I had only vaguely heard about ley lines until recently. My rather naïve understanding of them was that they were veins of energy — some kind of mystical streams — that ran throughout the earth, places where psychic energy and ghostly activity were unusually high. A study of leys taught me that the current general idea of what ley lines are is pretty off base. But in researching the phenomenon, some truly intriguing earth energy mysteries can be found. There are fairy paths, corpse roads, geister wegen, and a slew of other supernatural linear features on our planet where people do come for spiritual experiences, and there are "roads" that ghosts have been reported traveling down repeatedly.
The term and concept of "leys" was first put forth in June of 1921 by Alfred Watkins (1855-1935), a well-known Herefordshire businessman, photographer, and amateur archeologist. While examining some maps, Watkins noticed that some ancient sites — stone circles, standing stones, and prehistoric mounds — fell into an alignment. Watkins originally thought these alignments were old traders’ routes and he named them "leys," an old Anglo-Saxon word for meadows or cleared strips of land. In 1925, Watkins published a book on the subject entitled, The Old Straight Track.
Paul Devereux has been studying the subject of leys and the mysteries of earth energies for more than 25 years. Devereux was editor of The Ley Hunter Journal from 1976-1996 and has written many books on related subjects. His latest book is Fairy Paths & Spirit Roads. I spoke to Devereux from his home in the Cotswolds in England.
Devereux is blunt on the relatively modern, widespread notion of ley lines. He said, "They’re not there! They don’t exist — it’s a mirage." Fortunately, the story doesn’t end here. In fact, it would be Watkins’ early concept of leys that would lead to investigations and discoveries of many potentially unique and, so far, unexplained linear features on the earth.
I asked Devereux how we got to the point where many people think of ley lines as these supernatural energy streams running all over the earth. He said the 1936 novel The Goat-Foot God, by occultist Dion Fortune, was where the idea that ley lines were lines of mystic power was first introduced. However, there would be several non-fiction books on the subject between 1936 and 1960 that would really cement the current misconception of ley lines. In 1958, Aime Michel published Flying Saucers and the Straight Line Mystery, which examined the wave of UFO sightings in France in the 1950s and speculated how they all followed a straight line. In the 1960s, ex-RAF pilot Tony Wedd speculated that the UFOs Michel wrote about were lined up over Alfred Watkins’ leys. Wedd’s ideas spurned the forming of the Ley Hunter’s Club and its magazine, The Ley Hunter. It would be a New Age/occult movement in the 1960s that really made the idea that ley lines were a source of mystic power widespread. Devereux said, "Of course there was a great psychedelic explosion and everybody was tossing acid and whatever, and there was a huge leap of interest in occult. So you’ve got UFOs, and dowsing also took a big leap. Ley line interests came out of this mélange in the 1960s."
Devereux began serious inquiries into the nature of ley lines when he took over editing The Ley Hunter in 1976. Devereux said, "When I took over, I thought, ‘Well, let’s find out about this energy stuff.’ So I put out a call for papers and hardly anything came in. The few that did were just ideas — it turned out nobody had actually researched this at all. The only evidence [of ley lines] — and that’s in heavy quote marks — was energy dowsing, which itself is highly questionable. I’m not against dowsing as such. I’m sure some people can dowse for water and dowse for lost objects. People use the dowsing rod as their authority, and they made statements that were really their own pet theories. But it wasn’t put out as a pet theory; the idea was put out as a fact."
Devereux said it took about two years of research to realize there was no basis for ley lines. Devereux said, "A lot of the alignments that Watkins had lined up were really just chance alignments of points on maps. This can be demonstrated quite conclusively; it’s not just opinion. As I went on, I said, ‘Bloody hell, there’s nothing here’ — and that’s a bit awkward when you’re editing a magazine on the subject. We said, ‘OK, let’s put all this controversy to one side, let’s assume that Watkins had at least seen something in the landscape, and let’s see what we do have that’s actually physically there, archaeologically real, that are linear and unexplained. And that started a whole new cycle of research in the last 15 or so years."
The famous Nazca lines of Peru are giant line drawings of geographic shapes, animals, and other patterns that were carved into mountainsides and in the plains of Peru. Devereux has studied similar features throughout the Americas. He said, "I’ve personally researched them from Manitoba down through the States, down right through Mexico, and more have been found in the Amazon basin that have not been properly studied."
Patterns such as the Nazca lines do hold spiritual significance for the indigenous people whose ancestors made them. Devereux said, "If you go to the Nazca lines, although you’ve got this pristine geometry across the desert surface, you can find in many of them deep, rutted paths that people have walked and walked, apparently coming from nowhere and going to nowhere. And that’s exactly what the Kogi Indians do today. It’s a religious observance to walk the sacred roads. It’s very strange to us that they just walk one way and then walk the other way, but that’s what they do."
There are linear features of supernatural significance throughout the world. Devereux discussed the cursuses of Britain — earthen avenues that are only visible from the air that can be up to several miles long and link places of the dead. These are Stone Age paths between ancient cemeteries. In Germany there are geister wegen, spirit paths that link medieval cemeteries. The geister wegen have a conceptual geography, but they’re not physically present. Devereux said, "Then we look at things like fairy paths in Ireland and throughout the Celtic lands. They are invisible, but they were granted a sort of geographical presence to the extent that building practices were modified to avoid these invisible routes. You couldn’t see them. but people knew where they went. And sometimes things will go wrong with a house because some idiot had built on one of these invisible paths. I’ve just finished a book called Fairy Paths & Spirit Roads, where I look at both these virtual paths and the physically real ones, but they’re all sharing the same sort of spirit law. These linear features are associated with paths of spirits, but not exclusively the spirits of the dead."
There does seem to be some connection with these spirit paths or corpse roads and supernatural activity — especially when a structure is built crossing one of these paths. Devereux recounted an experience a friend of his had while renting a house in Wandlebury, near Cambridge. He said, "She woke up in the middle of the night after falling asleep in a sofa, and she saw a monk-like spectral figure gliding through the room and disappearing through a wall. She thought, ‘I’m going mad.’ A few months later, she had a friend staying over who was sleeping on the sofa, and she freaked out in the middle of the night. When my friend asked what’s going on, she said, ‘I just saw this figure — a ghost — walk through the room.’
"So there may be a spirit world that’s truly related. If you ask the Kogi Indian shaman, they’ll tell you that’s true."
There are earth energies everywhere around us and at all times. Microwave towers carry cell phone signals, radio and television signals are broadcast from every city, and hand-held radios and countless other devices are sending and receiving man-made signals around the clock. In addition, we have solar radiation, electrical storms, and numerous other natural sources of energy around us right now. However, there are certain places where there are peculiar spikes in the earth’s natural energy. Devereux’s "Dragon Project" has been studying these energies for the last ten years. He said, "What we found was there was this radiation, and things happen to people on the Dragon Project. With some people, it was triggered by high areas of natural background radiation. We’re not talking Three Mile Island here; it’s five times the normal background radiation that occurs naturally. People have had visionary episodes — it might last just a few seconds, but they’re very, very vivid. They may see something like a hallucination right in front of them, or they might find themselves in a whole other scene altogether for a few seconds and then be gone.
"You can look at this two ways: there may be something about high background radiation that can trigger a hallucinatory episode in some people, or you can say, if you want to be more mysterious, that we simply don’t know what’s true, whether some kind of time window opens and people can see clairvoyantly into the future, the past, or whatever. We don’t know, but we did notice these effects."
Ley lines certainly started researchers like Devereux down the road of investigating true spirit paths and other earth energies, and for that, we’re indebted to Alfred Watkins. But the term "ley line" is not specific enough to describe any peculiar linear or energy feature on our planet. There are many earth mysteries that we need to continue to explore with our open minds.