I love wacky ideas: the gods were visitors from another planet; the Earth is controlled by reptiles who feed on our fear; the pyramids, Avebury and Stonehenge were built by Atlantean refugees. I hate to think that we have the world sewn up. Does it matter if ideas are true or not? Actually, I don’t know what true means. To my mind, if something works or makes me feel better then it’s true. Truth isn’t fixed. All you can say is – this is true, for me, at this moment. To say more is to head towards the realms of arrogance and bigotry.
All of which is a preamble for talking about leys.
It was Alfred Watkins, in his classic 1921 book The Old Straight Track, who first pointed out that prehistoric and natural features seem to be arranged in straight lines. He thought that these lines might be ancient paths or direction-finding devices and called them leys (pronounced ‘lays’) after the place-name element (also spelt lay, lee, lea or leigh) which has never been properly explained. Conventional archaeology scoffs at his ideas but computer analysis has discovered that ancient sites in the UK are in fact aligned much more often than chance alone would allow.
A more recent idea about leys, first suggested by John Michell in his 1969 book The View over Atlantis, is that they are ‘energy’ lines, part of a worldwide system perhaps inherited from Atlantis. In acupuncture, energy is believed to circulate around the human body along ‘meridians’. Leys are the meridians of our planet. Prehistoric people put their stones and so on along these lines to enhance both the energy of the Earth and their own when worshipping at their sites (or whatever they did at them).
If you want to check leys out on maps for yourself you can include long-standing crossroads and churches or other historic buildings (often built on older sites), ancient tracks and ponds (possibly dug by prehistoric people to enhance leys) as well as obvious prehistoric features such as standing stones and barrows. When out walking in the countryside look also for sudden vistas, markstones hidden in undergrowth, or hills with notches in them.
The beautiful Scots pine is native to Scotland but you can see clumps on the tops of hills all over the UK. Watkins suggested that these trees (or rather their ancestors) were deliberately planted by prehistoric people to mark leys.
On one of my walks I pass a Scots pine and on a hill in the distance is another. It wasn’t until this winter, however, with the ground icy-hard, that I ventured into the middle of the neighbouring field and was able to align the two trees and stand in the line myself. I looked behind me and there was the ancient farmhouse of some neighbours, directly in line with the two trees. A thrill went through me. And it still does, every time I stand in that line.
Earth energy, imagination or just a lovely view?
I took the above photograph when I was up there this morning. The second pine is on top of the conical hill in the distance just to the right of the first. (You can't see it in the picture, but you can when you're there.)