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The crop circle phenomenon is a truly magical event, on a par with the majestic and shimmering sight of a peacock's outstretched tail feathers on a summer's day, or entering the enigmatic and unfathomable depths of an Andrei Tarkovsky film.
Many people suspect that crop circles are the result of human labour and creativity, whereas others adhere to the belief that the majority are not man-made, that there is some transpersonal force at work, and that who or what is responsible remains at heart a mystery. It is undisputable that some crop circles are man-made, but not necessarily all. There is a possibility that unknown forces are at work...
Crop Circles, or agriglyphs as they are increasingly called, are beautiful, complex geometric patterns found impressed in a variety of crops and, less often, other vegetation. They also appear in any other ground cover that can take an impression such as earth, sand, ice, and snow, and even in maize and tree canopies. In crop formations, the stalks are gently bent down flat to the ground, often with complicated multi-level layering and spiralling patterns.
It is alleged they come in all weather, unheard and unseen, and, with few exceptions, at night. Although prime areas for formations are extensively watched during the growing season, so far there have been no official sightings of a 'genuine' crop circle in the process of forming.
Evolution of Crop Circles
Over the last 15 years or so the presentation of crop circles has evolved to become more complex. Crop circles started off with simple circular shapes, or singletons, in the early 1980s, taking the form of a circular depression within a field of crop, typically oil seed rape, barley, wheat or oats. The next decade witnessed smaller circles beginning to form outside the main rings, with the appearance of recognisable patterns such as the Celtic cross. By the 1990s, with a sudden escalation in their size and complexity, crop circles became more prominent, attracting worldwide media interest and bringing the subject to the forefront of public attention and debate.
Many formations in the last decade have been 200-300 feet or more in diameter (about the size of a football pitch). One of the most complex was over 1000 feet wide and consisted of nearly 200 circles. The longest formation to date, one of the few giant formations, measured 8/10ths of a mile.
To fully appreciate the formation and pictorial design, crop circles are best viewed from the air. However, hiring aircraft is expensive and taking aerial photos and video footage requires patience. It is thanks to dedicated researchers or 'croppies' that thousands of crop circles have been studied and documented.
Origin of Crop Circles
Crop circles are not a new phenomenon. There are 17th Century woodcuts that record the observation of what appears to be crop circles. One such woodcut, entitled The Devil Mower, appeared in a Hertfordshire newspaper dated 22 August, 1678. The article described the apparition overnight of a strange design in a field of oats, so neatly pressed that 'no mortal man was able to do the like' which was attributed to the 'devil or some infernal spirit'. By convoluted logic this apparition confirmed the existence of God since, it was argued, if devils have a Hell then there must be a Heaven, and a God.
Simple circles have appeared on farmland for generations. However, these enigmatic formations were often not reported since they were considered by country folk to be the result of natural causes, such as rutting deer, hedgehogs or crows feeding on ripened seed heads and trampling the crop in a ring. Circular damage has also been attributed to strange diseases, magic, fairies, and the intervention of demons. Consequently, silence was guaranteed either for fear of ridicule and ostracism from the community, or fear of losing a buyer for the crop. This situation probably holds true today, with many people afraid to come forward for similar reasons.
However, it is true that many farmers on whose land crop circles appear, rather than hush up and deny their existence, actually charge the public to access the site, thereby compensating for any damaged crops and possibly making a profit into the bargain.
Location of Crop Circles
There are estimated to be several thousands of crop circles so far documented worldwide, with new reports coming from an ever-increasing number of countries each year. For instance, there have recently been reported sightings in the Krasnodar region of Russia. Formations are regularly reported in North America, with prolific activity in the prairie provinces of Canada. However, at least two-thirds of the world's crop circle activity takes place in Southern England, the majority of these being more specifically within the downlands of Wiltshire and Hampshire. They also turn up in other parts of Britain, sometimes as far north as Yorkshire.
Interestingly, crop circles mainly occur in the vicinity of ancient sites, for example near stone circles, tumuli, dolmens, longbarrows and other landmarks, revisiting the same locations year after year. This is the case at Stonehenge, Avesbury and Silbury Hill (the largest man-made mound in Europe). Such sites are said to derive their power by virtue of the St Michael and St Mary ley lines (hypothetical straight lines linking prehistoric landmarks), which run through the Wessex triangle in Hampshire and Wiltshire, the epicentre of the phenomenon. Many dowsers have found these key ley lines crossing within crop formations.
Since there are strong links with Neolithic sites, it has been conjectured that many ancient circular constructions and monuments were deliberately built to mimic, reinforce and unlock the earth energies and known powers of crop circles, which, appearing over 5000 years ago, were held in awe. Living in close proximity to the land, and dependent on it for their very lives, these Neolithic people could experience these powers much more easily than we can today.
Over the years, crop formations have evolved from simple circles to doubles, triples and multiples. Rings then began to surround the circles until around 1990, when new design elements began to appear, including lengthy hieroglyphics.
In more recent years, apparent themes have developed, including planets, the solar system and fractal models. A Mandelbrot formation was found on 12 August, 1991, at Ickfield, near Cambridge, curiously close to a certain hallowed hall of learning. The Mandelbrot Set, involved in chaos theory, is perhaps the most complex mathematical object, creating infinite dimensions. The Stonehenge Julia Set was first reported on 7 July, 1996, having apparently appeared within the space of half-an-hour or so in broad daylight. It measured 900 by 500 feet, with 151 circles. The Triple Julia Set, unanimously felt to be the pinnacle of the crop circle formations, was found on Windmill Hill near Yatesbury, Wiltshire in July 1996.
2001 was a particularly prolific time for crop circle sightings in the UK, with ever increasing complexities of design in the various formations discovered. Elements of three-dimensionality became more frequent, culminating in spectacular images of cube-shaped structures. There were two new formations at Chilbolton Radio Telescope, Hampshire in August. One resembled the Face on Mars (you'll probably have to take a few steps back from your monitor to see this one), and the other was in the space of the Arecibo Message, which many believe to be a direct response to a binary coded message sent by the SETI Project in 1974 from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.
The Effect of Crop Circles
Persuasive evidence as to how crop circles are made is rare. Some claim that there seems to be an energy field present in crop formations that affects photographic equipment and other instruments. Batteries seem to drain or recharge, cameras sometimes pick up curious light shapes, and filming equipment/recording machines have been known to malfunction.
Visitors to crop circles have reported a wide range of physiological, psychological or emotional effects. These include feelings of elation, joy and clarity to sensations of nausea, fatigue and disorientation. Some sites are found to be so spiritually charged that healing of physical complaints and injuries have taken place. Farmers spraying their fields with toxic pesticides may account for many of the negative effects though. However, since crop circles tend to interact at an unconscious (perhaps telepathic) level, the type of experience is governed largely by the individual's state of mind, as well as the anima loci. This defines the soul of a place, which belongs resolutely to the location, calling for recognition of its specialness and its own natural beauty.
Theories and Beliefs
Ever since crop circles became newsworthy in the early 1980s, they have aroused wonder, intrigue and scepticism in equal measure. That neither footprints nor traces of human activity have been found in and around newly formed formations only deepens the mystery. Many people have been simply inspired and moved by them, sometimes restoring faith in a cosmic, universal creator and changing their lives forever. Unlike the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot and UFOs, crop circles provide tangible evidence of something considered to be supernatural.
On the other hand, many people are simply turned off by crop circles, believing them to be the product of hoaxers, possibly the handiwork of inebriated lads from the local pub. Indeed, whether sceptic or believer, the crop circle fraternity has become a broad church, attracting a great deal of interest from disparate groups, notably New Age romantics, ufologists, dowsers, channellers, mystics, artists, circlemakers, ecologists, cerealogists, journalists and neo-scientists attempting to find an overarching explanation for the anomalous effects of 'genuine' circles. With so much interest generated it is no surprise to find diverse, and often contradictory, beliefs and theories concerning the phenomenon. The major ones are enumerated below.
Mass hoaxing has become the standard accepted explanation for crop circles, by the mainstream media and also the general public. Indeed, elaborate hoaxes continue by people trying to debunk the phenomenon and/or perhaps to gain publicity for themselves. There are also those from the ranks of circle makers who see it as an art form. In the art of circlemaking, the simplest technique is to flatten crops using a plank held with a piece of rope, and later with a garden roller.
Perhaps the most infamous circlemakers are Doug Bower and his mate Dave Chorley, who, now retired, admit to producing a great number of 'artworks' since 1978. American TV has also shown video footage of a team of 'dedicated' individuals who created a large designed crop circle. However, this does not prove that the phenomenon is entirely man-made only that it is possible to create a copy. Though the existence of some hoaxers is totally undisputed, human intervention might seem unlikely an explanation for all formations given the sheer size, complexity and rapid appearance of many of them. Yet, in July 2001, circlemakers John Lundberg, Rod Dickinson and Will Russell are alleged to have created a complex 240-foot crop circle formation near Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, taking four hours to construct under the cover of darkness.
In 1989, a meteorologist called George Meaden published a book entitled The Circles Effect and Its Mysteries. His plasma-vortex theory, a natural wind/electro-magnetic vortex, became a world-famous way to explain the crop circle phenomenon. Indeed, many of the shapes in the late 1980s were quintuplets and ringed circles, so his theory provided a ready explanation for these. However, his theory became increasingly untenable with the appearance in the 1990s of complicated, very accurate, pictograms.
A team led by Dr WC Levengood of Pinelandia Labs in Michigan has reported results of unexplained biophysical anomalies in plant and soil samples taken from a large number of crop circle formations. Some circles were reported to contain swollen, stretched, burst or split nodes on plant stems in a manner similar to 'microwave energy effects' (rapid, intense internal heating), dehydrated/shrunken seeds and significant changes in seed germination and growth rate (either faster or slower than normal). A plant biologist, Levengood has frequently found increased growth rate in the formation seeds since his investigations began in 1990. He has demonstrated in his lab that controlled, short bursts of microwaves on cereal crops can produce accelerated growth. There have also been significant chemical changes in the soil samples analysed.
Levengood's associates found these effects in both simple and more complex patterns, but were unable to reproduce these results by conventional hoaxing methods (e, boards, rope, feet, etc). A comprehensive preliminary report of these findings entitled Anatomical Anomalies in Crop Formation Plants was published in the peer-reviewed journal Physiologia Plantarum in October 1994 by the Burke, Levengood and Talbott research team.
These studies have opened up new areas of research, including photographing at photon level the cell water that has been subjected to the energies of crop circle formations, showing clusters of energy patterns. There are also efforts to focus on ways to positively distinguish between man-made and 'genuine' formations.
Believing crop circles to be responsive to thought patterns, some current researchers have adopted a grounded theory approach. This inductive, qualitative approach in research methodology, attempts to generate theory by exploring and understanding how a person or group interacts with their environment and outer events. Using group meditation, lights and music, researchers have attempted to contact the deeper energies within crop formations. Though their methods may not be scientifically rigorous, they have nevertheless demonstrated, through sensitivity and remaining focused, an ability to communicate and influence the type of formation produced. For the researchers at least, this is proof that circles can link into our unconscious impulses and thoughts by inviting new patterns to appear in the fields.
Taking the form of ancient or sacred symbols peculiar to humans, the appearance of crop circles are believed by many (including native tribal peoples) to herald a new epoch, helping raise our vibrations and re-awaken our deep connection to planet Earth. Their meaning is held to be very important. Crop circles are seen as a gateway to a more elemental or pagan side of life, showing another reality. The connection to ancient sites may hold a key to what is creating these designs, being seen as 'temporary temples' within the landscape. Within this category fall those who insist that crop circles are hermetic devices, encoding secret knowledge in their specific, geometrical designs and shapes.
The Earth itself may be causing the circles, in response to modern technology's exploitative and polluting methods and the imminent danger of ecosystem collapse. The biochemist, James Lovelock, views all life on Earth as one super-organism, as a self-regulating system. Though controversial, his Gaia theory, which holds that the world is a living, breathing organism, may be a suitable framework for understanding crop circles, as the outward signs of where healing energy is being intelligently delivered1. The formations could also be the by-product of a self-healing process, or a psychopathologising of the anima mundi or world soul.
Ecology and Repressed Beauty
Great Mother Nature, as an archetypal feminine force, is struggling to provide our support, is perhaps slowly expiring, as is the human race. In a time of crisis where we need to care for her (and ourselves), it could be that phenomena such as crop circles are an attempt to stir our depths equal to the depths of ecological need. What animates the soul and keeps us truly alive is love and beauty, both of which are fast disappearing from our secularised, dispassionate lives. According to James Hillman, that the world is becoming loveless results 'directly from the repression of beauty2'. For love to return to the world, beauty must first return, else we love the world only as a moral duty. Clean it up, preserve its nature, exploit it less. If love depends on beauty then beauty comes first, as it does with the all-too-human experience of being driven to love by the allure of beauty. Arguably it is through the sheer beauty of crop circles, their magnificent aesthetic appeal, that a love of mystery and love of the world is beginning to rekindle. In eco-psychological terms, it is the return of a pagan philosophy and imagination.
Extraterrestrials and UFOs
Extraterrestrials provide another favourite theory. Conceived as either from another planet or time dimension, or from within the Earth itself, some take crop circles as attempts at communication with humans. It is of interest that the modern circle phenomenon arose in the aftermath of intense UFO sightings in the late 1970s, resulting in the two phenomena becoming inextricably linked.
Reports of coloured lights and high frequency sounds (notably crackling, hissing, trilling noises) in the vicinity of where formations have later appeared are frequent. In many eyewitness accounts, UFOs have been spotted either before and after a crop circle has been discovered. These UFOs allegedly appear in different shapes, including small lights, cylinders, large balls, and ferris wheels. Some people have witnessed UFOs appearing as a column of light shooting what seem to be electric charges, leaving behind what later turned out to be circles and pictograms. Checking showed that no night manoeuvres were taking place by the military, and the objects themselves were often flying far too low for anything military.
The eminent Swiss Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung believed that UFOs, as symbols of wholeness and new consciousness, were harbingers of profound change in the collective psyche3. As synchronistic events, he believed UFOs compensate for the apparent social disintegration and conflict experienced by many people in the western world. With the momentous passing of the Age of Pisces into the Age of Aquarius, the crop circles echo both the optimism and uncertainty of the coming new millennium, with great transformation and upheaval anticipated.
Crop circles seem to occupy the boundary between different worlds, representing a new order of existence. Full of paradox and uncertainty, they spawn multiple meanings about their nature, function and origin. They also represent a hybridisation of truth, challenging our purist notions of reality. Many people have embarked on a quest to discover what this new reality entails, as if crop circles were a catalyst for self-exploration and change. Certainly, the healing potential of crop circles has become increasingly recognised.
But there is still no definitive explanation or consensus about who or what is creating the crop circles. Perhaps searching for the 'how?' or 'what?' or 'why?' will only prove counter-productive, setting up discourses and arguments that will detract from the main feature. Everyone is going to have a different take on the subject so it may be best to agree to disagree. To see crop circles as a mystery to be solved, as alien communications/transmissions to be deciphered for the sole benefit of humankind, is somewhat misleading, if not anthropocentric and presumptuous. Rather than cold analysis, theoretical explanation and interpretative manoeuvres, it could be a deeper emotional understanding or experiencing that is required. Art does not require intellectual understanding. To look upon crop circles as messages to be deciphered is the mindset of someone who would interrogate aliens on first contact. Pinning them down is destroying the mystery, rejecting their company. And it is the mystery of the images conveyed we could stay with in order to deepen our connection to Mother Earth4 and Earth energies, to our interdependence with the cosmos.
If this sounds too nebulous, down on Earth the crop circle phenomenon has become synonymous with consciousness-raising, with evidence showing how this has influenced political world events. This places crop circles squarely in the public realm, making it a political issue and part of the process of world change.
Regardless of who is making the circles, they seem to strike a chord within us - a need for the excitement of something new and magical; a need to combat the anaesthetising effects of modern technology; and, above all, a need to recover and reawaken our aesthetic sensibilities. Perhaps crop circles are nature's way of fighting back after all the abuses we have heaped on the planet, challenging our myopic and potentially destructive viewpoint. It is fighting back, not through might and strength, but more subtly in a non-threatening way through the power of beauty. An old saying in Alchemy was 'beauty arrests motion'. Perhaps it is only the display of beauty that can lure us away from the madness of unsustainable development, helping us reflect on our desperate predicament, and also our newly-assigned role in this dawning Aquarian Age.
What is remarkable is that even at a time of ecological crisis, Mother Nature, or whatever you conceive the powers of nature to be, is in her sorrow and suffering still able and willing to share her wisdom and fertile imagination. Many people believe that the present abundance of crop circles and their haunting and beautiful images present an opportunity, or invitation, for profound change in our conception of ourselves and the universe, which is underpinned by a desire to co-operate with nature and the need to relate to the vegetative, unconscious side of life.
Finally, crop circles can be seen as a gift, in that they teach us the language of aesthetic self-expression and sublime presence, in the same way that animals do. The power of display can educate our attention in several ways, confirming the existence of an animated, intentional world, that the world is full of uncertainty and paradox, and that fear, awe and aesthetic arrest are essential components of 'religiosity.'
Simply, the function of crop circles is perhaps to awaken us to our self-imposed numbness to the world and to recover our sense of natural magic.
Related Internet Sites
The Crop Circle Connector is a good starting point for information on crop circles, containing up-to-date field reports, images and a large archive of articles.
The Crop Circle Research website brings a 'serious scientific' angle to the crop circle debate.