Ah, crop circles. Those magical mysteries left in the cornfields of England and other countries every summer by passing extraterrestrials, smack bang in the middle of ley lines energy lines, and fuck knows what else. But wait. They’re really made by humans?
It’s happened to me a couple of times now – I’ve been in the throes of some bizarre pub conversation, when I let it slip that crop circles made by a bunch of people in a field at night, and not they’re not of paranormal origin.
Stunned silence. Someone ventures “well, some of them must be real, musn’t they?”.
“Well”, I reply. “I can’t prove to you that none of them are create by paranormal means. I can assure you that a great many of them are definitely made by a bunch of lads with some boards and rope.
The silence is now stony. Feet are shuffled. I feel like a complete wanker for bursting someone’s bubble. I might as well have run around a primary school shouting “there’s no fucking Santa Claus!”.
The funny thing, the modern phenomenon of human-made crop circles came about in a pub too. Or after the pub, at least. It was one night in 1976 when two middle-aged men Doug Bower and Dave Chorley went for a stroll around rural England after their weekly beer session. They decided to make a crop circle so that “people would think a flying saucer had landed”. Yes folks, it was that straightforward.
A later generation of crop circles – inspired by Doug and Dave – are at work today. The Circlemakers.org group that includes Rob Irving, John Lundberg and Mark Pilkington are of this generation, and have just released possibly the best book I’ve ever seen about crop circles, The Field Guide: The Art, History and Philosophy of Crop Circle Making .
For me, crop circles are about art – public, outdoor, transient art. Art for its own sake. The UK – despite the drivel spewed up by some of its more annoying celebrity ‘conceptual’ artists does bring forth some truly fine public artists – Banksy would be another of my favourites. Andy Goldsworthy is another.
The Circlemakers could have easily written up a book slagging off the hordes of crop circle believers that have spent decades running around the fields of England claiming “vortexes” or extraterrestrials were behind the circle makers. That would have been the approach of any group taking pride in their pranks. But no, this book is different. Despite the fact that crops circles have usually been the work of a bunch of people with basic surveying gear, some rope and a few planks, the Circlemakers are actually sympathetic to the two sided phenomena.
Back in the days of Doug and Dave, they started out simply enough. Crop circles were, of course, circular. It was kept simple, until the likes of meteorologist tried to squeeze the circles into explanations of bizarre weather phenomena. This annoyed the hell out of Doug and Dave, so they tried to come up with more Byzantine circles to confound Meaden. Soon, the circles evolved into much more complex designs. Without the fandom, the circles would have just stayed as circles.
Irving and co. recognise this – they realise that the circle makers create for the fans, and that without the fans, there would be no impetus to create. The Field Guide recognises this symbiotic relationship and celebrates it. This isn’t to say it’s warm, fuzzy and entirely tolerant of the “croppies”. Several chapters recount evidence of how some of the more fervent “investigators” hid, altered, or ignored evidence that might their only personal doctrines of extraterrestrial involvement.
Beautifully produced by the Strange Attractor Press, The Field Guide has quickly become one of my “recommended” books on the nature of human belief – up there with the likes of The Mothman Prophecies or Patrick Harpur’s Daemonic Reality. It’s even got a beginners guide to to making crop circles!
Visit the website: The Field Guide: The Art, History and Philosophy of Crop Circle Making » (and see sample pages!
Buy the book: The Field Guide: The Art, History and Philosophy of Crop Circle Making »