There’s an interesting early use of the idea of ‘ley lines’ in supernatural fiction, in Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear” (written November 1922)…
“Now, in the light of that low moon which cast long weird shadows, it struck me forcibly that the various points and lines of the mound system had a peculiar relation to the summit of Tempest Mountain. That summit was undeniably a centre from which the lines or rows of points radiated indefinitely and irregularly…”
The idea of “the light of that low moon which cast long weird shadows” is also indicative that Lovecraft had some basic knowledge about British archaeological methods. Before modern archaeological tools, detecting ancient earthworks such as small ploughed-out tumuli through fieldwork was something best done in a low-angled light casting long shadows.
So either Lovecraft independently lit upon this wrong-headed but seminal ‘earth mysteries’ concept, or else he must have had it from a review of Alfred Watkins’s book Early British Trackways, Moats, Mounds, Camps and Sites. This book had appeared in early 1922, some nine months before “The Lurking Fear”. It attempted to show that ancient British trackways, evidenced millennia later only by their associated ancient barrow mounds and standing stones, hill-forts and the like, were often constructed onto dead-straight lines. Watkins further suggested that these straight lines radiated from certain key points in the British landscape.
It seems likely that a review of Watkins in the scientific journal Nature (5th August 1922, 110, pp.176-177) would have been Lovecraft’s source for the idea. There Early British Trackways was briefly reviewed without skepticism. The Nature review charitably overlooked the bumbling place-name blunders which had caused howls from British reviewers at The Spectator and The Times Literary Supplement. This oversight at Nature was perhaps due to editorial recall of one Sir Norman Lockyer (founder and first editor of Nature until 1920) and his groundbreaking idea in Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered (1906, 1909) about the astronomical alignment of early British sacred sites. Findings which implied that a sacred nature might indeed be inferred for straight lines and lines-of-sight in early British cultures, and over a very long period. Lockyer’s work was the start of the broadly-sound (although loon-haunted) research on archeoastronomy. This earliest archeoastronomy was something which Lovecraft may also have become aware of in passing, since he was an astronomer who was also interested in ancient British topography and archaeology. Possibly the Theosophist journals may also have picked up early on Lockyer and Watkins, providing another route by which Lovecraft could have learned of the new ideas before late 1922.
To anyone familiar with the close-packed and topsy-turvy nature of the hilly topography of Watkins’s own English Midlands and Welsh Marches, the ‘ley lines’ idea might have seemed as loopy as the traditionally rambling English road. Yet Watkins found a hearing in some quarters because the Ancient Romans had actually done it, incontrovertibly paving much of Britain with their dead-straight roads. Some of which were indeed founded on or alongside earlier ancient British trackways. Yet most reputable archaeologists were skeptical, and the idea simmered and drifted to the fringes where it became entangled with occultism and UFOs. In the late 1960s and early 1970s ‘leys’ were assiduously researched by mushroom-munching hippies during the British counterculture’s rural retreat from the heroin-blighted cities, but the notion was brought to a juddering halt by the abundant computer power of the late 1970s and early 80s. Long-distance leys were shown to be the result of statistical chance, plus dodgy place-name derivation and the indiscriminate lumping together of disparately-aged points — rather than the result of druids with pointy sticks standing on hilltops.
“We’re out of a job, lads! Right, straight down the pub and let’s get at that mistletoe wine…”