Assessing the Mystery of Crop Circles
By R.J. Vigoda
The Barbury Castle crop circle above appeared on 7/16/1991.
Creating the impression of a tetrahedron, the distance from the center of the formation
to the outside of any of the three surrounding circles is approximately 180 feet.
Courtesy of George Wingfield
Significant existential insights usually come in small and discreet forms. The novelties within the movement of sub-atomic particles, the existence of DNA or the faint signal of some distant cosmological process are so subtle as to be undetectable through ordinary sensation. Rarely is the perception of our being radically challenged by the sudden appearance of unknown phenomena of massive proportion. However unlikely, many believe precisely such a process is occurring throughout the farmlands and pastures of our planet. They claim profound messages from an undetermined source are being encrypted within the sprawling geometric patterns and pictograms found in crop circles. Long a subject of curiosity, there’s no denying the intricacy and elegance of the circle patterns arouses a sense of the mystical within the minds of human observers. But there’s more. For many, the geometry of the circles seems to stimulate a psychological resonance of a deeper recognition -- something expanding the boundaries of who and what we are, something integrating us within a higher field of being. It’s easy to understand why many feel the circles to be the work of forces outside the mundane. Anonymously authored, they most often form in the dark of night and communicate in an alien script. However, others claim them to be more conventionally contrived. They assert the circles to be nothing more than the mischievous work of human hoaxers, eager to exploit the gullibility and psychological yearning of the spiritually penurious. Both camps have rallied the forces of science and reason to their positions. Regardless of which side of the divide on which one aligns two assertions remain clear: the origin of the circles is a highly charged debate touching on issues beyond their authenticity and if the circles are not human made they potentially represent one of the most significant phenomena within human experience. This is indeed a high stakes game.
Isolated references to patterns within downed crops litter the historical record, the first occurring in 9th century France. Only in the mid 1970s did these “circles” start appearing with any degree of regularity. The circles have never been crop specific. Though fields of canola, barley and wheat are the most common hosts, they’ve also appeared in virtually everything that grows: strawberries, corn, beans, potatoes, sugarcane, sunflowers, rice, oats, grass sprouts flax, turnips, soybeans and even young pine trees. Circles have formed in over forty countries with the vast majority emerging in southern England. More than a hundred are now reported globally within any season. The earliest catalogued formations were of simple configuration. Most were singular circles, pairs connected by a straight line creating a “dumbbell” appearance or various combinations of circular forms. Occasionally a series of small scattered orbs referred to as “grape shot” could be found clustered around larger formations. The complexity of design has evolved exponentially over time as has the size of the pictograms. The largest of these formations now span over 1,200 feet in length and many contain hundreds of precisely conceived and executed geometric features. Not all are geometrically patterned. Some are immense pictures resembling such creatures as bees, jellyfish and dragonflies.
As the circle phenomenon continues to spread and evolve so have the theories of their origin. While speculations abound, most circle analysts align themselves with one of two possible sources of agency: human or mysterious. The former rest comfortably in the conviction the circles are made by clever and conniving people driven by a variety of motivations. The latter contend they’re the work of intelligent forces unknown to our current science. While the reasons humans create circles are narrowly circumscribed -- art, money, mind fucking the gullible -- the possibilities elaborated by those favoring the mysterious touch every base between the wildly imaginative and the deeply profound. The gamut of these possible causal factors include extraterrestrials, inter-dimensional intelligences, earth or gaia forces, psychic energies, the powers of collective human thought (conscious or unconscious) and of course the inevitable references to the manifestation of some kind of Ultimate or Divine awareness.
Regardless of inclination, the passions present on both sides are white hot. In many ways they transcend the phenomenon itself and function as a flash point for larger more enduring grievances. For the mystically oriented the circles offer physical evidence of the existence and capabilities of an alternate, higher or more expansive dimension of reality. They act as an empirical retort to the disbelievers and naysayers of the modern world whose existential insecurities allow no admittance of anything so far removed from the understandings and realities of our science. But this is more than just sticking it to the lab coat set. Many of the believers have long sought some kind of physical validation for what they deeply suspect to be true: there’s a vast unknown and powerful realm outside our limited physical structures contextualizing our lives in a broader and more meaningful way. It’s a way of bestowing greater significance and purpose to life than admitted by mere random physical processes.
Conversely, there’s no absence of guile within otherwise dispassionate skeptics. To them the circles present a high profile opportunity to ridicule and promote their own authority over those whose intuitions and emotional yearnings might otherwise blunt their common sense and critical abilities. Nothing reinforces the primacy of the scientific paradigm more than watching a passel of new age acolytes gush over their overwhelming feelings of cosmic communion while standing in the center of a circle furtively hoaxed the night before. Every time the evening escapades of humans with boards at their feet elicit supernatural speculation is a triumph for positivism over impression. For theorists and researchers of all stripes undercutting the credibility of the competition is a powerful maneuver. Though doing little to actually validate any position it effectively seizes the intellectual high ground within any investigation.
Under these hyper charged circumstances I approached the circles. Like so many I was intrigued by the possibilities of their origin and the significance of a symbolism suggesting some kind of intelligent expression of transcendent truths. Years of tinkering with metaphysical philosophies predispose me to believe humans are but a part of something much larger, more enduring and purposeful. I readily cop to the possibility of other active dimensions of consciousness, the limitations of our sensory perception and the likelihood that influential elements of existence lie beyond the reach of empirical science. However, there’s a huge difference between intellectually accommodating the mystical and rubber stamping any material claims to that effect. Unfortunately, penetrating the nuance of classical ontological theories was a breeze compared to getting a handle on these damn circles. My own mystical perspective may have been easier served if they’d never existed. Then I wouldn’t have to account for them within my own carefully honed concept of reality. But the implications of their existence were too significant to ignore. My sole intention was to critically assess the origin of the circles. Initially all matters of impression, meaning, interpretation and implication regarding the circles would remain secondary to one singular primary task: is there credible evidence to support the contention crop circles are the product of energy sources independent of human influence? Is there anything associated with their existence suggesting an element of indeterminacy? Is there really an unknown phenomenon at work? Unless all of these questions could be affirmatively answered there was no point going further.
Indicative of the extent of the circle intrigue is the glut of available material on the topic. The number of web entries regarding crop circles seems only marginally smaller than those related to pornography. Mountains of observation and impassioned speculation addressing all aspects of their nature litter the literary landscape. Befitting a topic of such potential significance, the commentary is detailed, protracted and colored in desperate conviction. Certain issues peculiar to circle research complicate the normal academic process of culling information. The most formidable are a lack of established truth and subject overlap. As little accepted fact regarding the circles has yet to emerge there are few standards of credibility by which to evaluate potential theories. As such, greater amounts of speculative material demand consideration. Adding to the mire is the diversity of disciplines joining the fray. The current inability to properly understand the phenomena through any one particular field of study keeps the door ajar to all. From anthropology to zoology, every science from the physical to the social has brought its perspective to bear on the issue. The result is an asylum of assertion and contradiction. Further confounding the problem is the degree of topical familiarity and fluency needed to accommodate so many diverse fields of approach. Unfortunately, until such time as any one discipline more successfully defines the study all require timely consideration as possible avenues of understanding.
The circles have been subjected to many different empirical methods of evaluation over the last twenty five years. Though voluminous and wide ranging, these observations are best understood through reviewing the chronology of their discovery. During the late 80s a number of earnest individuals in southern England -- Colin Andrews, Pat Delgado, Busty Taylor, Lucy Pringle, among many others-- started cataloguing and investigating circle sites. They began by evaluating their geographic and geologic orientations. The circles’ tendency to form on top of underground aquifers lying beneath deep deposits of chalk was deemed significant. It was noted dropping water levels within the aquifers during the summer months created a buildup of static charges retained within the substrate. They theorized such latent electrical accumulation when properly triggered may provide sufficient power to affect surface growth. These early researchers exhaustively scrutinized such visible physical factors within the circles as the consistency and compaction of underlying soils, diminished moisture levels within the clay, the patterns and directions of the swirls, the appearance and characteristics of the downed crops (marks, abrasions, tears, stem breakage) and evidence (or lack thereof) of human agency. Spikes in the radiation levels of the soils and ambient electromagnetic energy within the circles perimeters were frequently recorded. More puzzling was the tendency of electrical equipment and magnetic compasses to malfunction inside the patterns. Many commented on the reluctance of birds and animals to approach the circles.
In conjunction with these site studies an extensive number of eye witness reports were also evaluated. Exhaustive interviews with local residents regarding the circumstances surrounding the circles appearances revealed three notable correlates: the presence of strange moving balls of light in the atmosphere, faintly detectable buzzing sounds and the sudden presence of steam in the air as if something had been heated. These investigators concluded certain circles displayed enough anomalous features within the grain and soil to suggest the presence of unknown forces. Predictably, during this period media attention granted the circles was slowly ramping upwards. It’s important to note not all circles investigated in these early days earned the distinction of being “authentic.” Many (including some of the more elaborate) were quickly identified as manmade. Colin Andrews estimated only 20% of the circles he studied to be the product of unknown agency, but that any displayed characteristics outside the realm of human abilities was justification to assert the existence of mysterious phenomena. Curiously, though skeptical mutterings abounded, few came forward to claim credit for perpetrating a hoax. This would soon change.
In 1991, a press release was circulated in which two local septuagenarians, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, claimed to be the source of all the circle formations since the mid 1970s. Proudly displaying a technique of using stomp boards to flatten the crops, they confessed their intention of duping the public into thinking UFOs had landed. While such a crude approach was certainly capable of producing simple geometries, the sheer logistics of their claims and the impossibility of creating those other circles that had formed hundreds to thousands of miles away would have normally strained the credibility of their boasts. However, in fine British tabloid fashion such problems did nothing to stop the major London papers from limning the story on the front page of their respective editions. For many the opportunity to ground the circle phenomenon in less mysterious terms and return to more prosaic concerns was quite comforting. The Doug and Dave development effectively exposed the problems that would continue to haunt the field of circle studies. Any unusual crop features capable of being replicated by human beings, regardless of how unlikely or arduous the process, would never stand as evidence of an unknown phenomenon. Only characteristics scientifically demonstrated to be beyond the range of human ability would suffice as proof of alternate agency.
The “Doug and Dave” debacle effectively set many of the early circle researchers on their heels. The momentum of a serious pursuit had been instantaneously derailed by the reported connivances of a pair of pranksters in sod boots and overalls. Much of the intrigue contained within earlier circle observations was quickly overwhelmed by the relieved sighs of a public finally freed from the torment of the mysterious. Prevailing logic dictated that if any circles were human hoaxes, all were. However, this was not to last. Those standing strong in the conviction the circles were the results of unknown forces were soon delivered a scientific windfall to boost the credibility of their claims. Their salvation came from the American biophysicist W.C. Levengood who’d been experimentally evaluating downed crops samples provided by the longtime English circle investigator Pat Delgado. Levengood’s findings provided radical empirical evidence suggesting the circles were the products of unfamiliar energies. To this day, the work of his organization, BLT Research, is the cornerstone for the “alternate agency” argument. With some of its work funded by the Laurance Rockefeller Foundation, BLT changed the dynamics of the crop circle phenomenon and remains its most conspicuous authority.
BLT has currently sampled over three hundred circles in eight countries. Studies of downed crops against control plants taken at varying distances outside the circles have produced some intriguing and compelling results. Levengood claims to have identified a consistent suite of physical and bio-physical changes to the plants inside specific circles that are beyond the capabilities of human replication. He notes the flattened stalks within certain subject circles display enlarged or elongated apical stem nodes and small expulsion cavities. This is significant as the mechanical flattening of any mature crop would break the stems rather than stretch them. While lesser forces (phototropism, gravotropism, powerful winds and rain) may flatten crops without snapping them, none would stretch the apical nodes to the extent found within certain circles nor would such forces leave such intricate and calculated patterns. Levengood speculates apical node lengthening is the product of short, intense bursts of heat that soften the stalks. Consistent with such an energy release are the presence of the expulsion cavities. He contends such cavities form when super-heated moisture inside the plant is instantaneously turned to steam. The ensuing buildup of internal pressure is released by blasting holes through the plants external fibers. He further theorizes the energy source most likely capable of converting the internal moisture to steam without incinerating the exterior would be microwaves contained within a descending atmospheric plasma energy system. Levengood’s teams have also conducted extensive comparative germination experiments on the seeds collected from inside and outside the circle patterns. They frequently note a differentiated rate of growth from seeds attached to the downed crop as opposed to those from numerous standing control samples within the same field.
In addition to specific plant abnormalities BLT researchers discovered a number of recurring soil anomalies within certain circles. Concentrations of magnetized iron particles have been identified within the soils inside select crop formations with concentrations highest at the center and gradually tapering off in linear relation to distance from the center. Such particles were absent at other control areas within the same fields. Levengood notes this hematite or iron oxide is similar to the type found within meteoric matter. BLT’s use of X-ray diffraction techniques has also confirmed changes in the crystalline structure of surface soils inside select circles. Independent mineralogists of high repute have determined the increased crystal growth found in these circles would require hours of exposure to temperatures between 600-800 degrees Celsius. Obviously such a condition could not readily be duplicated through human activity.
The above factors represent the most dramatic anomalies uncovered by the BLT team. BLT’s findings were compiled using fundamental scientific procedures, evaluated in accordance with statistically accepted levels of confidence and presented in a coherent, detailed fashion in peer reviewed publications. These observations and conclusions are not as easily dismissed or trivialized as the less methodical, technologically absent assertions of earlier researchers. To date their work comprises the most formalized and empirically persuasive argument for the linking of unknown energy forces to the formation of certain crop circles. Like earlier circle investigators, BLT reminds us that not all subject circles contain elements of unknown agency. They readily concede many circles exhibit none of their catalogued anomalies and would seem the work of human beings. In a 2009 BLT investigation of the seasonal circles in southern England only 35% of the investigated phenomena adequately demonstrated evidence of the theorized plasma discharge.
Ignored in any discussion of the physical nature of the circles are the remarkable shapes, glyphs and pictograms surgically incised within the crop. For most this is the most compelling and potentially significant dimension of the circle phenomena. As if emerging from the dark realm of the human subconscious these forms seem to represent certain fundamental truths made manifest in the fields of our corporeal existence. Assumed to be likely products of intelligence, specialists from a wide range of disciplines have exhaustively examined the patterns attempting to penetrate their cryptic messages. Like an occupational Rorschach test, the designs suggest numerous meanings coherent with any number of specialized fields of study. The patterns in certain circles eloquently encode specific numeric relations to mathematicians, express complex Euclidean precepts to geometers, align with key cosmological features to astronomers, quantitatively express fundamental tonal relations to musicians and present complex cultural symbols to anthropologists while simultaneously offering a raft of possible profound musings to psychologists, mythologists and theologians. Clearly the most engaging element of the circles is their ability to invite and withstand evaluation on many levels.
Regrettably, for purposes of initial discussion any meanings or messages (and there are hundreds of extraordinary possibilities) contained within the circle formations remain peripheral to the issue of their physical origin. Unless the circles are determined to be the products of unknown forces any interpretational significance, no matter how ingenious or profound, holds limited meaning. To our credit and confusion, human beings possess the wondrous ability to extrapolate meaning from anything and impose relation on everything. As long as creativity, insight and profundity remain attributes of our psychological constitution evidence of such qualities within the circles can’t be construed as proof of alternate conscious activity. For the time being any symbolic or abstract qualities of the circles must be excluded from the process of determining whether they remain the product of unknown phenomena. Unfortunately, relinquishing something of such possible existential intrigue as the circles to the constricted and icy perspectives of the materialist is a painful though necessary concession.
Though the circles have been subjected to a rudimentary level of scientific scrutiny not all are pleased or confident with the results. This comes as a shock to none. The development of scientific knowledge has always been slow and filled with disagreement, mistake, contradiction, rigid adherence to prevailing theory and oceans of ego. Having catalogued and documented the most extensive and persuasive evidence of crop anomalies the BLT group is the reigning authority within circle studies. As expected their work generates the most criticism. Many feel that to discredit the conclusions of BLT is to effectively gut the circle studies of any scientific pretense. It’s not a bad strategy. To date the greatest issue of contention surrounding the BLT findings relates to their research protocols and the application of statistical procedures. Most critics claim an insufficient number of control crops from poorly selected locations within the subject field compromise any potential conclusions. They further assert such limited and inconsistent sampling makes any meaningful statistical analysis impossible. Accusations of casual and clumsy handling of samples have been leveled against BLT field workers, most of whom are volunteers. Rumors of discarding unwanted field results and careless subject measurement occasionally surface from former disgruntled BLT workers and circle insiders alike. Possibly the most ubiquitous damnation regarding BLT’s protocols concern their lack of double blind assessment. The refrain is always the same; no analysis of control to subject is valuable unless the sample’s origins remain unknown. However, the most spirited rebuttal of BLT’s work concerns Levengood’s plasma energy theory of causation. The list of challenges and contradictory opinions on this issue is too long to adequately detail here. Suffice to say this singular facet of acknowledged speculation may be the most provocative and controversial element within the study of the circles. The thorough and invective rejections reserved for this topic dominate the critical literature.
Listing and evaluating every element of available critique of the BLT research isn’t necessary for the purposes of gathering the general thrust of complaint. After digesting the first dozen or so assessments the salient points become quite evident if not needlessly repetitive. Clearly many scientists were reluctant to admit much of BLT’s circle evidence because of perceived deficiencies in protocols in the sampling, testing, analysis process and problems with the plasma energy vortex theory. I too was disturbed by these observations. As the old maxim states, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs.” Any responsible analyst must be acutely sensitive to the manner in which evidence is assembled and reviewed. A standardized and comprehensive process of procedure is crucial to establishing a tightly linked chain of causality and circumventing observational error. Clearly the BLT work was not immune to reproof. However, I was also troubled by what was absent within the BLT critiques. Not a single one of these passionate and detailed rebuttals refuted the essential existence of the biophysical anomalies BLT had discovered within the circles or offered any alternate explanation for their presence.
Though skeptics may scream of experimental bias, effectively argue the procedures used to assemble the evidence or dismantle the causative theories the larger questions remain; are there empirical unknowns within any of the circles? Are there actually elongated nodes and blow out cavities within the downed stalks of certain crop circles? Are there indeed higher levels of ambient radiation, magnetized particles and atypical crystallization contained within the underlying soil of any formations? If the answer to these queries is yes, and to date none have denied this, we are left with only one of two possible conclusions: either BLT has deliberately manipulated their physical evidence in ways currently unknown or we’re dealing with anomalies science can’t yet explain. Obviously, if BLT were engaged in a coordinated deceit any line of attack would commence from this point. It doesn’t. People have ventured many complaints but none assert blatant fraud.
I appreciate the levels of confidence rigorous adherence to established research protocols provide. However, I couldn’t help but think those who would entirely dismiss the BLT material solely on a procedural basis were being considerably disingenuous. Despite what many critics contend, the BLT field reports clearly demonstrate an abiding regard for established scientific process. Detailed review of any of their investigations shows numerous control samples were obtained in every one of their case studies regardless of the topic of investigation. That certain critics believe these samples could have been more numerous or better selected for location is predictable. Nonexistent are studies on any topic whose protocols are immune to criticism and whose analysis is uniformly accepted by all (FDA trials anyone)? I also think complaints of researcher bias and the lack of double blind studies ring hollow. Researcher bias is by nature intrinsic to any scientific process. Only the naïve of heart and experientially deprived swallow the proposition of experimentation conducted without expectation or intention. And while double blind studies may be crucial in controlling for issues of subjectivity its absence in this case does little to negate the existence of material fact. Much of our accepted scientific knowledge in many fields (geology, astronomy, zoology to name but a few) comes from pure observation not subject to double blind testing. Of course problems or inherent limitations within any other research do nothing to justify or excuse careless or incomplete work on the part of BLT. The real question is whether or not micro analysis of and dissatisfaction with the process is sufficient to wholly negate the discovery of seemingly genuine unknowns. I don’t believe it is. Endlessly assailing procedural integrity does little to account for or eliminate the presence of consistent empirical irregularities.
Given the conventional scientific community’s eagerness to “debunk” the circle phenomena it seems providing alternate explanations to the opposition’s fundamental evidence would be the most effective avenue of attack. I’ve yet to see anything within the vast mountain of critique offering any plausible explanation for these anomalous features. I was also disappointed in those linking the veracity of the circles with the credibility of Levengood’s plasma vortex theory. Clearly the two subjects have no relation. That many may assail Levengood’s speculations as to how such phenomena may occur has no bearing on the fact such phenomena has occurred. Any inability to assemble a working theory regarding the circles creation does nothing to negate the existence of attendant unknowns within those same circles. Such theoretical deficiencies only suggest better or more comprehensive explanations are needed.
Predictably, enticing mainstream science to actively engage the circles hasn’t been easy. Some flippantly suggest science’s inability to adequately address the BLT biophysical suite of circle evidence could be more a matter of reluctance than ignorance. Herein lies a problem. One needn’t be deep within the conventional scientific fold to imagine the type of derision an interest in crop circles engenders within any group; believe me, I know. Pending on their degree of deference, the mere mention of the words “crop circles” to any of an empirical bend elicits immediate reactions between incredulity and ridicule. So mired in fantasy is the prevailing notion of the circles it’s understandable why many of science choose to steer clear. The circles could be career crushers for most gainfully employed researchers. Should the phenomena prove bogus or indeterminable any involved scientist would be susceptible to claims of gullibility, frivolousness and intellectual indiscretion for trivializing their attention and expertise on something so seemingly absurd. To jeopardize one’s livelihood on something so steeped in academic scorn is a risk few of repute find appealing. Despite any pretentions to the cause of truth, like all human beings, researchers often need to play it safe and cover their occupational bases. This is likely the reason so many of the active circle researchers are safely retired from the realm of the gainfully employed.
The most persuasive arguments for unknown forces within the circle phenomena focus on the presence of empirical anomalies. While understandable, lost in this maze of samples, measurements, charts and statistical analysis are other more basic and compelling factors arguing against the exclusive presence of human agency. The most immediate of these are the innumerable eyewitness reports on record concerning the formation of the circles. Many are the detailed observations of people with no vested interest in the truth or falsity of the phenomena who claim to have directly witnessed crop circles mysteriously and instantaneously forming. More numerous are the unsolicited accounts of seemingly unearthly and inexplicable activities occurring around areas in which circles soon appear. To ascribe to the notion that all circles are human hoaxes is to categorically assert each and every one of these eye witness testimonies to be the result of delusion or deceit. The sheer volume and consistency of detail within these reported incidents make such a proposition difficult to accept. This is not to assert eyewitness accounts should be inherently accorded any sort of favored status. As with any existing physical evidence, the veracity of each of these reports should be evaluated independently and correspondingly weighted. However, to uniformly discard these observations regardless of the disposition or credential of the source is the height of opinionated rejection and taints any subsequent conclusion.
Perhaps the most compelling argument to be made in support of the “unknown forces” position is the ever reliable, omnipresent ineptitude of human beings. Those with any degree of real world experience know the odds are greater the sun will rise in the west than a person completing the simplest of tasks without complication. Nothing ever goes as planned. Watching my gardeners recently create a circular flower bed in my lawn in broad daylight effectively demonstrates the point. An estimated one hour job took three, careless trenching along the pre-painted lines left an “orbish” shaped cutout almost fifteen percent larger than planned, the workers trampled the surrounding grass and left behind muddy boot prints on the driveway, pieces of lunch in a tree well and a left handed glove in the bushes. This “incompetence” factor plays a prominent role in the mystification of the circle phenomena. The argument asserts it impossible for hoaxers to covertly create and complete such vast numbers of massive, complex works with unerring precision in total darkness without making the slightest of mistakes over acres of opportunity and leave not a trace of their presence. Many correctly note even the most elaborately funded, highly trained and coordinated military units are incapable of vaguely approximating this level of operational perfection. Common sense dictates widespread incidence of human circle making would be rife with the characteristic flaws and omissions that define our species. It’s virtually impossible to conceive of the logistics required to surreptitiously hoax over the course of a singular night such works of astonishing scope and intricacy as the famed Milk Hill-Alton Barnes formation of 8/14/01 (a six armed Julia set of 409 circles of varying size executed to symmetrical perfection over a circumference of 650 feet during a heavy rain). It boggles the imagination to think that in thousands of circles over dozens of years such obvious telltale signs are for the most part absent. James Deardorf, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (retired), in Boulder, Colorado has actually devised a mathematical formula for quantifying the odds of such feats against human error. As a sample exercise he calculated the odds of human agency for the “Arecibo Strip” formation found at Chilbolton Observatory on 8/21/01 as being five billion to one against (see bibliotecapleyades.net).
The incompetence factor is not intended to entirely disprove human agency within the circles. Many of the circles are known to be the work of crafty human beings. Any claims that hoaxers are completely incapable of imprinting complex patterns of size in the limited amount of summertime darkness would seem inaccurate. In 1992 the renowned English biologist Rupert Sheldrake staged a circle making competition to any willing to try their hand. Teams were given five hours of darkness to construct a pattern integrating a wide range of challenging geometries. The results were visually impressive and clearly demonstrated the formidable pattern making abilities of human beings. However, in all cases the issue is how well do such patterns hold up against those established parameters within the circle phenomenon? Can they readily be identified as hoaxed creations? What clues reveal the human presence, in what formations and how frequently do they appear? Those who would reasonably assert the fundamental fallibility of human beings within any endeavor (and I’m one), make a powerful though undocumented point. There’s currently no organized compilation of observations of human error taken from a significant number of circles from which to conduct a statistical analysis of mistakes. Surely errors have been made: circles unfinished, faulty geometry, over stomping, broken and crimped stalks, foot prints, discarded materials, tire tracks, etc. A compendium of this type of material would greatly enhance the cause of circle study. An open and active compilation of observation from each investigated circle would create a permanent record for future use, expose investigators to a wider spectrum of telltale evidence and help standardize their methods of evaluation. Without such a comprehensive and centralized body of case studies it remains difficult to specifically assess the impact and capabilities of human agency within the circles.
above formation appeared on 7/24/ 2009 at Smeathes Plantation in
The possible reasons for people creating crop circles are undoubtedly varied. The most common speculations involve monetary factors (known hoaxers have frequently been able to convert their abilities into lucrative advertising projects), art or malicious deceit (one of the most active groups of hoaxers once operated under the rather ineloquent sobriquet of “Team Satan”). Motivations aside, these hoaxers are uniformly reviled by those wed to the “unknown forces” side of the debate. John Lundberg, an original member of Team Satan, operates a web site (www.circlemakers.org) from which he presents and celebrates the perspective of those mere mortals who spend their evenings impressing patterns into the fields. One of the leading voices of the circle making community, Lundberg is an unyielding pragmatist who seems directly complicit or aware of the details of design and execution of most circle projects within southern England over the last fifteen years. While usually employing a respectful tone, he and his crew aren’t above delivering a few snide jabs at the presumed naiveté of those who believe the circles the product of unknown forces (“pseudo-scientists” in general and W.C. Levengood in particular). However, his commentary on the circles (part reportage, part philosophy) displays little of the devious, hand rubbing braggadocio one expects from those who get their kicks puncturing the spiritual sources of sensitive souls. On the contrary, I found his writing and perspective almost ritualistic in tone and filled with a deep awareness of mystical forces. In the pitched either/or battle surrounding the origin of the circles Lundberg’s observations provide a rare hint of nuance and reconciliation.
Lundberg believes there are mysterious forces operating within the circle phenomenon. He cautiously notes “I believe there is a genuine phenomenon. But I also believe we humans are now a part of it.” He clearly feels the nocturnal escapades of his fellow hoaxers are oriented toward a higher purpose than merely duping the public. Reviewing Lundberg’s “Basic Instructions to Circle Makers” gives the unmistakable impression many hoaxers view themselves and their work as a conduit for higher forces. Scattered amongst the requisite inventory of necessary tools, techniques for flattening crops and tips on how to remain undetected are some distinctly mystical recommendations. The selection of a potential site should be determined by “dowsing a location to establish earth energies.” A proper site will “aid in curative effects, healings, orgone accumulation, angelic visions and benign alien abduction experiences.” He warns failing to effectively align your circle with these same energies courts the risk of creating a wide range of opposite, deleterious effects including “headaches, nausea, paralysis, demonic visions and (my personal favorite) general disillusionment.” Though claiming these steps necessary to bestow a greater sense of “genuineness” to the circle by making it harder to distinguish as being man made one can’t help but wonder.
Such metaphysical considerations within a pragmatic primer might seem a bit incongruous from those dedicated to the crusade against the pseudo-scientific. However, things quickly digress from the curious to the bizarre when the topic turns to pre-stomping rituals. More resembling voodoo then collusion, Lundberg extols the circle maker to “use a long, curved blade to cut seven single stalks for every circle planned in the formation.” Each stalk is to be rubbed with the thumb and forefinger (ala Uri Geller?) until it begins to bend then placed in the center of the proposed circle. The process is designed to cause the imprinted crop to bend rather than break thus better disguising its manmade origin to the eyes of eagle eyed investigators. This seems quite the unusual twist, using the mystical to create the illusion of the mystical. Of course trying to replicate a bent rather than broken crop would make little sense unless a tacit acknowledgement existed that there were indeed incidents where circle stems were inexplicably bent rather than broken. However, in what might be considered materialistic heresy, Lundberg declares human circle making a “catalyst for a wide range of paranormal events.” He notes many of his cohorts have encountered the classic “balls of light” or luminous orbs in the sky when they’re out in the dark stomping out patterns in the crops. Others note their experience of arriving in a darkened field ready to imprint a specific pattern only to find the same pattern has already miraculously appeared. This peculiar phenomenon of “circle precognition” is unsettlingly common in many of the accounts of circle researchers, hoaxers and local residents. Regardless of predisposition, there appears to be more than just mysteries of causality present within the realms of the circles.
Despite the abundance of material circle makers have disseminated touting their accomplishments, observations and philosophies, they too have failed to accumulate and organize their work into any cohesive compendium of material allowing for a systematic study and evaluation of their experiences. Absent any standardized body of documentation their claims are just as hard to verify, analyze and contextualize as any on the “unknown forces” side. Granted, the circle makers have never held their work to contain any pretense of science. This is a shame. It seems their literal field experience could contribute a great deal to understanding the nature and origin of the circles if only in eliminating speculation regarding the mystery surrounding specific works.
Peering into the circle phenomena left me confused. On both sides of the causational divide I’d found empirical substantiation, compelling argument, blatant inconsistency, fractured logic, implausible complaint and selective use of evidence. As with most mysteries, the track is littered with material readily adaptable to the predispositions of all. Despite such problems certain conclusions seem axiomatic. It‘s undeniable a vast number of reported circles are made by humans. The claim that people are incapable of creating any works of size and intricacy in short periods of darkness seems to have been adequately disproved. However, though certain circle makers may be highly accomplished it strains credulity to assume all their work is impossible to distinguish. One needn’t be a trained or seasoned investigator to recognize stomp marks, broken stems, skewed geometry or some array of other physical evidence indicative of a human presence.
The above caveat firmly in place, it would also appear evident certain crop circles contain a consistent suite of bio-physical anomalies beyond the capability of human agency. Certain scientists may offer legitimate complaint as to how such evidence has been evaluated but the fact remains to date none have denied or offered credible explanation for its existence. Given the instances of such enduring bio-physical anomalies, the logistical challenges of human replication and the wealth of eyewitness accounts surrounding the circles it seems obvious there exist significant unknowns associated with this phenomenon. Clearly not all crop circles are readily or convincingly explained away as the products of human agency. That the number of these inexplicable circles withstanding scrutiny may be relatively small is of no consequence. The very existence of any confirms the presence of a legitimate, unknown phenomenon warranting further study. Any a priori remarks dismissing such incidents as fraudulent because they fail to square with our current experience or understanding of physical forces are inherently disingenuous. Regrettably, the scientific perspective on crop circles to date has been characterized more by disdain than impartiality. None wish to suggest science should be marginalized or excluded from future investigations, far from it. Scientific investigation with all its warts remains our most formidable tool for understanding the nature of physical reality. However, none of its devotees would deny its conclusions remain a work in progress with many mysteries and conundrums to conquer. As the history of human knowledge decidedly demonstrates, everything is impossible until the moment it’s not.
Responsible investigation requires each crop circle episode receive individual evaluation. Blanket proclamations based on the evidence of selective cases serves only the interests of the intellectually impatient. All must abandon the pretense of ordering the circles along universal grand schemes and confine their investigation to given particulars. Specifics, not generalizations make arguments. However, changes in procedure accomplish nothing if not accompanied by a corresponding shift in perspective. It’s critical the crop circle phenomenon move beyond the intellectual intransigence of two warring viewpoints reducing all evidence to a series of tortured and irreconcilable absolutes. Hard experience repeatedly demonstrates rarely is anything exclusively one thing or another. While conflicts of fact are not subject to negotiation all things factual by necessity exist in some pattern of accord. Understanding is often a matter of establishing the proper balance between seemingly contrary truths.
In all candor, the incomplete nature of our crop circle knowledge would be easier to accommodate if there weren’t so much peripheral baggage attached to the topic. Unfortunately, too many are too eager to graft a wide range of ontological theories onto the existence of the circles going far beyond any evidence. Many fear granting any mystery to the circles is tantamount to buying into the host of metaphysical speculation swirling about their existence. Such reservation is understandable though unrelated to addressing the existence of unknowns within the phenomena. While drawing sharp lines between phenomena and meaning is often difficult there’s little doubt circle study would benefit from a greater degree of circumspection from some of its more breathless acolytes. Until such time as more facts are forthcoming any mystical extrapolation is best parsed very cautiously.
While the implications of the circles could reveal new and exciting aspects of existence it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective. Specifically, it’s time to reign in the inflated, idealized notions that crop circles could represent some sort of redefinition or insight into the paradigm of existence. Should the circles provide evidence of extraterrestrials, multiple dimensions of existence, Gaia forces, psychic energies or collective human thought matters not. All these possibilities (though previously unknown) would only reveal different elements of the nature of our real world experience. They’d remain symptoms of existence; additional aspects of reality. The result of recognizing any such new processes and potentials would be confined to enhancing and expanding our understanding of this given reality. There is nothing inherent within any of these possibilities further capable of illuminating those ultimate questions of Being with which we perpetually wrestle. Any essential existential issues would continue to remain as nebulous as ever. I remain quite comfortable in the philosophical notion that all elements of existence contain the essence and order of Being. They remain present within all physical manifestations. As such, ontological truth would no more be exclusive to crop circles than a drop of water, a stone or the aluminum atom within the Coke can on my desk. That these elements may be more apparent or dramatic within the circles does nothing to bestow upon them any greater revelatory capacity. This is not to diminish the extraordinary potential an understanding of crop circles may bring to the scope of our knowledge should they prove to be the result of anything other than human agency. However, given the propensity for grand speculation common to some circle enthusiasts I feel it necessary to caution against the problems inherent with extrapolating ultimate meaning from purely physical phenomenon.
In some respects it’s surprising the formations within the circles spur such widespread mystical speculation or denial. Though emotive and engaging, many circle patterns seem no more remarkable or suggestive than numerous instances of relatively ordinary, symmetrical phenomena within nature. Are the intricate patterns of a snowflake, the linear formations within crystals, the scales of a pine cone, the florids within a sunflower, the cymatic geometries revealed through vibration, the arc of a chambered nautilus or the double helix of human DNA significantly more incomprehensible or alien than the patterns within the circles? Why do we easily accommodate such common fractal formations as the Mandelbrot or Julia sets when ordering natural phenomena but turn to the metaphysical when we find them in downed grain? Certainly there are differences. The issues of scale, originality, speed of creation and causation associated with the circles are unquestionably atypical. That certain crop circle geometries have no existing correlation to the patterns of our experience and seem more resonant with psychological or archetypal structures than natural ones is intriguing to say the least. However, having long inured ourselves to the calculated formations within nature it seems the first instinct of many to prevail upon the supernatural may be somewhat impulsive.
The above recitation of information represents only a limited and basic compilation of the current state of our understanding of crop circles. While progress has been grudgingly made, at present the field relies too heavily on imprecise and speculative material. At this juncture what is needed most is to acknowledge the limitations of our understanding and acquire more and better information. Towards this end certain recommendations seem obvious. More impartial researchers from a wide range of physical disciplines compiling a greater factual base from which to assess the phenomena are needed. As noted earlier, without the presence of any firm intellectual grounding, impression and pseudo-science are free to operate unchecked. Greater numbers of diverse and competing investigations greatly enhance the odds of creating the better consensus of fact necessary to advance our understanding. However, more than controlled experiment is required. Just as crucial is the integration of the experiences and impressions of those credible laymen who have directly encountered circle phenomena. These affected people represent a valuable resource through which a great deal of relevant information may be assembled. It’s important to encourage these sources to share their observations and knowledge within an atmosphere free from ridicule and condescension. But more is needed.
One of the major obstacles in penetrating the circles is the lack of field wide coordination. There already exists a vast wealth of information of great potential value. However, as my experience attests, most of this material currently exists in a scattered and uncollated manner. A higher level of informational organization and coordination is badly needed. At the moment numerous circle theorists are gathering, analyzing and interpreting their unique material in such differing and inconsistent ways as to make it virtually impossible to assemble any coherent picture. This lack of a standardized method of approach and evaluation along with the absence of any centralized facility through which to integrate and disseminate information turns facts into confusion. Currently we find ourselves drowning in an ocean of raw and disjointed data virtually impossible to prioritize, compare or build upon. A systematic manner in which to collect, verify and organize this material is crucial to facilitating a disciplined and productive approach.
The above wish list of assets contains one notable omission: input of governmental agencies. Currently no government has formally acknowledged the existence of crop circles much less articulated any operational position. No shock there. However, it strains credulity to think governments, particularly the British, could possibly be ignoring this situation. The circle literature is filled with accounts of a conspicuous governmental presence at many sites in the form of hovering helicopters and a noticeable deployment of military and police personnel. This is not exactly the kind of authoritative response one expects in dealing with malicious mischief. In point of fact the British government has for years been involved on many levels with crop circles. The issue has been raised publicly on four occasions in Parliament and by concerned constituents in local council meetings. Additionally, numerous circle incidents have been reported directly to the Ministry of Defense. On the darker side there are reports of circle investigators being threatened by security agents including Colin Andrews’s extensive commentary on his coerced liaisons with the CIA. Ideally, any material governmental agencies have on crop circles would certainly be of value.
It’s quite apparent there is adequate evidence and circumstance to suggest the crop circle phenomenon can’t be blithely dismissed as an obvious or calculated fraud. At this stage I believe there remain profound questions and mysteries surrounding the existence of some of these unusual creations. Obviously, should the origin of any of the circles lie outside human agency there is within this phenomenon a staggering amount of potential knowledge and insight to be gained on both scientific and humanistic levels. This by itself makes the issue worthy of much greater levels of investigation and evaluation. However, for our understanding to advance there needs to be a constructive reframing of the topic more in line with the current reality. As long as the crop circle phenomenon remains defined by the either/or mentality of competing extremists any progress towards accurately assessing this issue is difficult. While intellectual detachment is not completely unknown within this field it nevertheless remains in pitifully short supply. It’s time for all to admit the degree of our ignorance and refrain from wild speculation or flat denial.
Regardless of their ultimate origin or meaning the crop circle phenomenon remains emblematic of the inherent problems associated with expanding or moving beyond existing paradigm. Rigid adherence to any principle, whether it be conventional dogma or a conviction to the unknown does little to facilitate understanding. Science rolling its collective eyes at the prospects of radically unknown forces operating within their careful construction of the physical realm is the height of intellectual arrogance and a fundamental betrayal of the essential curiosity driving discovery. Conversely, those who would indiscriminately accommodate unsubstantiated perspectives fostering their own subjective inclinations are no better. Worst of all are any whose individual certainty is so pronounced and entrenched as to preclude serious consideration of conflicting evidence or opinion. Commitment to position instead of the process of truth serves the interests of none. The history of all human knowledge within all fields is the product of constant evolution and refinement despite the hard certainties of the time. It’s time for all to get a grip, embrace the other and together move cautiously forward towards a clearer, mutual understanding.