The crop circles continued their tenacious march onwards in 2015, still surprising, fascinating and confounding in equal measure, as Andy Thomas reports.
We’ve got used to crop circles. With their reappearance now seemingly cemented into the annual calendar, media indifference and public apathy hasn’t dissuaded whatever sources might be at work from plying their craft. Some of the excitement of old may have receded, but there is now something almost comforting about the circles’ presence. For those fascinated by unusual phenomena, the European summer somehow doesn’t seem right until a reasonable amount of new creations have arrived, bringing a quiet feeling of reassurance as normal order is restored. In the event of a circle-free year, the resulting consternation will have to be dealt with, but the patterns show no signs of giving up yet.
The numbers were fairly consistent with recent years, if down a little, with 43 global reports and 38 in the UK at the time of writing; enough to make their mark. Those new to crop circles – and, yes, incredibly there are still people who have inexplicably been bypassed thus far – continue to be stimulated by both the glyphs and the deep and controversial debates that naturally arise out of them. The circles’ key traditional effect, whether intentional or not, continues to have currency as minds are challenged with the notion that perhaps our understanding of the world isn’t as neatly wrapped up as some would have us believe.
The circular year began outside of the usual English catchment areas, with Mexico kicking things off as early as January 4th with a three-fold wheel in maize at Guadalajara, Jalisco, followed by Brazil with a single maize circle at Icara, near Santa Catarina on 4th March.
The UK season started humbly, with just two low-key April formations, although with the first on April 9th – a simple ring and modest appendage in very low wheat at the classic circle site of Barbury Castle, Wiltshire – this was an earlier start than many years. A notable change for 2015 was that there was only one reported design in rapeseed (canola), a crop which often hosts the bulk of the first arrivals. Less rapeseed seemed to be grown in the UK this year, which might explain this anomaly. The sole example was a slightly crude six-fold flower reportedly made for a television programme at Yatesbury, Wiltshire, on 10th May. May did, however, see two rather more ambitious English formations, one a striking and complex 13-pointed star within a stylised Celtic cross at Manton Drove, near Marlborough, Wiltshire, on the 24th, and then an unusual four-petalled Celtic-maze emblem at Blandford Forum in Dorset on the 30th.
Other parts of Europe also began to assert themselves in May, with a simple but pleasing five-fold design at Ringslebenstrase, nr Gropiusstadt, Germany on the 18th, while The Netherlands continued its industry of formations connected with the psychic Robbert van den Broeke in the Noord Brabant region, some simple, some more complex, to the usual heated debate, with four in May following a single event in April. Six further Dutch appearances would follow during the summer, the most unique of which, at least, was an caterpillar-like arrangement of 13 components, complete with antenna and legs, at Bettewaardsedijk in Zeeland on 9th June – although this was allegedly made for a school project.
The most striking non-UK design to appear in May arrived in the Fangshan District of Bejing in China on the 8th. Chinese formations, although rare, have appeared before, but this was possibly the most elaborate and beautiful, with a very precise and sophisticated 12-petalled rim surrounding a six-petalled floral interior. By comparison, another superpower nation, the USA, managed to produce just one lone 2015 effort on May 21st at Gray in Tennessee, a rather less ambitious emblem of three interlocked rings. For all the keen interest in crop circles that has come from American researchers, it remains an enduring mystery as to why they are gifted so few patterns of their own.
Italy began what would be a major month for the phenomenon there with two formations in June at Castelnuovo Berardenga, Siena, first a multi-ringed circle on the 2nd and then a six-fold ship’s wheel-like configuration on the 3rd. Strange balls of light were reportedly seen in the area in the days before the appearances. Italy’s bonanza didn’t stop there: on 7th June at Pontecurone, Piemonte, a neat eight-fold mandala of flattened triangles within a ring impressed many observers, but this was then superseded by an even more elaborate formation at Ravenna, Emilia Romagna, on the 20th. This appeared to resemble an ingenious spoked ring suggesting papers being flicked through, superimposed by a standing circle with a small off-centre middle, giving the overall appearance of maybe Jupiter eclipsing the Sun.
At least once a year, however, the Torino area of Piemonte seems to offer up a remarkably fantastic crop formation and 2015 was no exception, this time with a very beautiful and complex 16-fold floral design, replete with that region’s usual theme of little triangles, dial-like segments and radiating rows of tiny rings and circles.
The rise of the circle phenomenon in Italy in recent years has seen an equal rise in the backlash from the sceptic community, and as a result of all the increased activity the arguments continue to rage there in the same fashion that the UK once knew before it simply absorbed the circles into everyday indifference.
Other countries in June
Germany also had a busy June, with three formations across the country. A 12-petalled flower design arrived near Berlin on the 8th, followed by a pictogram of thin rings and paths on the 15th at Landau, Rheinland-Pfalz, and then a complex eight-fold mandala at Groziethen, Brandenburg on the 22nd.
The circle phenomenon also seemed to give a one-night-only worldwide tour of other countries in June: Russia offered up a single event with a pictogram of, again, thin circles and paths, at Dondukovskoy, Respublike Adygeya on the 7th, while France did the same with a detailed motif of circles and crescents at Rauwiller, Bas-Rhin, on the 11th, before Spain – not a common place for crop circles – then joined in with an attractive spiral formation at Estella, Navarra, on the 25th. Poland finally tucked in at the end of the month at Strzelno, Kujawsko-Pomorskie on the 30th, delivering one of the neatest ‘flower-of-life’ designs seen anywhere for a few years, with an accompanying single circle.
The UK summer
For all the highlights of overseas activity, the English crop circles did themselves no disservice this year, offering up a range of bold and attractive designs to keep things bubbling along. Of the 12 formations it received in June, all of them competent, a number stand out.
In Wiltshire, two seemingly related elaborate designs of thin crescents, arrows and flattened diamonds were found at Stoford, and then near Stonehenge, on the 15th and 24th respectively. A third impressive entry in the series would be found on 6th July at Clearbury Ring, near Nunton. A neat thin spiral at Sherston on 9th June was, conversely, attractive in its sheer simplicity. An ingenious and surely challenging ‘carnation’ arrangement of unevenly spliced crescents at Uffcott on the 22nd, however, was perhaps one of the cleverest patterns of the year, unusual and quietly striking.
Outside of Wiltshire, an old circle hotspot from the early 1990s suddenly reactivated after several fallow years, centering around Merstham, near Reigate in Surrey. Over the summer three intriguing formations arrived in the fields around the major road junction of the M25 and M23 motorways – although none of them were actually visible from either of the roads, nor indeed anywhere from the ground. The first arrived on June 16th, a simple ring holding a diamond-shaped component of 16 small triangles. Curiously, to his bemusement, a local retired microlight (powered hang-glider) pilot who used to fly from that very field two decades before noted that the measurements and proportions of the diamond and triangles (around 15 feet each side) had correlations with the size and configuration of his old craft. This continued something of an odd theme – in 1993 two triangular formations which appeared in the area back then looked rather like hang-gliders…
The second Merstham arrival, on 19th July, cleverly resembled a sphere held within an open cube, while a third and even more ambitious design trumped this on 29th July in the shape of a multi-petalled Tudor Rose-like motif, contained within two thin-ringed Celtic crosses. Just over the border, nearby Horsham in West Sussex had also received a formation on 22nd June, its skeletal structure suggesting a six-pointed star of thin 3-D rectangles.
July in general saw burst of ingenuity across several English counties: A star and crescent design ringed by small rectangular boxes at Stonehenge on the 10th was crying out to be turned into a car company logo; the Rollrights stone circle in Oxfordshire received a nearby mandala on the 15th, suggesting a pentacle enveloping a crescent, while a related but more complex arrangement took things further at Haselor, Warwickshire on the 19th; Fairford in Gloucestershire supplied one of the neatest formations of the year on the 21st, with a simple yet very beautifully swept set of two crisp circles within a larger circle, superimposed over an implied third one behind them; Stroud Green in Essex, after a very busy 2014, gave forth just one entry this summer, also on the 21st, with a complex if slightly wonky mandala of squares and crescents, with three ‘handles’ on its perimeter.
Two Iron Age ‘castles’ then hosted major formations one night after the other. Wiltshire’s Barbury Castle saw the arrival of one of the most unusual designs of the year on 25th July – a very elaborate Aztec-looking ‘bird of prey’, with stylised wings and a tail. Controversially, within its otherwise neat frame, wobbly tracer paths provided feather textures, as if ‘hand-drawn’. Some felt this was a deliberate style choice, while others saw it as last-minute sloppiness. As ever, one’s viewpoint on the origins of the circles tends to influence one’s assessment of the results.
The second castle, the famous and huge hillfort of Maiden Castle in Dorset, had its moment the following day, on 26th July, with a sophisticated wheel of orbiting circles and rings surrounded by a perimeter of seemingly notched blocks, suggesting perhaps some form of data to be decoded. Maiden Castle, although not as central a site as Barbury, has had several crop formations around it in previous decades.
Six more formations graced English fields in August, the most notable (possibly one of the most striking appearances of the year) being an advanced wheel-like design at Bowerchalke, Wiltshire, on the 8th, somewhat suggestive of evenly-shattered glass. Other top rankers included another bird-like emblem, minus the wobbly lines this time, near Stratford on Avon in Warwickshire, and another shatter-like mandala of stretched six-pointed stars at Etchilhampton, Wiltshire, on the 19th, although this was controversial for having two rectangular blocks within it that looked to some like ‘unfinished’ components. At the time of writing, this is the last formation to date, although other 2015 events are likely to sneak in for the early autumn.
More global activity
Other countries continued to throw up their own competition throughout July and August, with Germany providing five more entries, often modest in size and floral-themed but with one exception at Fürstenfeldbruck, Bavaria on 16th July, which saw an ambitious eight-pointed star comprised of intermeshed Escher-like standing pathways. Bavaria has offered up several major designs in the last few years.
The Czech Republic received three formations in July, with the most impressive and unusual arriving at Klicnov, Liberecky Kraj, on the 12th, seeming to suggest some kind of sea creature with a multiplicity of rings, circles and ‘tentacles’ comprising a bulbous form.
Meanwhile, Russia, Slovakia and Norway received one formation apiece in July or August, with Brazil receiving two more and The Netherlands continuing its run of Robbert-related events.
As the years have gone by, mainstream attention, esoteric speculation and many hopes and fears for the crop circles have all come and gone, but rather pleasingly the patterns themselves have serenely continued on, apparently unaffected by other people’s expectations of them. They now just simply are.
The world of core crop circle research, of course, though recruits are diminished in number from the glory days, remains lively, with arguments continuing in Wiltshire over who gets to control access to the formations, as just one group now makes official arrangements with the small pool of farmers left who remain tolerant of visitors to their fields. Some believe it to be the perfect solution, while others argue it is a kind of cerealogical hegemony. The rise in cheap drone technology is also challenging the former reign of the more expert aerial photographers, with small buzzing objects that have nothing to do with extra-terrestrials or the military being seen increasingly over the fields, as enthusiasts take advantage of a simpler way of gazing down on something. Conflict has arisen here too, perhaps inevitably, as visitors to formations complain of harassment from the new technological terrors. An altercation arose this summer when one researcher threw his boot at an invading drone, provoking a confrontation with its controller, which led to punches being thrown… In other words, human/croppie nature continues to carry on as normal, whatever the higher function of the beauty being investigated.
How much relevance any of this now has to a wider world is questionable. Indeed, the signs are that various factions have, finally, just come to terms with the fact that their own views on the phenomenon generally hold no sway at all over others. People believe what they believe, regardless. But does it even matter? Even the sceptic view seems to have come, literally, full circle.
At an event in Preston, Lancashire, this year, a former claimed human circlemaker gave a talk on his activities in which he stated, unambiguously, that he now felt he had been guided by ‘higher forces’ to create his art. Although not a new claim, its re-emergence felt timely for these more all-embracing times. How, after all, can this concept really be any less bizarre to sceptics than the idea of higher forces just by-passing the human element and making formations directly too..? In other words, even those who were once arch-debunkers seem at last to have embraced the rather wonderful reality that a number of more open-minded researchers came long ago to embrace – that with the crop circles, frankly no-one knows what the heck is going on. Whatever the answer to all this is, it is far too complex and full of grey areas ever to be fully pinned down. Believe what you like, the patterns seem to say; we are here and we are radiant regardless, so why not come on in, or stick our picture on the wall, or make us your i-phone wallpaper? Why not just embrace the wonderful madness and freeing of the mind that comes with not actually knowing what’s going on? Too much of modern life is forcibly and often misguidedly deterministic.
Another event, in July 2015, that suggested the closing of a circle, in one way at least, was the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Glastonbury Symposium conference. I have a bias, as it is something I’ve been involved with for at least 21 of those years, but its high reputation is reliable. It began as a thinktank event to discuss the explosion of complex crop patterns which had hit the UK in 1990, but has since become the country’s longest-running ‘alternative’ conference covering all mediums. Over the years the Symposium’s remit inevitably had to expand to take in all the many theories and other pathways of thinking that the enquiry into the circles had begun, and now it stands as a broad forum for exploring anything and everything, from other unexplained mysteries and global conspiracies to alternative health, environmental and spiritual/psychological discussions of all kinds. All this began from the simple existence of pretty patterns in the fields – a sobering lesson. What the circles stimulate is expansion, irrespective of origin. 25 years later, they still remain a topic of discussion at the Symposium, and the banners on the walls inside still celebrate the art itself, but the phenomenon has now taken its correct place as just one path of enquiry among many, albeit one that continues to provoke and confound in its unique way.
Long may it continue to do so.
(Originally written for Nexus Magazine. Many thanks to Crop Circle Connector for the images – photos of all the 2015 formations referred to in this article can be found there.)