Monday, March 15, 2010

Of Ley-Lines and Such

In 1921 Alfred Watkins, a photographer, amateur archaeologist and antiquarian, delivered a paper to the Woolhope Club that dealt with what he termed 'Early British Trackways, Moats, Mounds, Camps and Sites.' It was in this presentation that Watkins introduced the concept of 'the old straight track,' what came to be known as ley lines. Based upon actually hiking about, taking photographs and making personal observations, Watkins' theory was essentially the notion that there were prehistoric trading routes that criss-crossed the British landscape based upon a series of straight lines that connected the dots of various sighting points of specially notable landscape features that served as markers, or landmarks for geographical navigation. Being incredibly useful for the development of re-usable routes and thus something that was repeatedly used, communicated to others, and shared in common, the old straight tracks that connected the original landmarks took on a historical significance that persisted even after the older, navigational significance was lost, forgotten or destroyed. There wasn't the slightest newage puffery or nonsense regarding energies, vortexes or aliens in the mix at all. If anything, it was, and still is, fairly dry, straight-forward and not all that particularly challenging in that it makes some sense, in Watkins' original conception.

However ley lines were not destined to remain quite so straight-forward as the tracks described by Watkins originally. Early British Trackways was published in 1922 and it set things into motion, The Old Straight Track was published in 1925, Ley Hunter's Manual was published in 1927, and there were several clubs and a measure of notoriety for Watkins surrounding his life-long championing of the theory of ley lines, but for all intents and purposes it pretty much died out around the 1930s, except amongst the usual crowd of pseudo-Theosophists, pulp-fiction writers and the like.
You can find another version of Early British Trackways here.  It's a bit stuffy, but it is the real deal, from the first guy who published his ideas and set forth the foundational parameters of the theory we've inherited in a vastly distorted form.

In the Sixties, John Michell published The View Over Atlantis and ley lines once more floated to the top of the popular lexicon of quacks, frauds and newage peddlers of obscure revelations delivered in breathless tones of barely-hushed hyperbole.  The mystical elements that academics find so repellent, objectionable and distasteful were grafted onto Watkins' theories and what was once considered speculative became ridiculed as academia distanced itself from the mumbo-jumbo of the psychics and their oh-so-willing marks.

But Watkins' theory has survived this descent into the irrational, and alignments based upon ceremonial, astronomical, and other factors have been discovered in a variety of locales outside of Great Britain.  Whether or not the various pyramids are aligned to constellations, the ancient ruins in Guatemala or Chile were aligned to cosmic forces, the mystery scratched into the arid soil around Nazca were ceremonial or drug-induced works of hyper-art (or UFO landing strips), or they are all geographically scattered expressions of Watkins' old straight tracks, is up for grabs.  Theories abound and intellectual fist-fights break out amongst experts who can get catty and petty over what most see as incomplete trivia or the rantings of frustrated romance novelists seeking to make a buck off of the gullible.  Everyone has a theory, especially the ones who are flogging their books, but no one really, truly, knows. 

And that is perfect for the purposes of fiction and RPGs both.

Old Straight Tracks that can be used to map out prehistoric trade routes and other sorts of alignments, be they astronomical, ceremonial, or some obscure flow of Chthonic/Terrestrial Energies that can be tapped into, accessed or harnessed for technologies either sorcerous or materialst is an awesome notion and a wonderful idea to incorporate into a system of magic.  It is so cool that numerous authors are deeply committed to expounding upon this theory as part of a realworld, functional system that somehow has gotten merged into dowsing, western geomancy, and Taoist-rooted systems of Feng Shui or the less well-detailed (in the West/English-speaking market) Indian art of Vashtu which is far more susceptible to quackery and outrageous claims due to it not being quite so well-established in the US yet.   Don't get me wrong, I find outrageous claims as fun as the next guy, and they can be a lot of fun to play around with in terms of the good old 'What If...' practice of seeing where such things could lead that was a major component of the older forms of speculative fiction, back before orthodox English Majors and money-making Clarion Grads made it all about Plot, Character, and so on.  Like with most such human endeavors, there probably isn't a single answer, nor One Right And Only approach that works every time for everyone.  However you approach writing, it is an act of creation intrinsically linked to language and it partakes of the most ancient and primitive forms of magic symbolism as much as it delineates the forms of rational discourse.  But this is about ley lines, not language or writing.

Earth Mysteries, the geography of consciousness, shamanic landscapes--one of the foremost researchers and experts on this sort of thing is Paul Devereux, a true gentleman and scholar who has spent decades digging into the reality of ley lines.  Literally just about everything anyone needs to know or could want to ask about ley lines is summed up in Devereaux's summarized presentation on the subject which you can find by simply clicking on the Ley Lines link on his home-page.  It's all there.

Upon reflection, Paul Devereux, Colin Wilson and Simon Schama are three of the most significant rational influences on my work with Riskail, while Charles W. LeadbeaterJames Churchward, and Andre Breton (A, B, C) are three of the core influences that inform the more irrational aspects of my current work.  There are others, but these six form a very potent mixture of skepticism, imagination and scholarship that I find particularly engaging and useful, for now.  Tomorrow I will probably brood over the work of Goya or delve into the hyper-verbose obscurities of Madame H.P.B., but for now, for today, these are six of the giants upon whom I derive a great deal of inspiration as I discover the realms of Riskail and act as a conduit for the stories that come from this place where Surrealism forms the heart and soul of sorcery and imagination is an active component of day-to-day life, not some muzzled dog kept on a tight leash by the soulless walking-wounded enslaved by tyrant-accountants and the abstract daemons they serve blindly, unquestioningly.

In a later post, I'll share some of the ways that I have integrated ley-lines into my sorcery/magic system, and offer a couple of quick-and-easy methods for slipping them in at the last minute without disrupting an already in-progress game.  It's actually super-easy.  I just want to get some graphics done to make it more understandable, pictures being worth tons of explanation.  Take a look at Devereux's site.  Just reading through that alone can keep most people busy for a considerable amount of time.  It is sure to give you ideas.

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