Paul Devereux

Author, lecturer/workshop presenter, researcher, broadcaster, artist, photographer.


Earth Mysteries

There is actually no such study as "earth mysteries", but the component subjects that are gathered up beneath the "earth mysteries" umbrella do exist, even though the area as a whole is a mirage. Among the subjects so gathered up are aspects of: anthropology; archaeology; ancient astronomy; the study of ancient lifeways and arcane lore; divination; dowsing; ethnobotany; ethnopsychology; the experience of ancient sites and landscapes; folklore; geomantic traditions; geophysics; history; psychology; ritual and magic; sacred geometry; shamanism; unusual phenomena. And much more.

The term "earth mysteries" seems to have first appeared as a headline in the Whole Earth Catalog in 1974, alongside a grainy black and white photograph of that eternal symbol of the ancient and mysterious, Stonehenge. The article was trying to summarise aspects of the new generation of ancient mysteries writing and speculation that had emerged out of the 1960s, when archaeology itself was in turmoil, especially with regard to the changes to its dating systems it was obliged to make - specifically the recalibration of the radiocarbon dating method through correction by tree-ring dating, making old monuments even older than had been thought up until then. This was compounded by challenges from scholars outside of archaeology such as those indicating that the megalith builders of western Europe and ancient societies elsewhere had possessed sophisticated astronomical skills. Into this already disturbed situation blundered the refugees from various esoteric persuasions: the spawn of the occult Theosophical movement which had seduced intellectuals many decades earlier, the UFO buffs and ancient astronaut devotees, the ley hunters, the students of archaic and arcane systems of thought, among others. Certain themes emerged as the currency for the new arena of ancient mysteries enquiry.

The loose and unwieldy collection of themes and disciplines comprising the earth mysteries mirage range not only in subject but in mode as well, from the analytical to the intuitive, from the objective to the subjective, from the secular to the mystical. No single body of knowledge could accommodate such a disparate set of concerns, and that is why earth mysteries as a subject does not exist. The term exists merely as a convenient conceptual handle. It was picked up by the specialist ancient mysteries journal, The Ley Hunter, in 1976, and from that it has spread further through the work of researchers and writers, appearing in countless books and even becoming a category heading in some libraries and bookshops. Even so, it remains a primarily British term for what is more generally known as "ancient mysteries" in North America, for example.

At an early stage, even before the term "earth mysteries" was coined, some researchers used "geomancy" to refer to the same general area of interest. But "geomancy" as a term has its own meanings, and is not an ideal alternative.

Because of its multi-disciplinary and multi-mode nature, the field of earth mysteries is considered as a fringe area of interest by mainstream academics - even a lunatic fringe. The irony is that many of the subjects clustered within the folds of earth mysteries are valid and authentic lines of research; it is their  juxtaposition and cross-boundary treatment that present one of the problems to the orthodox mind. It is also true that there is considerable conceptual nonsense, naivety, lack of factual knowledge and sheer intellectual dishonesty displayed by some earth mysteries proponents. When the earth mysteries area is considered by sceptics, it is these negative factors which are used to colour it in their minds, and so the whole field is ridiculed and excluded from serious consideration.

Because earth mysteries is outside the mainstream, there are no institutionalised universal controls to separate the wheat from the chaff contained within it, unlike established disciplines. There is no peer review, as such, and no monitoring against an established and widely accepted body of knowledge. This allows the fantasists, axe-grinders and poorly-informed free rein. Popular publications tend not to discriminate between the outlandish and considered, research-based elements within earth mysteries material, so the general impression of earth mysteries as being sheer hokum gets perpetuated. It would be best for the term "earth mysteries" to be quietly retired, for in many ways it is now an anti-productive label that hinders genuine discussion and even perception of valid work and ideas. But it is probably too late for that now, and because we always need convenient terminology, some new phrase, equally meaningless, would almost certainly be invented to take its place, and would only add to the confusion.