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Stone age monument defaced with ‘alien’ figures by unidentified vandals

In the second week of January, Cheryl Straffon of the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) announced that the megalithic structure Mulfra Quoit had been marred by graffiti, which should wash off, but will require professional restorers to work carefully, as this is a registered historic site.

CASPN looks in on sites about monthly, to clean up trash and so on, but has no way to determine whether this was done on winter solstice or New Year’s or some such significant date. The painting depicts two vague humanoid figures, with halos around their heads which might put one in mind of medieval saints, except that the style of the figures and the color choice point rather to “Gray Aliens”: this stereotyped depiction of extraterrestrials has become embedded in the culture, from Barney and Betty Hill’s 1961 description of the “Zeta Reticulans” who they claimed abducted them, through the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to the infamous Alien Autopsy hoax video.

Stone Age structures come in a few distinct types. In Europe and the Mideast, tall slender stones, alone or in clusters, and are called obelisks if carved square with pointy tips, or menhir “standing stones” if left rough. New Age literature sees these as drawing magnetic energy out of the Earth or down from the heavens.

With nothing organic to date by radiocarbon, CASPN can only give the vague date 2500-3500BC for Mulfra Quoit, and it’s unusual in having upright stones on three sides of a square, with the roof-stone lying diagonally on them. What should be the fourth side, with the portal hole cut through it, is about a mile away, now flanked by two menhirs, with a third now fallen (an old map shows the menhirs in a triangle). This site is just called Men-an-tol “stone with a hole” where traditionally women would go through the hole backwards if they wanted to get pregnant soon, or pass their babies through the hole repeatedly to cure sickness. Did the roof-stone fall during construction and the builders give up on placing the door-stone? Or was Mulfra once complete, until someone pried out the door and destabilized the roof? Nearby is a tall menhir, repurposed as a grave marker in post-Roman times, called Men Scryfa “inscribed stone” because it has carvings naming the Cornish prince Rialobran “royal raven” once buried there: it has been knocked down twice that we know of by treasure hunters, and the body is long gone.


Perhaps Rialobran’s mourners originally intended to bury him in Mulfra Quoit but broke the dolmen trying to open the door. Or is the broken dolmen intentional, symbolizing to a traveler that Land’s End was near? Alfred Watkins (1855-1935) proposed that many stone structures originally served the purpose of marking trade routes. He called them “ley lines” and became obsessed with the notion that the ancients tried to keep the paths as straight as possible despite topography. This was not realistic, but devotees of his ideas continue to try to find absolutely straight lines between significant sites, now often thought to be straight because they are natural lines of force channeling some kind of psychic energy. Critics point out that many of these are not as well aligned as the authors make them out to be, and that most are just artifacts of the brain’s desire to see patterns in random scatters.

But the original idea was not so far-fetched. Smaller stone piles mark trails all over Eurasia, from the cairn in the British Isles to the tho-yor in Tibet, or the herma in Greece, whence Hermes, patron god of traveling salesmen. Periclean Athens controversially replaced the traditional stone-piles along major roads with fine obelisks bearing the head and genitals of the god, and installed more such throughout the city, until in 415 BCE they were all vandalized overnight, in a crime which remains unsolved. In Tibet it is good karma for a passerby to add a stone to the pile. In Ireland it is good luck to balance another stone very delicately.

In 1961 Tony Wedd added the crucial idea that UFOs fly along the “magnetic current” in the ley lines, drawing on a French UFOlogist who, without having heard of the British “ley line” concept, mapped reported sighting and abductions in France onto flight paths he called orthotenies. Wedd founded the Ley Hunters’ Club, soon dominated by the brilliant eccentric John Michell (1933-2009; pronounced like “Michelle”). Michell would brew the stew of ideas which seems particularly implicated in the Mulfra vandalism. In The Flying Saucer Vision (1967), The View Over Atlantis (1969), and many other works he laid out his belief in a “Traditional” lore taught to the ancients by benevolent aliens (misremembered as gods), once understood worldwide but sadly lost by moderns. His voracious reading and novel splicing of all manner of fringe ideas is not easy to summarize.

Grafton Elliot Smith (an anthropologist now best remembered, perhaps unfairly, for vigorously defending the authenticity of Piltdown Man) taught the “hyperdiffusionist” theory that most things are invented only once, and therefore sought to prove that pyramid building spread from Egypt to Indonesia and across the Pacific to Mexico; his colleague William James Perry thought the megalithic cultures of France and Britain must have been Egyptian-inspired too, and mapped the megaliths of Cornwall, where he thought the Egyptians entered; the “British Israelites” thought the Anglo-Saxons were the Lost Tribes of the Bible (a central tenet of such cults as Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, and akin to the Book of Mormon‘s Israelites in America). Therefore, the knowledge of how to tap ley-line energy to build megaliths arose in Egypt and was spread by Israelites; the aliens were the “Shining Ones” described in an Egyptian text about the companions of Horus, and also in the Book of Enoch; and the legend of Joseph of Arimathea bringing the Grail to Glastonbury was a Christian retelling of a more ancient story about Israelites bringing the sacred tradition to Britain. He recommended drugs, especially marijuana and LSD, to open the senses so we can more readily perceive the energy around us and see the UFOs.

Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones adored him. Through Jones he met Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, and he later became close to the Grateful Dead. Michell played an important role in the first Glastonbury Fayre of 1971, designing the Pyramid Stage and choosing the site, by a hidden spring he found with a dowsing rod, assuring the organizers this was the confluence of powerful ley lines. His inherited money had largely been ripped off by con men, but his musical connections sponsored his major research project of the 1970s, a comprehensive map of ley lines in the Penwith peninsula at the tip of Cornwall (Mulfra Quoit is in the heart of Penwith). This was intended to win some respect from archaeologists, who instead scorned his casual mixing of ancient megaliths, medieval churches, and natural outcrops. Michell retorted that churches were placed on pre-Christian holy sites (this is sometimes true, though not often) and that the natural features were the ancients’ clues to where the lines of energy were, but his relationship with establishment scientists remained chilly.

In the 1980s he fell hard for the “crop circles” hoax, and in a familiar pattern became even more stubbornly attached to belief in them after the creators of the hoax outed themselves. He was particularly impressed by one displaying the “Gray Alien” visage, and devoted one of his last works, The Face and the Message, to the notion that the aliens’ increasing willingness to show themselves was a call for humanity to seek their guidance again. During his last years he was a regular curmudgeonly columnist for the satiric magazine The Oldie and tabloid Daily Mirror, railing against democracy, the theory of evolution, the metric system, Shakespeare, etc.

In the decade since his death, the Ley Hunters’ Club has become moribund, but devotees of his brand of neopaganism and kindred ideas get together at the Megalithomania conferences organized by Hugh Newman, who has appeared on History Channel’s Ancient Aliens to discuss how extraterrestrials depicted as Shining Grays taught the ancients to tap ley-line energy and build megaliths, how to decipher the messages in crop circles, and so on and so forth.

He might seem a prime suspect in the Mulfra case, but this he surely is not. His home base is in Wiltshire and he conducts frequent tours of Stonehenge, Avebury, Glastonbury, and sites in that vicinity, or of his favorite sites in the Mediterranean or South America; and when not giving a tour he constantly posts photos and videos of where he is and what he is doing. Another thing he is not, despite his energetic dissemination efforts, is a “guru” laying down a fixed set of beliefs. Looking through the works of speakers at Megalithomania or members of the John Michell Network, we find a tendency to go off on one or more tangents: Zachariah Sitchin’s pseudo-Sumerian lore, the ancient giant race of Nephilim, pre-Columbian contact between America and the Old World, healing energy stored in sacred crystals, etc. The “Earth Mysteries” movement (as it is sometimes called) is too loose grouping to fit anyone’s definition of a “cult” even if ideas from the “cultic milieu” run all through it.

One thing the public faces of the Earth Mysteries do seem to have in common is genuine religious reverence for the ancient sites, quite inconsistent with this disrespectful action. The perpetrator(s) of the Mulfra vandalism, even if inspired by this movement, are likely to be anonymous and rather thoughtless fans, who probably will never be discovered.

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