The John Michell Symposium 2016: The Earth Spirit

John Michell, early 1990s, photo by Bernoully
John Michell, early 1990s, photo by Bernoully

The John Michell Symposium 2016: The Earth Spirit, sponsored by Temenos Academy, will be held in London on Sat 25 June.

Michell, who died in 2009, was a neo-antiquarian, painter and visionary, best known for his writings on leys and geometry. He revived the work of Alfred Watkins on leys or alignments of ancient sites, and popularized the idea of earth energies associated with them. He also wrote about the Saint Michael’s Line, ancient metrology, Fortean phenomena and Plato’s Atlantis. The author of more than twenty-five books and many other works, he has a legacy that still reverberates and will be examined in the day-long series of lectures.

“They happen once every three years, sponsored by Temenos Academy, an educational charity co-founded by the poet Kathleen Raine and the professor of architecture  Keith Critchlow,” explains Christine Rhone, a former collaborator and long-time associate of Michell’s, who organised the first Symposium in 2010, a year after his death. “It provides lectures, seminars, an annual journal, and a two-year diploma programme on the Perennial Philosophy, the universal spiritual tradition.  John Michell was a Fellow of Temenos Academy, highly regarded by its co-founders.”

The Symposium has taken a different theme each time it has been staged. 2013’s was based  around Plato and Fort (“His work uniquely switches and continually jumps between their two world-views – Plato’s realm of unchanging Ideas and archetypes and the unexplained phenomena studied by Charles Fort of the Bronx, where nothing is as it seems,” explains Rhone).

The name for the third symposium in 2016 emerged from the subject matter of the available lecturers and reflects the themes of his 1975 book The Earth Spirit: Its Ways, Shrines and Mysteries.

“Here is a quote from it,” says Rhone: “’The oldest and deepest element in any religion is the cult of the earth spirit in her many aspects. Especially to wandering men, nomads, pilgrims, itinerants, tramps and half-wits, she is the mother, and they, her children, partake of her sanctity’. The book title encapsulates JM’s association with earth energies, sacred sites, leys, landscape geometry and feng-shui.  For this, he was acclaimed by some and much derided by other critics.”

The New View Over Atlantis book cover
JM’s most famous book, cover art by Una Woodruff, depicting a ley

The conference runs from 10am to 5pm and there are five speakers on the bill. According to Rhone, all of the speakers had some personal contact with Michell, who influenced them to a greater or lesser degree and who encouraged their early efforts.

Tom Bree is an artist and a teacher of geometry, a recent graduate of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, whose PhD thesis on the geometry of English cathedrals finds similarities with some elements in John Michell’s researches. The title of his talk is “One Radian North of the Equator”. This refers to a part of Aberdeenshire where there is a geodesic system of three 8th-century chapels expressing the relationships of Pi and Phi in terms of whole number ratios.

Andrew Collins is a best-selling and prolific author and explorer in the area of alternative archaeology and lost civilizations. He will speak on “Gobekli Tepe and Giza: The Way of the Swan”, developing his decades of research on these sites with a vision of the constellation Cygnus in the Milky Way. He is also a tour leader on three continents and runs his own annual conference in London called Origins.

David Fideler is an American living in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Author, publisher, and book producer, he will speak on “John Michell and the Landscapes of the Soul: Where the Inner and Outer Worlds Meet”. Fideler’s book Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence looks at the entire trajectory of western thought from the perspective of living nature.

Arthur Versluis, professor and Department Chair of Religious Studies at Michigan State University, is a former Fellow of Temenos Academy who has written many books on esotericism, theosophy and related themes. Versluis will already be in Europe at the time of the conference, so we are lucky to get him. His illustrated talk, “The Archaic Landscape”, will focus on megaliths in Cornwall, Brittany, and the Sanctuary of the Great Gods at Samothrace in Greece.

Lastly, Caroline Wise has been active in the Earth Mysteries movement since the 1970s, early encouraged by John Michell, and equally active in Goddess Spirituality. She will speak on “The Goddess of the Old Straight Track and John Michell’s Part in her Revelation”. She has recently compiled and contributed to a book “Finding Elen: The Quest for Elen of the Ways”.

Nearly seven years after his death, how does Rhone think we should assess John’s legacy to the wider Pagan community?

“John Michell often mentioned the Druids in his writings about ancient places in Britain and was always an honoured guest at Druidic proceedings. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids named him honorary arch-Druid in 1992 on Primrose Hill, on the 200th anniversary of the revival of Druidry by Iolo Morganwg,” she says.

“Possibly his single most important contribution is what he called the New Jerusalem Diagram, which embodies the dimensions of Stonehenge, St Mary’s Chapel in Glastonbury and Plato’s ideal city as described in Laws. This diagram came to him as a revelation, he said, in about 1970. It represents the relationship of the earth to the moon and the dimensions of the whole earth: it shows that the ancients knew all this. It also is a key to ancient metrology or systems of measurement, which were all related to the dimensions of the earth. Stonehenge is already a spiritual icon for Pagans all over the world, and this is evidence to support its prominence.

“His contribution to the appreciation of sacred sites, both natural and cultural, is of continuing interest to Pagans.”

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There will also be a John Michell Memorial Talk at the annual Megalithomania Conference in Glastonbury in May. This year’s speaker is Steve Marshall, musician, neo-antiquarian, author and tour guide.

John Michell smoking at Stonehenge
John Michell smoking at Stonehenge, photo by Christine Rhone