Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Old Straight Tracks

Ley lines… You probably scoff at such things, as if it’s some new age pseudoscience spoken of by hippies on the festival trail in the seventies, but indulge me. For this post I want you to suspend your sense of disbelief for a short while, to open your mind to the possibility that perhaps our reality is not entirely as we have been programmed to perceive it. What if there is a mystery hidden in plain sight before us? Something so glaringly obvious and yet suppressed so that belief in it became of the realm of the unhinged?  (You’ll be pleased to know I don’t intend on going down some strange 1970’s avenue to link leylines to UFO’s – I may believe in fairies but I’m not entirely away with them! )

We humans like to see patterns in things, whether it’s making a familiar shape from the randomness of clouds, measuring the movement of the heavens as some form of clock or creating a face where there is none. Mere coincidence perhaps; however what if a coincidence keeps recurring?

The term “ley line” was coined by English amateur archaeologist, author and antiquarian Alfred Watkins, in 1921, who noticed that it is possible to draw a straight line on a map linking stone circles, burial mounds, geological features, churches and even crossroads. He used the term ley* lines but preferred to describe them as archaic roads or old straight tracks.  *Ley – OE for a clearing in a forest.
Alfred Watkins

Watkins wasn’t the first to notice alignments in the ancient landscape: In the 1740’s Dr William Stuckley proposed that there was an ancient geometric druidic pattern across the country. During the 1800’s William Black who made a study of Roman roads proposed that major landmarks were linked by grand geometric lines. However the suspicion of their existence precedes these dates and can be seen in different cultures: In Ireland there are “Fairy paths”, in Germany” Heilige Linien” (Holy Lines), in Peru “Spirit Lines”, in China “Dragon Lines” and “Song Paths” in the Australian Aborigine tradition. It was Watkins who first listed a guide for possible ley markers:

Mounds, Long-barrows, Cairns, Cursus, Dolmens, Standing stones, mark-stones, Stone circles, Henges, Water-markers (moats, ponds, springs, fords, wells), Castle, Beacon-hills, Churches, Cross-roads, Notches in hills, Camps (Hill-forts).”

To Watkins these lines were primarily for navigation across the once densely forested British landscape, providing a line of sight between prominent features, such as hilltop to hilltop. He argued that sacred sites would have sprung up along these tracks and later with the advent of Christianity churches would occupy such sites. It is interesting to note that many of these identified ley lines coincide with the notoriously straight Roman Roads which were built on existing trackways. Indeed some recent research points to a similar system of straight roads throughout the Celtic world which were in place prior to the Roman conquest. All these tracks seem to be linked to the solstice path of the Sun. Maybe a common religious belief allowed for these track ways to be maintained as they crossed different tribal boundaries and lands?

Perhaps the most famous British Ley line is the St Michael’s Leyline that starts at Lands’ End and links Glastonbury to Avebury. It follows the course of the sun on 8th May, celebrated as the Feast of St Michael by the Catholic Church. As stone circles could be used as astronomical tools and calendars it would follow that lines linking them would also follow some astronomical event.
St Michael Ley Line

It is perhaps due to skilful propaganda by Caesar and his successors that the image we have of the Celtic world is one of barbarian savagery and the druids as crazed priests with an unhealthy appetite for human sacrifice. Yet the reality may be very different as the Celts were a technologically advanced people. As well as fashioning jewellery of exquisite beauty they also invented mail armour, the Gallic helmet (which was adopted by the Romans), even the Roman word for chariot Carrum (from which we get car) was from the Gaulish word Karros. It has been mooted that European history would have been very different if the Celts had adopted the imperial outlook that the Romans did, but these were a people who prized the independence of their tribes and crucially did not have a tradition of writing. It should be noted however that the Celts were not megalith builders; which means that this system of tracks that they used may originate from around 7000 years ago.

So far all seems theoretically plausible, but what about the energy/spiritual aspect that ley lines are supposed to possess?

Folklore has it that houses in Ireland built on fairy paths will be cursed while in China there is the tradition of Feng Shui whereby the flow of dragon currents are utilised to promote harmony in a house or to encourage the fertility of fields. It may well be that this could be linked to the earth’s magnetic field in some way. With the advent of the 60s/70’s New Age movement, many ley hunters took to dowsing in an attempt to map out the Ley network.

But what if they are something else, perhaps a different, older form of human consciousness that is common to all cultures?

In middle and South America we have an indigenous culture that we have records of as it was still active up to 600 years ago before the arrival of the Conquistadors. Throughout the area there are arrow-straight roads, so called “spirit paths”.  If they change direction they do suddenly with a sharp angle, they have no curving bends. NASA satellite surveys have also found these roads in jungle areas, running straight through and over difficult terrain. The roads themselves sometimes link ancient cites and temples but also can terminate at caves or even cliff faces. Investigation pointed to these being “death roads” that is the dead would be transported along these roads for ceremonial burial in cemeteries. As well as being roads for the transport of mortal remains they were also supposed to be roads for the spirits of the departed toward the next world.

These can be compared to Bronze Age standing stone avenues in Europe linking burial mounds, and also even older earthen Neolithic roads called cursuses.  These can be viewed traversing crop fields from the air. Some of these “Death roads“  were used up until the Medieval period in Scandinavia and the Netherlands and are noted for their straightness.

If we return to the Americas and the high deserts of Peru we find the famous Nazca Lines. When we mention Nazca we think of the geoglyphs (ground drawings) of animals and birds marked out by stones on the desert floor, these are remarkable as the monumental scale of them is only truly apparent from the air. However, as well as the geoglyphs, there are lines both at Nazca and also in Bolivia and Chile. These lines are absolutely straight and can be 20 miles in length.

Nazca Geoglyph and lines

The purpose to the Nazca lines as long been the source of conjecture - but I think we can safely ignore the theory by Erich Von Daniken that they are landing strips for ancient astronauts! However in 1977 anthropologist  Marlene Dobkin de Rios theorised, which was later expanded by Paul Devereux and others,  that the whole landscape of lines and images may have a shamanistic origin. She noted that the areas where these lines were found coincided with where tribes used a certain hallucinogenic cactus used to obtain trance induced visions and experience a “spirit-flight”. There is a common imagery of entopic patterns that all humans see when in a trance-like state which can be seen in the cave art of Europe and Australia. The stylised animals of Nazca could be similar to cave paintings, but on a much grander scale, produced by an organised society.

So perhaps ley lines are indeed the means of navigation for both the living and the dead through a prehistoric landscape and have no magical power other than having originated from our shared human shamanistic past… but…

I keep thinking about coincidence again and so will return to St Michael’s ley line. Yes we know it follows the course of the Sun on St Michael’s Spring feast day on 8th May.  Not to be confused with Michaelmas in September, this date supposedly commemorates the apparition of the Archangel St Michael on Mount Gargano in southern Italy in the C6th, then on 8th May 100 years later in 663AD the invocation of St Michael ensured a victory by the Lombard defenders of Sipontum against besieging Byzantine forces. A shrine was built where the saint appeared and Pope Pius V made May 8th a feast Day in the C16th.

The Archangel St Michael holds a special position in Roman Catholic teachings; he is said to command God’s armies against Satan’s. According to the Book of Revelations it was Michael in his role as God’s general who defeated Lucifer, who had taken the form of a dragon, and cast him and his followers from heaven. St Michael is also said to carry the souls of the deceased to heaven and weigh the worthiness of each soul, offering the chance of redemption. Do we have an echo of spirit paths here or is it coincidence?

But there’s more, this ley line begins at Land’s End and intersects St Michaels Mount in Cornwall on its way to Avebury and beyond. Indeed the churches that this line intersects or passes closely to are all those dedicated to the Archangel, including the ruined church atop Glastonbury Tor and its smaller mirror image at Burrow Mump, both in Somerset. Coincidence, or is this the church imposing its authority over earthly powers by invoking God’s general?

Of course this is pseudoscience; the British countryside is full of sites of antiquity, after all. Draw a line anywhere and you are likely to be able to link any number of them. The number of churches dedicated to St Michael linked by it has to be mere coincidence, doesn’t it?

But here’s some fun; take a map of Europe and draw a line on a SE-NW axis between St Michael’s Mount on Cornwall and Mont St Michel in Normandy. Let’s now extend this line North West first and it barely touches Ireland but it hits a small island SE of it called Skellig Michael; famous for its remote monastery. There are three Michaels already, anyway lets extend SE and see what we can find. If we keep it going it runs down Italy and hits a certain Mount Gargano… the shrine built to commemorate the appearance of the saint. Of course it had to! If we continue SE we go through the Shrine of Delphi and on to Mount Carmel in Israel.  Some of the lower slopes form the hill called Har-Meggido, although you might know its better known name of Armageddon. Wasn’t the final battle between good vs Evil supposed to take place there? I wonder if St Michael is supposed to be involved?  

St Michael/Apollo Axis

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

P Devereux & I Thomson: The Ley Hunters Companion 1979
A Watkins : The Ley Hunters Manuel 1989
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  1. I find the subject of ley lines forever interesting and mysterious. A really interesting post Rob.

    1. Thanks Louise. I did some local research and looked at a map around Taunton at the churches just to the south and going east on the axis between lands end & Avebury. All St Michael or were once called St Michael. Spooked me a bit!

  2. Fascinating stuff Rob. Thank you. Much to ponder on.

  3. Fascinating reading. I believe the ancients knew a lot more about navigation that we give credit for. It would be interesting to find out that the places/churches attributed to the saints, which appear to be on ley lines, were previously shrines for Celtic gods or goddesses and their locations 'appropriated' by the Christian church during the eras of conversion. I can recall Von Danniken's 'Chariots of the Gods' being startling reading back in the late 1960s/1970s. It caused quite a buzz.

  4. Absolutely believe in these ley lines; we have a lot to yet understand