John Michell: Expert on ancient knowledge and pioneer of the New Age

John 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 interpreter.

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 be 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 wisdom.

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."

The 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 Rilko.

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.

The 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 authors.

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.

Marcus Williamson

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.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice