Of Ley Lines and Other Earth Mysteries
A recent holiday to the area in which I grew up, Hereford, was one which not only brought some personal re-connections, but a reminder of some of my early excursions into the mystery traditions.
The holiday was in a little village just outside of Hereford known as Fownhope and this was the area in which I conducted by university graduate project – the Silurian In-lier of the Woolhope Dome (yes I was completing my Geology degree).
What was fascinating about my return to this area was the way in which I could use the rocks and landscape to orient myself even after being away for more than three decades.
I was also reminded of my membership of The Woolhope Society, a local natural history society of whom Alfred Watkins was a member.
On June 30, 1921, Watkins after a visit to Blackwardine in Herefordshire, and riding near some hills in the vicinity of Bredwardine noted many of the footpaths therein seemed to connect one hilltop to another in a straight line.
He was studying a map when he noticed that a number of significant places were in alignment.
In his book The Old Straight Track he proposed that there were ‘line of sight’ track ways between places along a route way many of which were focused upon highland features, natural rifts and gully’s in the rock and so on. These lines he called Ley Lines.
The idea may not have been original with him since one William Henry Black gave a talk entitled Boundaries and Landmarks to the British Archaeological Association in Hereford in September 1870 in which he speculated that “Monuments exist marking grand geometrical lines which cover the whole of Western Europe”.
It is possible that Watkins’ experience stemmed from some half-recollected memories of an account of that presentation.
Watkins believed that in ancient times, when Britain had been far more densely forested, the country had been crisscrossed by a network of straight-line travel routes – ley lines.
Watkins’ ideas have been adapted by later so many writers.
Some of his ideas were taken up by the occultist Dion Fortune who featured them in her 1936 novel The Goat-footed God. Since then, ley lines have become the subject of many magical and mystical theories – the idea of lines of energy.
Many dowsers have taken the idea of ley lines and linked them to underground waters, magnetic fields and some other earth-related energy.
In fact it was two German Nazi researchers Wilhelm Teudt and Josef Heinsch who claimed that ancient Teutonic peoples contributed to the construction of a network of astronomical lines, called “Holy lines” (Heilige Linien), which could be mapped onto the geographical layout of ancient or sacred sites.
Teudt located the Teutoburger Wald district in Lower Saxony, centered around the dramatic rock formation called Die Externsteine as the centre of Germany.
Since the 1960’s the ideas of a landscape crossed with straight lines had become conflated with ideas from various geomantic traditions; mapping ley lines, according to New Age geomancers, can foster “harmony with the Earth” or reveal pre-historic trade routes.
Lets look at the word geo-MANCY shall we…
The suffix “mancy” is from the Greek which means ‘divination’ in the terms of prophecy, fortune telling; or to interpret signs so “practical” decisions can be made.
So Geomancy literally means divination by use of the earth in the same way that cartomancy related to divination by use of cards.
A number of dowsers today use the term Geomancy to describe what they do and in some senses, when used for interpretation of (earth) signs to make practical decisions.
Geomancy (and therefore Geomancer) refers to the method of divination that interprets markings on the ground or the patterns formed by tossed handfuls of soil, rocks, or sand.
Geomancy, from Ancient Greek geōmanteía translates literally to “foresight by earth”; it is a translation of the Arabic term ‛ilm al-raml, or the “science of the sand”.
The most prevalent form of divinatory geomancy involves interpreting a series of 16 figures formed by a randomized process that involves recursion followed by analyzing them, often augmented with astrological interpretations. (more of that another time).
What I find interesting is the idea that words sometimes transcend their original definitions and take on new meanings.
This is the nature of evolution.
What I find distressing is the notion that users of the evolved meanings often fail to recognise or honour the source of the words they are using especially when using those words to create a generalised belief linked to the ancestry but not the use of the word.
Watkin’s Ley Lines are not the Ley Lines of most modern mystical and spiritual writers. The modern usage seems to relate more to Eastern Ideas of Feng Shui rather than social-anthropological ideas expressed by Watkins.
This may not be a ‘bad’ or indeed a ‘good’ thing – but it can be confusing.
The existence of the observed alignments is not overly controversial. Both believers in magical and ancient theories of ley lines and skeptics of these theories agree that these alignments exist between megaliths and ancient sites.It is the interpretation or ‘meanings’ ascribed to such alignments as well as their explanations which cause confusion and disagreement.
Most skeptics believe that their null hypothesis of ley-line-like alignments being due to random chance is consistent with all known evidence.
They believe that this removes the need to explain these alignments in any other way.
Some Chaos Magicians have views consistent with this, and claim this is in accord with their generative view of chance.
Dowsers, among others, claim that these lines represent a recognition of earth energies which can be felt by those who are sensitive enough and, perhaps more contentiously, inspired the ancient peoples to build their monuments in specific places.
In a very real sense we can never really know the minds of our ancestors and we often make assumptions about what ‘they believed’.
The British Society of Dowsers, for whom I have been honoured to lecture, have an Earth Energies Section …
Their website states:-
The EEG was formed in 1995, and is the longest-running Special Interest Group of the BSD. We provide a platform for the free exchange of information and ideas between those involved in the study of Earth Energies. We are interested in:
Earth Mysteries and Earth Healing – including the study of ancient sites and the practice of geomancy; the nature of subtle earth energies and the harmonisation of detrimental earth radiation; crop circles; the effect of celestial mechanics on terrestial energies, and pretty much any other aspect of energy dowsing.
Numerous writers conflate the idea of Earth Energy Lines with ideas related to Sacred Geometry – which is of course interesting but based upon what specifically?
As human beings I believe we relate to our environment in practical, emotional, mystical (spiritual) ways.
As someone who has studied Geology I am happy to agree with the notion that human interaction with the Earth is defined by the rocks beneath our feet. The form and shape of the Earth, the soil in which vegetation takes route, surface and ground water, minerals and resources are dependent upon geology. This is not a mystical view but a pragmatic one.
I am more than willing to accept that we, as humans, can have sense of place which can be expressed as ‘the spirit’ of place.
My emotional and mystical reaction to a place is mine – I can share it, I can feel it and I can respond to it. I may decide it has a special ‘energy’ for me and perhaps for the people I share it with. Neither he Druid or Human being in me never wants to loose that sense of connection – that poetic understanding. As I have written elsewhere, whilst I say a can feel energised by such places in nature, its more difficult to find pragmatic ways to ‘measure’ that energy. In purely scientific terms energy has a measurement – it is the ability to do work.
So when we talk about ‘earth energies’ what are we really talking about?
Of course there are measurable energies on, around and within the Earth -we measure the effect of this energy in terms of temperature, pressure, magnetism, light, sound … and we do, as human beings respond to energies on this scale. But what of the ‘subtle’ energies referred to by mystics? Are they anything more than personal or shared emotional connections?
Telluric Energy – Telluric Currents
A telluric current (from Latin tellūs, “earth”), or Earth current, is an electric current which moves underground or through the sea. Telluric currents result from both natural causes and human activity, and the discrete currents interact in a complex pattern. The currents are extremely low frequency and because of this travel over large areas at or near the surface of the Earth.
These currents are changes in the outer part of the Earth’s magnetic field, which are usually caused by interactions between the solar wind and the magnetosphere or solar radiation effects on the ionosphere.
Telluric currents flow in the surface layers of the earth. The electric potential on the Earth’s surface can be measured at different points, enabling the calculation of the magnitudes and directions of the telluric currents and hence the Earth’s conductance.
These currents are known to have diurnal characteristics wherein the general direction of flow is towards the sun
Telluric currents will move between each half of the terrestrial globe at all times. Telluric currents move equator-ward (daytime – facing the sun) and pole-ward (nighttime – facing away from the sun).
It is these currents which have given rise to the idea of an Earth Battery …
As one website notes …
An earth battery is a pair of electrodes made of two dissimilar metals, such as iron and copper, which are buried in the soil or immersed in the sea. Earth batteries act as water activated batteries and if the plates are sufficiently far apart, they can tap telluric currents. Earth batteries are sometimes referred to as Telluric power sources and Telluric generators. One of the earliest examples of an earth battery was built by Alexander Bain 1841 in order to drive a prime mover. Bain buried plates of zinc and copper in the ground about one metre apart and used the resulting voltage of about one volt, to operate a clock.
The real problem in this thinking is that the current powering the clock comes from the corrosion of the metal rods which is assisted by the conductive properties of the soil. More importantly it is indicative of some of the slightly woolly thinking which takes a scientifically established idea and makes unsubstantiated claims or creative consequences.
The problem, and strength of science, is that it tries to explore ideas and test claims by reducing all variables other than those being tested. Experiments in earth energy conducted by dowsers and others tend not to be ‘blinded’ or have ‘controlled variables’ and so conclusions are overly generalised and largely subjective.
In 1990 double-blind study was undertaken in Kassel, Germany, under the direction of the Gesellschaft zur Wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften (Society for the Scientific Investigation of the Parasciences).
The three-day test was of some 30 dowsers involved plastic pipes through which water flow could be controlled and directed.
The pipes were buried 50 centimeters (19.7 in) under a level field, the position of each marked on the surface with a colored strip.
The dowsers had to tell whether water was running through each pipe.
All the dowsers signed a statement agreeing this was a fair test of their abilities and that they expected a 100 percent success rate.
However, the results were no better than chance.
This is the kind of result obtained in all such trials where dowsing has been used to locate what dowsers suggest they can do in the field.
In all of the experimental trials the variables which have been removed are those very variables upon which the emotional and personal connection to the Earth relies – the landscape!
Please understand this IS NOT meant as an attempt to discredit the dowsing community, but only to recognise that something subjective and personal is happening. It is perhaps better to think in terms of poetry rather than science; emotional connections rather than empiricism.
If, however, mystics want to use the language of science and the principles which underpin the discipline then they must be ready to receive scientific criticism – and in my experience many do not want to apply the required intellectual rigour. This means having thoroughly studied the experimental protocols involved within the discipline being used whether that’s geology, physics, archaeology, psychology, chemistry and so on. Failure to understand these protocols result in pseudoscience or research which has little or no objective value.
Some modern archaeological approaches include the idea of gaining a ‘sense of place’.
Cognitive Archaeology, whilst speculative and conjectural, sees the archaeologist bringing together what we know of neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, philosophy and anthropology to create an understanding of the links between human and landscape.
In essence this approach relies upon the knowledge, experience and intuitions of the researcher. Of course such insights are made available for critique and not rely on misappropriation of other scientific ideas. Among New Age pseudoscience the appeal to Quantum Physics is a key example of such borrowing – generally stemming from marketing rather than research agendas.
So what am I saying….
Science and scientific research is one way of trying to understand the world. It has a structure and a specific language.
Mysticism is another way of seeking to understand the world. It has a vague structure and a vague language.
The wonders of the Earth and the Cosmos can become a wonderful source of intellectual debate and scientific investigation.
The wonders of the Earth and the Cosmos can become a wonderful source of inspiration and personal/inter-personal exploration.
Both are valued and whilst my rational self enjoys the intellectual challenge of studying the earth, my spiritual self bathes in the poetry, the awen.
The awen and my relationship with the cosmos is not a puzzle to be solved or an equation to balance.
My integrated, Rational Mystic self, seeks to play between philosophical approaches as easily as I can step between worlds.
In terms of dowsers – perhaps the earth energy lines discovered by them are subjective and a shared response to the landscape. Indeed in two different dowsing conferences at which I spoke some dowsers told me that they could move earth energy lines.
To sanitize this personal connection to variable controlled, laboratory conditions is to miss the point and perhaps devalues the real power of being part of and within the cosmos.