Ley lines are alleged alignments of a number of places of geographical interest, such as ancient monuments and megaliths, natural ridge-tops and water-fords. Their existence was suggested in 1921 by the amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins, in his books Early British Trackways and The Old Straight Track. Watkins theorized that these alignments were created for ease of overland trekking by line of sight navigation during neolithic times and had persisted in the landscape over millennia. In more recent times, the term ley lines has come to be associated with spiritual and mystical theories about land forms, including Chinese feng shui.
Alfred Watkins and The Old Straight Track
The concept of "ley lines" is generally thought of in relation to Alfred Watkins, although the stimulus and background for the concept is attributed to the English astronomer Norman Lockyer. On 30 June 1921, Watkins visited Blackwardine in Herefordshire, and went horseriding near some hills in the vicinity of Bredwardine, when he noted that many of the footpaths there seemed to connect one hilltop to another in a straight line. He was studying a map when he noticed places in alignment. "The whole thing came to me in a flash", he later told his son. It has been suggested that Watkins' experience stemmed from faint memories of an account in September 1870 by William Henry Black given to the British Archaeological Association in Hereford titled Boundaries and Landmarks, in which he speculated that "Monuments exist marking grand geometrical lines which cover the whole of Western Europe".
Watkins believed that, in ancient times, when Britain was far more densely forested, the country was criss-crossed by a network of straight-line travel routes, with prominent features of the landscape being used as navigation points. This observation was made public at a meeting of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club of Hereford in September 1921. His work referred to G. H. Piper's paper presented to the Woolhope Club in 1882, which noted that: "A line drawn from the Skirrid-fawr mountain northwards to Arthur's Stone would pass over the camp and southern most point of Hatterall Hill, Oldcastle, Longtown Castle, and Urishay and Snodhill castles." The ancient surveyors who supposedly made the lines were given the name "dodmen". He believed that the lines themselves had been called "leys" because so many of them passed through locations whose names included the element "ley", stating that philologists defined the word (spelled also as lay, lea, lee, or leigh) differently but had misinterpreted it.
Attribution of spiritual significance to ley lines
In 1969, the British author John Michell, who had previously written on the subject of UFOs, published The View Over Atlantis, in which he revived Watkins' ley line theories and linked them with the Chinese concept of feng shui. The book, published by Sago Press, proved popular and was reprinted in Great Britain by Garnstone Press in 1972 and Abacus in 1973, and in the United States by Ballantine Books in 1972. Gary Lachman states that The View Over Atlantis "put Glastonbury on the countercultural map." Ronald Hutton describes it as "almost the founding document of the modern earth mysteries movement".
After Michell's success at mingling Watkins' amateur archaeology with Chinese spiritual concepts of land-forms, the 1970s saw many newly emerging theories about the alignments of monuments and natural landscape features by writers who made use of Watkins' terminology in service of concepts related to dowsing and New Age beliefs, including the idea that ley lines have spiritual power or that ley lines and their intersection points resonate a special psychic or mystical energy. Ascribing such characteristics to ley lines has led to the term being classified as pseudoscience.