Ley Lines: A Comprehensive Guide


Danny Sullivan. Ley Lines: A Comprehensive Guide to Alignments, Piatkus, 1999.

In the first part of his book, Danny Sullivan, the editor of the Ley Hunter, provides a fascinating history of the ley hunting movement from the days of Alfred Watkins onward. He portrays Watkins as very much the practical man, rather than the mystic portrayed in some quarters, seeing the leys as ancient merchants' ways, rather like the roads he drove down in the course of business. Sullivan notes how more mystically inclined people were attracted to the Straight Track Club.

It was these people who reformed ley hunting as part of the counter culture in the 1960s. Sullivan notes the role of Aime Michel's theory of orthoteny in the rebirth, and the founding influence of people like Tony Duncan Wedd, Jimmy Goddard and Philip Hesselton in this. I still remember Wedd's lecture to the notorious DIGAP Manchester conference of 1968, with his Pythonesque slide shows: "No. 2, The Scots Pine; THE SCOTS PINE", and his assertion to teenagers like myself in the audience, that when we grew up we would live in a world powered by earth energies and other goodies from the space people. Still waiting, Tony.

Other pioneers included John Michell, a pioneer of "flying saucers and fairies", ancient astronauts and general earth mysteries, whose book The View over Atlantis Sullivan describes as seminal. Alas I never inhaled the sort of substances necessary to appreciate that sort of thing, and described it in my MUFOB review as 'unmitigated rubbish' and suggested that it might give aid and comfort to some politically very dubious characters. Ley hunting has certainly toned down rather since then, and it's quiet clear that these early mystical effusions are now seen as rather an embarrassment. Ley hunting is now trying to get back to something of the more down-to-earth quality of Watkins, and to try and mend fences with the archaeological establishment, which itself has undergone drastic changes since Watkins's days, when Egyptian diffusionism was very much the thing.

Today there is a general willingness to see Neolithic societies as much more sophisticated than was previously believed, though I doubt that the particular views of Hawkins and Thom even now find much favour. While I liked the history, I was rather less sure of the modern interpretation, which is Paul Devereux's theory of 'spirit lines'. It's not that I am in any way sure that it is wrong, far from it, it's just that I am not sure it really is established. The real problem I had, which was no doubt caused by the popular format of the book, was the repeated assertion that such and such is a tradition here and there, without any documentation to back it up. I think we have to be very wary of such claims, because to put it frankly, much folklore was collected by amateur antiquarians, local clergymen and their daughters, and in more recent times by Women's Institutes and WEA classes. Very worthy, no doubt, but lacking modern anthropological, archaeological and historical scholarship, often based on very outdated ideas, and open to multiple levels of bias.

There is also a suspicion that much 'age old folklore' was actually invented between the Restoration and the end of the 19th century.  I am not sure that 'spirit lines' actually play much role in traditional ghost lore; the average British ghost is reluctant enough to move from the "haunted room", still less from the council house or pub in which it is safely ensconced, to go walkies, in straight lines or any other way. More seriously I'm not sure whether Sullivan actually believes in 'real' spirits moving in straight lines, or is indeed dealing with traditions. He makes the curious remark that as there is no reason for the world-wide belief in straight spirit flight other than "... real human experience, possibly from witnessing the passage of spirits, either in waking reality, in dreams or in 'subconscious experience' ..."

Well, an obvious rational reason why such a belief may have arisen, is that light, such as in moonbeams and sunbeams, travels along straight lines, and the idea of spirits travelling along them to celestial realms seems a fairly obvious one to me.  Despite any cavils this is a good popular introduction for newcomers who want to know about the history and current beliefs of ley hunters.  -- Peter Rogerson

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