Spring is here in its inimitable, slightly-sodden Vancouver fashion. Growing up in Kent, in southern England, I loved it. Every year, the warmer weather brought profound changes to the ancient agrarian landscape around the cathedral city of Canterbury. To a bubbling soundtrack of larks high above, the farmers would sow their fields, bringing a riot of green and yellow to the chalk downs. And then, in another timeless annual rite, crop circle time arrives; the first circle is found smack in the middle of a wheat field in Wiltshire, and suddenly every idiot and conspiracy whack job in the country wakes up sporting their alien-spotter hard on, looking for 15 minutes of fame.
We Like Nutters
The English are passionate about their countryside, just as they love their eccentrics. (Take some time and watch the wonderful British comedy series, the Detectorists and you’ll get the drift. It’s a perfectly crafted story about a pair of misfits combing the countryside with metal detectors, looking for buried Saxon treasure, always just around the corner from a nice pub.) The world of crop circles is where the two passions collide.
You’ve probably seen photos or films about the circles on TV, or perhaps the internet? They’re large, intricate patterns, mostly circular or geometric in form, that -apparently- appear overnight in the green and pleasant wheat or canola fields. The patterns are crushed into the crops, pissing off the reluctant host farmers who lose valuable revenue.
Roughly 12,000 or more have been found around the world but the majority of them have popped up in southern England. A lovely example of a crop circle, clearly supernatural in origin and definitely not a human artifact, is shown in the photo below.
There’s a sort-of-official definition of crop circles:
“A crop circle or crop formation is a pattern created by flattening a crop, usually a cereal.”
What is a Cereologist?
Love the prosaic add-on, “usually a cereal”. In fact, the amateur researchers – and I use the term researchers very lightly- who “study” them are known informally as “cereologists”. Some of the more outlandish theories put forward by cereologists for circle formation include UFOs leaving us corny messages (sorry), or my favourite, that they’re produced by spinning orbs of plasma at the intersection of some of the mythical but unseen ley lines that supposedly criss-cross the Anglian countryside like a stone-age power grid.
So the aficionados and “researchers” fall loosely into 2 camps: the nutters and the rationalists. One lot believe in metaphysical mumbo-jumbo or aliens as the cause, and the others believe they’re man made.
This is a relatively measured statement from a believer in the paranormal or extra-terrestrial origin of the circles (a nutter):
“No matter what one understands to be the cause of crop circles, whether they are all human-made or involve aquifers, ley lines, divine feminine energy, ancient sacred sites, ball lightning or even UFOs, crop circles bring to the fore a mysterious disconnection between language and the visible, as described in Jean-François Lyotard’s book Discourse, Figure.”
Leaving aside the “mysterious disconnection between language and the visible”, whatever that means, there are a few issues here, not least of which is the ball lightning theory. I’ve seen ball lightning. It looks hot, burning hot, much as you’d expect lightning to be. And wheat fields catch fire. But hey, details. As for divine feminine energy, it’s true that my wife in full-flight anger is a sight to behold, capable of acts of great destructive power, but she’d never have the patience to complete a crop circle when riled up.
Let’s hear from Dr. Drew, a total, raving American nutter who holds a PhD in chemistry from Caltech, so he must be clever. According to him:
“..some crop circles provide general descriptions of the future. “Other crop (circles) show schematic images of the future for astronomical or human events,” He said some of the decoded messages read: ‘Much pain but still time. Believe. There is good out there’; ‘Beware the bearers of false gifts and their broken promises’; ‘We oppose deception. Conduit closing’.”
The conduit is closing. I plan to use that on total strangers at parties when I’m drunk.
For a few year in 1970s, the phenomenon was exclusively an English one. Circles would er…crop up..ahem…in the counties west of London, either side of the big M4 motorway which, curiously, provides easy access by car to the countryside of western England. The on-line encyclopedia Britannica entry on crop circles sums it up nicely:
“Beginning in the late 1970s, simple crop circles began to appear regularly in the fields of Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, and Gloucestershire in southern England. They were made at night, and over the years they became more complex, growing into large patterns of geometric forms hundreds of feet across.”
Don’t know about you, but might there perhaps be a few clues in there to the Alien vs Human origins question? A relatively confined geographic area, with a clear evolution evident over time in the complexity of their design. Let’s see, maybe the teams of crop circle engineers, living locally, who were getting better at making them? Made at night time? So the perpetrators can’t be seen perhaps? Wiltshire. Oxfordshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire? These counties host some of the most ancient farm land in England with a five-thousand-plus year history of ancient myths and legends to exploit? Nah. Must be UFOs.
My Mate Barry Told Me
In the interests of a good story, the local TV news channel, ignoring logic, will invariably fly a helicopter over the latest circle, and then interview the local expert-nutter on a bench outside the post office, or propped up in the pub after 4 pints of electric soup. He’ll dutifully blather on about aliens communicating with us and he knows because his mate Barry who works at the University of Reading told him about it and there’s been tons of research by some bloke in Sweden called Haldfan who runs a nuclear reactor and they can’t possibly be natural and haven’t you heard that the wheat stalks aren’t broken but bent in some mysterious way which couldn’t have been done by people and what about the iron in the soil if that isn’t aliens I don’t know what is?
Notwithstanding the fairly obvious clues to the contrary, another website breathlessly gushes:
Despite having been studied for decades, the question remains: Who -or what- is making them?
Hint. Watch this time lapse YouTube video.
I’m not sure who annoys me most. Crystal-power addicts (see Crystal Power), flat earthers or crop-circle-alien-origin proponents; they’re all part of a broad spectrum of charlatans, if you ask me (and apologies here to any friends or rellies who might be crystal worshipers, but no apologies to any friends who might be flat earthers.)
As an aside, flat earthers really enrage me, smugly and blatantly ignoring centuries of empirical and quantitative observations that clearly prove the earth is round and that it circles the sun. I think their recent resurgence is a sad testament to Donald Trump’s simpleton-denial of basic science in favour of his “gut feel”, be it in relation to renewable energy (windmill sounds cause cancer), global warming (confusing local weather for regional climate), or his miraculous clean coal (WTF?) But fuck him, really. That’s fodder for a future rant. Back to crop circles.
The supporters of an alien origin have, en masse, never applied the philosophical principle of Occam’s razor, which states “Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the one that requires the least speculation is usually better. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation.” In other words, in any given situation, the simplest explanation is the most likely. UFOs it is then.
It’s Relativity, Stupid
In the case of crop circles, the obvious question that cereologists fail to address, is why technologically advanced aliens, who – in their interstellar jaunts to our blue planet – must be capable of subverting Einstein’s demonstrably correct laws of relativity, would then choose to communicate with us over a period of decades by squishing down half-grown wheat fields into pretty patterns. In rural England no less. Why wouldn’t they just hack into the global telecoms network, or send us their space-time bending fraternal greetings via google chrome?
Thankfully, a rational American researcher has hit the nail on the head. Professor Taylor, a lecturer in art, physics and psychology at the University of Oregon, believes the myths that have arisen around crop circles were the deliberate objective of the individuals who make the circles –who he describes as an underground art movement.
“(They want to) fool the public into believing a supernatural force had created the works. I know the UFO supporters always say these patterns are so intricate a typical human being couldn’t do them,” Professor Taylor said. “But that’s the mark of a very good artist. Most of us can’t paint like Leonardo da Vinci, but we don’t think the Mona Lisa was created by UFOs just because it is spectacularly difficult.”
Well said professor Taylor.
Truth be told, I love the idea of small groups of students and artists or whoever, huddled in the dark corners of pubs all over rural southern England, planning their next night time adventure guided by GPS, ropes and planks. (“Let’s make a 200 ft. astral jelly fish next. Oh fuck yeah, that’ll really put the wind up the nutters.”) Getting better and better at their craft with time, they achieved their objective years ago, spawning an entire mythology soaked up by delusional people all over the world. All very Banksy, although Banksy came to the underground art idea party a bit late compared to the crop circle crews. So now, after 20-30 years carving out giant art works out of wheat, they’re just rubbing it in, because they can. Take a look at the pictures below and tell me they’re not taking the piss?