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Falling for ley lines

Part of “Pseudoscience A to Z”, a series of articles in the Skeptics Canada newsletter.

Ley lines are either one of two mysteries: lines joining points of ancient sites and places of supernatural power, or they are mundane lines drawn on a map that make the skeptic wonder how anyone could fall for such a thing.

Alfred Watkins (1855-1935) was a photographer and antiquarian who, like many we run across, decided to step outside the boundaries of his training and take on a new task, that of amateur archaeologist. Looking at a map of ancient sites in the area of England near Leominster (pronounced “Limster” by locals) he fancied that he could discern straight lines along which the sites were situated. They appeared to be trackways, regular paths of travel. It seems that at first he thought of them simply as trade routes, which doesn’t appear too far-fetched, aside from the unlikelihood that ancient people would avoid going around an obstruction. His choice of the word Ley is obscure, but may come from an Anglo-Saxon word for “glade”, or a clear patch in a forest. (It certainly has nothing to do with Willy Ley, scientist and skeptic!) After a few lectures on the subject he published his seminal book in 1922, Early British Trackways, followed by his best-known work The Old Straight Track in 1925. Numerous other books expanded the study of Ley lines and led to the formation of The Straight Track Postal Portfolio club, wherein aficionados could exchange information. It lapsed into oblivion around the start of World War II, but a few individuals kept the interest going until resurgence occurred during the 1960s.

Finding a group of burial mounds, Neolithic forts, and stone circles roughly aligned would be interesting, possibly even worthy of investigation, but an alignment of only two objects would be, well, just a line, right? Not according to the more recent adherents to the field. These days you just mark places of interest on a map, start connecting the dots until you have a schematic of a drunken spider’s web, and call the results a network of Ley lines, along which mysterious energies flow. Others say that sites occur on concentric circles drawn around another site.

A sort of leap forward in the interpretation of the lines came about in 1939 with the publishing of the pamphlet Geometrical Arrangement of Ancient Sites, by Straight Track Club member Major F. C. Tyler. (One might surmise from his rank that a course in critical thinking was not offered at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.) In it he noted that the lines often shared a common point of origin, that is, they converged on a certain point, which might be a village or archaeological site. Furthermore he claimed that not only did ancient trackways form straight lines, but that the lines themselves existed before the tracks were established. Going out on the proverbial limb, and making the mystery even grander, he proclaimed that these alignments were “the remaining index of some great geometrical arrangement of these sacred sites.”

Lest one think that only eccentric Englishmen were involved in all this, let me introduce a German fellow named Dr. Josef Heinsch. A year before Tyler wrote his dissertation Heinsch had appeared before the International Conference of Geography, at which he presented his own work in the field. In Principles of Prehistoric Sacred Geography, he called upon a long-lost magic principle by which the ancients had built their sites. He said that the patterns remained when the Christian church took over many old sites for its own use.

Let’s jump ahead to the 1950s, and bring in one of the major crazes of the decade: UFOs. A Frenchman named Aime Michel, writing in his book Flying Saucers and the Straight Line Mystery, claimed that the reported sightings of UFOs fell into perfectly straight lines, which he was considerate enough to plot on a map. As it would be difficult to get permission to reprint it here I will ask you to trust me on this: the alignments are dubious at best. Most are simply a line drawn between just two sightings, though a few include a third point.

The relationship between Ley lines and UFOs was forged by one Tony Wedd, formerly a pilot in Britain’s Royal Air Force. In his book Skyways and Landmarks he proposed that UFO pilots used ancient sites as navigation points. I guess that even with all their technology the idea of tuning in to navigational aids (like our own radio-based VHF Omnidirectional Rangefinders) had escaped them. After all, where does one purchase Earth navigational charts and flight supplements since the outlet on Rigel 7 went out of business?

As you might expect, the New Age movement has seized upon Ley lines. Not only does the belief seem to be growing, but it has even succeeded in dipping into the public purse. A dowsing organization called the Geo Group recently received $5,000 (US funds) from the Seattle Arts Commission to produce a map of Ley lines in the Seattle area. After taking money from the taxpayers of the city they are now flogging the maps back to them at $7 a pop.

I would definitely not purchase one. As I don’t pilot a flying saucer it would be useless for navigation, and besides, the only spot in Seattle which I would consider sacred is the Boeing aircraft facility. More science went on there in one minute than was ever used in researching Ley lines.

One response to “Falling for ley lines”

  1. My home town of Crieff in Scotland has some 70 – 80 leylines connecting the straight town roads,country roads and even irrigation ditches built by the monks. This area, on the Highland Boundary Fault, has many ancient sites scattered throughout, as these sites pick up the energy from fault lines and geological dykes. Click on “Lyn, Ancient Strathearn” yellow button at top right of my Index page. I also have a Youtube showing how a row of some ten standing stones between two four stone circles work, and even how to energize it.

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