Ley Lady Ley

Ley Lines:
The Greatest Landscape Mystery

by Danny Sullivan

Green Magic : ISBN 0 9542 9634 6

I will get dead straight to the point.  This is a very good book, much better than its cover or a quick skim might suggest.  Danny Sullivan knows his leys, being an ex-editor of the Ley Hunter and current editor of Third Stone.

The book is extremely valuable on a number of counts.  It provides an extremely interesting and impartial history of the development of ley studies since Watkins' Herefordshire Old Straight Track Club
and the 60s revival, showing how interpretations have changed and developed. 

This is a fascinating intellectual history, and its clarity illuminates our own frequently less than sorted notions of what leys actually are.  The book also provides an excellent gazetteer of fifty leys, illustrating different aspects of the discipline.

Within dowsing circles an 'energetic' interpretation of leys tends to be the norm, yet in recent ears as the book points out there has been a strong emphasis on leys as death roads, corpse paths, and spirit ways, including such interpretations as the route along which a coffin was taken for burial, the source of ghostly apparitions, and spirit flight.

Its rather like the old trick of taking three matches, forming a triangle, and asking someone what they see. 'A triangle' they reply. 'No' you say, 'Its only three matches'. Is there such a big difference between an 'energetic' approach and a 'spirit' approach.  Maybe its a just a continuum of interpretation between physics at one end and personification at the other.

I think Danny brings out extremely well the embedded Brutishness of the ley hunt.  Watkins did not come out of nowhere: "A tireless and constantly active man, he had before his 'revelation' given numerous scholarly papers to the Woolhope (Herefordshire local history) Club and published books and pamphlets on subjects as diverse as pigeon houses, Herefordshire place names, architectural history and archaeology, old Herefordshire crosses and bee-keeping, as well as photographing and cataloguing the minutiae of Herefordshire country life...Watkins was a pioneer, and much of the charm of his books derives from his evocative photographs of lost Herefordshire sites: his observations and ideas were bred out of his personal experience and can be said to have been shaped by it".

Watkins was also essentially British in his pragmatism. "His explanation for the ley phenomenon was as utilitarian, basic and down-to-earth as the man himself."  The fact that the organisation was called the Straight Track Postal Portfolio Club ~ "essentially a round-robin collective and co-operative research project" ~ calls to mind the vital role of the London Corresponding Society highlighted by E.P.Thompson in the Making of the English Working Class.

As someone who now lives with bull hurling distance of the Herefordshire border, I am aware of how lightly man still lives upon Watkins' Herefordshire landscape; the evidence and the evocations are still there.  It is in the intimacy of the landscape and thingy-ness-in-itself which allows us to touch the mystery.

As for the grand theory, buy a box of matches.

(This review first appeared in Dowsing Today No 287 March 2005.)



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