Ley line

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The Malvern Hills in the United Kingdom. Alfred Watkins believed a ley line passed along their ridge.

Ley lines (/l lnz/) refer to straight alignments drawn between various historic structures and prominent landmarks. Believers in ley lines argue that ancient societies deliberately erected structures along such alignments. Since the 1960s, members of the Earth Mysteries movement and other esoteric traditions have also commonly believed that such ley lines demarcate or channel "earth energies" and serve as guides for alien spacecraft. Archaeologists regard the idea of ley lines as pseudo-archaeology, while scientists view the notion of earth energies inside these lines to be pseudo-scientific.

The idea of "leys" as straight tracks across the landscape was put forward by the English antiquarian Alfred Watkins in the 1920s, particularly in his book The Old Straight Track. He argued that straight lines could be drawn between various historic buildings and that these represent trade routes created by ancient British societies. Although he gained a small following, Watkins' ideas were never accepted by the British archaeological establishment, a fact that frustrated him. His critics noted that his ideas relied on drawing lines between sites established at different periods of the past. They also argued that in prehistory, as in the present, it was impractical to travel in a straight line across hilly or mountainous areas of Britain, rendering his leys unlikely as trade routes. Independently of Watkins' ideas, a similar notion—that of Heilige Linien ('holy lines')—was raised in 1920s Germany. It was later endorsed by various Nazis.

During the 1960s, Watkins' ideas were revived in altered form by British proponents of the countercultural Earth Mysteries movement. In 1961, Tony Wedd put forward the belief that leys were established by prehistoric communities to guide alien spacecraft. This view was promoted to a wider audience in the books of John Michell, particularly his 1969 work The View Over Atlantis. Michell's publications were accompanied by the launch of the Ley Hunter magazine and the appearance of a ley hunter community keen to identify ley lines across the British landscape. Ley hunters often combined their search for ley lines with other esoteric practices like dowsing and numerology. Although often hostile to archaeologists, some ley hunters attempted to ascertain scientific evidence for their belief in earth energies at historic sites, evidence they could not obtain. Following sustained archaeological criticism, the ley hunter community dissipated in the 1990s, with several of its key proponents abandoning the idea and moving into the study of landscape archaeology. Belief in ley lines nevertheless remains among some esoteric religious groups.

Archaeologists note that there is no evidence that ley lines were a recognised phenomenon among ancient societies and that attempts to draw them typically rely on linking together structures that were built in different historical periods. Archaeologists and statisticians have demonstrated that a random distribution of a sufficient number of points on a plane will inevitably create alignments of random points purely by chance. Skeptics have also stressed that the esoteric belief in earth energies running through ley lines has not been scientifically verified.


Early prototypes[edit]

The idea that ancient sacred sites might have been constructed in alignment with one another was proposed in 1846 by the Reverend Edward Duke, who observed that some prehistoric monuments and medieval churches aligned with each other.[1] In 1909, the idea was advanced in Germany.[1]

Alfred Watkins and The Old Straight Track[edit]

Alfred Watkins' map of two putative ley lines

The idea of "leys" as paths traversing the British landscape was developed by Alfred Watkins, a wealthy businessman and antiquarian who lived in Hereford.[2] He proposed the existence of a network of completely straight roads that cut through a range of prehistoric, Roman, and medieval structures.[1] In his view, these straight tracks were ancient trade routes.[3] Watkins had drawn upon earlier research; he cited the work of the English astronomer Norman Lockyer, who had argued that ancient alignments might be oriented to sunrise and sunset at solstices.[4]

His ideas were rejected by most experts on British prehistory at the time, including both the small number of recognised archaeological scholars and local enthusiasts.[5] His critics noted that the straight lines he proposed would have been highly impractical means of crossing hilly or mountainous terrain, and that many of the sites he selected as evidence for the leys were of disparate historical origins.[5]

On 30 June 1921, Alfred Watkins visited Blackwardine in Herefordshire, and had been driving along a road near the village (which has now virtually disappeared). Attracted by the nearby archaeological investigation of a Roman camp, he stopped his car to compare the landscape on either side of the road with the marked features on his much used map. While gazing at the scene around him and consulting the map, he saw, in the words of his son, "like a chain of fairy lights" a series of straight alignments of various ancient features, such as standing stones, wayside crosses, causeways, hill forts, and ancient churches on mounds.[6]

Snodhill Castle in Dorstone

He subsequently coined the term "ley" at least partly because the lines passed through places whose names contained the syllable ley, stating that philologists defined the word (spelled also as lay, lea, lee, or leigh) differently, but had misinterpreted it.[7][8][9] He believed this was the ancient name for the trackways, preserved in the modern names. The ancient surveyors who supposedly made the lines were given the name "dodmen".[6][10]

His work referred to G. H. Piper's paper presented to the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Clubb in 1882, which noted that: "A line drawn from the Skirrid-fawr mountain northwards to Arthur's Stone would pass over the camp and southern most point of Hatterall Hill, Oldcastle, Longtown Castle, and Urishay and Snodhill castles."[11]

Proponents of Watkins' ideas sent in letters to the archaeologist O. G. S. Crawford, then editor of the Antiquity journal. Crawford filed these letters under a section of his archive titled "Crankeries" and was annoyed that educated people believed such ideas when they were demonstrably incorrect.[12] He refused to publish an advert in Antiquity for The Old Straight Track, at which Watkins became very bitter towards him.[13]

Unknown to Watkins and his followers, a similar idea had been independently developed in Germany. Here, the idea was referred to as Heilige Linien ('holy lines').[14] This idea was adopted by some proponents of Nazism.[15] The archaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles noted that after the 1920s, "ley lines soon faded into obscurity".[14] The historian Ronald Hutton similarly noted that there had been a "virtual demise" in the idea by the 1950s, in part due to "a natural weariness with a spent enthusiasm".[1]

Earth Mysteries movement[edit]

In the 1960s, John Michell (pictured in 2008) played a major role in promoting a belief in ley lines

From the 1940s through to the 1960s, the archaeological establishment blossomed in Britain as a result of the formation of various university courses on the subject. This helped to professionalise the discipline, and meant that it was no longer an amateur-dominated field of research.[5] It was in the latter decade of this period that a belief in ley lines was taken up by members of the counterculture,[5] where—in the words of the archaeologist Matthew Johnson—they were attributed with "sacred significance or mystical power".[16] Ruggles noted that in this period, ley lines came to be conceived as "lines of power, the paths of some form of spiritual force or energy accessible to our ancient ancestors but now lost to narrow-minded twentieth-century scientific thought".[14]

In 1961, Tony Wedd published his idea that Watkins' leys were both real and served as ancient markers to guide alien spacecraft that were visiting Earth.[5] Wedd's ideas were taken up by the writer John Michell, who promoted them to a wider audience in his 1967 book The Flying Saucer Vision.[17] In this book, Michell promoted the ancient astronaut belief that extra-terrestrials had assisted humanity during prehistory, when humans had worshipped these entities as gods, but that the aliens left when humanity became too materialistic and technology-focused. He also argued that humanity's materialism was driving it to self-destruction, but that this could be prevented by re-activating the ancient centres which would facilitate renewed contact with the aliens.[17]

Michell repeated his beliefs in his 1969 book The View Over Atlantis.[17] Here he interpreted ley lines by reference to the Chinese concept of lung mei energy lines. He proposed that an advanced ancient society that had once covered much of the world had established ley lines across the landscape to harness this lung mei energy.[18] The historian Ronald Hutton later noted that Michell's ideas "embodied a fervent religious feeling, which though not Christian was heavily influenced by Christian models", adopting an "evangelical and apocalyptic tone" that announced the coming of an Age of Aquarius in which ancient wisdom would be restored.[17] He viewed archaeologists as antagonists, seeing them as the personification of the modern materialism he was railing against.[17]

Gary Lachman states that The View Over Atlantis "put Glastonbury on the countercultural map."[19] Ronald Hutton described it as "almost the founding document of the modern earth mysteries movement".[1]

The Ley Hunting Community[edit]

Michell's publication was followed by an upsurge in ley hunting as enthusiasts travelled around the British landscape seeking to identify what they believed to be ley lines connecting various historic structures.[20] Parish churches were particularly favoured by the ley hunters, who often worked on the assumption that such churches had almost always been built atop pre-Christian sacred sites.[20] The 1970s and 1980s also saw the increase in publications appearing on the topic of ley lines.[20] One ley lines enthusiast, Philip Heselton, established the Ley Hunter magazine.[17] It later came to be edited by Paul Screeton, who also wrote the book Quicksilver Heritage, in which he argued that the Neolithic period had seen an idyllic society devoted to spirituality but that this was brought to an end through the introduction of metal technologies in the Bronze Age. He argued that this golden age could nevertheless be restored.[20] Another key book produced among the ley hunting community was Mysterious Britain, written by Janet and Colin Bord.[20]

In the 1960s, Philip Heselton (pictured in 2005) established the Ley Hunter magazine

Part of the popularity of ley hunting was that individuals without any form of professional training in archaeology could take part and feel that they could rediscover "the magical landscapes of the past".[21] The ley hunting movement often blended their activities with other esoteric practices, such as numerology and dowsing.[22] The movement had a diverse base, consisting of individuals from different class bases and of different political opinions: it contained adherents of both radical left and radical right ideologies.[23] Attitudes to the archaeological establishment also varied among ley hunters, with some of the latter wanting to convert archaeologists to their beliefs and others believing that that was an impossible task.[23]

Paul Devereux succeeded Screeton as the editor of the Ley Hunter. He was more concerned that many other ley hunters to find objective evidence for the idea that unusual forms of energy could be measured at places where prehistoric communities had erected structures.[23] He was one of the founding members of the Dragon Project, launched in London in 1977 with the purpose of conducting radioactivity and ultrasonic tests at prehistoric sites, particularly the stone circles created in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.[23] The Dragon Project continued its research throughout the 1980s, finding that certain prehistoric sites did show higher or lower than average rates of radiation but that others did not and that there was no consistent pattern.[23] Professional archaeologists, whose view of the ley hunters was largely hostile, took little interest in such research.[23]

It was only in the 1980s that professional archaeologists in Britain began to engage with the ley hunting movement.[24] In 1983, Ley Lines in Question, a book written by the archaeologists Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy, was published. In this work, Williamson and Bellamy considered and tackled the evidence that ley lines exponents had amassed in support of their beliefs.[24] They highlighted that the British landscape was so highly covered in historic monuments that it was statistically unlikely that any straight line could be drawn across the landscape without passing through several such sites.[24] They also demonstrated that ley hunters had often claimed that certain markers were Neolithic, and thus roughly contemporary with each other, when often they were of widely different dates, such as being Iron Age or medieval.[24] The overall message of their book was that the idea of leys, as it was being presented by Earth Mysteries proponents, had no basis in empirical reality.[24] Looking back on the book's reception in 2000, Williamson noted that "archaeologists weren't particularly interested, and ley-line people were hostile".[25]

Continuing belief[edit]

In 2005, Ruggles noted that "for the most part, ley lines represent an unhappy episode now consigned to history".[26] However, belief in ley lines persists among various esoteric groups. Research that took place in 2014 found that various Druids and other Pagans believed that there were ley lines focusing on the Early Neolithic site of Coldrum Long Barrow in Kent, southeast England.[27]

In the U.S. city of Seattle, a dowsing organisation called the Geo Group plotted what they believed were the ley lines across the city. They stated that their "project made Seattle the first city on Earth to balance and tune its ley-line system". The Seattle Arts Commission contributed $5,000 to the project, bringing criticisms from members of the public who regarded it as a waste of money.[28]


8-point ley line alignments of pizza restaurants in London

Ley lines have been characterised as a form of pseudoscience.[29] On The Skeptic's Dictionary, the American philosopher and skeptic Robert Todd Carroll noted that none of the claims about magnetic forces underpinning putative ley lines have been scientifically verified.[28]

One criticism of Watkins' ley line theory states that given the high density of historic and prehistoric sites in Britain and other parts of Europe, finding straight lines that "connect" sites is trivial and ascribable to coincidence. Johnson stated that "ley lines do not exist." He cited Williamson and Bellamy's work in demonstrating this, noting that their research showed how "the density of archaeological sites in the British landscape is so great that a line drawn through virtually anywhere will 'clip' a number of sites."[16]

A study by David George Kendall used the techniques of shape analysis to examine the triangles formed by standing stones to deduce if these were often arranged in straight lines. The shape of a triangle can be represented as a point on the sphere, and the distribution of all shapes can be thought of as a distribution over the sphere. The sample distribution from the standing stones was compared with the theoretical distribution to show that the occurrence of straight lines was no more than average.[30]

The archaeologist Richard Atkinson once demonstrated this by taking the positions of telephone boxes and pointing out the existence of "telephone box leys". This, he argued, showed that the mere existence of such lines in a set of points does not prove that the lines are deliberate artefacts, especially since it is known that telephone boxes were not laid out in any such manner or with any such intention.[14]

In 2004, John Bruno Hare wrote:

Watkins never attributed any supernatural significance to leys; he believed that they were simply pathways that had been used for trade or ceremonial purposes, very ancient in origin, possibly dating back to the Neolithic, certainly pre-Roman. His obsession with leys was a natural outgrowth of his interest in landscape photography and love of the British countryside. He was an intensely rational person with an active intellect, and I think he would be a bit disappointed with some of the fringe aspects of ley lines today.[31]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e Hutton 1991, p. 121.
  2. ^ Hutton 1991, p. 121; Hutton 2013, p. 134.
  3. ^ Hutton 1991, p. 121; Hutton 2013, p. 135.
  4. ^ Ruggles 2005, p. 224.
  5. ^ a b c d e Hutton 2013, p. 135.
  6. ^ a b Watkins, Alfred Watkins (1925). The old straight track: its mounds, beacons, moats, sites, and mark stones. Methuen & Co Ltd.
  7. ^ Brown, Peter Lancaster (1976). Megaliths, Myths and Men: An Introduction to Astro-Archaeology. Blandford Press. p. 222. ISBN 0-7137-0784-4.
  8. ^ Ruggles, Clive L. N., p. 224.
  9. ^ Watkins, Alfred (1922). Ley Lines: Early British Trackways, Moats, Mounds, Camps and Sites (2008 ed.). Forgotten Books. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-60506-472-7.
  10. ^ Williamson, T.; Bellamy, L. (1983). Ley Lines in Question. World's Work Ltd. p. 12. ISBN 0-437-19205-9.
  11. ^ Piper, G.H. (1888). Arthur's Stone, Dorstone. Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club 1881–82: 175–80.
  12. ^ Hauser 2008, pp. 111–112; Stout 2008, pp. 183–184.
  13. ^ Stout 2008, p. 184.
  14. ^ a b c d Ruggles 2005, p. 225.
  15. ^ Ruggles 2005, p. 225; Regal 2009, p. 103.
  16. ^ a b Johnson 2010, p. 5.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Hutton 2013, p. 136.
  18. ^ Hutton 1991, p. 122; Hutton 2013, p. 136.
  19. ^ Lachman, Gary (2003). Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius. The Disinformation Company. p. 295. ISBN 978-0-9713942-3-0. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
  20. ^ a b c d e Hutton 2013, p. 137.
  21. ^ Ruggles 2005, pp. 225–226.
  22. ^ Regal 2009, p. 103; Hutton 2013, p. 137.
  23. ^ a b c d e f Hutton 2013, p. 138.
  24. ^ a b c d e Hutton 2013, p. 139.
  25. ^ Anon 2000.
  26. ^ Ruggles 2005, p. 226.
  27. ^ Doyle White 2016, p. 356.
  28. ^ a b Carroll 2015.
  29. ^ Regal 2009, p. 103.
  30. ^ Kendall, David G. (May 1989). "A Survey of the Statistical Theory of Shape". Statistical Science. 4 (2): 87–99. doi:10.1214/ss/1177012582. JSTOR 2245331.
  31. ^ "Early British Trackways Index". Sacred-texts.com. 17 June 2004. Retrieved 22 July 2012.


  • Anon (13 May 2000). "The Ley of the Land". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  • Carroll, Robert Todd (3 December 2015). "Ley Lines". The Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  • Charlesworth, Michael (2010). "Photography, the Index, and the Nonexistent: Alfred Watkins' Discovery (or Invention) of the Notorious Ley-lines of British Archaeology". Visual Resources. 26 (2): 131–145.
  • Doyle White, Ethan (2016). "Old Stones, New Rites: Contemporary Pagan Interactions with the Medway Megaliths". Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief. 12 (3): 346–372. doi:10.1080/17432200.2016.1192152.
  • Hauser, Kitty (2008). Bloody Old Britain: O. G. S. Crawford and the Archaeology of Modern Life. London: Granta. ISBN 978-1-84708-077-6.
  • Hutton, Ronald (1991). The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-17288-8.
  • Hutton, Ronald (2009). "Modern Druidry and Earth Mysteries". Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture. 2 (3). pp. 313–331. doi:10.2752/175169609X12464529903137.
  • Hutton, Ronald (2013). Pagan Britain. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-197716.
  • Johnson, Matthew (2010). Archaeological Theory: An Introduction (second ed.). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1444-36041-7.
  • Regal, Brian (2009). "Ley Lines". Pseudoscience: A Critical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 103. ISBN 978-0313355080.
  • Ruggles, Clive L. N. (2005). "Ley Lines". Ancient Astronomy: An Encyclopaedia of Cosmologies and Myth. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. pp. 224–226. ISBN 978-1-85109-477-6.
  • Stout, Adam (2008). Creating Prehistory: Druids, Ley Hunters and Archaeologists in Pre-War Britain. Malden and Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-5505-2.
  • Thurgill, James (2015). "A Strange Cartography: Leylines, Landscape and "Deep Mapping" in the Works of Alfred Watkins". Humanities. 4 (4). pp. 637–652. doi:10.3390/h4040637.
  • Williamson, Tom; Bellamy, Liz (1983). Ley Lines in Question. Tadworth: World's Work. ISBN 978-0-43719-205-9.

External links[edit]

Data sources