Thursday, June 06, 2024

Walk The Line (1)

We have been asked to wear covid masks.

Automated pedestrian crossings are largely replacing zebras.
A black actor has appeared on a television programme.
The Democratic Party is harvesting the blood of infants in order to secure eternal youth.
Join the dots.

It is possible to draw a straight line between any two points; and a triangle or a circle between any three. But add a fourth point and there is only a small chance that they will form a straight line, or a pair of concentric circles. It follows that any four points which make a straight line (or any three which make an equilateral triangle) must have been placed there deliberately.

But if you generate a hundred random points, the chances of any four of them forming a line are quite high. And if you continue adding points until a line appears, then the chances increase. And if you are are allowed to draw a line between two or three points and then add points along it, because the line is telling you that is where the points are supposed to be, then you can draw all the lines you like.

It's a version of the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy. Fire off a lot of shots at a barn door. Find a place where there are several bullet holes close together. Draw a target around them; and claim that you a marksman.

In popular media, conspiracy theorists often cover their walls with photographs and press cuttings and physically map imaginary connections using push-pins and coloured thread.

Alan Moore is writer and a magician. Alan Moore says that writing and magic are both about drawing connections between things. Once you've made the connection, it is real, even if it wasn't before.

All stories are true.

Ley lines -- adherents prefer to call them simply "leys" -- are a theory without a conspiracy. It is empirically true that lines can sometimes be drawn between significant points on a map. It is an object of faith that these lines are deeply significant. But what that significance is, adherents can't quite decide.

I am looking at a paperback book. The cover shows a standing stone (in the foreground) and a stone circle (in the distance). It's either been shot at sunrise, or else the stone itself is glowing with an eerie golden light. You can almost hear the theme music from Children of the Stones playing in the background.

The title of the book is Quicksilver Heritage, written by Paul Screeton ("former editor of The Ley-Hunter".)

The titles of these old hippy paperbacks have a poetry all of their own. The View Over Atlantis. The Jesus Scroll. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Chariots of the Gods? (Oh, the poetic placement of a single question mark!) "Quicksilver" is an alchemical term, magical, obsolete. But "quicksilver" is mercury, the stuff you chemistry teacher has locked away in a jar in the prep-room. And "mercurial" means shapeshifting, slippery, impossible to catch. So "quicksilver heritage" is the whole New Age keygma in a two word haiku. England's past contains something secret and mystical, which will change you if you know about it, but which is entirely impossible to express or pin down.

I believe the book was a gift from my Uncle Ted. He was a level-headed gardener, and come to think of it, a geography teacher. And he was a Cornishman. I recall him saying that Glastonbury was a powerful place because several ley lines crossed there. Ley lines were like the Bermuda Triangle and the Turin Shroud. Not everyone exactly believed in them, but everyone knew that they were mysterious.

I very nearly persuaded my equally level headed physics teacher to arrange a field trip, walking ley lines by day and star gazing by night. I remember him showing us a diagram of the Glastonbury Terrestrial Zodiac and remarking that "things like that don't happen by coincidence". (SPOILER WARNING: They do.)

For a couple of summers I lapped it up. There were pencil lines all over my parents OS maps.

I have in front of me a 1979 book called The Ley Hunters Guide, still bearing a sticker from Helios Books, High Street, Glastonbury. The cover is a birds-eye view of the English countryside, drawn in green: it could almost be a map of the Shire from the frontispiece of a three volume fantasy story. White circles have been drawn around a war memorial, a church, a stone circle and two barrows.

Opening it at random, I learn that there is a "Stratford on Avon Ley"; a line drawn between Warwick castle (built by William the Conquerer) and Childswickam Parish Church, also Norman, some twenty miles away. There are some moats adjacent to the church, which date from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries. The line passes through two other churches, one of which is Holy Trinity Stratford. Shakespeare (d. 1717) was buried there: the writers regard this as a significant data point. They also tell us, as corroborative detail, that someone saw a UFO in Stratford in 1959. The ley line passes "close to" the theatre (est. 1879) "near" where another UFO was spotted in 1963. Warwick castle itself is home to a ghost, a fairy dun cow, and a black dog "a curious form of supernatural manifestation well attested in other parts of the country."

"There is no shortage of map-points -- churches and the like" on the Stratford OS map, the authors assure us "But somehow most of them do not seem, intuitively, to hang together."

If you follow your intuition, its surprising what does hang together.

The leys certainly transmit some kind of energy; and that energy is certainly of some spiritual significance. Perhaps they were laid down by survivors from Atlantis. Perhaps they were placed by extraterrestrials. Perhaps they are a natural phenomenon. Perhaps they are used by UFOs for power or navigation. Or perhaps the Space People (so called) came to earth specifically in order to draw our attention to the lines. Perhaps the stones channel the energy; perhaps they merely mark where it is. Dragons and giants and quantum physics and dowsing and gnosticism and fairy lore and the Holy Grail and ghost stories all come into the mix. Paul Screeton takes a huge mass of unrelated and reassuringly vague areas of knowledge and draws arbitrary connections between them.

If he sees the irony, he doesn't say so.

A long time ago, an idealised figure called Neolithic Man was deeply attuned to his environment. By walking the ley lines -- or by knowing of their existence, or by pooling their power in churches and barrows and forests -- he was able to expand his consciousness. Probably he travelled to other planets. Astrally or in the Space People's own saucers? Who can say?

We aren't talking about Druids. Druids are too recent, too historical, too probably real. If they were associated with Stonehenge, that was only because they inherited the ley network without knowing what it was. Christians built churches on ley points because they thought that was a way of exorcising pagan powers. Or because they recognised the spiritual potency of the places. The presence of a church is prima facie evidence of an ancient site.

But there was a fall. Maybe when Neolithic Man started to use metal. Or when Christianity came to Albion. Or during the industrial revolution. Or the enclosure movement. Or at some other time. But there is a way back to the pre-lapsarian state. We too can explore Inner and Outer Space. We can travel with the Space People -- some people have. We can attempt the great work of the alchemist, which is about inner transformation, not turning lead into gold.

It's easy. All you have to do is go for a walk in the country.

The old track may be straight, but thinking is circular. The leys are a path to enlightenment: but enlightenment consists of intuiting the existence of the leys. Ley lines aren't a theory so much as a vibe.

You could say the same thing about many religious movements.

There is a kind of a political message as well. Not a particularly nasty one, unless you think that chatter about Albion and druids and Old England necessarily has a white supremacist tinge. Its a more or less benign insurgency against structures and authority and book-learning. Against modernity. A kind of pastoral anarchism. Tolkien, when pressed, said he was, politically speaking, an anarchist. You don't need to believe in ley lines and flying saucers and Atlantis to see the line from pastoralism and anti-structuralism and mysticism. Just go for a walk on Grasmere and look at the daffodils.

The villains of the story are the Archaeologists. There is an obvious truth: that Neolithic Man communed with aliens and astrally projected himself to Venus. Everyone who has bothered to look knows this to be true. There is an obvious falsehood: that Neolithic man was a primitive, naked, superstitious savage. We're setting the popular image of the Cave Man against the romantic figure of the Red Indian. Orcs versus Elves. There is a racist tinge to both conceptions. The false idea, the idea of Naked Savages comes from a pedantic obsession with digging things up and measuring them and putting them into neat little catalogues. The true idea is there to be discovered by anyone prepared to look for it.

Archaeologists are either too dumb to see the truth; too conservative to accept it; or actively engaged in suppressing the truth in order to maintain their own hegemonic power. The remark that you have to be an archeologist before you can put forward ideas about archeology is held up for derision in the first chapter. The last chapter warns us that "archaeologists are fierce".

Knowing about your field makes you suspect. Hidden knowledge is probably true precisely because someone took the trouble to hide it. I think we've heard quite enough from experts.

Ley lines were discovered, or invented, or imagined, by a man named Alfred Watkins in the 1920s. He certainly wasn't an archaeologist. But he was, in a way, an expert. One of those late Victorian amateurs: he travelled round Herefordshire on business and amassed a lot of knowledge of the place names, folk lore, landscape and geography of the area. His initial observation seems to have been perfectly sincere. If you stand on such and such a hill and look in one direction, you can see an old church and an old standing stone appearing to line up. If you look the other way you can see an ancient tree and a mill-pool doing the same thing. He went home and "proved" his observation on an ordinance survey map and found that wherever he looked, there were similar alignments. Since he believed that no alignment of four points could possibly be random, he understood himself to have discovered an undocumented system of pathways or roads.

His first book on the subject was called Ancient British Pathways; but his second one was called The Old Straight Track. Another one of those poetic titles. The book itself is rather dull.

He created a bit of a stir, and for a while, groups of Edwardian gentlemen started to go for rambles and picnics, walking along imaginary lines and making notes of undocumented markers they found along the way. And then Watkins died and there was a big war and everyone forgot all about it. Some 30 years later, an amateur UFO spotter (Tony Wedd) read an account of an alien abduction; the abductee mentioned that the alien spacecraft always travelled in straight lines. He made the obvious connection: the UFOs are following the leys. In 1969, John Michell took up the idea in a big way. He conflated Watkins' tracks with Frederick Blye Blond's theories of sacred geometry, the Nasca lines, something he terms fung shui and much else besides. The result was The View Over Atlantis: a kind of hippy Bible.

This is crucial. The Ley Hunters Guide wasn't veering off course when it put UFO sitings alongside Shakespeare's grave and a Norman castle. UFOs and ley lines are part of a single idea. The combination of the two thoughts gave birth to the New Age movement. It was John Michell who gave Glastonbury its status as a mystical -- as opposed to merely Christian -- mecca. When I went to the Glastonbury Festival in 2015, Donovan made the audience in the Acoustic Tent chant "hail Atlantis!" before his set, and told us we were continuing a tradition that went back to Arthur and Guinevere. The 2015 festival was officially opened by the Druid Mayor of Glastonbury, who explained that decimal currency and metric measurement, had caused modern people to lose touch with sacred geometry and sacred numerology. I believe that this was John Michell's widow Denise. In 1970, Michell himself had used the principles of sacred geometry to calculate the dimensions of the Pyramid stage, and to position it where two of the ley lines cross.

And here is a funny thing. Some people (at least one person) thinks that Michell was the original inspiration for the character of Doctor Who. Doctor Who started in '63 and Michell came to prominence in '69, and it's hard to see where Verity Lambert of Sydney Newman would have come across him. It might be that a dowsing rod is a bit like a sonic screwdriver, but the sonic screwdriver didn't become an important accoutrement of the Doctor until the 1970s. (Arguably not really until the reboot.) But Michell is certainly an English eccentric, with a store of obscure knowledge, and is certainly regarded by some people as a kind of Merlin figure. And in photographs he often wears a scarf.

Now I have told you about the connection, it exists.

Flying saucers, stone circles, Atlantis. John Michell, Doctor Who.

Wolvesacre moat, Chester cathedral.

Join the dots. All stories are true.

This is the first part of a series of articles on the Doctor Who story Stones of Blood. 

All ten part have already appeared on my Patreon. 

Patreon followers have also read my definitive guide to the UK election, and are about to read my essay on the Doctor Who story Androids of Tara.

It would be great if the majority of people reading this could join them. 

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