Ley lines, or Leys, are alignments of ancient sites stretching across the landscape. Ancient sites or holy places may be situated in a straight line ranging from one or two to several miles in length. A ley may be identified simply by an aligned placing of marker sites, or it might be visible on the ground for all or part of its length by the remnants of an old straight track.
Ley Lines were 're-discovered' on 30 June 1921 by Alfred Watkins (1855-1935), a locally well-known and respected Herefordshire businessman, who while looking at a map for features of interest noticed a straight line that passed over hill tops through various points of interest, all of which were ancient. At the time of his discovery, Watkins had no theory about alignments but on that June afternoon saw "in a flash" a whole pattern of lines stretching across the landscape. Four years later, in 1925, he described his vision in a book he titled The Old Straight Track:
"Imagine a fairy chain stretched from mountain peak to mountain peak, as far as the eye could reach, and paid out until it reached the 'high places' of the earth at a number of ridges, banks, and knowls. Then visualise a mound, circular earthwork, or clump of trees, planted on these high points, and in low points in the valley other mounds ringed around with water to be seen from a distance. Then great standing stones brought to mark the way at intervals, and on a bank leading up to a mountain ridge or down to a ford the track cut deep so as to form a guiding notch on the skyline as you come up.... Here and there, at two ends of the way, a beacon fire used to lay out the track. With ponds dug on the line, or streams banked up into 'flashes' to form reflecting points on the beacon track so that it might be checked when at least once a year the beacon was fired on the traditional day. All these works exactly on the sighting line."
Watkins surmised that these straight tracks, or ley lines as he called them at first, were the remnants of prehistoric trading routes. He went on to associate ley lines with the Greek god Hermes (the Roman Mercury, the Norse Woden) who was the god of communication and of boundaries, the winged messenger, and the guide to travellers on unknown paths. Watkins identified Hermes-Mercury with the chief god of the Druids and argued that:
"A Celtic god, Tout, or in its Romanised form Toutates, is supposed to be what Caesar referred to, and this name has been found on a Romano-British altar. It is a fact that sighting mounds called Tot, Toot, Tout, Tute and Twt abound all over the Kingdom, and the root is probably Celtic... The fact that such mounds are mark-points on trackways strengthen the link..."
The identification of leys as ancient traders' routes was as far as Watkins was prepared to go, despite the fact that numerous ley lines travelled up prohibitively steep hillsides. Speculation as to their meaning and purpose continued after Watkins' death in 1935.
According to Paul Devereux, it was the occultist Dion Fortune in her 1936 novel The Goat-Foot God (republished in 1971 by S. Weiser, New York, and in 1989 by Aquarian Press, Northamptonshire) who invented the idea that ley lines were "lines of power" linking prehistoric sites. A few years later, it was suggested that ley lines followed lines cosmic energy in the Earth and could be detected using dowsing rods. In the 1960s, ley lines, or "leys" as they were now called, became linked with UFO sightings.
In 1969, ley lines were taken up by John Michell, in his seminal book The View Over Atlantis, who discussed them within the context of geomancy. By 1974, ley lines and geomancy, plus other esoteric subjects having to do with the Earth, were collected under the umbrella term of "Earth Mysteries."