In Memoriam: John Frederick Michell
With his family at his side, John Michell lost his battle with lung cancer in Bournmouth on St George’s Day 2009. How appropriate. It was John who made so many of us aware of the correlation between England's Patron Saint who slew dragons with his spear, and our prehistoric ancestors who nailed down the snaking Earth Energies by spearing them with their standing stones (or as Tom Graves called them, "Earth acupuncture needles").
Born on the 9th of February, 1933, John graduated from Eaton and then Trinity College Cambridge, and was a life-long student of Plato and an avid classicist. He was also an eclectic eccentric, an honoured friend, and the seminal founding instigator of the Earth Mysteries movement in the last half of the twentieth century here in Britain. At a time like this, an obituary would be appropriate, but I would rather concentrate on how John affected my life directly as a spiritual seeker in my exploration of these mysteries.
Of course there were those who came before him like Norman Lockyer, Alfred Watkins and Reginald Allendar Smith, but it was John’s book The View Over Atlantis that initially woke me up to the reality that the "primitive savages" who lived in Stone Age Britain were in reality, sophisticated mathematicians, astronomers and probably much more spiritually advanced than Twentieth Century Man.
In the early seventies, when I began to look in to Sacred Space on a serious level, there wasn’t much literature available on this material in the United States. Indeed, it was in Britain where most of the early literature was to be found including the works of Janet & Colin Bord, Guy Underwood, and Tom Graves to mention only a few, but it was John Michell’s prolific pen that filled the decades of the sixties to the present day with ever new and innovative ways of looking at these Mysteries.
My first personal connection with John came in the late seventies at a Ley Hunters’ Moot where I gave a presentation on my dowsing findings of the enigmatic stone chambers in New England that exhibited many of the same characteristics that he had written about finding in Olde Englande - astronomy, sacred geometry and the Earth energies. I’ll never forget his feedback after my talk. He told me, “Sig, please stop calling the things you are dowsing 'leys.' Leys are intentional alignments of sacred sites.”
I took his advice and since that time, I have been calling the six to eight foot wide straight beams of yang energy that have a direction of flow and sometimes run concurrently with Watkins' leys - "energy leys." I have found many leys that do not have any dowseable yang energy flowing along them (my four inch wide ley at Avebury that I wrote about in Spiritual Dowsing is but one example), and I've dowsed innumerable energy leys in New England that are not marked by any visible alignment of sacred sites. They are not one and the same. Leys - alignments of ancient sacred sites - and energy leys - lines of yang energy - do not always run concurrently. So I am always confused when people speak of "ley lines." Do they mean the alignments, the energy, or both? John helped me to create terminology that clarified this distinction. The misnomer "ley lines" just confuses it.
In the seventies, there began to be a division in the Earth Mysteries (EM) movement. There were those of us who were using all different kinds of tools including dowsing, archaeoastronomical information, and personal spiritual experiences to get a better picture of how our ancient foremothers and forefathers lived, and to learn more about how they used these sacred spaces to grow spiritually so that we might do the same. At the same time, there were those who called themselves "Earth Mystery Researchers" who were applying scientific methodology to find out what they could by using only those scientifically acceptable tools that could produce repeatability and be therefore scientifically verifiable.
Sadly, the researchers, in their determination to get the scientific establishment to accept their findings, began to reject the tools of the more eclectic seekers who were using Alexander Thom's astroarchaeological data, dowsing and other techniques that academic researchers either initially rejected out of hand or, as in the case of Professor Thom, because they didn't have the maths to understand it, just ignored his data. This division unfortunately created a situation where some EM researchers vituperously attacked those who were not sticking solely to scientific methodology. Among other seekers, both John and I were the subject of these scurrilous attacks. They were painful and ended up being extremely divisive within the EM community, and actually put a major damper on the movement in the late eighties and early nineties.
It was in the depths of those attacks that I found John to be a true, loyal and inspiring friend. Part of me was incensed that a man of his preeminence would be attacked by others who, IMHO, were of lesser stature. But he really helped me to see that this kind of abuse comes with the turf to anyone who is out on the leading edge of any movement.
Jamie George of Gothic Image in Glastonbury has been a long time good friend of John's, and was the person who urged me to come to Glastonbury for the first time in 1983. Jamie has been leading magical tours to the sacred sites of Great Britain and other countries for over twenty- five years, and he employs Earth Mystery experts to travel with his tours, or to meet them at specific sites along the route. In the early and mid-eighties, John and I participated in a number of Jamie's tours to England and Ireland, and we had some wonderful magical journeys together.
Several of my best memories of John came from a tour with Jamie that we were both on in Cornwall in the mid eighties. The first was a lesson John taught me about how best to relate to the media. Somehow the BBC had learned that John and other EM folk would be in Penzance, and we were told that they wanted to do a programme on what we were up to. The night before the filming, the crew joined us at the hotel. I was aware that they were not asking questions to find out about the work we were doing, but rather, they were very skeptically questioning the value of the whole EM field.The next day, I was filmed dowsing for Earth Energies out at a stone ring. It was only later that I learned that John had refused to be filmed. He had made the right decision.
The Beeb fried me in the programme by later putting other dowsers in the same space to check my work, and - surprise surprise! - they did not find what I had found thus implying that dowsing and what I was up to was a load of tosh. We now know that when dowsing for intangible targets, even if they were trained by the same teacher, it is quite probable that no two dowsers will ever find exactly the same thing. This is reality when peering into the intangible/spiritual realms - we all see the other side differently. That's why there are so many religions and sub-religions/denominations - they all seek the One, but they all see Him/Her/It differently.
But that isn't my point here. I was caught up in the glamours - I was being filmed by the prestigious BBC! John read them correctly, and I learned an important lesson from him. If you are asked to dowse by a main-line establishment television company, pay attention to your first meeting. If they are overly skeptical or even hostile to dowsing (or whatever alternative modality they are asking you to demonstrate), back off, say "No thank you." Editors decide what will ultimately be seen on the telly, and they can (as they did in my case) make anyone look like a fool. John had made the wise choice.
My final remembrance of John that I would like to share with you also happened on that same trip to Cornwall. We were staying at the Queen's Hotel in Penzance, and John was giving a talk to a group of about thirty Americans on Land's End - one of his favourite places in Britain and the subject of a number of his books. He sat in the front of the room and was surrounded by a pile of papers and maps which he taped to the wall at appropriate times. John was a constant smoker, and as usual, he was rolling up a smoke while he gave his presentation. (The smoking ban was not in effect back then.) When he lit up, half of the group noticed some kind of unknown exotic herbal smell filling the room. The other half knew exactly what it was... ; )
This was the John that I knew and loved. He was extremely well educated and erudite, yet he lived out on the fringe. He lived his life just as he wanted, and he had friends everywhere. His followers young and old will miss him. I already do.