John Michell smoking a cigarette in 2008
Richard Adams, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

New Age influencer & Writer

John Michell

John Michell (1933-2009) was a traditionalist esoteric thinker and writer who authored numerous alternative non-fiction books, many of them relating specific elements of ancient archaeology and history to esoteric perspectives. His writings have been popular among followers of New Age counterculture from the late 1960s to the present day, and his early works are considered seminal ones in the Earth Mysteries genre; but many of his ideas have been scorned by academic archaeologists and historians on account of perceived shortfalls in their standards of scholarly rigour.

In particular, Michell’s claims regarding ancient ley lines have proved controversial in the archaeological community, and his support of creationist amateur archaeologist Richard Milton’s belief that the world is only 20,000 years old attracted derision.

John was born in London, the son of a wealthy property magnate, and was privately educated at the exclusive Eton College, before studying modern languages at Trinity College, Cambridge. After failing his degree, he briefly worked for his father’s business before turning his hands to writing, and subsequently forged out a successful career in this area.

His first major work, The Flying Saucer Vision: the Holy Grail Restored, was published in 1967, and demonstrated the interest he had developed in ufology and ley lines, which the book portrayed as being connected. This work was a major influence on the hippie culture of the late 1960s, prompting a great many of its members to take an interest in UFOs.

Michell’s second book, The View over Atlantis, was published in 1969, and served as an effective sequel to his first, linking the formation of ley lines to megaliths constructed by ancient cultures, and predicting that the arrival of the Age of Aquarius would herald a revival of this knowledge. Thus, it tapped into the growing popularity of New Age thinking. This book also proved highly influential upon British counterculture over the following decades.

That same year, John joined forces with two friends to found an organisation called Research Into Lost Knowledge Organisation, which assumed its own publishing arm. He later further founded or co-founded two private publishing firms, his own West Country Editions and, with another friend, Pentacle Books.

In 1971, Michell helped to organise the second Glastonbury Festival (then known as the Glastonbury Fayre), a music festival held in Somerset that has since become famous across the whole of the UK. In the process, he befriended Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, and became acquainted with many of their extended social circle, including the singer Marianne Faithfull and the filmmaker Kenneth Anger.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and well into the mid-1990s, Michell continued to be a prolific writer of similarly pitched books to his first two, notably including:

  • City of Revelation: on the Proportions and Symbolic Numbers of the Cosmic Temple (1972),
  • The Old Stones of Land’s End (1974),
  • The Earth Spirit: its Ways, Shrines, and Mysteries (1975)
  • Phenomena: a Book of Wonders (1977)
  • A Little History of Astro-Archaeology (1977)
  • Natural Likeness: Faces and Figures in Nature (1979)
  • Ancient Metrology: the Dimensions of Stonehenge and of the Whole World as Therein Symbolized (1981)
  • Megalithomania: Artists, Antiquarians & Archaeologists at the Old Stone Monuments (1982)
  • The New View Over Atlantis (1983)
  • Eccentric Lives and Peculiar Notions (1984)
  • Stonehenge – its Druids, Custodians, Festivals and Future (1985)
  • Geosophy – An Overview of Earth Mysteries (1988)
  • The Dimensions of Paradise: The Proportions and Symbolic Numbers of Ancient Cosmology (1988)
  • The Traveller’s Key to Sacred England (1989)
  • Secrets of the Stones: New Revelations of Astro-Archaeology and the Mystical Sciences of Antiquity (1989)
  • New Light on the Ancient Mystery of Glastonbury (1990)
  • Twelve Tribe Nations and the Science of Enchanting the Landscape (1991)
  • At the Center of the World: Polar Symbolism Discovered in Celtic, Norse and Other Ritualized Landscapes (1994)

In 1996, he diversified his writing to include an analysis of the disputed authorship of the works of William Shakespeare, Who Wrote Shakespeare?

In the final decade of his life, he returned to his more accustomed esoteric topics, with further books including:

  • Unexplained Phenomena: Mysteries and Curiosities of Science, Folklore and Superstition (2000)
  • The Temple at Jerusalem: A Revelation (2000)
  • The Face and the Message: What Do They Mean and Where Are They From? (2002)
  • Prehistoric Sacred Sites of Cornwall (2003)
  • How the World is Made: the Story of Creation According to Ancient Geometry (2009)
  • Sacred Center: The Ancient Art of Locating Sanctuaries (2009)

In 2003, his autobiography, Confessions of a Radical Traditionalist, was published.

Through much of the 1990s and 2000s, Michell also worked part-time as a journalist, finding demand for his traditionalist thinking in a regular monthly column he provided from 1992 until 2009 for The Oldie magazine and, for his esoteric thinking in a section of the national British tabloid newspaper The Mirror, to which he was invited to contribute a succession of features by its astrologer of the day, the late Jonathan Cainer, between 2001 and 2004.

Alongside his writing, Michell found time in the 1980s to teach at the School of Sacred Architecture set up by the Lindisfarne Association, a now-defunct organisation of alternative thinkers that was in existence from 1972 to 2012. He was further in demand towards the end of his life as a lecturer at the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, which was opened by the Prince of Wales in 2005, and at a number of niche educational charities, such as the Kairos Foundation and the Temenos Academy, to the latter of which he was appointed as a Fellow.

Probably partly thanks to his conventional upper-class background, Michell had a reverence for tradition, and could be found campaigning vigorously against the metrification of traditional imperial British weights and measures when he was not railing against scientific modernism. He was a vocal supporter of the ancient art of astrology, and even took an interest in alchemy, which is widely regarded as a dead science. He was known to prefer to read the Conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph, he regarded the existence of hierarchical social structures as inevitable, he supported a strong and authoritarian monarchy, and he opposed the UK’s membership of the European Union. It is therefore perhaps no surprise that some of his friends considered him politically right-wing.

However, Michell was relatively unconventional in his personal life, being a cannabis user and an open advocate of the use of psychoactive drugs. Unfortunately, his smoking probably led to his ultimate death from lung cancer at the age of 76.