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" One touch of nature

makes all the world kin "

William Shakespeare

Pathways to Enlightenment

April 25th, 2010

I was at the Spring Moot of the Society of Leyhunters yesterday. A great ‘family/tribe’ atmosphere – 30 or so of us in the Friends Meeting House in Brighton, laptops and projectors whirring, tea and biscuits, and discussion abounding over sites and leys. The first speaker was Chris Street, a long-time member of the Order who I remember from 15 or more years ago. Chris’ passion is for ley lines – not just as terrestrial features – but, as he puts it, ‘pathways to enlightenment’. His latest book, ‘London’s Ley Lines‘ is an absolute gem. In its 215 pages Chris offers us a three part feast. In Part One he gives an introduction to ley lines and offers us his personal take on the subject: he believes that leys are pathways that can lead you through personal experience and initiation to a form of gnosis – in other words towards illumination. By the time I had finished this lucid 18 page overview of the subject I was convinced. Chris has a very pleasant way of writing – easy, informal, and with the odd joke thown in. But he has also done his research, and in the next two parts of this book this really shows. Part Two introduces you to the four leys Alfred Watkins located in London, and in Part Three he details over a dozen leys he or others have discovered running through the capital. Chris finishes the book with ideas about how to work at sacred sites and along leys, and suggests blessings and prayers to use. As he says near the end of the book: ‘The X Files was right about one thing. The truth is out there. Scully off and find it’. You can get a copy from Amazon.

The Most Important Relationship

April 25th, 2010


A Talk for The Society of Leyhunters Spring Moot 2010

It is a most intriguing and fascinating hobby. In these days when rambling over hill and dale is such a popular amusement, there should be countless opportunities for young people to discover markstones and other reminders of bye-gone days, and to trace out possible alignments from them on the maps when they return home.

Mark Culling Carr-Gomm, The Straight Track Club (1938)

Leyhunters are really hunter-gatherers in to-some-extent respectable clothing. They are people who are interested in gathering information and in tracking. This impulse is buried deep in our psyches as human beings – after all, we have been hunters and hunter-gatherer for far longer than we have been suited and ‘civilized’. And it seems that the urge to hunt for physical objects and for food exists also on the intellectual, emotional and spiritual levels. Carson McCullers wrote a book with the memorable title ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ which conveys so well the way we go searching for love in the world. Our minds are of course voracious in their search for knowledge too, and at a spiritual level we talk about being a ‘seeker’ – going on a quest. In essence it’s the same thing – whether we’re looking for food, for love, for information or for illumination. We’re hunting, we’re sniffing and listening, and we’re looking for directions and patterns: which way did that animal go? Does the herd come to drink here at dawn every day?

This crucial ability of the brain to identify patterns has evolved in response to our need to seek nourishment. But in addition, this pattern-seeking ability also helps us to find meaning in life, to be artistic, and to theorise and hence make discoveries. In fact it is so strong that we will even find patterns and attribute meaning to them, even when the patterns have occurred randomly and there is no inherent meaning in them. This understanding has been evoked to explain why conspiracy theories have such an appeal for many people, and it also suggests why there is such an overlap amongst those interested in spiritual seeking and conspiracy theories: people are looking for the more-than-obvious, for deeper patterns behind the surface.

Now some conspiracy theories may be nutty and completely off track. Some spiritual seeking may be driven by neurotic needs and superstition, but not all of it. We all know that often things are not what they appear to be – that hidden forces are at work in business and in politics, and that life is indeed far more beautiful and mysterious than we can imagine. How do we deepen our spiritual inspiration, and our appreciation of this world, and satisfy the hunter at all levels of our being?

I would suggest that one way would be through cultivating our pattern-recognition ability. So lets explore this theme for a while, working our way towards the subject of ley hunting before finally engaging in a bit of research together on this theme.

One way to cultivate our pattern-recognition ability is to start with the personal: trying to trace the patterns in your own life. Here age will work to your advantage – you’ll have more material to go on! Think of your family tree, then add in to that tree people who have exerted major influences on your life. This may not work for everyone, but try it out. When I tried it, I discovered an interesting pattern. Thinking of ley lines I realised that three people – three elder figures to me when I was younger – stimulated my interest in leys and in sacred landscape: one was my Druid teacher Ross Nichols, the other the late John Michell, author of the seminal ‘View Over Atlantis’, and key figure in the revival of interest in ley lines in the 1970s, and my grandfather, Mark Culling Carr-Gomm, who was a friend of Alfred Watkins and helped to found the ‘Old Straight Track Club’. What was the pattern I found? All were linked to my father, who worked for Ross Nichols and knew John Michell, who shared his fascination for the Shakespeare authorship controversy.

So when I realised this pattern it was very satisfying. It gives me a sense of comfort, of meaning, of connection to the past, to the land, to the world of culture and spirituality. What does the pattern mean? Why is it there? Does it give a glimpse of hidden forces at work, of Intelligent Design? I don’t know. Maybe there’s no reason.  It simply being there is sufficient to me to work its magic. It’s like art. When we look at a picture that satisfies us, that pleases and moves us, we don’t ask ‘Why?’or ‘What does this mean?’ do we?

So the first suggestion is to look for patterns amongst people, amongst influences in your life and relationships. Of course psychotherapists get huge mileage out of this, and justifiably so.

Let’s now look at a set of patterns familiar to us all, and that occur in Place. What happens when you connect the dots, for example, that mark all the places you have lived in? I didn’t think this would yield anything when I did it, but to my amazement I discovered it did: joining the points in London, Ireland, France, Bulgaria, and Lanzarote made a big triangle. If I added in New Zealand it confused the picture I have to admit. Again it may or may not have meaning, but it may be worth exploring for you. The only benefit I can derive is a sort of mild curiosity and amusement that discovering this triangle has brought – quite different from the experience I felt when I connected the people together that I mentioned. But the impulse to research starts with curiosity and so I think this sort of line of enquiry would be worth pursuing.

Now what happens when you put People and Place together? Place is interesting in itself – the nature, the electromagnetic fields that exist there, the geology etc. but when you add people you get the possibility of story. People and Place are the two great ingredients of Story. “So what?” You might say. Well, that’s the relationship that is most under threat at the moment, AND it’s the relationship we have so spectacularly screwed up – by relating to Place in an exploitative and abusive way. For this reason it is the most important relationship to explore. Otherwise the story we’re all living through, and our grandchildren will live through, will turn into a tragedy. In fact, looking at the rate of species extinction it is a tragedy already isn’t it? And that’s why I have called this talk ‘The Most Important Relationship.’

Let’s explore this relationship in a deeper way now. (In the rest of the session we did this through meditation, inner journeying and sharing).

Related posts in this blog:

Three Old Fellas

January 7th, 2010

Along with Chris Street and others I’m giving a talk for the Ley Hunters’ Moot at Friends Meeting House Brighton on 24 April 2010 at 1pm (Details at The Society of Ley Hunter’s website here. They are having a field trip the next day, led by Stuart Mason of the Antiquarian Society). Here is a note about the talk:

Three Old Fellas

It is a most intriguing and fascinating hobby. In these days when rambling over hill and dale is such a popular amusement, there should be countless opportunities for young people to discover markstones and other reminders of bye-gone days, and to trace out possible alignments from them on the maps when they return home.

Mark Culling Carr-Gomm, The Straight Track Club (1938)

There is a mystery that connects Sound and Place that those who have researched the acoustics of sacred sites and ancient monuments know well, but I would like to explore another connection between these two phenomena. There is a way in which our experience of Place is bound up with Memory and Story, which is why English Heritage can charge us to walk over an empty field at Battle. We know a great story unfolded there, and even though nothing obvious to the naked eye remains, it is enough for visitors to know the Battle of Hastings happened there, to justify travelling a great distance simply to stand on that field. It is as if the story and the place are woven together – an idea which those who are psychically sensitive will affirm is more than simply a metaphor.

This weaving is what I would like to talk about at the Moot in April. There are the great stories that occurred in the landscape that we can tune into, but there are also our own personal stories that relate to the landscape which bind together memories of people and experiences along with the land itself. This is the great gift of the oral tradition and of folk-memory: the tales of place that are also of tribe and ancestor. When we talk in this way it can sometimes sound distant or impersonal, when in reality we are talking about the land we live on and love, and the tales of our own ancestors and the people we love. So in my talk I’ll show you some objects that relate to this theme and were significant to me from childhood, and which I’ve now inherited. They remind me of three old fellas – elder-figures – who made the magic of the landscape and of ley lines come alive for me: the old Chief Druid Ross Nichols, the late John Michell, author of the seminal ‘View Over Atlantis’, and my grandfather, who was a friend of Alfred Watkins and helped to found the ‘Old Straight Track Club’. Ley lines and the land of Sussex play a part in my experience of all three, and leys are a phenomenon that connects people with the landscape within the warm embrace of story…

Alfred Watkins at a Straight Track Club picnic walks towards you from the Dream Time

A Convulsion of Ley Lines

January 3rd, 2010

Researching local leys I came across this description of our home town, Lewes in East Sussex, in ‘The Old Weird Albion: For the Compleat Anglophile’:

Lewes is, of course, the center of Sussex eccentricity. It sits, I will posit, on a convulsion of ley lines: Among too many to name, one that runs from London to Boston, Mass., on which Tom Paine floated into history in the 18th century; one that follows Hilaire Belloc across the Sussex landscape, from pub to pub, venturing in and out of poetry and sobriety; one that traverses the whole of the surface of the earth, in the path of the sun over the planet, from its stage debut each morning as it creeps over Mount Caburn, burning away mist and last night’s spewed Donner.

This is a town that still annually burns the Pope, W., Blair, whomever it is they find fault with that year, in effigy – just like they did 200 years ago. Lewes prints its own currency, and shuts down pubs for daring remove the local ale. It’s a town of a few thousand that supports two distinct and thriving weekly folk-music clubs, using the same eccentric-if-affluent clientele that will throw back a dozen pints at the Thin Lizzy tribute-band gig the following night.

For more see ‘The Old Weird Albion: For the Compleat Anglophile’

Crossing a Lewes dyke on New Year's Day. Photo Tarquin Gotch

Alfred Watkins & The Straight Track Club

January 28th, 2008

In researching ley lines for The Book of English Magic I’ve been looking again at Alfred Watkins’ The Old Straight Track. I have inherited my grandfather’s copy which has old photographs stuck into it. He was a friend of Watkins and a founding member of The Straight Track Club. Here are the photos. The photograph of Watkins walking towards the camera has a strong dream-like quality to it – and doesn’t he look like Sigmund Freud from a distance? If you click on the image you can enlarge it and magnify areas.

Straight Track Club Outing 1

Click on this Straight Club Track 2 to see the next image.

The Club used to circulate members’ reports by post on leys that they had discovered, or book reviews or essays they had written. I have some of these from my grandfather’s papers and have posted up a scan of one of these postal portfolios, as they were called. Click here to view: Sample Straight Club Track Portfolio