Ley lines were first theorized in 1921, and since then, the debate has been over whether or not they exist, and if they do, what purpose they serve.
In 1921, amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins made a remarkable discovery. He noticed that ancient sites, at different points around the world all fell into a sort of alignment. Be the sites man-made or natural, they all fell into a pattern, usually a straight line. He coined these lines “leys,” later “ley lines,” and in doing so opened a world of supernatural and spiritual beliefs.
To those who do believe in ley lines, the concept is quite simple: Ley lines are lines that crisscross around the globe, like latitudinal and longitudinal lines, dotted with monuments and natural landforms, and carry along with them rivers of supernatural energy. Along these lines, at the places they intersect, there are pockets of concentrated energy, that can be harnessed by certain individuals.
Of course, ley lines aren’t without their skeptics. While the idea can be tantalizing to some, others are wary of ascribing to the paranormal component of ley lines — and often attribute much of the theory to pure coincidence.
So, which is it?
Alfred Watkins And His Marvelous Discovery
Alfrid Watkins was born in Hereford, England on January 27, 1855 to an affluent family who operated several business in the small town, including a hotel and a brewery. As Watkins grew up, he began taking on duties for the family businesses, allowing him to develop an intimate knowledge of the region.
Watkins also had a deep interest in photography and established himself as both a respected photographer and a craftsman, having developed the Watkins Bee Meter, a small exposure meter with a timing chain for the traveling photographer.
But Watkins is remembered today less for his photography than his theory that the Earth is covered in invisible, supernatural lines of energy, which he dubbed “ley lines.”
Per the Tate Museum, Watkins, by his own account, first discovered ley lines during a “rush of revelations” on June 30, 1921.
He was in Blackwardine at the time, standing on a hill, when he saw on a map that a number of ancient sites stood in a perfectly straight line. His view from the top of the hill seemed to confirm this, and he followed up this initial observation by examining the view from other tall hills in the area.
Watkins said he was “unhampered by other theories” and that his observations were “yielding astounding results in all districts.” He further theorized that by starting at any one point along the line and traveling along it would also reveal sites not marked on maps, such as forest glades, trenches, or notches on crested hills.
Watkins view of the pre-historic world echoed other “alignment” theories, all of which largely suggested the same thing — that ancient humans were in tune with some ethereal force, largely unobserved by modern man, and constructed their sacred places in specific spots where that force was strongest.
Watkins’ theory didn’t win everyone over, however, and to this day, the existence of ley lines is a heavily debated topic.
How The Mythology Of Ley Lines Evolved Over Time
To be specific, Watkins claimed that ley lines are straight alignments connecting various historic structures, landmarks, prehistoric sites, and sacred places. Watkins first explored ley lines in detail in his book The Old Straight Track, in which he argued that ley lines represented ancient ancient trading routes used by England’s prehistoric societies.
British archaeologists largely disregarded Watkins’ hypothesis, though, stating that it would have been impractical for prehistoric societies to travel in perfectly straight lines for trading — just as it is today.
However, like many other fringe ideas, Watkins’ theory was just the foundation. Decades later, in the 1960s, Watkins’ idea saw something of a revival, especially due to Tony Wedd, who in 1961 suggested ley lines were used by prehistoric humans to communicate with aliens, and John Michell, who wrote about ley lines in his 1969 book, The View Over Atlantis.
As the BBC reported, ley lines began to take on a more esoteric, spiritual connotation around this time. No longer were they simply the trails left by ancient humans; now, they were invisible “energy lines” that only a select few could actually detect.
The news agency interviewed artist and performer bone tan jones in January 2023, a believer in these energy lines who walked from Silvertown, in London, to Stonehenge along one of these purported ley lines.
“I’ve been interested in ley lines for years,” tan jones said. “I grew up in the countryside, connected to Earth energy, so it makes complete sense to me that there are energy lines moving through the Earth.”
But the specifics of how ley lines evolved from the trade routes of ancient humans to something more mystical are rather odd.
Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, ley lines became attached to numerous countercultural movements, with David Newnham writing for The Guardian in 2000: “ley-line theory was to mutate and bifurcate, to bend with every passing fad, so that it frequently seemed as though its only purpose was to highlight the failings of our own times. And with each twist and turn, it became ever more firmly enmeshed in a thicket of mysticism, neo-paganism and plain superstition.”
Watkins had considered his hypothesis to be scientific in nature, though he could never definitively prove the concept to be true. Incorporating supernatural elements to the theory certainly didn’t help.
But in the 1980s, scholars Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy did try and approach ley lines with a scientific mindset — and ultimately, their findings highlighted a crucial error with the theory.
Other Explanations For Ley Lines
Williamson and Bellamy’s findings did not outright disprove the existence of ley lines, but they did cast a fair amount of reasonable doubt. Essentially, by examining the locations of various archaeological sites across England, they discovered that there was such a high density, it would basically be possible to draw a straight line in any direction and connect multiple locations.
Researcher Tom Brooks had argued that keen mathematicians lived in Britain as far back as 5,000 years ago — before the Greeks had even invented geometry. He, like Watkins, examined ancient sites — 1,500 to be precise — and found that they had all been built on a series of isosceles triangles, each one guiding ancient humans to the next.
In theory, Brooks’ findings would support the existence of ley lines.
But to highlight how skewed this data is, Matt Parker, of the University of London’s School of Mathematics at Queen Mary, cheekily applied Brooks’ techniques to Woolworths stores.
“We know so little about the ancient Woolworths stores,” he jokingly told The Guardian in 2010, “but we do still know their locations. I thought that if we analysed the sites we could learn more about what life was like in 2008 and how these people went about buying cheap kitchen accessories and discount CDs.”
Evidently, three Woolworths stores around Birmingham formed an exact equilateral triangle. It was a remarkable discovery, one that fit his hypothesis, he said, by “skipping over the vast majority, and only choosing a few that happen to line up.”
Parker’s tongue-in-cheek experiment effectively reached the same conclusion as Williamson and Bellamy: by choosing a limited set of data from a larger pool, it can be used to support just about any argument.
Is that to say that ley lines definitively don’t exist? No. But it does highlight how data can be skewed to push a certain idea while ignoring data points that don’t fit the mold.
Basically, you could draw a straight line through several ancient sites and claim it was intentional, just as you could make a triangle out of three Woolworths and say it was the result of something mystical.