In 1921, Alfred Watkins had a vision. A traveling salesman for his family milling and brewing business… he stood on a high ridge top, gazing down at his beloved Herefordshire countryside. A she looked, comparing to a map, he saw “that various prehistoric places, such as standing stones, earthen burial mounds, prehistoric earthworked hills, and other such features fell into straight lines for miles across the country”. In this flood of “ancestral memory,” as he called it, Watkins saw the ancient landscape beneath modern Britain.The Occult Mind by Christopher I. Lehrich, p. 18
What’s significant here is that originally ley lines weren’t understood as having an esoteric dimension. Rather, they were evidence of a much high level of sophistication in neolithic society than had previously been suggested. That is, that neolithic Britons were capable of large-scale, multi-generational projects, as it is impossible that ley lines could be accomplished on shorter time scales than that. Watkins himself supposed they were used as trade routes or navigation aids.
Briefly, the idea… holds that the early inhabitants of Britains deliberately placed mounds, camps and standing stones across the landscape in straight lines. As time went by later structures were added to these sites. Some Roman roads followed the leys, Christian churches were built on what had been ley makers in order to take advantage of the age and sanctity already attached to them, and the keeps of medieval castles were sited on mounds that had marked leys millennia before. As a result it is still possible to trace these alignments on maps.Roger Sandell, “Notes towards a Social History of Ley-Hunting”, Magonia 29 (April 1988) quoted ibid. “The article is based on a talk given, largely extempore, at the Anglo-French UFO meeting held at Hove in March 1988.”
To be clear, there’s no real archaeological or historical case to be made for ley lines. They exist as pure speculation and conjecture; no claimed ley line has been shown to be statistically significant (that is, if you start looking for straight lines linking random points on a map, you’ll be able to do so easily). Proof for ley lines would have to come from a source other than the supposed leys themselves.
The esoteric turn began with Dion Fortune’s 1936 novel The Goat-Foot God which discusses “lines of force”. These ideas soon began to blur with incipient ufology and received its most well-known articulation in John Michell’s 1967 book The View Over Atlantis.
In the exposition of occult perspectives in the second half of the twentieth century, however, the question of leys returned in a new manner simply unacceptable to archaeology, leading in part to the unwillingness of even modern archaeologists seriously to consider data for leys. Specifically, the claim has arisen that these lines and earthworks, along with the Nazca lines, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and Chinese geomantic (feng shui) “dragon lines”, all represent evidence of a previous great civilisation, one that recognized the earth powers and telluric forces and tapped into them to perform mighty works — the Atlantean civilization.Lehrich, p 22
Now, what differentiates this from ancient astronaut speculations is that, rather than holding that the Pyramids or ley lines etc. were the work of aliens, Michell held that they were the work of ancient human beings who had a higher level of consciousness and technological advancement than we do today. This places Michell in the worldview of the perennial traditionalists, for whom “progress” is really “degeneration” and history is a falling away from a golden age.
By the time we get to the 1970s, ley lines feature heavily enough in public consciousness that they can feature in something like Children of the Stones and people are likely to just get them easily (this was a kid’s show after all). But we might ask – what do they signify culturally by this point? They imply a great mystery that lies within the land – they imply connections and order instead of chaos – but important, secret connections, secret order – secret history.
Ley lines indicate the paucity of mainstream knowledge and the genius of the outsider’s knowledge – and their association with antiquity and a general ‘folkiness’ imply a disdain for modernity-urbanity. The leys converge where they converge, and pull us along with them. They undermine modern certainties in the name of something more chthonic and primordial.
And this brings us to the more overwhelming question of what – what do the stones mean? The culture/s that created the stone circles did not leave written records. Shortly, we do not know who they were and all we can do is (intelligently) speculate about their intentions.
But the bare facts that we do posses are alarming if one wants to argue for a linear line of historical progress from primitiveness to modernity – because the bare facts are that the culture/s in question here were able to produce multi-generational monumental architecture (and all this without ley lines). And the opacity of their intentions is what opens us up culturally to esoteric speculations as to their nature.
They form the same function as the ley lines theory – they imply hidden knowledge, knowledge that might be superior to modern knowledge, ancient wisdom, and importantly wisdom that may have been preserved into the present age. Again, there’s this function of humiliation almost – that modern science and modern human society is cut down from underneath by something chthonic and primordial. Again, our certainties are undermined.
This is the fundamental character of all claims of esoteric knowledge. There is a knowledge, a wisdom, a power, that is denied by the Big Other but is there all the same. And is in fact a threat to the Big Other.
This is of course the problem with Fisher identifies with esotericism and hyperstition – hyperstition spreads but esotericism has to be guarded and inaccessible. Esoteric wisdom that becomes exoteric is not esoteric! But all the same the esoteric has to exist in a state of tension with the exoteric as total esotericism would be definitionally “lost knowledge” (i.e. the loss of the soma plant). There has to be transmission. And this is what brings us to the notion of the esoteric conspiracy. Esoteric secrets are kept secret, but the fact of their existence (but not of their content) becomes exoteric, public knowledge, from the propagation of cryptic symbols. These are signs that the profane pass over, but the initiated, or even simply the curious, notice and may even half-understand. They announce, quietly, and draw us in.
Isn’t this what something like Children of the Stones does? Doesn’t it announce Earth Mysteries, cosmic forces affecting primordial (and modern) human beings, and the arcanum that time doesn’t flow in one direction only? Hence its uncanny character – it says things that aren’t for children.
The fundamental theme of folk horror – within the parochial there is something cosmic, or at least something radically other. And this is made very literally true here – in a sleepy village built within a stone circle, there’s an occult connection with the cosmic and the horrifying, the black hole entity. We also see the blurring together of science and magic, the implication that magic is either a lost technic or a rival to technic – either way, it is potent and forceful. A threat as well as a promise.