When we look at crop circles, what do we actually see? What has been learned in almost twenty years of investigation? ‘We are looking at flattened corn’, Dave Chorley has been quoted as saying. Regardless of what one makes of Doug and Dave’s activities, what can say with certainty, other than the fact that crop circles are patterns within downed crop?
Part of the appeal of crop circles is the fact that there can be no doubt about their existence. They can be visited and investigated by anybody who has the inclination to do so (the wishes of the landowner permitting). This distinguishes them from many other fields of paranormal research, where one is often reliant on second-hand accounts and cannot always verify the details for oneself. Whilst it may sound obvious, the primary question one should ask in investigating crop circles is, therefore, how did they get there? What is the mechanism that causes them to appear? Once one answers this question – or once one has a model through which to seek to answer this question – other questions will arise. The answer may also be different for different formations. However, it often seems that much of the research being done on the subject approaches the question the other way round.
‘For a phenomenon of which almost nothing is known for sure, there’s a lot of people with a lot to say to a lot of people wishing to hear a lot about something of which almost nothing is known for sure’ (Danny Sotham).
In crop circles we often see what we want to see – or what conforms to our belief systems – as opposed to what is actually there. To paraphrase Hamlet, whilst one researcher may look at a formation and see a whale, another may see a weasel. Whatever our favoured paradigm, evidence can be found to support it. The phenomenon easily expands to accommodate any view. Formations can be planetary portents, extraterrestrial etchings, land art, meterological oddities, vandalism, spiritual cyphers. The phenomenon does not seem to mind; it continues regardless.
Much of what are commonly perceived as ‘the facts’ about crop circles are what investigators have brought to them, tainted invariably by that investigator’s belief system. For example, a lot of very earnest work has been undertaken in deciphering the symbolism of formations. Whilst this can be valuable to an extent, it may be beside the point. Until one knows what caused a particular formation to appear, any interpretation of its meaning can only be subjective. To say, for example, that the 4th July 1998 Birling formation is a mandala of the human psyche, that the 14th June 1997 Upham formation represents Caduceus, or that the June 2 1991 Cheesefoot Head formation depicts Gaia, and that this formation has a sad, drooping quality to it, indicative of our abuse of the planet’s resources, is meaningless (and often tells us more about the interpreter than the formation). Yes, these formations could symbolise these things. They could also have many other meanings. With the exception of the ‘fractal’ designs and certain others, there are very few formations whose symbolism can be precisely pinned (and in the case of the fractals, these formations are adaptions of fractals rather than true fractals). This does not mean that such readings are of no use to the interpreter, or to anybody else who chooses to accept them. They are, however, suggestions and not definitions.
This mythologising of ‘fact’ can also be seen on other levels, with many pieces of information accepted as true proving to be nothing of the sort when one back-tracks and examines the original data. For example, the contention that the three quarter mile Etchilhampton pictogram appeared on the same night as the Windmill Hill ‘Julia Set’ (29th July 1996); a study of contemporary reports reveals that the Etchilhampton formation was first sighted several days earlier. Similarly, the contention that nobody has ever been caught making a formation is also untrue. Several such reports are in existence (for example, the first ‘dolphin’ design at Firs Farm, Beckhampton, in August 1991), yet almost all books and articles neglect to mention them.
One thing that has always perplexed me is the way people let their lives fall into place around what they presume to be true (their belief system), and how aspects of said belief system can be arbitrary and / or unquestioned. What we see is limited by language; by what we can explain, and what we think we can explain by putting words to. We do not see things as they are. We see them as they are filtered by our belief systems.
It is easy for anybody outside of the ‘mainstream’ (ie, outside of the dominant cultural belief systems), to feel that this does not apply to them, since they have chosen – for whatever reason – to ‘opt out’, and follow different pursuits to the perceived majority. But more often than not in such cases, the mechanism itself does not change. What changes are the symbol systems and the scenery. In order to make a thing be accepted as true, all one need do is repeat it enough times. We can see this in the above-mentioned Cheesefoot Head formation; many books and articles still regurgitate this idea without thought, as if it were the one and only accepted definition of this formation and any other idea is not even moot.
The last decade or so has seen the crop circle phenomenon swallowed further and further by the New Age movement. And the phenomenon – reflecting as always the perspective of the viewer – has adapted to this very well. The formations are seen as portents for the soul, as harbingers of global shift. We must be very clear as to what exactly ‘the New Age’ constitutes; the emergence of a loose group of overlapping paradigms which differ in certain fundamental respects to the current dominant paradigms. That one may consider such a paradigm shift to be more beneficial to the greater good is not the issue of this article, and it may have little to do with crop circles except for coincidences of time and location and the fact that people attracted to such paradigms are often also attracted to crop circles. Some people argue that to embrace the New Age means to re-capture hidden or secret knowledge that was understood and utilised by our ancestors, to return us to a golden age in which we can live in harmony with the land; the evidence, however, suggests that it does little such thing. Take, for example, the modern pagan revival. With few exceptions, the various pagan traditions as they are currently practiced cannot be dated much beyond this century. The extent to which this should matter is questionable; the relevance must be placed on what one does today, how one applies the available data, what use it is to us, rather than needing a traceable lineage to validate one’s identity. I digress.
That crop circles can be seen as new age denominators also means that all manner of bibble-babble can be spouted about them, the only criteria seeming to be that they can be made to correspond to or originate from a belief system deemed to be ‘higher’ or ‘more spiritual’ than our dominant cultural paradigms. Many people will proclaim that the circles have such a significance, but the evidence for this is reliant upon one first accepting certain givens. Yes, of course crop circles can be found to correspond with chakras. Of course one will find yin and yang energies. If one goes looking for it. It’s simply another way of viewing what is going on, and may be no more or less valid than any other way. We must be very careful here, with regard to what we find and what we want to find (and what pleases our belief systems), or else we run the risk of dragging the whole phenomenon into a quagmire of conjecture and New Age psychobabble out of which it may never emerge intact.
This blight has also meant that the New Age’s trappings can be presented and freely accepted as evidence to support a hypothesis one wishes to pursue concerning the crop circle phenomenon. For example, if one accepts that sacred or subtle or other “energies” are behind the formations, it seems to follow that such energies can be dowsed. If one accepts that a non-human intelligence is behind the formations, it follows that one can contact such intelligence by channelling or other means. The problem with such approaches – regardless of their merit – is their lack of testability. If somebody tells you that they have channelled an entity, you can only accept their word; it would be very difficult to repeat the channelling for yourself under measurable conditions. If somebody states that they dowsed a formation and registered a particular pattern of energy lines, and you dowse the formation and don’t get the same results, they can easily argue that it is your dowsing that is at fault. This lack of repeatability is a grave and omniscient problem within crop circle investigation. Whilst the actual formations themselves can be explored by all, such other findings cannot. As such, reliance upon them as evidence is tenuous.
A further difficulty with channelling lies in identifying the origin of the channelled information, and in understanding the mechanisms by which it operates. Anybody can spout platitudes about love and change and spiritual convergence. Just because a message claims to be from a particular source, this does not mean that it is. Other entities? The channeller’s own mind? Somebody else in the room at the time? Species or planetary consciousness? Cellular memory? Yesterday’s news broadcast? We do not know. In the book Condensed Chaos, Phil Hine makes the point that channelled entities often manifest as endangered species or cultures, as if we wish to channel our own guilt out of ourselves, to personify it as an exterior entity. It is also likely that the messages are ‘flavoured’ by the belief systems of the channeller and the aeon in which they live (for example, Crowley’s Book Of The Law is given an ancient Egyptian and occultist texture, the Revelation of St John a Christian apocalyptic texture, and much of the contemporary channelled material a New Age, extraterrestrial and ecological texture), so that no matter what their source a distortion of information occurs. Further, experiments by Dion Fortune and others have demonstrated that entities can be created, and then quizzed to provide information unknown to the channeller. None of this is necessarily an attempt to debunk channelling, but given that we have no clear idea of what is actually going on here, it seems a little suspicious to found a solution to the crop circle phenomenon on such results. It may be. It may not be. The process itself is too open and too complex to reduce to such simplistic terms as messages to humanity from the stars / the angels / gaia / devas / whatever.
When somebody claims to have had a specific spiritual or physiological result from a crop circle, can we say with any certainty that this has a jot to do with the inherent properties of the formation itself? Aside from the surety that any such experience is filtered through the gloss of the experiencer, there are many variables which must be considered before any substantive analysis can be undertaken. For example, the very excitement of being in a crop circle and the confoundment that it can bring. The pesticides one is touching and breathing in. The excitement (for some) of being in the countryside. The mental ‘otherness’ that can often come from trying to fathom the formation. It is a two-way process; what the experiencer brings to the formation is at least as significant as what the formation might give. The effects of all these things are subtle and difficult to quantify. To say “the crop circle dunnit” is too simplistic a premise. And even if a formation were proved to have such curative or transformative properties, this tells us little about the actual creation process of the formation itself; to assume a cause solely on the basis of such data is tenuous. An enormous amount of research needs to be done in this area before any conclusions can be sketched.
There has been much talk recently along the lines that the source of crop circles is secondaryto the effect they have on people. Whilst there are a number of truths in this attitude, it is perhaps also a reaction to the growing body of evidence that people can flatten crop with much greater skill than previously acknowledged by many. And surely, if one seeks to find solutions to the phenomenon, the abilities of such people must be considered. Many researchers speak of a ‘genuine phenomenon’, of ‘genuine crop circles’, but few seem able to agree on exactly what ‘genuine’ constitutes. Field reports often vary to such an extent that one might be forgiven for assuming one was reading accounts of different formations (some presenting their own point of view then arguing that anybody who disagrees clearly does not know what they are talking about). An extreme example is the notorious 1996 Oliver’s Castle ‘Snowflake’, yet in this case the reports seem primarily to fall into two camps, with those that considered the video genuine reporting the crop circle as spectacular, and those that considered the video bogus reporting the formation as poor. Belief determines how we see the evidence, not vice versa.
Formations known to be man-made are deemed mindless vandalism performed by con-men, whereas formations considered the work of ETS / faeries / earth energies / (insert favoured theory) are considered glorious signs of vital significance. When a formation not considered man-made is discovered to be so, does it cease to be the latter and become the former? Why are people considered vandals and con-artists whereas faeries, aliens et al are not? The same deed is being perpetrated; the distinction lies in our assumption that we understand the motivations of the parties involved (human or otherwise). Ditto the accusations of trespass and damage to crop levelled at human circlemakers; much crop damage in such formations is caused by the trampling boots of visitors, and many who consider themselves “investigators” – and who bemoan the illegal activities of “hoaxers” – will themselves trespass in order to examine the evidence. This is not necessarily to condone the activities of human circlemakers, merely to give them a little perspective.
To illustrate some of these points, here are some experiments you can try.
1. Robert Anton Wilson relates an exercise he frequently performs at seminars, in which the group are asked to describe the corridor they passed through to get to the seminar room. The descriptions invariably differ to the extent that one might assume they’d all walked through different corridors (which is in a sense true; the corridor is seen through each participant’s set of filters). Wilson has at times ‘rigged’ the experiment by pinning up pictures of naked women in the corridor, thinking people would notice them; they don’t. Since each of the participants used the corridor at least once a day, in their minds they already ‘knew’ what it looked like and so had stopped looking.
2. In the book Gifts Of The Gods?, John Spencer outlines an experiment conducted on live TV in which an audience were shown a faked UFO photograph for fifteen seconds. The image was taken away and the audience were asked to draw it. The degree to which the drawings differed was extraordinary. In some cases people added details which were not present in the photograph.
Most of the people who took part in these experiments would probably consider themselves reliable witnesses. Can we be certain we are any different every time we look at a crop circle?
We do have a number of pointers, features specific to the way in which the crop has been laid and to the affected crop itself, but what exactly do these tell us? The work of the BLT team is frequently wafted about in this regard, sadly often by persons who have not read through it all in sufficient detail to grasp its many nuances. Yes, this research is profound in its implications, but can only give an indication as to a formation’s origins after considerable analysis and testing has been conducted; to merely stroll into a formation in search of bent nodes is not enough. Even the BLT team themselves are wary that their methods be relied upon as an ‘acid test’ by those who have not studied their papers. Crop lay can indicate how and in what order the crop was laid, and analysing individual stems can reveal what force may have been applied to down them. The degree and nature of breakage to crop within a formation can also be an indicator, but we must be careful to differentiate from damage caused by visitors. And how can one be certain that the source (assuming a non-human origin) would not break or scrape stems? ETs with stalk-stompers, anyone?
In the field of cerealogy, quantum leaps come easily. For example, the conviction that if formations display evidence of intelligent origin then such intelligence must be extraterrestrial, or the determination that since a number of formations appear in proximity to ancient sites, they have been deliberately placed to reference those sites. We are too eager to make assumptions, without equally considering every other possibility. If one believes in UFOs, one can find evidence within the crop circle phenomenon that UFOs play a part. If one believes in channelling, one will be able to tap sources which tell of the circles’ origins and meaning. This does not necessarily give these things any objective ‘meaning’, though nor does it make them ‘false’. When one sees a ball of light, this does not automatically mean one sees an object of extraterrestrial origin (or an earthlight or a back-lit dandelion seed). When one feels a physiological or spiritual effect within a crop circle, it does not have to mean that the circle itself ’caused’ such a change. The sacred sites across our landscape, the alignments of which we often ponder in relation to crop circles, are man-made. So too are the mandalas (whatever their source or inspiration) in which we see echoes of crop circle designs. To therefore assume that crop circles cannot be man-made because of their configuration to ancient sites, or because their resemblance to mandalas carries a crucial spiritual significance, is nonsensical.
Eagerness to view the phenomenon in a single light, that of a non-human intelligence making contact through messages encoded within crop field etchings, is limiting. Whatever the merits of such a belief, unquestioning pursuit of a single hypothesis not only blinds one to a full examination of the available evidence but also to any number of other possibilities. For example, that the circles are the result of an entirely natural process which our science has not or cannot yet categorise or accommodate. Or that the most complex formations could be man-made. Or that whatever the origin of the formations, they act as ‘amplifiers’ and attract other paranormal phenomena. Or that the circles are the ‘aftershock’ of something extra-, inter- or transdimensional. Or that they are our own thoughts rendered in the fields as a kind of astral thoughtography. Or all of these things. Or none of them. All these options are in and of themselves as fascinating and possibility-opening as the tired ‘non-human intelligence’ theory. This does not necessarily mean that I believe any of these possibilities are true. Nor do I believe that they are not true.
I call this borderland Circle Perilous, a term co-opted from Chapel Perilous. Though the idea of Chapel Perilous is much written of, I was first drawn to it whilst reading Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger books. Wilson defines Chapel Perilous as “a crossroads of mythic proportions”, a point invariably reached sooner or later by anybody who investigates occult or similar matters:-
‘Chapel Perilous, like the mysterious entity called “I”, cannot be located in the space-time continuum; it is weightless, odourless, tasteless and undetectable by ordinary instruments. Indeed, like the Ego, it is even possible to deny that it is there. And yet, even more like Ego, once you are inside it, there doesn’t seem to be any way to ever get out again, until you suddenly discover that it has been brought into existence by thought and does not exist outside thought. Everything you fear is waiting with slavering jaws inside Chapel Perilous…’ (Cosmic Trigger volume I: Final Secret of the Illuminati, pg6).
In some respects it is a very similar experience to that known in occultist parlance as ‘the long dark night of the soul.’ Though it has no fixed nature or duration, one of Circle / Chapel Perilous’ more pesky traits is that one often does not know one has entered it, and may be roaming its passages and chambers with no inkling that one is doing so. Similarly, one may think one has left it far behind only to find that one has not actually gone anywhere. One either presumes to know exactly what is going on, or one presumes to not have a clue. It seems to me that few crop circle aficionados do not have a dose of Circle Perilous to one degree or another; or maybe it’s that I am myself inside Circle Perilous far too deeply to form a clear model. Circle Perilous is like this.
Wilson also reports that there are only two exits from Chapel Perilous; one either comes out an absolute paranoid, or an agnostic. The latter attitude seems more valuable; a heightened objective openness, the ability to entertain simultaneously in the mind any number of different and sometimes conflicting interpretations and to recognise that all things are only as they are perceived through our belief systems (‘reality tunnels’, as Timothy Leary terms them). As soon as one gets snared up in the proving of one theory (distillation / belief system / filter / reality tunnel) over all others, one is lost (“belief is the death of intelligence” – Wilson). This is something we have seen many times in the cereological field, even to the extent of researchers denying or ‘adapting’ evidence which does not fit their favoured notions or their marketing strategies. This will not do.
I’ve been roving around the corridors and halls of Circle Perilous for some years, no longer caring which side of the perimeter wall I happen to be on. Finding interest in many things, watching different theories unfurl yet never being able to trust any of them, and never formulating a theory of my own other than that the entire adventure is much fun to be a part of. The evidence indicates that this phenomenon has been with us for a long time; we have no idea how much longer it will continue, but have no reason to believe that it will cease in the immediate future. All I know for certain is that the more one studies the crop circle issue, the curiouser it becomes. I’m happy being curious.
It may be this neurological scrambling process that is the key; this befuddlement that seems to befall almost all who allow themselves to be entertained by flattened crop. This simultaneous delight and confusion also seems consistent with much magickal and occult and initiatory experience (and with Chapel Perilous). The crux is the process; how much reality it has outside of this can be allowed to be moot for a while.
What use one makes of one’s confusion is a different matter. It seems that in order to negotiate this territory one must balance emotion, wisdom, open-mindedness, logic, intuition. An imbalance can easily tip us into unreason. We can see this in the degree of viciousness often levelled at anybody who has made – or even claims to have made – crop circles. Sometimes even entertaining the notion that large and complex formations could be man-made can lead to ridicule. We can also see it in the commercialisation that shadows the phenomenon, and in the descent into one-sidedness or new age quackery that has befallen certain investigators.
Where does this leave us?
‘The universe is a giant Rorschach ink blot.’ (Alan Watts)
‘No one mandala is the same as another; all are different because each is a projected image of the psychic condition of its author… an expression of the modification brought by this psychic content to the traditional idea of the mandala.’ (J E Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols).
Perhaps it is the perception of the individual that may provide the key. We can view the crop circle phenomenon as a reflection of us rather than as a separate and exclusive phenomenon that happens outside of us; it is influenced by us as observers and participants, rather than occurring regardless of us. The formations and their interpretation (or otherwise) can be seen as a process, a journey for the individual, with any meaning being as much what is sparked in the visitor / observer as an actual analysis of the formations themselves in comparative terms. This is of course not to say that a scientific and / or objective study of crop formations cannot – and should not – be undertaken (it is quite the reverse), yet much of what currently passes as such is nothing of the sort.