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For detailed information and diagrams see "Significance in sacred sites: the churches around Positano", Annals of Science, xxxv 1978, 103-30.

What are Ley Lines? These are lines of sight that join sacred sites to one another, or to features in the landscape. They are essentially a method for 'controlling' the powers in the earth for our benefit. Leys were first discovered in England by Alfred Watkins. I have found them on the island of Bali as well as Italy.

positano-pix.jpg - 30.95 kb When Ulysses rowed past the Siren Isles, he bound the ears of his crew so they would not hear their song and be wrecked upon the shore where so many other sailors had died. It was the home of the Harpies, the guardians of the spirits of the dead.

As local tradition states, the Galli isles in the bay of Positano are those same Siren Isles. There is a cemetery above the towns, but it was first consecrated only in the eighteenth century. So how did they dispose of their dead before that?

The Galli had been, for at least 3,000 years, the necropolis for the bay. The dead would be rowed out to the islands, like Charon crossing the Styx, and left on the seashore.

As Christianity took hold they may have buried their dead there, but in earlier times they left them exposed. The Tenganum people of Bali still do. I have seen their corpses leaning against tree trunks, grinning vacantly across the still waters of the adjacent lake. A light fence kept the pigs out, but otherwise the rain, the ants and the birds gradually decomposed the bodies. When only bones were left, they were tossed into the lake.

At the time of Ulysses the Greeks burned their dead, and for sailors to see many corpses exposed along the edge of the seashore naturally stimulated myths about Harpies who lured seamen to their death on the rocky shore.

In the early 70s when a jetty was being built on the largest island, divers found the sea bed strewn with human bones, skulls included.

In the 1970s I spent five winters in Positano with Hilary and our three children. I would walk around the hills and visit all the churches. Each had magnificent views out to the sea and up to the encircling mountains.

There are nineteen churches around the Positano bay. The Baroque styling comes from superficial restorations that followed the defeat of the pirates in the 1590s by the Spainish. Underneath, they are much older.

Santa Maria Assunta on the Positano beach was an abbey, with eleventh century stone stalls in the crypt. Santa Maria della Grazie was a Benedictine monastery and was abandoned when the pirates arrived around the mid 1400s. This is locally called the Chiesa Nuova, so many of the other churches must be earlier. Many of the dedications, such as those to San Gennaio and Santa Maria di Constantinopoli, are to saints who were popular only during the middle ages.

The church axes face in all directions, click on the map. They have nothing to do with the rising or setting sun, nor with moon positions nor any other astrological marker. Instead, they all relate to the natural features and to other churches.

The details are set out in the article with maps. In summary:

  • 16 churches were built before 1700s.
  • There are 36 possible referant points in peaks, spurs, islands and other churches.
  • The 16 pick up the 36 at least 124 times!
  • This is an average of 8 connections for each building and natural feature!

    The statistical probability that this could be chance is remote indeed.

    These sites had been sacred for a long time. Some may have had Roman, or even Greek temples on them, and the Catholic Church just followed common practice, and built their churches on top - the new religion just supplanting the old.

    The most curious thing is that they face all directions. Only three attempt to approach any of the cardinal points, and none face east. The one thing they have in common is that they all relate to the ancient necropolis of the Galli.

    Beyond Positano I found ley lines in all the steep valley settlements to the east as far as Salerno, and to the north as far as Sorento. But then a very curious thing happens. In the flat lands between these limestone mountains and Naples there are none - no system of alignments.

    My guess is that the tribes that settled in the plains came from a different tradition from those more hardy souls that settled in the hills. The latter used ley lines, the former did not.

    It was the same in Bali, where the ley lines located all the Hindu temples around the coast, while inland settled settled by the Mudjupait in the fifteenth century there is no evidence for them as all buildings face north.

    Though mountain peaks were like lightening conductors to heaven, as the closest parts of the earth to Paradise, more alignments and leys are directed to the Galli than to any other natural site. If Positano was Poseidon's town, then the islands in the middle of his sea would have been most precious to him ? and the most natural way to locate his powers midst the boundless expanse of the ocean.

    The Sirens were also much in evidence in this area: Leucosia was buried at Licosa headland and Parthenope is now enshrined as Santa Lucia in a Neapolitan church situated over a temple that had been dedicated to her in Classical times. Another had a temple at Salerno.

    In Greek the word Siren means "to bind and attach", which is the action of death. In his Greek Myths Robert Graves writes that Sirens are usually associated with sepulchral islands. So the alignments of the sixteen oldest churches in the bay reinforce these ancient myths.

    But they do more than this: they show that people were living and worshipping here at the time of Ulysses. And that was many centuries before either the Greeks or the Romans came into the area. So the gods living on the peaks and in the seas are pre-Greek, precursors to Zeus and Posiedon.

    The reason seems more pagan than Christian. The universe was once believed to be infested with powers and forces, represented especially by the mountains. These powers were whimsical, often harmful to people, and had to be tamed. One way was to align your sacred sites on them - as in Feng Shui - so that like a magnet these invisible forces, like electro-magnetic currents, will be drawn down to enhance the protective powers of the temples.

    With conversion this thinking was absorbed, substituting God and his Angels for the pagan powers. Thousands of years ago the ancient gods were localised. Zeus would sit on the highest mountain, and Poseidon in the sea. Naturally one would be called by looking at the peaks and the other from the islands.

    Christians replaced Zeus with Saint Michael as they did in many of the tallest peaks throughout Europe. Michael is the dragon-slayer - the best choice to supplant those 'powers of the dragon ' (as the Feng Shui would say) which reside in the hills. The tallest mountain above Positano is Monte San Michele.

    Similarly, the name of Positano may have evolved from Poseidon.

    It is striking that in the earliest sites the church picks up its dragon-currents through the side and back walls rather than through the sacred end with the altar. It is a very ancient idea that a god will enter the temple only through the doors. Thus the doorways were made to face his abode, rather than the sanctuary.

    Dates are impossible to find, but if we see which sacred sites are used to locate others we get a fair idea of the order of construction. It falls into four phases, listed here. The letters locate the churches in the map.

    Phase I
    Santa Maria del Castello (SMC)
    San Domenico (SD)
    Santa Maria Assunta (SMA)
    San Niccolo (SN)

    Phase II
    San Giovanni (SG)
    Citta Morta (CM)
    Santa Caterina (SC)
    Praiano (P)

    Phase III
    Santa Maria del Rosario (SMR)
    Chiesa Nuova (CN)
    San Matteo (SM)
    San Pietro (SP)

    Phase IV
    Santa Margharita (SMg)
    Montepertuso (M)
    Nocella (N)
    San Lucca (SL)
    Santa Maria di Constantinopoli (SMdiC)

  • Ley lines in Bali >

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