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Open letter to science editors



(William Morrow and Co., New York, 1977; 320 pp., $10.00)

Reviewed by


Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics
Drew University, Madison, N. J.

Arthur Clarke once remarked that "every uncomprehended technology is, in principle, magic." The magic that Francis Hitching treats in this lucidly written and engrossing book is the vanished technology which he believes to have been made possible by the far-flung pre-Christian network of rough-hewn megaliths. Although Stonehenge in southern England is the best known of these megalithic complexes, Hitching does not confine himself to it, nor even to the British Isles or Europe, as a majority of prehistorians have done. Instead, he here gives us the most nearly global survey of megalithism that has appeared since the publication, in 1872, of James Fergusson's Rude Stone Monuments Throughout the World.

While Hitching's titular use of the word "magic" may have the unfortunate effect of suggesting occultism, if not cultism, on his part, the fact is that his treatment of megalithic mysteries is tentative, restrained, and highly empirical. On the other hand, he does not hesitate to follow leads provided by local legends and to employ dowsers and other psychics to supplement the information supplied by archeology and mineralogy.

In both France and England, rural folklore applies to menhirs, or upright monoliths, a collection of epithets such as "tingling," "twirling," "dancing," "rolling," and "healing". Tradition asserts that some stones change position, especially at night. And farmers report that their livestock react strongly to megalith arrangements, avoiding some but being salubriously affected by others. Psychics are even more responsive to megaliths, especially menhirs, all of which give them prickly sensations and a few of which jerk their bodies as with electric shocks.

Dowsers, or "water-witches," who have worked near megaliths assert that all of them are positioned over underground water. They further maintain that menhirs mark places where subterranean streams cross one another and that cromlechs, or stone circles, occur over "blind springs" that is, upwellings of water which have no surface outlets and therefore radiate horizontally from their sources. Scott Elliott, a dowser who is also a member of the British General Staff, adds that such springs seem to occur primarily over geological faults.

When lines are drawn between British megalithic sites (many of which are now covered by churches or cemeteries), they often pass through one to six other such sites. These lines, known as leys, were first discovered by the English writer Alfred Watkins in the 1920's and are now the focus of heated debate between academic archeologists, who hold that such alignments are illusory, and amateur antiquarians, who spend a great deal of time in search of them. Statisticians, however, support the amateurs at least to the extent of agreeing that the chances of seven-point leys being accidental are only one out of a thousand. Though one tradition calls them "dragon paths," it is unlikely that the leys were ever human paths, since they frequently cross steep hills and wide bogs.

What, then, were they? Hitching suggests that they were power lines of some sort. Most of the menhirs exhibit electro-magnetic anomalies of a magnitude hundreds of times in excess of the normal surface fluctuations detected by gauss-meters. Yet the energy in question may have had electro-magnetic effects without being wholly or even primarily electro-magnetic in nature. Instead, it may have been what East European paraphysicists are now calling "psychotronic" energy. In any case, Hitching speculates that earthen barrows, or artificial Mesolithic mounds, may have served as condensers for this energy, while dolmens, or "table stones," served as amplifiers and rocking stones as generators for it.

Reviewing these megalithic grids from many parts of the world and noting the infrequency with which they mark or contain burials, Hitching concludes that megalithism was both a life-affirming ideology and a life-enhancing behavior pattern and that, in this respect, it contrasted sharply with the funereal Bronze Age cults that followed it.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the puzzles that Hitching discusses is that of the megaliths of New England. There are over 300 of these, and they exhibit more incised markings, such as cup-and-ring designs, than do all the Old World megaliths together. Yet they are almost wholly neglected by academic archeologists. While this neglect may be partially explained by the surprising lack of grave-sites and habitation remains in the area, it is hardly justified by that lacuna alone.

In view of Hitching's sympathy for unorthodox investigative groups, such as Britain's Ley Hunters and America's New England Antiquities Research Association, I find it surprising that he omits all mention of two European-born American psychoanalysts whose writings, over a period of decades have enraged conventional scholars but bear directly and supportively on several of his major interests. The first of these theorists is the late Wilhelm Reich, whose postulation of a biopsychic energy called orgone provides precisely the kind of force needed to explain the positive effects described as emanating from most stone-and-ley arrangements. Interestingly, moreover, Reichian orgonomy also accounts for occasional negative effects, such as grassless hills and "fainting" spots, in terms of what Reich called "deadly orgone energy" (dor, for short), which he explained as orgone "poisoned" by interaction with lethal cosmic rays or underground radio-activity. The second of these theorists is Immanuel Velikovsky, the leading contemporary catastrophist. Among the subjects touched on by Hitching with which Velikovsky has dealt in detail are: planetary collisions, reversals of the earth's magnetic polarity, the significance of the 23-l/2 ecliptic angle, intense heating of the stones at Avebury, the collapse of some stones on Salisbury Plain, and piezoelectric effects in quartz, such that pressure and electric charge prove to be mutually interactive.

In addition, I cannot help wishing that Hitching had dealt at greater length with two other topics that he mentions only in passing. The first of these is late megalithic structures, ranging from the pyramids of 4th dynasty Egypt to the Great Stone Heads of Easter Island. (Interestingly, although he never delineates a specific Megalithic Period in his text, he implicitly dates it in two graphic figures. In the former of these, he terminates megalithism about 700 B.C. and, in the latter, about 1500 B.C. No catastrophist could fail to note the striking coincidence between these dates and those posited by Velikovsky for Earth's destructive encounters with Mars and Venus, respectively.)

The other topic is that of anomalous aerial phenomena, ranging from bradytes, or "flying saucers," to photophasms, or "spook lights." Dancing lights have often been seen near round barrows and other ancient monuments. And orthoteny, or "the straight line mystery," is characteristic not only of the placement of megalithic sites but also of the location of villages involved in recent Western European UFO flaps.

Since it has become traditional for reviewers to find, if not to belabor, at least one error in every book they review, I shall do my ceremonial tongue-clucking over Hitching's characterization (on p. 47) of Homo habilis, a Pleistocene hominid from East Africa, as the first of our ancestors to become bipedal and start communicating with his fellows. Here he is far off the paleontological mark, since even protistans communicate chemically with their congeners and presumably did so as early as the Archeozoic Era, 3 billion years ago; and two hominid genera ancestral to Homo, Ramapithecus and Australopithecus, were probably bipedal, Ramapithecus as much as 15 million years before Homo.

Overall, however, I am impressed by Hitching's accuracy, sobriety, and good sense of intellectual balance in dealing with a notoriously "cranky" subject. And I am not merely impressed but astonished that, even after a determined search, I could not find a single misprint in Earth Magic!

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