These are apparently special magical lines that run between ancient archaeological sites or monuments. If like me, you grew up devouring all the mystical books doing the rounds such as “Chariot of the Gods” by Erich Von Daniken, or “The Third Eye” by Lobsang T Rampa, then you will have no doubt come across the claim at some point. In fact, I’d be astonished if you had not heard of them, the idea has more or less embedded itself as a cultural meme these days.
Where did the Ley Lines idea originally come from?
It was started by a self-taught archaeologist, Alfred Watkins. In 1921 he made the observation that ancient monuments appear to all line up. As a result, he suggested that perhaps these had been setup like this in neolithic times as line-of-sight navigational markers. OK, that sounds a reasonable hypothesis, but of course the concept has been taken up and inflated into a far more potent new-age belief, so how did that happen? (More on that in a moment)
Where does the name “Ley” come from?
The name “Ley” line, was coined by Watkins when he observed that many of these lines passed through places that had names with “ley” in them. The word ley is a variant of lea, meaning grassland, clearing, or pasture. As you might guess, towns and villages with that as part of the name are rather common in the UK.
Reactions to the initial idea
The professionals dismissed his hypothesis at the time (and still do), for the following reasons
- In the UK there is a very high number of ancient sites, so the chances of finding straight lines that occur by chance are quite high
- Watkins used maps to identify his ancient markers. He did not go out and see if they could indeed have been utilised as navigational markers.
Just using a map for such analysis has many problems. It is inaccurate due to problems of scale, a 1/4 mm line on a 1-inch to 1-mile map represents a 50 foot wide path.
As for the diversity of markers, well a fun illustration of that problem was the use of phone boxes, by archaeologist Richard Atkinson, to create a map of “telephone box leys”. In other words, the mere existence of such lines in a set of points is not evidence, given enough points you can create your own “meaningful” magical lines from almost anything.
Why did it become a popular New Age belief?
It is not Wakins who introduced all the modern hocus-pocus, that came later. Wakins simply made an observation and formed a natural hypothesis to try and explain it. Others then looked at the evidence and did not find it compelling. That should have been the end of the story, so why is the idea still around, and where did all the mystical additions that we appear to have with us today come from?
The resurrection and repurposing of the idea came via author, John Michell. He not only revived Watkins Ley lines, but also blended the idea in with some feng shui within his 1969 book called “The View Over Atlantis”
(Skeptical Side Note-1: The word “Atlantis” in the title here is a big bold skeptical red flag).
It was a popular book, and so it succeeded in creating the ley line concept as we now know it. Throughout the 70’s other similar writers quickly embraced this basic idea, refined and tweaked it with enhancements that mixed in dowsing, new age beliefs, and so promoted the idea that these ley lines were conductors for “spiritual” power.
(Skeptical Side note 2: Can anybody define what “Spiritual” power is? Should there be a Spiritual Power company that needs to take responsibility for regulating the flow, and can we also have spiritual power meters in our homes. If so, who will bill us? – My point is that the word “spiritual” is a meaningless term. It does not describe anything that can be actually measured. It gets used because it sounds impressive, and so helps to sell books)
Conclusion – It was not really Watkins in 1921, but Michell in the 1970s who kick-started all these “Earth Mysteries”.
Do you live at an intersection of magical ley lines?
Now for a bit of fun.
The Mathematician, Matt Parker, wrote a nice take down of all this in the Guardian that is entitled … “Did aliens establish a primitive postcode system in ancient Britain?”
What is his article all about?
There are enough ancient sites in the UK to enable you to place every single postal delivery point at the convergence of three or more ley lines between ancient monuments – everybody is equally special, no exceptions.
You can test this yourself.
A website, inspired by Matt’s article, was created by Tom Scott. No matter where you are in the UK, you can key in your postcode and it will quickly tell you about the 3 or more ley lines the converge at that point, thus proving you are currently at a hub of “spiritual” power (no need to trek to Stonehenge)
Link: You can find Tom’s website here.
Since the property I live in is at the convergence of three ley lines between ancient monuments, and that includes one coming directly from Stonehenge, then I have to ask if I am truly special?
The obvious answer is nope. Every single inch of the UK is a special magical place where ley lines just happen to converge.
If you are you still a believer, then pause and remember, this was all the fallout from a desire to craft a popular book in the early 1970s. It was not in any way related to an ancient belief, nor is it measuring anything real. Pluck out enough points from a map, and you quickly find that the easiest person to fool is perhaps yourself. The true wonder is that sitting between your ears is an amazingly powerful pattern recognition engine that will often throw up false positives, and yield meaning and patterns where none exist.