in 1990. In the film we were shown the map stone, a megalith criss-crossed with straight grooves which he was told was a map of physical roads in their region. In addition the map stone showed the location of invisible routes which existed only in the spirit world. These routes were travelled by a class of Kogi adepts known as mamas, who looked after the spiritual well-being of their people. Part of Kogi cosmology involves the ritual use of coca, shamanic travel and complex traditional practices designed to maintain ecological balance in the environment. This is still a living tradition. The link we have been looking for is spirit travel - most graphically evident in the universal shamanic out of body experience.

In traditional tribal societies straight lines were believed to facilitate spirit travel and tangled threads or winding tracks were believed to trap spirits. Hence the medieval use of the witch bottle, and the Scandinavian tradition of fishermen running the stone labyrinth before setting out to sea so that evil spirits would be left behind on shore. Australian aborigines used the thread made from insect filament to draw the spirit of a sick person back to their body. Siberian shamans mployed red threads in their ceremonies. The Kalahari ¡Kung! climb threads to go out-of-body trance dancing. The cross-cultural occurrence of the concept leads us to the conclusion that the defining link is a human consciousness experience; a core concept that straddles cultural and temporal barriers and manifests itself in similar practices and beliefs all over the world. The obvious place to look for this core concept is shamanism.

The shaman undergoes symbolic death in order to enter the spirit world. Whilst there he or she travels along the same paths as the spirits of the dead ancestors. The shaman enters the spirit world via a trance state of consciousness and undertakes out-of-body flight across the land. This shamanic flight of the soul over the land seems to have been translated onto certain symbolic landscapes in the form of straight alignments and paths. Other lines such as fairy passes and the invisible spirit roads of the Kogi were conceptual rather than physical - existing only in the folk mind.

Neurologically the straightness comes from the entoptic nature of the out-of-body or near-death experience. Spirals, zigzags, lines, lattices or the tunnel motif are commonly 'seen'. Such entoptic or endogenous phenomena have been identified in Neolithic rock carvings in the chambered tombs of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. Newgrange chambered tomb was designed to allow the midwinter rising sun to penetrate the back chamber at the end of a long passage. And on a few days each year, either side of the winter solstice an observer sitting in the central chamber will see a shaft or tunnel of light penetrate the blackness. This is a symbolic and permanent record of altered state consciousness in one of the world's oldest sacred buildings. So then, what is a ley? I would say that there is no such thing as a ley. As a defined thing or phenomenon in its own right, it does not exist. Watkins saw the remains of archaic spirit lines, medieval corpse ways and church road alignments and hundreds of chance alignments. He didn't recognise what he saw and chose to weave a theory around the remaining evidence shaped by his own personal experience. The decades of wild speculation that buried his original vision have relegated ley hunting to the academic sidelines whilst all the time archaeologists, anthropologists, geographers and folklorists have been advancing our knowledge of the archaic landscape line, side-stepping the excesses of the energy line modellers and twig twitchers. It is time that the contribution of genuine ley hunters is more widely recognised. It is time to bury the ley.

© Danny Sullivan

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