It is clear to us that Megalithic peoples knew all that we now know about the planetary grid and then some. The stones which they so carefully placed upon ley lines were used to communicate with anyone else linked via common telluric energy flows.
The Becker-Hagens Grid, Hagens, 1984
Straight lines were invented by the Ancients – possibly by Euclid, to make doing geometry a bit simpler; straight roads and trackways soon followed. With characteristic efficiency, Roman surveyors lined up beacons on elevated points in the landscape to establish the neatest way of getting from A to B in terms of labour employed, denarii spent in the building and time taken by legions marching between orgies and wars. All good sensible stuff…
By contrast, ley lines are held by Those In The Know to be similarly ancient and straight, but provide mysterious links, ‘energy channels’ or ‘lines of force’ between locations A, B, C etc., but which, unfortunately for researchers, do not, in fact, exist in any tangible sense. And prior to the nineteen-twenties, history was not even aware of the non-existence of ley lines as they had yet to be identified and named as such:
At first hearing, the idea that ancient mounds of earth, burial places, prehistoric standing stones and old churches should have been constructed on invisible straight lines stretching in all directions across the face of the country seems quite absurd, but that is what Alfred Watkins suggested when he first made public his discovery of ley lines in 1922. Why should our primitive ancestors have bothered with such incomprehensible feats of surveying and engineering?
Ley Lines, Sullivan, 1999
But is it really ‘quite absurd’ that ancient Britons could carry out the ‘incomprehensible feat’ of arranging things in straight lines? Assuming such alignments are in some cases more than coincidental, the Roman-style beacon method could provide the original trackways, with subsequent stones and buildings being added, for convenience, along existing transport paths. (Watkins himself believed leys to be abandoned trade routes.)
Less comprehensible are the wilder claims of Watkins’ followers, care little for established archaeological conventions of evidence-based theory building. For as ley lines caught on, marching legions of amateur pre-historians and occultists (the kind who never get invited to orgies and wars) went traipsing the English countryside of a Sunday afternoon, lining up this and that, drawing-in lines on the map and speculating on the sacred significance of any object – man-made or natural – that chanced to fall within spitting distance of a chosen trajectory.
Dowsers and UFO-logists, in particular, have been eager to offer theoretical perspectives:
Did Watkins rediscover cosmic energy fields once known by ancient man?
Yes, energy fields are detectable at many ancient sites by a variety of methods. Many people experience certain physical sensations triggered by exposure to this energy, such as a tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or a prickling in the fingers or other extremities. Dowsing rods can also detect this energy. Dowsing has been able to map the course and width of some of the ley lines that link these ancient ruins. It is estimated that most ley lines are approximately six feet wide…The energy fields of ley lines have been shown to fluctuate, the width increasing two-fold at sunrise and sunset. Three key lines have have been tracked, spanning the globe. The E-line links southern England with ancient sites in New Zealand and Nepal, among others.
‘The Ghostly Gal’, http://www.helium.com/items/109096-the-purpose-of-ley-lines
And before you can say ‘Erik von Daniken’..
…not only did [ley line hunters] discover long-lost trackways, they unearthed lines of massive earthworks that could never have been constructed for any practical purpose, parallel lines of sites and regular geometrical relationships between sites forming giant landscape figures that on so vast a scale that they were forced to question whether they could ever have been the work of man.
[My emphasis]Sullivan, 1999
There is at least a consistency in the idea of unseen lines being the handiwork of unseen aliens – and the theory is impossible to disprove. And the link between leys (or equivalent networks of mysterious geometrical patterns) and extraterrestrial visitations has engaged the best efforts of many, here and abroad. John Goddard asks:
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 that is useful to them?
Flying Saucer Review, 1964, in Sullivan, 1999
Well, yes, of course that’s probably what happened, but for the sophisticated space traveller, wouldn’t visible landscape features such as rivers, mountains, motorways or the lights of urban conurbations provide a more tangible means of negotiating a strange planet than ancient tracks and standing stones, however ‘magnetic’ their ‘current’? Perhaps not, since French UFO-logist Aime Michel has offered evidence to the effect that space visitors only permit their craft to be witnessed from locations that can be aligned on a geometrical grid spanning the whole of that author’s country. If you are not yet convinced, check out Fig. 17a.
Fig. 17a Aime Michel’s grid of UFO sightings and their purported alignments
Biased selection and ‘data-trawling’
That ley-liners produce findings that are impressive (at least to the impressionable) can be attributed to two basic methodological errors. The first lies in the criteria by which objects on the landscape are accorded status as ley markers; suitable candidates are numerous and varied: ancient mounds, unworked stones, moats and islands in ponds, traditional wells, beacon points, camps, churches, fords, castles and churches. (Never mind that no church or castle dates from the megalithic era; for Watkins the assumption is made, irrespective of evidence, that these will have been constructed on the sites of earlier stone-workings.) When it suits, a small group of pine trees standing alone may suffice. Examples of these that do not fall upon a hypothesised ley line may be discounted or ignored.
Sullivan describes a ley-hunting outing thus, but at least shows a commendable note of caution in his summary impressions:
Heading northwards the line passes over Cleeve Hill, one of the prominent peaks on the Cotswold escarpment, but unfortunately [
!] the line misses the banks of an Iron Age fort and the curious ring earthwork on the lower slopes of the hill. It does, however, pass through the summit of the hill… In the other direction the line passes through St. Michael’s church, close to the summit of Chedworth Beacon and on to St Mary’s Church at Barnsley. Not a classic ley by Watkins’s standards, but a curiosity, a fragment of old straight track running on a line drawn between two prominent hills.
If this is ‘not a classic ley by Watkins’ standards’, nor is it atypical; either way, the research process is itself more instructive than the conclusion. Note how the ancient fort and earthworks are (‘unfortunately’) omitted for being misaligned, while two post-Norman churches and a probably-random hilltop are seemingly valid. Why not, instead, ditch the churches, retain the prehistoric stuff and conclude that, on this evidence, ley lines are not straight, but squiggly?
This approach to research resembles that of Sigmund Freud: filter your observations to fit the theory rather than apply anomalous data to refute or fine-tune that theory.
[Please note that although I have used Sullivan’s Ley Lines extensively as a source, his overview of the area is for the most part level-headed and objective – not to mention interesting – although he can be annoyingly uncritical of the more wayward, paranormalist and new-agey (non-)thinkers who populate his field of study. I would also strongly challenge his assertion that ley lines are ‘a phenomenon that after 75 years still begs an explanation’.]
It further helps the ley hunter’s task that, for Michel and others, the alignment of just three salient map points warrants a modest Eureka moment. Given that any two points may be joined by a straight line, finding a third to complete the triad – distance immaterial – is hardly a case of needles and haystacks.
Which brings us neatly to ‘data-trawling’. A researcher (from any discipline) may collate a mass of numerical or geometrical data based upon observation; then, having made no specific prediction regarding the relationships to be found, scan their scatterplots for hidden significance. Most of the lines on Michel’s map (fig. 17a) link no more than three locations and at least one of the aligned locations is hundreds of miles from the other two, eg. the ‘line’ that runs: Beauquay / Domerat / Riom. Meanwhile, much closer towns to each of these are not linked, as to do so would contravene the ‘straight line principle’. (As happened with Sullivan’s iron-age workings, above.)
Although Sullivan notes that Michel’s work is ‘discredited now, and rarely referred to in UFO literature’, it is a mystery why it was credited in the first place. As for the content of ‘UFO literature’, past or present – that is for another discussion.
Plate xviia The unremarkable alignments of Beaverbrooks stores in SE England
An analogy: there are probably sound economic and logistical reasons for the positioning of Beaverbrooks the Jewellers stores (Plate xviia), but we may reasonably assume that an awareness of ‘telluric energy flows’ did not overly figure in planning proposals placed before council ombudsmen. This map was picked at random off the web and the straight lines added to illustrate the ease by which one may conjure up order from chaos, meaning from the meaningless, etc. When data-trawling, if it is straight lines you are looking for, straight lines you will find.
Watkins himself specified a minimum of four aligned features to confirm a ley line, though routinely broke his own rules when failing to attain that number. But even four seemingly-aligned data points are nothing to write home (or books) about; in 1983, the archaeologists Williamson and Bellamy, from an exhaustive survey, concluded that chance alone was sufficient to explain the relative positioning of all reported ancient landscape features.
A more formalised version of data-trawling may be found in ‘factor analysis’; psychologists, for example, identify human performance or personality variables, such as ‘IQ’ or ‘extraversion’, from a statistical breakdown of scores recorded by questionnaires and psychometric tests. While considered more academically legit than simply eyeballing one’s data for salient patterns, the method is error-prone, and resulting factors, or ‘lines of best fit’ that emerge may be no more ‘real’ than are ley lines. See Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, 1983, for a critique.)
Computerised data-trawling also explains the uncannily prophetic ‘messages’ that may be found in ancient scriptures, as reported in Michael Drosnin’s ludicrous The Bible Codes. ‘Elton John will rewrite Candle in the Wind with even worse lyrics than first time around’ etc. But that, too, is beyond the scope of this discussion.
hat is not under dispute in the present analysis is that some well-known ancient workings were built to align either with astronomical events (Stonehenge; Newgrange etc.) or with one another. However, next to nothing is known about the cultures that created them, or their reasons for building. Ley line theorists may seek to fill both the gaps between the monuments themselves and the holes in our knowledge but, on available evidence, fail miserably on each count. Readers wishing to further enlighten themselves in this area need only google ‘ley lines’ to unearth a treasury of arcane material that only space (and a fast-diminishing will to live) prevents my covering in greater detail.
Footnote: ley lines is not, strictly speaking, a Crap Theory of the Mind Body and Spirit so much as a Dodgy Theory of Life, the Universe and Everything; but it is of the same stripe: believers in ley lines will, in my experience, further engage you at length on the significance of the pyramids, the ark of the covenant or the return of King Arthur. From here you are just a spit away from introducing to the discussion, tarot cards, homeopathy and Bach’s bloody Flower Remedies. For it is within this colourfully warped version of the natural world as we know it that so many bona fide CTOMBS thrive and prosper.