CROP CIRCLES: A BASIC INTRODUCTION TO A GREAT MYSTERY
Outline: Crop Circles, what are they, and what are their features? Plasma Vortex Theory. GAIA (Mother Earth) Theory. Mental Projection Theory. Spirits Theory. As a form of communication. Extraterrestrial Theory. Researchers: approaches. Hoaxing, and. Conclusion.
For some time now, especially since the 1980s when they first entered prominently into the modern consciousness, crop circles have been one of the major paranormal phenomena confronting the human race. What are they? Where do they come from? What is their significance? This small essay is not meant to provide a definitive answer, nor to offer a highly-detailed account of their characteristics and possible origins; it is only meant to provide a basic introduction and starting point for those who might be interested in further study.
Crop circles are formations of grains (so-called "cereal" crops such as wheat, barley, oats, buckwheat, and oil-seed rape), which are flattened, in the fields in which they stand, by an unknown force, to form distinctive patterns which may range from simple individual circles, to multiple circles in linear alignment, to "Celtic Cross" formations (five circles, with a central circle surrounded by four circles 90 degrees apart from each other), to more complex geometric formations such as the "Julia Set". The contrast between the flattened areas of grain and the crops still left standing is what gives definition to the circles and gives birth to their visual effect, which is most easily appreciated from elevated topography looking down, or from the air (most typically via small plane or helicopter). However, the excitement of actually entering a crop circle on the ground, which appeals to the sense of wonder of the amateur and is necessary for the investigative work of the researcher, mitigates the diminished visual impact of experiencing the circle "up close and personal" as it were; and other powerful effects have been reported by some witnesses at this heightened level of intimacy within the circle.
Typically, though not always, the circles form during the spring and summer growing seasons in the middle of the night, within a very short time frame (by almost all accounts within a matter of minutes, if not less than a minute). They are discovered in the light of day by the farmers on whose property they have occurred, or by passers-by who spy them from the vantage point of nearby roads and hills, or as they fly small aircraft over the countryside. Now that the phenomenon has become widely recognized, known, and "pursued", many formations are sought out and found by crop-circle enthusiasts and researchers ranging over the known "crop-circle" hotspots of southern England, in search of them.
In the early 1980s, before the phenomenon was widely publicized and had exploded into the popular consciousness, crop-circle researchers observed that the formations tended to be relatively simple: single circles or multiple-circle formations without any particular embellishment, such as the "claws", concentric rings, complicating lines and intricate design patterns of later days. They noted, on the ground, that the crops appeared to have been bent at the base by a swirling force, and laid down neatly in such a way that the stalks were not broken and the plants could continue either to grow in their new horizontal position [Andrews 126] or to ripen [GT Meaden, in Noyes, 78]. (In the case of young plants, the flattened crops often had the ability to "rebound" and return to an upright position not long after circle formation, in which case, the circle designs soon faded from sight; whereas more mature crops generally remained flat until it was time to reap them.) In all events, the downed grain was not destroyed and lost to the farmer, but could continue to be cultivated and harvested. In some crop circles, magnetic field anomalies were discovered, and there were also cases of "magnetic material" such as is only known to occur in some meteorites found on site [Andrews 52]; the presence of radioactive residue was also considered, but laboratory results were inconclusive on the subject, and on the whole radiation levels were determined not to be elevated within the circles [Andrews 53-54]. However, biological research determined that many structural changes were observable within the plants which had been knocked down in the crop circle, including changes on the cellular level ("fractured and expanded cell pit walls") and greatly increased expansion of nodes (which are somewhat like the joints of a stem), running up and down the affected plant. Plant growth, itself, seemed significantly more robust. These results could be consistent with the effects of some form of microwave radiation impacting the crops at the time of the circle’s creation. (The robustness could be an effect of magnetism.) [Andrews 51-53, 54, summarizing the research of Levengood]. In cases, anomalous lights were reported to have been hovering above the fields (or flitting about) at times corresponding to the crop circle’s formation. Most often, the lights were described as self-luminous (glowing, not simply reflecting other light sources), as golden in color, and as small (around 14 inches in diameter according to some estimates). At other times, "silver balls" have been reported in the vicinity of forming crop-circles, as well as other shapes and sizes of lights [Andrews 50; Wingfield, in Noyes, 102-104]. There were also reports, both at the time of formation, and sometimes in the aftermath of crop-circle formation, of a peculiar "trilling" sound, something between the voice of an insect and a mechanical device, which researcher Colin Andrews compared to the sound directly preceding the discharge of electricity which follows the "buildup of high levels of voltage between an anode and a cathode" [Andrews 103-105; Wingfield, in Noyes, 104-105].
A mystery had been observed, and some of its defining characteristics established. The question, now, was: what exactly was going on? What was responsible for the mysterious circle formation which was beginning to occur with increasing frequency, especially in the south of England? (Although the crop-circle phenomenon has proved to be world-wide, the vast majority of sightings have occurred in England, as evidenced by these statistics, put together in 2002: Total Number Of Incidents: England, 1784; USA, 228; Canada, 135; Germany, 105; Australia, 71; Netherlands, 62, dropping then to 23 for Hungary, and less than 20 for all other locations.) [Andrews 75-82] At once, the effort to explain the crop circles split in two different directions, or perhaps one could say three, represented by those who were determined to find an answer consistent with the current scientific paradigm; those committed to approaching the mystery without any conditions and therefore open to a wide variety of possibilities, but, in the meantime, committed to getting more facts; and those wed to their own spiritual and paranormal ideologies, who were determined to plug the crop circles into their own worldviews without regard to the weight of the evidence. At the same time as a fascinating new moment of learning appeared to us, below the surface of the quest, harsh battle lines were drawn.
The most compelling scientific explanation provided for the formation of the crop circles (among several), was advanced by Dr. George Terence Meaden, a physics professor who received his degree from Oxford University. As an explanation for the proliferating mystery, he championed the idea of the plasma vortex, which is a swirling mass of ionized air containing a strong electrical charge, which he postulates may form when air masses of different temperatures meet under certain conditions, especially over hills. These small swirling masses of air are capable of traveling for some miles from the point of their creation, before destabilizing and descending over the ground with the force of a violent whirlwind, capable of flattening crops. The balls of light frequently seen to accompany crop-circle formation could be indications of the electrical nature of the phenomenon ("ball lightning" and "St. Elmo’s Fire" would be other cases of prolonged luminosity generated by atmospheric conditions, and the interaction between earth and sky). [Meaden, in Noyes, 76-98] Meaden’s work was meticulous and well-intended. He was excited by the crop-circle phenomenon and wished to explain it in terms of his developing scientific model, which was consistent with the known laws of physics.
However, after a number of years, his theory began to run into increasing difficulties. This occurred largely as the result of the observed evolution of the crop-circle phenomenon from simpler circle patterns which seemed plausible to explain in terms of the plasma vortex, to increasingly complex designs left behind in the fields which no longer seemed within his theory’s grasp. Meaden did succeed in presenting a believable explanation for some multiple circle formations, but after a while, the crop circles themselves began to grow too complicated for his theory to continue to make sense. The idea that a thoughtless, spinning whirlwind could create such intricate patterns of crop depressions was simply no longer tenable.
This increasingly left the field open for the ascendancy of the paranormal theories. These theories, in particular, included the GAIA (or "Living Earth") Theory, the EXTRATERRESTRIAL Theory (linking crop circles to UFOs), the MENTAL PROJECTION Theory (linking crop-circle formation to the human subconscious), and the SPIRITS Theory (which holds either ghosts, fairies or other "earth spirits" responsible for the crop circles). None of these theories is really acceptable without expanding our understanding of the nature of Nature, and beginning the journey to embrace a new paradigm.
THE GAIA THEORY: This is a rather elegant theory - not as completely "out there" as it, at first, seems - which seeks to view the Earth as a "living being", which is capable of acting to defend itself. (It is a theory especially associated with James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, and Timothy Zell, all scientists of repute.) The shocking concept becomes more palatable to our intellectual state of preparedness if we attempt to understand it, not as an effort to turn the Earth into a zoological entity - that is, as some kind of grandiose animal one step above the dinosaur and the whale - but as an effort to see the Earth as a complex and responsive system in which geological and biological processes interact on many different levels, enabling it to exhibit the kind of adaptability usually associated with life forms; and in which the arbitrary distinction of animate and inanimate components is transcended with a vision of the whole. Here, there is not so much the claim of a new discovery, as a call to shift the way we perceive the nature of the Earth. Instead of viewing life as separate from the "inert chemicals", the rocks, the magma and the dust that we used to know as the "physical earth", the call is to view the physical and the biological in an integrated way as part of one gigantic system, with the life forms providing the overall system with heightened reactivity and even the possibility of consciousness (perhaps through their own consciousness). Proponents of this theory point out the way in which microorganisms have affected the atmosphere over the ages, removing carbon dioxide from it (via photosynthesis), which helped to cool the planet down so that conditions for life became even more favorable; then, as CO2 levels became too low, endangering the life forms which depended on it, other forms of life developed which were capable of utilizing oxygen (O2) in their life processes, while giving CO2 back to the atmosphere as a "waste product." A very elaborate, natural balancing mechanism seemed built into the dynamic of shaping and maintaining the planet as a system favorable for the existence of life.
According to GAIA theorists, these interactive relationships between "physical" and "biological" dynamics, which are at work to preserve the overall system, may now be acting to defend the Earth from significant dangers emanating from man, who is threatening to destabilize and even destroy the system through environmentally-damaging activities associated with industry, warfare, and overpopulation. The Earth may possibly solve the crisis by removing man, or at least his tumultuous civilization, from the scene, by means of natural responses to his thoughtlessness (changed weather patterns, global warming, famine, epidemic, and ecological pressures leading to war); or, on the other hand, crop-circle enthusiasts tied to the GAIA theory contend, the Earth may help to guide man away from his self-destructive path by means of signs given to him, such as the crop circles are said to be. The idea is that the appearance of the circles in the midst of crops intended to be eaten, are calling man’s attention to that which sustains him, and attempting to draw his focus back to the earth. The circles, themselves, which are so mysterious and seem to defy the known laws of physics, and which also, often, assume shapes which are reminiscent of the sacred symbols used by ancient cultures as objects of worship [Michael Green, in Noyes, 137-171], or else awe-inspiring geometric forms that naturally induce a spiritual state of mind, are viewed as messages from the Earth energy to man, meant to break his hubris and to place him back in contact with the fundamentals of existence. Presumably, the Earth has created the circles by means of its own properties, such as electromagnetism, wind, and various other forms of energy, which are directed by its survival instinct, coming from some means of intelligence (possibly based upon the energy of its living beings) to carve out messages of great import to man.
Colin Andrews may describe this theory best, as he writes [Andrews 36]: "For instance, there is an intelligence to the human immune system. This complex biological system continually evaluates threats to the human body and, in a sense, ‘decides’ when to respond to danger and attack the intruder. This type of automatic, non-human ‘thinking’ goes on in varying degrees of complexity and sophistication throughout the entire spectrum of life forces. I am using this analogy vis-à-vis crop circles to illustrate that it is possible that the manifestations that we all can see – the authentic patterns and designs – could be an autonomic response from the earth, similar to the innate, and undeniably intelligent responses of the human immune system. This does not demand a conscious entity ‘wielding the controls’, so to speak. It simply reacts as a highly functioning biosystem, much like the human body, or the global ecosphere."
Two other paranormal theories which attempt to explain the crop circles have significant points of intersection with this one. According to the MENTAL PROJECTION theory (the name I have given it), the human mind is said to be able to connect with energy forces usually conceived of as being separate and beyond it, but with which human mental energy actually has an ability to interact. It is said that in the human subconscious, the knowledge of how badly we are treating the planet is well understood, but we are blinded from this knowledge by the ambitions, projects, battles and priorities which dominate the conscious layers of our existence. As the subconscious knowledge of our self-destructive course gains force, as the secret angst within our souls increases and as the urgency of our survival instinct is finally triggered, the subconscious mind at last produces powerful images which it projects, through the mechanism of the energy sources with which it interacts, into the fields which become its means of bringing the hidden to consciousness. We make crop circles in the fields in order to bring the darkness to light, to show our waking minds what our unconscious minds already know. In cases, individual minds may give us these signs meant to restore our humility and wonder; in other cases, the collective unconscious, as conceived by C.G. Jung, may be held responsible, as great, spirit-eliciting symbols from our religious histories and traditions may be "thought" into the fields by thousands of human beings in tune with a common sensibility. [Andrews 68] You could, in this way, conceive of crop circles as "dreams that inscribe themselves into the world around us, dredging up what is in the depths of our minds and lifting it up to the surface so that we may take appropriate action." At the very same time, it might be said, for those who understand the mental projection process which is said to be taking place, that the crop circles are showing us the power which our thoughts have to manifest reality, and therefore the power of our minds to create the change we need and seek. (Some theorists have attributed UFOs to the same phenomenon, and believe that they, too, are "projected creations" of the human mind, meant to restore a spiritual outlook and hope to a cynical and jaded material age.) [Clark, UFOs, 492-493]
For its part, the SPIRITS theory also ties into the GAIA model, except that the intelligence directing the formation of the crop circles is seen not in the sublime and diplomatic manner of that model, which attempts to wed the animistic and scientific takes on the universe, but in a more straightforward way directly linked to the ancient human belief in earth spirits, fairies, and ghosts. Anyone who has read my previous article on Fairies (also in the Weapons of Depth section of this web site), will see, at once, numerous connections between the ancient Celtic fairy lore and the emergence of the crop circles. From olden times, we have the tradition of "fairy rings", which appeared mysteriously in the night in open grasslands, allegedly in the wake of large numbers of fairies dancing together in a circle. These patterns would seem to bear some resemblance to the simplest of the crop circles (though some of the "fairy rings" are said, by scientists, to have merely been the result of a fungus growth). Fairies have also sometimes been associated with the luminous lights witnessed over the formation of the circles, and with impressive whirlwinds said to be capable of lifting people into the air. [Rainsnow, Who Are The Fairies?] Powerful movements of air are sometimes felt by those close to ground zero during circle-formation. Additional tie-ins with folklore and magical beings are available from the past, frequently "infected" by the Christian tendency to demonize the supernatural entities of the religions that preceded it. Foremost among these episodes is that of the "Mowing Devil", 1678, in which a greedy farmer who said he’d rather have the devil harvest his crops than pay the wages a poor workman in the region was asking him for the job, was visited that very night by the devil, who laid his crops down all in a circle as a great fire was witnessed raging above the field. This is regarded by many cerealogists as an early example of the formation of a crop circle. [Andrews 38-40; Robert J.M. Rickard, in Noyes, 62-71]
The relation of fairies to the spirits of the dead in the generation of the fairy lore has been well argued by anthropologists, so that there is not such a disjunction, after all, between those who hold the fairies (as spirits of the earth) and those who hold the dead (the spirits of the deceased) as responsible for the creation of the crop circles. As in the case of the "Living Earth" postulated by the GAIA theory, the advocates of the SPIRITS theory believe that the spirit entities which they hold responsible for the creation of the crop circles are concerned about our future, and/or the preservation of the environmental base which sustains them or which they represent; they are, therefore, seeking to communicate to us, to give us a warning, or somehow expand our consciousness and ecological awareness by means of the circles, which are meant to set off a conceptual alarm bell in our souls before it is too late, and to trigger critical new insights which may save us while there is still time.
All paranormal crop circle theories postulate the existence of an intelligence, or intelligences, which are attempting to communicate with us through the circles. Opinions regarding the nature of the "language" that is being used to speak to us vary, but do not strictly depend upon which theory is being adhered to (GAIA, MENTAL PROJECTION, SPIRITS, or UFOs). According to some takes, the "language" is quite simple, and depends only upon the placement of mesmerizing, mentally-stimulating and emotionally-evocative designs in the midst of our food source, which tell us, in a powerful poetic way which does not require words, that "Spirit power is real" and "It must be your form of sustenance." According to others, and especially to the fairy/spirits theorists, the fact that the great majority of reported crop circles have occurred within 40 miles of the ancient spiritual site of Stonehenge [Andrews 59], and that ancient symbols associated with primitive religions linked to agriculture and a reverence for the earth frequently appear as themes within the crop circles, reinforces this basic message. Man must recover his spirituality and once more revere the earth. It is time for him to climb down from his proud seat at the helm of a universe he does not yet understand and cannot control (a "dominion" too heavy for him to bear), and to accept his limits, and the higher authority of the Divine. Still others believe that the form of communication taking place is far more precise and detailed. They point to the messages which NASA has sent beyond our solar system, inside space probes meant to be discovered by extraterrestrial civilizations, should they exist. These messages attempt to provide minds that may be utterly alien from our own with information about our world and its location, by means of complex facts encoded in images and numbers. [Asimov 252-255] Some crop-circle enthusiasts are in the process of searching for just such encoded information in the crop circles, themselves, which the design patterns, or numerical relationships between geometrical components of the circles (such as radius, diameter, area, circumference, length of connecting lines, distance between circles, time between formation, etc.), may impart. Single circles, or information from many circles put together in the manner of a gigantic puzzle, may one day offer a spectacular revelation for Humanity. Some analysts believe that they have found circles constructed according to the diatonic ratios found in our musical scale [Gerald Hawkins, in Andrews, 115-117], and it must be wondered if the message we are to receive will be musical in nature (appealing directly to our emotions), or if a written message in a language which we understand will be encoded within the notes. (In the past, many secret ciphers were based upon musical notes, which could, with the proper key, be transcribed as letters of the alphabet in order to produce a written communiqué.) According to some occultists, the spirit of a deceased scientist and spiritualist, Oliver Lodge, has already communicated to us in this way. [Andrews 71] In this case, proof of life after death would be meant to broaden our horizons and to elevate us beyond our short-sightedness.
Perhaps the most compelling symbolic communiqué claimed to have been received via the crop circles to date comes from a formation which was discovered on June 22, 1995, near Winchester in Hampshire, England. The formation, which Andrews believes has been proven to be genuine (the subject of hoaxing will be taken up later), is said to represent our solar system, with planets aligned as they will be on September 1, 2033, and May 6, 2101. What is most notable about the circle is that the Earth is missing from its orbit! Is this a warning to us that the Earth is headed towards some sort of cataclysm or disaster in the near future, providing us with the time frame within which we must act if we are to save ourselves? Many believe so. [Andrews 15-16]
Other formations may provide us, if not with information quite this specific, with information more exact than "respect the earth", "let spirit sustain you", and "renew your reverence." For example, formations beginning with smaller circles replicating into larger ones as the series extends from its point of origin, could convey, in an elegant metaphorical way, how massive external phenomenon stem from seemingly minute internal ones – how the chaos of the world is only a geometrical escalation of the dysfunction of the individual. A message this easily transmitted, and deeply understood, reminding us of the interconnectedness of environment, politics, and the individual psyche, would point us towards the true solution of our woes, which must be dealt with at their source.
Some might ask, regarding interpretation of the circle messages - if one does accept that something is being said to us, in the first place - how can one be sure that one is not reading too much into the messages, or twisting them to fit one’s own views, and therefore, obscuring the real message? The answer is that one cannot be sure. Subjectivity is a powerful force. It is not only capable of guiding us to enlightenment, but also to self-delusion. But with attunement to the process and an open mind, there is hope that we will be able to get something more out of the circles than our mere desire to make them be what we want them to be. At the very least, the striving to understand them, in our minds and in our hearts, should make us greater than we are – perhaps great enough to rescue what is best in us from what is worst.
Probably the most prevalent paranormal theory for the genesis of the crop-circles, to date, though the earth-spirit theories are certainly widely believed in, is the EXTRATERRESTRIAL Theory, which considers that the phenomenon is being created by alien beings from outer space: those same beings who are associated with UFOs and alien abductions. Their reason for communicating to us via the circles is the same as the reason GAIA (Mother Earth), SPIRITS, and our own SUBCONSCIOUS are said to be communicating with us: to warn us of the danger we are in, thanks to our short-sighted view on life, our disregard for sustainability, our resistance to limits, our disdain for self-knowledge, and our dislocation from Nature, the Universe, and what is Sacred, which can be understood religiously, or in terms of moral aesthetics. (A minority of ufologists believe that alien beings are not using the crop circles to communicate with us, but with each other.) [Andrews 73]
Though for some, UFOs remain exiled on the fringe of the human intellect, branded as a haven for flakes and unworthy of attention, there is much serious and concrete evidence to support the existence of some sort of unexplained phenomenon taking place in our skies, producing visual sightings from the ground and air, radar images, electromagnetic anomalies, and sometimes physical traces on the ground. [Hynek, Clark on UFOs] Whatever the official response, it is clear that the phenomenon has generated substantial interest within the military and intelligence communities, as well as among many respected scientists; the extraterrestrial question is not merely the domain of UFO enthusiasts and irrational cults desperately clutching for a new form of religion. As I have explained elsewhere on this web site [Rainsnow, The Secret of the UFOs], the intelligences behind the UFO phenomenon, which many presume to be of extraterrestrial origin due to the widespread sightings of structured craft with technological capabilities vastly exceeding what is available on the earth, appear to be involved in a long-term surveillance operation on our planet. They seem to also be committed to interacting with us in subtle ways, engaging us in discreet forms of communication meant to nudge us towards a planetary awakening, rather than pulling us there, or taking charge of our salvation. We are to be guided by suggestion and by sign, not given explicit direction.
If there is anything to this theory, then the crop circles fit it perfectly. They are offered to us as stimuli, not as orders; as visual koans aimed at leading us to a conceptual breakthrough, not as blueprints of a new order to be imposed upon us from the outside: they are meant to empower us from the inside, by reacting with, and setting free, sensibilities and capabilities which we already possess.
Unlike other possible agencies of legitimate (non-faked) crop circles, UFOs do not demand as huge an expansion of the prevailing scientific paradigm, for the concept of an advanced civilization of alien beings who are centuries ahead of us in technological development is not as difficult for us to absorb as the possibility of fairies, ghosts, or a planet that has intelligence. This does not mean that the UFO explanation is more likely than the other explanations, only that it is more within our intellectual comfort zone (though on the edge of it). Never mind the fact that many ufologists believe that the ETs are spiritual beings as much as, or even more than, they are material beings; or that some consider them to be interchangeable with the fairies: non-material entities with a long history of interacting with the human race, who have altered their presentation in modern times (from fairies to ETs) in order to be more palatable to our present-day expectations which have been shaped by science. (They have changed their form of contact in order to facilitate continued communication with us, which lack of credibility may be able to impede). For those who conceptualize the UFOs as "advanced science" rather than as "face-lifted magic", the extraterrestrial origin of the crop circles is easier to accept than any other mystical foundation, which their upbringing has eroded to the point of being untenable.
Although crop-circle researcher Colin Andrews reports that none of the 50 eyewitness accounts of crop-circles in the process of forming which he has collected mentions the presence of a UFO [Andrews 70], it seems that there are numerous reports suggestive of the UFO connection. First of all, there is the common report of lights flying around above the fields where crop circles form. Many times, however, these lights seem smaller than the classic UFO shapes and sizes to which we have been accustomed (maybe 14 inches in diameter). Occultists would describe them as energies associated with spirits, while plasma-vortex theorists would connect them to electromagnetic phenomena generated by specialized weather conditions. However, UFO lore does contain numerous reports of small colored lights, which viewers imagine to be probes of some sort, leaving larger craft to conduct local forays before returning to their mother ship. [For example, Hynek/Imbrogno, 1-4]
Besides this, there are reports which, if accurately represented, seem to clearly tie the crop-circle phenomenon in with UFOs, or to at least provide serious credibility to that hypothesis. There is the July 1988 case of a woman who claimed to see a "large intensely luminous object" in the sky near Avebury, England. It directed a long narrow beam of light down onto a field near Silbury Hill, before departing, at a spot where an impressive set of crop circles was found next morning. In the same general area, in June 1989, a man reported sighting a "luminous orange sphere" which descended into a nearby field and appeared to "bounce, hover, and then blink out." In the field it had worked over, a ringed circle was left behind. In another case, in 1990, at Bickington, a mysterious object with bright flashing colored lights was spotted above a field, where next day, a circle surrounded by seven smaller ones was discovered. As one researcher writes, regarding impressive strings of UFO sightings that occurred over Warminister, England during the late 1960s and 1970s, which subsequent investigation has suggested left behind numerous crop circles before they were publicized and recognized as a major phenomenon: "… these UFOs appeared, almost invariably, at night, as luminous and sometimes structured craft, which frequently blinked out in thin air. Sometimes formations of UFOs were reported resembling the patterns of the quintuple, the linear triplet, and the equilateral triplet crop circles, which we have been observing through the 1980s. Moreover these sighting were in exactly those places such as Warminister, Upton Scudamore, and Westbury, where we are getting circles today. The inescapable conclusion is that the circles phenomenon sprang from these beginnings at Warminister in the 1970s, and has evolved over the past twenty years…" [Winston, in Noyes, 102-104]
A particularly suggestive circle formation known as the "Barbury Castle Tetrahedron", which covered a total of 12,000 square yards, occurred in 1991 near the town of Wroughton, England. During the night of its formation, the town and a nearby military base lost all their electrical power and small, brightly colored objects were witnessed flying above the field where the design appeared." [Andrews, in plates between 144 and 145, 183-184] This description certainly fits in very well with the M.O. many have come to expect from a UFO-related experience.
Also consider the fact that traces of non-terrestrial meteoric content have been discovered in some crop circle formations [Andrews 52], which some might interpret as an "alien signature."
Although the genesis of the true crop circle remains a mystery, with several heavily-advocated theories to account for it (which may complement each other as much as compete with each other), the extraterrestrial explanation is surely strong among the possible explanations, although Colin Andrews cautions: "Most serious crop circle researchers allow than an extraterrestrial intelligence may be involved in the phenomenon, but the majority discount the possibility of the formations being created by alien ships." [Andrews, 180]
Just as in the case of the UFOs (which seemed to burst into our cultural mindspace in the late 1940s), many question the sudden emergence of the crop circles into our planetary consciousness, at a particular time, during the early 1980s. Why then? Why not before? Why not later? As in the case of the UFO, which seems to have had a longer historical presence than originally believed (dating back to ancient times and the late 1800s, before it finally intensified and "came of age" during the 1940s), the crop circle may also have had a longer history than imagined: recall our previous tie-ins to the folkloric material (fairies and "mowing devils"). Besides this, researcher Colin Andrews discovered in his interviews with English farmers that many had had crop circles in their fields (as had their fathers) long before the crop circle craze took off in the 1980s. [Andrews, 26] Once again, we appear to have a longstanding phenomenon which escalated at a particular moment in history: enthusiasts would say, not simply because of the influence of the modern media, which is capable of constructing hitherto disparate events into a coherent whole, but more especially due to the increased need of the forces connected with our survival to communicate to us, as our civilization more closely approaches catastrophic choices and outcomes. If the whisper does not capture our attention, it may have to be replaced by a shout. In the 1940s, the advent of the atomic bomb, the Cold War, and the threat of global annihilation arose to shake loose the UFOs from our skies. In the 1980s, perhaps, the continued threat of human aggression, combined with increased momentum towards environmental destruction, induced the crop circles to blossom in our fields.
Given the fact that there was a unique, mind-boggling phenomenon gathering force in the fields of England during the early 1980s, how did researchers interested in the study of this phenomenon approach it? Devoted students of the phenomenon, such as Colin Andrews, an electrical engineer and official in local government, began to talk to farmers, and to request access to their land in the wake of circle formation, so that they could come in to conduct investigations of the phenomenon. As time went on, serious researchers networked, widening their contacts with local farmers, government officials and the police, with interested scientists who had connections to laboratories and equipment, with historians, and even specialists in the paranormal. Typically, the researchers would find out about the formation of a new crop circle from the farmers, who were provided with contact numbers, or from pilots flying overhead. Since the vast majority of formations appeared within a relatively small area in southern England, corresponding to the sacred landscapes of the ancient cultures which had erected Stonehenge, as well as many primitive fortresses and burial sites – a landscape which, according to paranormal experts, was also traversed by powerful ley lines, or energy currents moving within the earth - it was possible for the key researchers to respond to large numbers of circles. They were almost always in range. Once they arrived at the affected field, standard components of their methodology would include interviewing the farmer on whose property the circle had appeared, and any other available witnesses; photographing the circle from the ground and air; carefully measuring its dimensions; taking soil and plant samples, both from within and around the circle, for laboratory analysis; and taking readings with portable equipment carried into the circle, aimed at mapping out its electrical, magnetic, and radioactive properties.
Among the important researchers in the beginning were Colin Andrews, who remains supreme as the master researcher, coordinator, and spokesman for the field of crop circle research; Pat Delgado, an electromechanical design engineer who was once contracted by NASA to assist with the tracking of the Mariner spacecraft [Andrews 194]; George Wingfield, a researcher with a background in Systems Engineering who worked for a brief time at the Royal Greenwich Observatory on stellar spectra and the Earth’s magnetism [Noyes 9]; William Levengood, a renowned biophysicist from Michigan [Andrews 196]; Terence Meaden, an Oxford graduate, specializing in meteorology and physics [Noyes 9]; and Busty Taylor, a pilot and photographer who provided invaluable support to the researchers with his numerous flyovers of affected fields. [Andrews 200, Noyes 9] Other specialists, over the years, have provided additional weight to the research, including Masahiro Kahata, a Japanese-born electronics engineer who claimed to discover that human brainwave patterns are, at times, notably affected upon entering a crop circle. [Andrews 147, 184, 196]
As time went on, in addition to the "passive" approach of waiting for a circle to appear, the contact apparatus to notify them, and then rushing to the site to photograph and conduct tests, the serious researchers began to mount long-term monitoring operations designed to keep important swaths of England’s crop-circle hot zone under constant surveillance, in the hopes of catching a circle in the act of forming. Among these were Operation White Crow (1989) and Operation Blackbird (1990). The name for Operation White Crow came from William James’ famous comment, stating that the theory that all crows are black could be vanquished by finding a single white crow. Thus, the pronouncement, by conventional scientists, that any paradigm-violating phenomenon such as UFOs or crop circles were impossible, could be shattered by the documentation of just a single exception to the rule – a single flying saucer, or a single circle in the fields. In the case of Operation White Crow, a "caravan of vehicles, work stations, and cameras" was engaged to stake out a place known as the "Devil’s Punchbowl" in Cheesefoot Head, Winchester, Hampshire. Although decisive evidence, in terms of convincing the scientific establishment that the phenomenon was authentic and/or could not be explained within the currently-known laws of science, was not obtained, researchers Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews reported a mysterious and frightening encounter with an unseen noise and an invisible force within a recently-formed crop circle, which interacted with them before moving on. In the vicinity of their experience, another crop circle formed along the trajectory indicated by the departure of the noise, which had a clear direction as it left. [Andrews 107-109; Wingfield, in Noyes, 104-105]
One year later, in support of Operation Blackbird, the crop-circle researchers received financing from Nippon Television of Japan (90%) and the BBC (10%); permission to set up a surveillance station at Bratton Castle, on high ground overlooking the countryside of Wiltshire, England; and back-up from the British military, which added high-tech, night-viewing, image-intensifying cameras to the researchers’ arsenal. (In total, $2 million worth of equipment was mobilized for the project.) The results of this operation were, from the point of view of impressing the public and the scientific mainstream, extremely disappointing: but there were complications, and charges of foul play. More on this later.
As the researchers put together different methods for monitoring and studying the phenomenon, they also wielded different approaches. There were those who approached the circles from a scientific framework, and tackled the mystery with scientific methods, and those who approached the phenomenon from a mystical point of view, such as the psychics and the dowsers. Eventually, some of the researchers who had originally taken on the phenomenon with the methodology of science, even if their minds were open to esoteric possibilities, began to fuse that methodology with a more intuitive approach, which seemed necessary in the face of their experiences. They began to adapt their approach to the internal changes that the crop circle phenomenon was making on them as they investigated it. Colin Andrews is a good example of a scientist who underwent a personal transformation as he studied the crop circles, which affected his methodology. Although scientific purists would say that he undermined his credibility by admitting intuitive and psychic elements into his approach, Andrews would say that these additions to his investigative arsenal were necessitated by the phenomenon, itself. He, unlike some others, continued to understand the motto of science, that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", and to respect the rigors of its definition of proof, which he did not cease to attempt to satisfy; at the same time, however, he did not let the strictness of the scientific mindset hold him back in his own search for the truth.
Among the more interesting, esoteric aspects of the crop circles which Andrews (and many others) discovered, was the fact that there seems to be a highly interactive quality between the circles and the human mind. This discovery plunged Andrews into uncharted paranormal waters, which struck many of the inhabitants of his pre-crop-circle world as strange, and may even have ended up costing him his first marriage; but Andrews was on to something and could not turn back, not even to avoid the stigma of being perceived as "weird" by those who had once respected him. [Andrews 28, 44]
Among the shocking cases cited by Andrews:
Colin Andrews reports that he took a soil sample from a crop circle on September 4, 1986, which he left at precisely 4:15 PM, and that he brought the sample back to his house. At 4:15 AM on September 5, his sophisticated intruder alarm system went off at home. Lights went on, and buzzers rang, awaking his entire family and the neighbors as well. The system continued to malfunction (to go off for no apparent reason), at the same exact time, for the next 14 days in a row, although Andrews, an electrical engineer, insists that he checked his equipment thoroughly and that it was functioning properly. Finally, he discovered, on his map, that the area in which he had studied crop circles in the south of England in recent years could be framed within an equilateral triangle, with all sides measuring 41.5 miles. The anomalous alarm activations ceased immediately after that discovery. [Andrews 43-44] For Andrews, this was suggestive of some sort of intelligence attempting to guide him to new insights as he worked, and to lead him past impasses when he got stuck. In the same way, Andrews reports that there have been cases of crop circles appearing in farmers’ fields, which were then plowed under before they could be properly investigated by researchers. In such cases, he claims that there is a history of identical circle patterns appearing nearby, as if an intelligence behind the phenomenon wanted to make certain that the circle in question was duly noted, and given the attention it deserved, before being erased. [Andrews 35]
Colin Andrews reports that in the mid-1980s, in the midst of investigating the crop circles, he was all at once overcome by a mystical sensibility and asked that a crop circle appear for him, in the form of a Celtic Cross, and as close to his home as possible. He visualized it ardently. In seeming response to his silent petition, the requested formation appeared next morning in a field four to five miles from his home, which, due to the fact that all of the nearer fields had already been harvested, was the closest field to his home in which a crop circle could have appeared. [Andrews 32-33] Many others have also reported that crop circles have seemed to appear as the result of their prayers, or requests for contact. (When they make such a request, they are accepting the possibility of a paranormal reality, and are seeking a sign, or a more direct form of communication with the source of the mystery, in order to boost their belief in it.) [Andrews 13-14, 162; Wingfield, in Noyes, 184]
Colin Andrews also cites cases in which private conversations held among researchers resulted in overnight crop-circle manifestations directly related to their thoughts. (Busty Taylor described a new kind of formation he would love to see, and next morning, it appeared in a field directly below the spot where he had been in his airplane while expressing the idea; Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews commented, to each other, how none of the crop circles they had yet observed violated the law of angular momentum, a law of physics which "describes the direction and velocity of spin in natural vortices." The next day, a new crop circle violating this law appeared in a field adjacent to the one where they had held their conversation. [Andrews 162] To those affected by such experiences, it seemed that there must be an intelligence behind the crop circles, which could somehow "listen in on them" or "read their minds."
All of these episodes were taken to indicate that the crop circle phenomenon is not merely something going on outside of us, like a man yelling on a soapbox, supposedly for our benefit, who has no actual point of contact with us. In contrast, the circle phenomenon is said to be highly attuned to us, responsive, and interactive, and involved in a complex and intimate form of communication with the human race, which goes far beyond the physical imprints left behind in the fields. As the circles fill us with wonder and open our spiritual eye - and perhaps communicate important information encoded in geometry – the way the circles relate to our minds and thoughts draw us deeper into the mystery, perhaps towards new understandings of our own power, once we are reconnected to universal sources of energy which we have ceased believing in. Perhaps it is that power which we need more than electric or atomic power to redeem our world.
Of course, this type of mystical experience, while deepening, tremendously, the commitment to the crop circles of those investigators in touch with it, has no weight with science, which does not build its concept of reality in that way. For science, this kind of experience is anecdotal. In most cases, when someone says a crop circle appeared as a result of his prayers, thoughts, or conversations, there is no way for him to prove, after the fact, that he is not a liar, or deluded: no way to document the connection between what happened in his mind, and what happened in the fields. Although for the investigator such as Colin Andrews, widening his approach to include the psychic and the mystical has resulted in a more vivid and thorough pursuit of knowledge, it has also undermined his credibility with mainstream scientists, by casting him as an eccentric or a flake, which has made it far easier to dismiss him. The gains of mental expansion have been offset by the prejudice which that expansion has incurred.
This vulnerability which Andrews, and others of his kind, have accrued as a result of their open-mindedness has, in turn, left them especially susceptible to dismissal in the face of the greatest of all challenges today facing the crop circle phenomenon: the epidemic of hoaxing which has tainted the entire field with the possibility of being nothing more than a collective absurdity.
As Colin Andrews notes, one of the great drawbacks of pumping up the profile of crop circles with the publication of the book Circular Evidence in 1989, was that it not only increased scientific interest in the phenomenon but also ignited a massive wave of hoaxing (which has not stopped to this day). As he writes: "Hoaxed crop circles began to proliferate like wildfire." [Andrews 22]
In the beginning, a pair of elderly English drinking buddies, David Chorley and Douglas Bowers, "Doug and Dave", came out of the woodwork to tell the world that they were single-handedly responsible for the creation of all of the crop circles in England; that with nothing more than ropes and boards (to flatten the crops), they had been tromping into fields at night for years, making the patterns because it gave them great pleasure to play tricks on the wise, and to outwit intellectuals who thought too much of themselves. Good, for humble men of common sense to take the gullible of the universities to task! When Doug and Dave presented themselves to the media as "ordinary fellows" (they were artists, in fact), and demonstrated that they could, indeed, make some kinds of crop circles, they immediately became great hits; the nation loved them. They were colorful, seemed to embody the triumph of the practical everyday man over the overeducated buffoon, were a way of vicariously dragging down the unfairly elevated (a powerful theme in England), and to top it all off, they came to the rescue of a scientific paradigm which could not encompass the crop circles and was not yet ready to undergo a revolution. Doug and Dave were, in fact, so desperately desired in the midst of a discomfiting mystery that even the likes of Carl Sagan latched onto them as the saviors of that paradigm, and stooped to dismissing the crop circles as the two buddies’ great joke on the world. [Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark]
Of course, it was soon pointed out that the output of crop circles was simply too prolific to be the product of two old pranksters; never, in a million years, could they cover that much ground and make so many circles, in so many different locations. They were frightful boasters, charming for those who hated crop circles, but ultimately unconvincing. Crop-circle enthusiasts took heart. However, it soon became apparent that writing off the problem was premature. Doug and Dave, it turned out, were merely the tip of the iceberg. Within a relatively short amount of time, it became clear that large numbers of hoaxers were up and about, running around in the fields with ropes and boards, stakes (for stabilizing the ropes) and measuring devices, many operating in groups far more capable and better-equipped than the two celebrity "debunkers." For true crop-circle lovers, the situation was heart-rending. [Andrews 127-128, 154] Here they were, in contact with a great mystery they felt, an amazing phenomenon that might be aimed at nothing less than the transformation of human consciousness and the salvation of the world, and hoaxers had thrust themselves into the middle of it, discrediting it, and convincing the public, ever susceptible to logical fallacies, that if some of the crop circles could be faked, then all of them could. Far easier than throwing one’s view of reality out of the window and trying to start again – or changing one’s civilization in order to accommodate a new awakening, which is always painful in the beginning – was the simple remedy of allowing the hoaxes to taint the genuine, and to dismiss the entire phenomenon as nothing more than a product of deception. From pioneers at the edge of knowledge, Colin Andrews and company were reduced to being objects of ridicule.
Within the hoaxing community, several subcultures seemed to arise, each with its own sensibility and agenda:
Some of the hoaxers did it as a form of play, for the thrill of producing a reaction in the newspapers and duping the ingenuous. It was good fun.
Some did it as a form of art, choosing the fields as their canvas and the crop circle as their means of self-expression. For many, the art form was actually multi-dimensional, not only centered on the interesting designs which they produced, but also on the experience of the viewers which was provoked: the response of the audience was an essential component of the art, which was both geometrical and psychological. In the same way that the Living Theater had once formulated the idea of a new kind of performance involving the spectator just as much as the actor, and breaking down the barriers between them, so these new conceptual artists in the fields hoped to produce a new art form that had sociological as well as aesthetic aspects. Other analysts have compared these bogus crop-circle creators to the graffiti artists of the 1980s, who determined to take art out of the studio to the streets and to interact with the public in a different way.
Some others did it, not so much to perpetrate a hoax, as to plug into the crop circle phenomenon and seek a spiritual experience of their own. The idea of being out in the night, in Nature, with a small group of kindred spirits, creating "sacred patterns and symbols" in the fields in imitation of a great mystical phenomenon, appealed to them. Together, they felt something magical taking place as they participated in the rite of tangibly manifesting a spiritual geometry in the fields; perhaps something akin to the sentiments of ancient folk at Stonehenge, or Nasca, or the pyramid sites of Egypt. According to some of them, they felt guided or compelled to make the designs which they did, driven by creative forces they could not say no to; there are reports of some groups going into the fields with a particular design in mind, then, overpowered by an irresistible inspiration, scrapping it at the last moment and creating something else instead, of even greater beauty and impact than what they had envisioned; and reports of human crop-circle creators encountering paranormal phenomena in the fields, such as lights or the famous trilling sound, while in the midst of their work, are also common. Some analysts believe that the crop circles, by inspiring members of this subculture to come into the fields to copy them at night, had drawn them into a richly esoteric landscape, an energy minefield, so to speak, in order to be transformed. Their intent to commit a fraud became a path to being uplifted. [Andrews 128, 150-151] Although their hoaxing was not, for the most part, malicious, it greatly upset the researchers, who implored the perpetrators to be open about their activity so as not to "muddy the waters" and obscure the lines between what was real and what was fake. [Andrews 126-128] But these spiritual circle-makers felt that their own form of creation was as valid as the genuine formation of circles by paranormal forces, and that it was, in fact, an intrinsic part of the phenomenon, which had established a psychic connection with their minds and was now utilizing them to broaden its message. They also believed that the power of their experience, and its effect on civilization, depended upon mystery and secrecy, and therefore they would not cooperate with researchers.
Bad as all this was, from the point of view of verifying the authenticity of the circles, there were still more hoaxing subcultures to come.
In the early days of the crop circle phenomenon, most farmers on whose land the mysterious patterns appeared, were open to the arrival of researchers and the curious. As time went on, and public interest grew, many began to feel overwhelmed, especially as the incautious entry of large numbers of people onto their property began to disrupt their work and to destroy many plants, which were trampled underfoot as hordes of observers plunged, uninvited, through their fields. [Andrews 47-49] In response, many farmers increased security around their property, locking their gates, and erecting barbed wire barriers around it; many farmers also began to charge an admission fee to see the circles, in order to compensate themselves for the damage that was being caused. This, in turn, set up a possible motive for fraud: for by contracting to have fake crop circles made on their property, and passing them off as real ones, the farmers could make extra money by drawing in large numbers of paying, crop-circle tourists. Although Colin Andrews states that he knows of no case in which this has been done (though farmers have openly allowed "crop-circle artists" to make designs in their fields for a fee), the possibility for financial gain has heightened suspicions and provided ammunition to skeptics. [Andrews 49] In addition, the phenomenon sparked the creation of bustling cottage industries geared towards producing crop-circle T-shirts, and paraphernalia; the crop circles became indispensable for this business, and the impulse to create false circles in order to bolster business and draw it to certain locations, intensified.
The shadow of the profit motive also obscures some crop-circle reports and alleged evidence, which critics theorize may have been produced with the hope of financial gain (through the sale of photographs, videos, and testimony to the media or to researchers). Colin Andrews, himself, has judged the infamous "Oliver’s Castle video" which reputes to capture the live formation of a crop circle, to be a hoax produced for the purpose of making money. [Andrews 139-143]
The idea that the crop circles are largely manmade and a result of the profit motive is reinforced by the activity of some major companies and advertisers, who are now contracting circle-makers to place ads in the fields for their own benefit. Examples would be circles featuring a company logo, a bicycle (produced for the Tour de France), and a car (commissioned by Mitsubishi). [Andrews, plates between 144 and 145] Although these are not hoaxes in the strictest sense, since they are immediately recognized for what they are, they enhance the perception of the phenomenon as a product of men and money, and bastardize its spiritual content.
Another subculture of hoaxers seems to be wedded to protecting the current scientific paradigm, and to be engaged in some sort of crusade, for their own benefit and the benefit of the public, to prove that there is nothing extraordinary or paranormal about the crop circles, and that they can be reproduced by ordinary earthly means. According to circle researchers, this subculture exists in a constant state of interconnection with and reaction to the genuine phenomenon, following in its footsteps in an unrelenting effort to imitate the latest generation of circles and to keep up with their evolving complexity. It is said, by some, that their efforts to obscure the true origin of the crop circles has driven the intelligence which is behind the phenomenon to escalate the complexity of the circles, in order to make them more difficult to copy. This, in turn, impels the copiers to improve and refine their technique, and on it goes. It is something like an arms race going on in our soul, between our rational and spiritual selves. (Others, however, attribute the increasing complexity of the crop circles to their own dynamic, as they are expanding their communicative power in increments and gradually building up towards the threshold of human enlightenment.) It should be stated that this class of hoaxers is firmly convinced that crop circles, in the paranormal sense, are impossible, and therefore must be manmade. They do not see themselves as malicious, but as guardians of reason making war against the threat of an intellectual Dark Age, in which men, succumbing to the vice of excessive credulity, might undo the foundations of civilization, replacing the hard-fought progress of centuries with a fantasy-based culture as repressive and stagnant as that of the Middle Ages. They see themselves as champions of the light: as exposers of hoaxers, rather than as hoaxers. Their M.O. is to prove, by copying crop circles that have been claimed as paranormal in origin, that they can be produced by ordinary means without shattering the prevailing paradigm. They film themselves making the circles, and in cases place the designs and plans, and the locations and times of formation, in sealed envelopes, before they make the circles, in order to prove their involvement. They may then either invite the public in to witness their handiwork, or else lay low in the hope that crop-circle researchers and enthusiasts will come in to pronounce the fake circles real, thereby demonstrating that they are not actually able to tell the difference between a manmade circle and a supposedly authentic one.
Outwardly related, but far more damaging than this subculture, which is, after all, sincerely motivated, and actually helping to refine the skills of circle researchers albeit in a painful way, are those deceivers who may believe in the existence of an authentic crop circle phenomenon, but are determined to discredit it by imbedding hoaxes into its midst. They are acting along the classic and well-known lines of the UFO-debunkers [see Rainsnow, The Secret of the UFOs], to "protect the public" from an upsetting sense of powerlessness, or to hide the fact, from the weak, that the powerful in our world are not actually on top of the universe and in complete control of it; that there is a higher authority to appeal to, and visions which might shatter the contours of our society, within our reach. They are acting not so much to defend a scientific paradigm, as a social one, and to keep us away from a source of energy which, by acting upon our imagination, might liberate us from the concepts which keep us aligned with our contemporary systems, like iron shavings oriented by a magnet. No new magnet must be introduced to the world, which might change our patterns of attachment.
Since the authentic crop circle phenomenon is out there for all to see, and irrepressible, for it is beyond our means to impede, these defenders of the order can only obscure it by adding to it: adding hoaxes, which infect the credibility of the rest. What cannot be buried must be disgraced. They lace the cup of revelation with the arsenic of deceit, and drive people away from what is transformative with what is repulsive. They seek not only to cast doubt upon the phenomenon by tainting it with fraud, but to cut down the strongest proponents of the phenomenon by setting up traps for them which are engineered to make them appear incompetent and ridiculous, leaving the field with no authoritative advocate.
Colin Andrews notes the tell-tale combination of government and military interest in the phenomenon [Andrews 26, 137] and government attempts of discrediting the phenomenon [Andrews 124, 131-137], which is apparent on the UFO front. Government and intelligence community contacts with researchers and infiltration of enthusiast groups reveal an interest which belies their official dismissal of the phenomenon. (There seems to be interest not only in the social aspect of public reaction, which could apply to the case of a politically significant delusion, but also in the technical aspect of what is actually going on?) Behind the scenes, and out of public view, according to Andrews, clear indications of interest have been given by the British government and military. At the same time, there has been an effort to render the phenomenon "harmless" in terms of its sociopolitical implications, by engaging in activities meant to undermine public belief in it. For Andrews, the biggest of all such efforts was Operation Blackbird (1990), a crop-circle research surveillance project involving Andrews and other bona fide circle investigators, who received significant "support" from the British military. [Andrews 131-137] Andrews now believes that the operation was designed not to reveal the truth about the crop circles, but to obscure it, by "setting him and other serious researchers up" and luring them into a situation which would reflect poorly on their judgment and, by turning them into objects of ridicule, discredit the point of view which they represented.
The temptation of receiving the full support of the British military and integrating their high-tech equipment (operated by military personnel) into the project was too much to resist, and the crop-circle researchers gladly allowed them aboard – a mistake, as Andrews now believes, for he feels they infiltrated the project merely to destroy it. During the night, shortly after the operation had been initiated, Colin Andrews was informed, by a telephone call which he received at home, that the team had results. A complex pattern had just appeared in a field and members of the team also reported seeing lights above the spot where the circle had formed. Andrews raced to the scene, and early in the morning, was asked to comment on the formation on live TV, before he had had a chance to examine the circle on the ground or to view it from the air. He allowed the dynamics of the moment and media pressure to carry him along, and believing, on the basis of what he had been told, that a major, paradigm-shifting event had taken place, he went on record suggesting that a great scientific discovery had just been made. Not long afterwards, he and his researchers discovered that the circle was quite obviously manmade and poorly made at that. To top it all off, a horoscope game board and a wooden cross had been left in the middle of the circle, as a slap in the face. As for the lights, they turned out to have been nothing more than the running lights of British millionaire Richard Branson’s hot air balloon, which he had "coincidentally" flown over the field around the same time that the hoaxers had finished making their circle. (He denied being part of the "sting operation.") [Andrews 134] The result of this humiliating episode was that Andrews was turned into a media laughingstock, the legitimate circle phenomenon took a tremendous hit and drop in public esteem, and for many, was permanently laid to rest. According to Andrews, under the guise of lending its aid to crop-circle research, the British government had done its best to destroy it.
George Wingfield, another prominent circle-researcher, later said of this operation, based at Bratton Castle: "The Bratton hoax was carried out by a specially-trained unit of the army and the order came directly from the Ministry of Defense. The operation was carefully planned, prepared in advance and then carried out in complete darkness, quickly and precisely. My informant was even able to speak with an officer who was involved in the planning of the operation, which had the highest secrecy level." [Andrews 135]
In spite of the devastating blow, Andrews continued to participate in Operation Blackbird, whose media retinue was now largely decimated, satisfied to go home and write him off as a fool. Though he remained, as a visible token of its objectivity, he believed that "the British military – with all the power of the government behind them – was issuing the orders at the Operation Blackbird site." [Andrews 136] Even so, on August 5, 1990, claims Andrews, a real circle formed only ¼ mile from the site of the hoaxed circle, and its formation was captured on film. However, the videotape, which was locked in a box and which he was not allowed to view or to confirm had come from an on-site camera, was stolen from the scene not long afterwards and replaced by a fake. An employee from the BBC later informed him "that his station was receiving live broadcasts from the Operation Blackbird site, and that after the… event occurred, a rarely issued D Notice was placed on their broadcasts by the British Government. A D Notice is a Ministry of Defense National Security Notice that gives the British government the right to immediately terminate a radio or television broadcast, ostensibly for reasons of national security. That day, the D Notice was invoked, and broadcasts from Operation Black bird were suspended for a period of four hours." [Andrews 136] According to Andrews, the operation that was designed to bury the crop-circle, nearly succeeded in imprinting it into the heart of the world.
Andrews believes, in the wake of Operation Blackbird, that it is quite likely that military/intelligence operations remain active in the crop-circle hot zones. He suspects that there are some specialized teams, utilizing high-tech equipment, involved in the production of fake circles, and that they are also involved in falsely claiming responsibility for real circles. He writes: "Would they lay claim to real formations, in a concerted attempt to trivialize, minimize and ultimately discredit all that is genuine? Disinformation has long been a hoary tactic in the intelligence communities’ bag of duplicitous tricks. If, for some reason, world governments and their respective intelligence communities wanted to get the public ‘off the scent,’ there might be no better way than to put forth the message that all crop formations are fakes." [Andrews 124] (Some crop-circle enthusiasts go beyond this, to claim that the government is actually involved in creating the crop circles by means of satellites, which project an energy ray into fields to produce them. This is not for the purpose of discrediting real circles, but is actually the true force behind the creation of the real crop circles. Andrews, as the majority of serious researchers, rejects this hypothesis. [Andrews 71-72, 124] Aside from technical factors, what would be the purpose; and why attempt to discredit one’s own creations by making "fakes", on the ground, of the circles one had generated from space?)
Of course, it is extremely difficult for researchers such as Andrews to prove that their suspicions regarding government sabotage of their work are legitimate. In many cases, it is the government’s word against theirs; the accusations of the researchers, which could be interpreted as attempts to salvage their reputations, against the denials of government officials. Often, when and if government officials admit misdeeds, it is through intermediaries and off the record, so that public verification is impossible. "Sources must be protected." The overall impact is that the crop-circle phenomenon is made less appealing to many, who are deterred from approaching it too closely on account of the numerous hoaxes with which it is studded, and on account of the disturbing aroma of the "conspiracy theories" which surround it, provoking anxiety and discomfort. The fact that some highly irrational "know-it-all" cults have also latched onto the crop circles as Meccas of their new worldview, is yet one more complication. There is a great river of stigma to be crossed by the mainstream observer to reach the truth of the crop circles.
In an effort to preserve the credibility of a phenomenon which they believe is capable of transforming us and the world we live on, the circle-researchers have been forced to seek clear and accurate ways of distinguishing fake circles from real ones. The development of foolproof criteria to discriminate between the two has, therefore, become one of the key priorities of researchers.
In the beginning, it was argued that the growing complexity of the circle designs, combined with the time frame in which they were said to be produced, was evidence enough of their authenticity. The increasingly complex formations were said to be beyond the means of the hoaxers to recreate. As time went on, however, it became apparent that the hoaxers were more capable than originally thought. On various occasions, seasoned crop-circle investigators were fooled; after pronouncing circles to be genuine, the hoaxers came forward with video and other proofs of human authorship, leaving the experts in the lurch and the public image of the circle phenomenon in disarray. The fact that hoaxers, by improving their methods, their speed, their technique, and in cases their equipment, could effectively mimic crop-circles, even as the complexity of the circles evolved, convinced many viewers that, since the production of the circles lay within the capacity of man, it was easiest to attribute the production of all crop circles to the hand of man. Why wander into the realm of paranormal speculations if human beings could make these things? No reason. Human genius for imitation obscured the fact that there was, in the first place, something to imitate. [Andrews 123]
As time went on, the list of criteria separating the real from the fake crop circles was refined and narrowed. Some of the key tests which investigators now use to separate the "wheat from the chaff", so to speak, are: (1) Are there tracks leading into the circle? Are there holes left behind where stakes were set into the ground (hoaxers use them as part of their set-up to create circles using boards and ropes)? Are there signs of interference with the soil or plants where the circle-makers would have to stand in order to perpetrate their frauds? (In genuine crop circles, none of these signs of human activity are detectable.) (2) Is there any damage to the plants? (Hoaxers often break the plants as they lay them down flat; they frequently lack the finesse to bend the crops without damaging or killing them, whereas in the authentic phenomenon, the circle is created without harm being inflicted on the plants.) (3) Are the magnetic and electrostatic anomalies characteristic of the authentic circle present? What about the magnetic material found in the soil and imbedded in the plant tissue which are found in some genuine circles? (4) Are the plants changed at the cellular level, as indicated by the research of William Levengood? [Andrews 178-179] Although the hoaxers have displayed a remarkable ability to imitate some of the circles’ more distinctive features, such as the exactness of the geometrical figures made without apparent error - and although they are sometimes skillful in concealing their presence from cursory inspection, and laying down plants without causing immediately noticeable short-term damage - the above-mentioned criteria, when carefully and conscientiously applied, are very useful in sorting out what is real from what is fake: or what is still a mystery, from what is solved. If, one day, imitators are finally able to catch up with the features of the genuine crop circle which today elude their duplicating abilities, it will not be proof that nothing real has ever taken place, only that they have, at last, found a way to mimic it.
In addition to the establishment of these criteria by crop-circle researchers, which suggest that a large number of crop circles have been generated by unknown forces not currently understood, there exists an inventory of hallmark cases and experiences which investigators say no hoaxer can negate, and which are brandished as proof of the legitimacy of the phenomenon. These would include famous crop-circle cases, such as the Barbury Castle Tetrahedron (July 16, 1991), a formation accompanied by flying balls of light and a power failure in the village of Wroughton [Andrews 183-184]; and the impressive and precisely aligned Julia Set formation (July 1996), which, according to numerous witnesses and military authorities, seems to have appeared during daylight in a field in close proximity to Stonehenge, and visible to air and ground traffic, in a time frame of less than an hour. [Andrews 87-89] There are also instances in which the famous trilling sound so frequently associated with the circles has been recorded, including by the BBC (July 1989), an incident which caused damage to their equipment. [Andrews 105, 147; Wingfield, in Noyes, 106] There is Masahiro Kahata’s correlation of human brainwave changes to the crop circles (he says there are significant changes upon entering a crop circle) [Andrews 147]; and there are a wide range of reported healings of physical ailments during and after visits to the crop circles, which some observers insist are subjective and psychosomatic, but which are, nonetheless, of interest. [Andrews 54, 147, 149, 151; Lucy Pringle, in Noyes, 182,184]
In a final effort to wrest the crop-circle phenomenon away from the arms of doubt into which the hoaxers had placed it, Colin Andrews decided, in 1999, to take the issue head-on with a massive quest for the truth, focused, now, on exposing every hoax that he could find, to see what, if any part of the phenomenon he had dedicated his life to, was left unblemished. With this potentially ruthless purpose in his heart, he subjected to intense scrutiny every crop circle appearance in the UK which he could direct resources to, strictly applying the criteria he had developed to separate the real from the fake. In this campaign, he utilized his contacts with some hoaxers with whom he enjoyed a "friendly animosity"[Andrews 127], who provided him with valuable insight into their methods, which facilitated his detection of fakes. He tapped into the resources of other experts and laboratories, and actually hired retired police officials as private detectives to infiltrate hoaxing groups, in order to gain a better understanding of their techniques and to gather intelligence regarding their activities. [Andrews 150, 154] The research was fully funded by Laurence Rockefeller.
In August 2000, Andrews reported on his findings, claiming, on the basis of his research, that approximately 80% of all crop circles studied during the years of 1999 and 2000 were hoaxes, while the other 20% remained unexplained – that is, they were the mysterious and genuine phenomena which had first attracted him to the field, and transformed his life. Andrews states that the reaction he received from the crop-circle community as a result of publicizing his findings was fierce and unexpected. He was accused, by many who had once been his friends, of having been bought off by the Rockefellers’ money, and turned into a pawn of the Establishment to discredit and destroy the crop-circle movement from within. [Andrews 153-158] He was threatened, berated, and condemned by those who, not long ago, had upheld him as a champion. A widespread feeling of betrayal and a sense of despair swept through the paranormal community; many believed he had pulled the rug out from under their feet and shattered a beautiful movement which they believed would change human consciousness and history. He was a turncoat and a traitor.
Exasperated and hurt, Andrews desperately sought to clarify the significance of his study. He had not debunked the crop circles; he had stated, in the context of the obvious fact that many of them were hoaxed, that 20% of them were real. In a country which, during the period of his study, produced 236 crop-circle formations, he had found that 54 of them were not faked; that 54 of them were not produced by man; that 54 of them were the result of mysterious forces not understood by Science. 54 white crows was quite a lot, considering that William James said that only one would do.
On a more technical note, although some interpreted Andrews’ statement to the BBC about his work as being dismissive of the more complex of the crop circles, it seems that this was not necessarily his point. In that interview he stated that "most of the complex crop circle designs that we had investigated were judged to have been manmade." In the 20% of the formations that were not manmade, "magnetic anomalies had been conclusively recorded and measured and, again, these readings were only found in simple circles." [Andrews 155] However, in his book, Crop Circles: Signs Of Contact, Andrews seems to retain the belief that the legitimate crop circles are evolving and assuming greater degrees of complexity, which would imply that being "simple" is not a necessary condition for being "real." He writes: "The unavoidable conclusion is that the phenomenon is evolving… The simple has now become complex; few has become many; random has become commonplace… The phenomenon is moving towards something; perhaps towards many things, and its increasing complexity and its insistence on making itself known through bolder and more widespread formations, may have great import for mankind and the future of the planet." [Andrews 33]
And this seems to be where things stand at the moment, though perhaps "standing" is an inappropriate word to apply to a phenomenon that is as fluid and developing as is the crop circle. After all is said and done, what have we learned? What can we believe? How are we impacted? What should we do?
There is, first of all, no universal consensus as to what the crop circles are or what they mean. There are large numbers of people throughout the world, perhaps the majority of Europeans and Americans, who believe that they are fake, and disdain those who think otherwise; and of those who believe that they are real, there is a considerable difference of opinion as to their cause, ranging from those who insist that they are generated by meteorological phenomenon or natural aberrations in the earth’s magnetic field, to those who believe they are appearing as a form of communication or as a stimulus to consciousness-expansion, sent to us by a Living Earth, our own minds, spirits of the dead or esoteric entities such as fairies, or Extraterrestrials. Most of those who embrace an explanation which falls outside of the contemporary paradigm, view this communication as an effort by conscious energies to awaken and elevate us, in the interest of our own survival and the preservation of our world.
Although the crop-circle activity is stunning and mind-boggling, it is still very much on the side of the road of our world and our lives. Most of us, even if we consider it to be real but have had no direct experience with it, pay it little attention, and live our lives as if it did not exist. But as Aldous Huxley once said: "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." [Andrews 33] The mind-changing potential of the crop-circle experience, as the mind-changing experience offered to us by the UFO, or by contact with spirits, or by the grand synchronicities of the universe which are like the hand of God touching us, remains, ready to be tapped into, ready to lift our eyes from the rut in which we are stuck, to empower us to outgrow our doom, and save our planet and the ones we love.
As we act to guard our reason, which is essential for avoiding the dangers of superstition and totalitarianism, we must also cultivate our intuition and spiritual sensibility, to prevent our reason from becoming grasping and shallow. The study of the crop circles helps to mend the rift between our two halves, neither one of which is self-sufficient. As Colin Andrews writes: "We do need to keep scientific inquiry at the forefront of our investigation into the mystery, but we must also allow room for information to come to us through different doors and open windows." [Andrews 30] Perhaps the reintegration of our estranged selves is one of the greatest potential gifts which the crop circles have to offer.
Colin Andrews sees the crop circles as a force, not only for raising our environmental consciousness (listening to the cries of the earth), but for potentially unifying our conflictive, divided species. He writes: "I have met an extraordinary range of individuals in crop circles. They have run the gamut from priests to politicians and everyone in between and the only thing they – we – all have in common, aside from our innate humanity, of course, is the sharing of a mystery. The crop circle mystery brings us all together, and a new bond is created. The process is painfully slow, but it is occurring. My thinking is that this interaction and this common interest – the sharing of the mystery – will ultimately show us that we have so much more in common than we have differences." [Andrews 30]
For someone like me, far removed from the fields of England and the direct impact and social aftershock of the phenomenon, the crop circles take their rightful place beside other unexplained mysteries, forces, and intimate spiritual perceptions which serve as a personal resource for development and renewal. They reinforce knowledge I have gained elsewhere, and if they are not as impactful to me as things I have experienced personally, they are, nonetheless, helpful in protecting the experiences I have had. By being inexplicable, yet existing in spite of it, they shelter that which cannot be explained in my own life, which enriches me. I am not the same person who I was before I let the energy of mystery, awe and connection, our primal right, come back to me after its long trek through the desert of pure skepticism. Now I am slowly approaching the man I wish to be, and the crop circles are a part of that recovery. I do not know what they are or from what they come, but I know that they are important for me, and that they are likely destined to be important for us all.
-JRS, September 2008.
Note: To fully appreciate the crop-circle phenomenon, it is important to explore some of the many visual images which document it. No article consisting of words only can recreate the sense of wonder, and spiritual and aesthetic fulfillment, which these formations are capable of producing.
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