The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
For centuries, legends suggested that Fairies, living in alternative, parallel societies, possessed roads on which they traveled and of which they were quite protective.
Fairy roads were invisible to most humans (although fairy doctors and specialists could distinguish them) and herein lay the danger. Accidentally stumbling onto a fairy road left one vulnerable to the fairies’ volatile temper. Even worse, should one accidentally—or deliberately—build a house or structure on a fairy road, disaster could ensue as the fairies sought to remove the obstruction.
With the exception of fairy devotees, fairy roads were largely classified as fantasy, or at least existing only on some alternate plane, until the early twentieth century. In June 1921, Alfred Watkins (1855—April 15, 1935), a successful Herefordshire businessman and amateur archeologist, was examining some maps. He noticed that various ancient sites including barrows, standing stones, and stone circles seemed to occur in alignment. Straight lines could be drawn connecting them. Further study indicated that old churches built atop ancient Pagan shrines could also be similarly aligned. Watkins believed these lines indicated prehistoric trading roads and named them “leys” from the Anglo-Saxon word for “cleared strip of land” or “meadow.” He published a book detailing his findings in 1925, The Old Straight Track.
His concepts were not accepted by conventional archeologists and historians who, in general, believed that the ancient Britons lacked the sophistication and technological prowess to create what Watkins proposed. However, similar theories (fairy roads, dragon lines) had long existed in the metaphysical world, and so the concept of ley lines made sense to many magical practitioners, notably Dion Fortune who incorporated the idea into her novel The Goat Foot God, from whence it entered the general metaphysical lexicon. (See CREATIVE ARTS: Literature: The Secrets of Dr Taverner; HALL OF FAME: Dion Fortune.)
Ley lines became associated with fairy roads and subject to controversy. Were there ever actual roads there or not? In some cases, archeology suggests there were but not consistently enough for conclusive scientific proof.
Metaphysicians often understand these “roads” or “lines” to be paths of power or paths of energy, and thus the actual physical presence of roads one can happen upon is irrelevant. (That said, others are convinced that the roads do exist; this passionate argument continues to rage.) What is important is that energy is not obstructed: in this sense, ley lines or fairy roads resemble the dragon paths of Chinese feng shui.
Author Rhiannon Ryall, in her book West Country Wicca (Phoenix Publishing, 1989), a description of pre-Gardnerian Wicca, describes “Fairy Paths” or “Trods” as a generally straight line seen in some fields that is a deeper shade of green than the rest of the grass. She, too, associates these fairy paths with ley lines.
Another theory harks back to the concept of fairy roads: these lines indicate roads used by spirits alone, often especially Spirits of the Dead. One suggestion is that they are Stone Age roads linking ancient burial grounds and so are often also known as Corpse Roads.
These roads are not restricted to the British Isles but have been discovered elsewhere. German Geisterwegen (Ghost Roads) are roads linking medieval cemeteries.
Further Reading: Among the books devoted to this subject are Paul Devereux’s Fairy Paths and Spirit Roads (Vega Books, 2003).