John Michell: Pioneer of
the New Age
Michell was a great British antiquarian, the veritable successor to John
Aubrey, the 17th-century explorer of the megalithic temple at Avebury,
William Stukeley, who studied Stonehenge in the 18th century, and Alfred
Watkins, who in the early-20th century rediscovered ley lines – the
lines of earth energy running between ancient sites.
Michell's research was characterised by his belief, stated in the
preface to his The View over Atlantis, that: "The important
discoveries about the past have been made not so much through the
present refined techniques of treasure hunting and grave robbery, but
through the intuition of those whose faith in poetry led them to
scientific truth." His life's work was to use his own dazzling intuition
and ability to communicate complex scientific and philosophical ideas,
through lectures and some 40 books, and to bring ancient knowledge to a
wider public, much like a philosopher in the Platonic tradition.
Michell was born in London in 1933 and was educated at Eton College and
Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read modern languages. He served in
the Royal Navy and later joined the civil service as a Russian
His writing career began in 1967 with the publication of The Flying
Saucer Vision: the Holy Grail Restored. Emerging at the height of
UFO interest, and a year before Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the
Gods, this work proposed the idea that flying saucers were not
necessarily craft from other planets. Instead, they could
seen as emanations of the human psyche, archetypes in Jungian terms,
which were being observed especially at sites with ancient religious
significance. As Michell put it: "The strange lights and other phenomena
of the post-war period were portents of a radical change in human
consciousness coinciding with the dawn of the Aquarian Age."
In 1969 he published the first of his works on sacred geometry, The
View over Atlantis, where he examined the research of Alfred
Watkins, reawakening and developing the ideas from Watkins's 1925 book
The Old Straight Track. Michell showed how the rediscovery of ley-lines
and the patterns both within and between ancient monuments demonstrated
traces of what he called "a gigantic work of prehistoric engineering".
In May the same year, Michell established the Research into Lost
Knowledge Organisation (Rilko), together with founder members Keith
Critchlow and Mary Williams. The organisation was headed by Commander
G.J. Mathys, with Janette Jackson as honorary secretary and Elizabeth
Leader as archivist. Rilko, of which the present author is a member,
continues its charitable activities to this day, in organising lecture
series and republishing previously lost or ignored works of ancient
Alexander Thom's research into prehistoric monuments, espoused by
Michell, showed that a measure known as the megalithic yard – close to
the modern yard – was being used by the builders of old. Michell's
desire to preserve traditional weights and measures led to his
establishment, in 1970, of the Anti-Metrication Board. Speaking about
this later on, Michell was proud to note that this "radical
traditionalist" organisation had "outlived its bureaucratic adversary,
the Metrication Board, by several years."
book City of Revelation (1972) built upon the success of The
View over Atlantis. Here, evidently inspired by an obscure work from
the Victorian author William Stirling, he described how the monuments of
the ancient world were designed according to the principles of gematria.
This science associates the numerical values of the names of the gods
with the dimensions of the temples in whose honour they were built, and
in turn links those dimensions with the measures of the cosmos. "He is a
genius," a Time Out review of this book noted at the time,
"short-circuiting established channels of thought and offering a
brilliant network of his own." Michell subsequently provided a preface
to the 1974 edition of Stirling's work The Canon, re-published by
Michell's 1977 book, A Little History of Astro-Archaeology,
reviewed the science of the same name from Stukeley's time onwards. Here
Michell observed wryly how the view of the field, like much of the other
research he pursued, has evolved over the years "from lunacy to heresy
to interesting notion and finally to the gates of orthodoxy."
In 1990 Michell founded The Cereologist, a magazine on crop
circles and related matters, which ran a total of 36 editions through to
2003. For Michell, research into the crop circle phenomena followed on
naturally from his existing investigations into megalithic monuments and
sought answers to how and why these peculiar formations came about.
book Who Wrote Shakespeare? (1996) treated the controversial
authorship question in a typically balanced and reasoned way. He leaned
towards a hybrid Baconian/Oxfordian theory, whereby a group, centred on
Francis Bacon and including the Earl of Oxford, may have been the
Aside from his writing, Michell was also a painter. An exhibition of his
watercolours and geometrical paintings was held during 2003 at the
Christopher Gibbs gallery in London.
The April 2009 edition of the Fortean Times contains a long article
about Michell's life and work, which he just missed seeing in print.
Of all his works, Michell's magnum opus is probably The Dimensions of
Paradise: the proportions and symbolic numbers of ancient cosmology
(2001). In this book he furthered his thesis that the measures used by
prehistoric man, his constructions, his gods, and the universe itself
are all intimately and inextricably related. One can hope that he is now
enjoying the next stage of his cosmic journey, in researching the
dimensions of Paradise for himself.
John Michell, writer: born London 6 February 1933;
married 2007 Denise Price (one son from a previous relationship); died
Stoke Abbott, Dorset 24 April 2009.
see also Bob Forrest's memoir,
describing Michell's research in Cornwall: