Tuesday 5 February 2013

Ley, Lady, Ley

 “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” so Hamlet tells his old friend and intellectual sparring partner in the play. Actually there are more things in heaven and earth, particularly earth, than are dreamt of in most philosophies. Shakespeare knew this; for he was in possession of a wisdom and understanding long vanished, sublimated under a heavy defensive crust of rationalism.
Let me give you some more words, this time from A Midsummer Nights Dream, the most magical of the bard's plays, full of mystery and music. The words in question are those of Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow;
Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church way paths to glide.

Perhaps you know the play well, seen it performed or even performed in it yourself. I did, when I was at school. When I was fourteen years old I was Titania, Queen of the fairies. Ever since it has had an abiding fascination for me, particularly some of the more enigmatic lines. Do you know, for example, what a church way path is? I didn't that midsummer of my teens. I do now; I have done for some time.
I'll tell you in a bit, but first a word on ancients paths or roads. Alfred Watkins was an amateur archaeologist born in the county of Hereford on the Welsh border. The Welsh name for Hereford, incidentally, is Henffordd, meaning an old road, a striking coincidence, considering that old roads were to have a major impact on his life. In the early 1920s, while examining some county maps, he noticed that various ancient sites, including barrows, standing stones and stone circles seem to occur in an exact alignment. Straight lines could be drawn between them. Looking deeper, he subsequently found that old churches built atop pagan shrines could be similarly aligned.

In 1922 he published his findings in Early British Trackways, followed up three years later by The Old Straight Road, the book he is best known for. Watkins had discovered what came to be known as 'ley lines', chosen because the tracks passed through place names that often ended with the syllable 'ley.' Yes, he named them, that's true, but he 'discovered' them, in might be said, in the same way that Columbus 'discovered' America!
In Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience ley lines are defined as follows;
Ley lines are alignments and patterns of powerful, invisible earth energy said to connect various sacred sites, such as churches, temples, stone circles, megaliths, holy wells, burial sites and other locations of spiritual and magical importance.
In fact what Watkins had stumbled upon was a feature that for centuries before his time had been known as fairy roads; spiritual highways, in other words. Shakespeare knew, hence the mysterious (not for him) reference to church way paths. This is just the English name for something that occurs across so many different cultures and ages, the belief that that spirits of one kind or another, living or dead, move through the physical landscape along special routes.
The church way paths constitute a special class here, known elsewhere in Europe as 'corpse roads.' In Britain they are also known by other names, such as burial road, bier road, coffin road or lych way, the latter derived from lyches, the Old English word for corpse. In Saxon time they were known as the 'deada wegg.' I don't think there is any need for translation here, is there?
The church paths were simple enough: they were the prescribed route by which the dead were carried to their allotted burial place, straight to the gate. But more than this they accumulated a long tradition of spirit lore, routes believed to be followed by the dead after death, as Shakespeare revels in A Midsummer's Night Dream. This was a belief so widespread in Medieval Europe that the remains of those whose return was not desired in any form were often buried at cross roads, specifically to confuse their spirits. Unable to travel, the spirit would thus be 'locked' in a single location.
Just as Watkins had inadvertently stumbled across church paths, the people of the Middle Ages had stumbled across something even older, a more archaic spirit lore. We now know of Neolithic earthen avenues called “cursuses” linking burial mounds. These features can run for a considerable distance, some for many miles, and are largely straight. All of them connect funerary sites. We know the exist, yes, but we have no idea what the were for. It's not beyond possibility that they were specifically intended to serve as spirit paths. Some Neolithic and Bronze age graves, particularly in Britain and France, are fitted with blocking stones. Why? What was being blocked?
We are not simply dealing with man-made features or human superstition here. In 1987 the New Scientist magazine published an article suggesting that species as diverse as pigeons, whales, bees and -of all things – bacteria can navigate using the earth's magnetic field. Ley lines may be human but we know that they, too, have a close relationship with the same magnetic field. So, take your pick: the lines are are simply areas of altered magnetic fields or they carry traces of all past energies, of those who have trodden these mystical ways since before history and before time.
Puck's words, you see, have a wider significance than even Shakespeare may have understood. They connect with a spirit lore that extends all the way from Ireland in the west to China in the east. It's possible to come across references time after time and place after place. In Germany they were called Geisterwege, routes to be avoided at night. The Handwortbuch der deutschen Aberglaubens describes them thus;
The paths, with no exception, always run in a straight line over mountains and valleys and through marshes...in towns they pass the houses closely or go through them. The paths end or originate in a cemetery...therefore this way or road was believed to have the same characteristics as a cemetery...where spirits of the deceased thrive.
In Ireland these were the fairy paths, routes that had such physical reality in the minds of the living that building patterns were adapted to ensure that they were not obstructed. Does this sound familiar? It should do if you have any acquaintance with Chinese culture; for the same belief underpins feng-shui divination, in which homes and other places have to be protected, so to speak, from the straight and narrow! The belief is that troublesome spirits travelling along such ethereal pathways will bring bad luck if blocked on their journey. In Ireland those who suffered unforeseen misfortunes, or sudden illness, were said to live in houses that were in a “contrary place.”
Now a real life story, one I got from Paul Devereux, writing in the Fortean Times. There is a croft, now a cattle shed, at Knockeencreen in County Kerry. In an interview carried out in the 1980s, the then occupant told of troubles his grandfather experienced with cattle dying from wholly unexplained reasons. The front door is exactly opposite the back door. A passing gypsy told the grandfather that the building stood on a fairy path between two hills. “Keep the doors slightly ajar at night”, she advised, “to allow the fairies free passage.” And so he did, and so the cattle stopped dying. No more bad feng-shui.
The important thing here is that the energy is not obstructed, either on the ley lines or the dragon paths of Chinese tradition. For if they are...well, you've been warned. If you would like to discuss this further you might care to join me for a drink at the Ancient Ram Inn in Wooton-under-Edge in the county of Gloucestershire. I should warn you, though, that it is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in England. A few years ago an investigation was carried out by a team from the UK Paranormal Study, headed by Kieron Butler. Mr Butler – silly man – decided that a spot of Ouija game play was called for, which called for an unexpected entity:
We asked for a sign outside the board and we heard a deep kind of groan or yell. I felt his presence rush across the attic towards us as did Mr Al and the others felt a freezing blast of air hit us with force. I felt him at first right behind me, we continued then I felt him stand in the spot I was sitting, I felt overcome by a feeling I cannot explain but I think he was trying to get into me as if I could be used as a channel. This was getting unbearable and I then felt a terrible stabbing pain in my back, moments later the board spelt out stab & die...then I felt all the pain and feelings return before I passed out.
What's the problem with the Ancient Ram Inn? Why, it's right over a ley line.  


  1. What an intriguing piece! Love the way you started with Shakespeare.

    I am not superstitious but I am definitely not the type who think all the traditional beliefs or customs superstitious. I even think, maybe, only maybe, ancient people had some more direct connection to "unknown". And I do believe in "energy". So this ley lines really make some sense to me.

    I have no idea what "deada wegg" means but I can have a guess: "death way"? English is way too fancy at 'words'.

    I would love to join you at Ancient Ram Inn, but before I do that, I would do a small test tonight, leave my downstairs doors (front and back, they aligned quite well) slightly ajar,... because if my small townhouse happened to be on ley line, I could borrow some energy to travel far :-)
    Well, just realized I live in America. But I guess Indian people had their way to build ley lines too.

    Anyway, a wonderful article about the topic! I highly enjoyed reading.

    1. Dead Way or Dead Road - spot on, Yun Yi! I simply love the older wisdom, the folk ways and beliefs of our ancestors. We dismiss these at our peril. Thank you so much. :-)

  2. My great-great-grandfather (a Quinton) was a native of Wotton-under-Edge. He probably consumed a few pints at the Ancient Ram Inn. The Cotswold Way passes through the town, and I am reminded of Edward Thomas who used to walk and write about these old pathways.

    The Shakespeare stuff interests me also. After seeing a production of The Tempest, I remember thinking how close the author was to a medieval worldview. Magic was real for him.

    1. Mark, it certainly was. It should be real for all of us, a deeper level of experience.

  3. Earth Mysteries by Philip Heselton, 1995 Element Books Limited Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 8BP. Also the "Ley Hunters Journal" by Heselton. Washington DC was laid out on a powerful ley line intersection by the 'Founding Fathers' ( Freemasons ) there is much to all of this.

  4. All your articles are interesting well written, informative and many are thought provoking. You come across as extremely well educated and very intelligent. However your pagan beliefs and your attributing as yet unexplained phenomena as having some supernatural connection is to me mildly disturbing. As I cannot understand when a person who is obviously as rational and objective as you are can entertain such thoughts. I dismiss ley lines because as the more scientifically minded have pointed out that if they truly exist they are constructed by people in the past who held beliefs without the benefit of any real understanding of the laws of nature. Also ley lines collapse when it can be seen that when drawing straight lines on a map almost anything can with a little bit of imagination be construed to have some connection. I once played with an Ouija board and it scared the hell out of me. Eventually I put out of my mind that it had any supernatural connection as I understood that the human senses quite often pick up signals that baffle the mind so the mind gives back the best interpretation it can. As we have the capacity to be very imaginative what the mind can tell us under these circumstances can be quite strange yet to many believable. It is a pity that I am currently in Canada and not in the UK as if I were I would probably be living near enough to Wooton that I could attend and have the pleasure of meeting you and experiencing an haunted house. At the same time I could apologise for this comment of mine as I believe on this occasion I have been a bit rude to you.

    1. Antisthenes, my friend, there is no need to be disturbed. You most certainly have not been rude and I appreciate your frankness. For me, as for, say, Isaac Newton, rational explanations are not exhaustive; there is a deeper level of wisdom and experience, things, as I said above, that we dismiss at our peril, things that Shakespeare and so many others in the past were sensitive to. I reverence the past and I reverence tradition.

      The thing is, you see, there are patterns that simply cannot be apprehended by reason alone. Ley lines, as I indicated above, is just a modern form of something altogether more ancient. My paganism, incidentally, is not that far removed from Wittgenstein's mysticism. Whereof we cannot speak thereof we must be silent? No, we must look and wonder.

    2. Peoples of the past had a far better understanding of the natural world, It was a life or death proposition as their very existence depended on their ability to harvest food from nature and find protection from the elements and threats from predatory beasts and rival humans, these senses have been repressed by the artificially maintained society that exists in the modern world as metropolitan areas can not sustain themselves without outside resources. Lean divination, a useful too to gain insight from the sub-conscience aspect of the mind and we are all a bit 'mildly disturbed'

    3. Very well said, Anthony, very well indeed.

    4. Almost - Divination is a useful 'tool'.

  5. Hello Ana,
    Great post on an intriguing topic.
    "alignments and patterns of powerful, invisible earth energy"
    Interesting how animals use that energy to navigate. I wonder how people discovered the locations to build the various sacred sites?

    1. Ah, Jayme, there are some questions that may never be answered. Thanks for the inspiration and the stimulus here. :-)

    2. Also, most of the ancient structures are laid out in alignment with corresponding astral coordinates of thousands of years ago which appear in a somewhat different position today as cosmic bodies are in motion but the distances are so great that they only seem to have moved a bit depending on the length of time involved. Ancient technology or extra-terrestrial intervention? there is much to substantiate the probability but this is ignored by mainstream science and history.

    3. I place my own bet on the ingenuity of our ancestors.

  6. Back when I was doing a lot of digging, we used to speculate about pre-Roman culture and beliefs. A lot has been added to the literature since then, with some ideas confirmed by physical evidence and some looking less plausible. Last year, visiting Stonehenge, we saw some of the recent excavations that have helped elucidate the development of that site, and I recently saw a documentary on connections with other ancient sites, such as Avebury and Silbury Hill, via sight-lines - with a postulation that there was once a prehistoric long-distance communication system.

    What I don't know is how much work has been done in continental Europe, looking for similar patterns. Ancient as they are, the prehistoric monuments are trackways are still relatively recent compared to the timescale of human occupation. I'm sure there are far older, more subtle traces of the old ones to be found, if only we knew what to look for.

    1. If only, Calvin, if only. I look and I wonder.

    2. The powers that be do know, this is repressed to keep the present social order, all about control.