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Ley Lines: Investigating on Site

Joe Nickell, PhD, is a historical, paranormal, and forensic sleuth. His many books include Unsolved History, Adventures in Paranormal Investigation, and Crime Science.

Mystical forces are as plentiful and diverse as the imaginations that create them. They include crystal healing, hauntings, and pyramid power—along with countless others. Among them are “earth energies”— supposed mysterious powers often associated with megaliths and other sacred or magical places—and (the focus of this study) the “ley lines” or “leys” that supposedly connect the sites.

What Are Ley Lines?

Originally, ley lines were supposed to be ancient—even prehistoric—paths that connected sacred places. The term was coined by Alfred Watkins (1855–1935), an English brewer’s representative turned photographer and amateur antiquarian. Others had discovered alignments of ancient sites, but in 1921—while looking at a map of the Herefordshire countryside—Watkins noted that several ancient sites seemed aligned on an imaginary straight course that also crossed over some prominent hilltops.

He immediately intuited that such alignments were part of a Neolithic system of straight lines. He presented his ideas in two books, first sketched out in Early British Trackways (1922) and then developed in The Old Straight Track (1925). He argued that the alignments were devised so that Neolithic people could walk more easily from place to place, navigating by line of sight. He adopted the word ley—from lea, leigh, ley, etc.—meaning an enclosed field (Watkins 1925, 158), although there were no pastures in Neolithic times. While it is reasonable that some alignments might well have occurred as Watkins thought, it is also true that the vast number of ancient features—both natural and man-made—meant that many appropriate alignments would be expected to occur by chance.

No doubt far overstating the case, Watkins still never lapsed into mystical nonsense, as began to happen in the 1960s and 1970s with the rise of the New Age movement. In 1958 Aimé Michel, in his Flying Saucers and the Straight Line Mystery, postulated that sightings of UFOs tended to form alignments, and an early alien abductee claimed that extraterrestrials used lines of magnetic force to power their spacecraft. UFO believer Tony Wedd combined these two saucer concepts with Watkins’s ley lines (Sullivan 2000, 2). Others were drawn to leys, and in 1969 paranormalist John Michell conceived of leys as invisible lines of an unknown natural “energy.”

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