As we get ready for the 2021 crop circle season, it is a good time to recap on what happened in 2020. Against all expectations, in a year of fear and pandemic restrictions, the circles flourished with their own agenda, throwing out surprises and even a few reflections on the events occurring around them, catching the eye of a new generation…
An Irrepressible Spirit
It would be the year the crop formations stopped, said many, the year when all the intrepid artists the media claim are responsible for the entire phenomenon would be too afraid or too socially responsible to be spreading the new pestilence of COVID-19 around the fields of England and beyond. But, as with previous attempts to write off this irrepressible and spirited mystery, rumours of the death of crop circles soon turned out to have been greatly exaggerated, in the face of a display just as striking as other recent seasons. Whatever drives these extraordinarily beautiful patterns, be it a force of nature, something other-worldly or a channelling of human creativity, clearly no mere virus was going to stop it nor hated lockdowns crush those wishing to see its works.
Curiously, the trajectory of COVID-19, in just a few months, mirrored decades of public responses to crop circles: a slow build-up, then alertness and concern followed by accusations of misinformation and fears the whole thing might be a hoax, to resigned indifference as most people simply went along with what they were told while the truthseekers split into different camps, hotly contesting theories among themselves. Human nature traces similar patterns.
What, then, of the crop designs themselves? The descendants of a fuss which began in earnest an incredible 30 years ago when the first complex ‘pictograms’ carved their way into public consciousness in 1990 didn’t disappoint. After an unexpected burst of French activity in 2019, this time the Gallic regions subsided again and England remained circle central, with a remarkably consistent quality. We will explore the heartlands first before looking outside its borders.
Although later to start than some seasons, with no rapeseed (canola) formations, the opening UK salvo in grain crops made clear this would not be the slow build from simple to complex of some years, but a head-first dive into overt symbolism with an appropriateness to developments in the wider world. The multi-feathered stylised ‘angel’ which arrived at Kingsdon, Somerset on 26 May appeared to be holding a large heart, an emblem much-used to support the British National Health Service amidst the pandemic chaos as coronavirus wreaked havoc around the world – or not, depending on your belief, with some scrutineers casting doubt on its very existence. (Those interested in my own analysis might like to read my article here here). Coincidence or intention, the heart in the field was a reassuring presence in times of anxiety and uncertainty, not only for its connotation but simply because the circles were back again, confounding the pessimists. Whether a postcard from a higher realm or the work of ‘reckless virus-spreaders’, there was relief that at least one layer of normality had been restored to English life.
The next formation, at Potterne in the core county of Wiltshire on 28 May, appeared to be a very definite statement on the pandemic [pictured]. An asymmetric but well-made ‘splat’-shape, with a long drip-like appendage, this outstandingly unusual design immediately suggested bacteria or a virus entering a cell, perhaps the very coronavirus being argued over. With six standing circles at its centre and eight small standing centres in the ‘drip’, surrounded by beautifully swirling lays, the Potterne creation’s contemporary suggestiveness inspired fascinating speculation that it might actually provide a solution to curing COVID-19, such as Jerry Kroth’s hypothesis, which can be found here.
That something as simple as a shape in a field can fire such inspirational thoughts is testament to the power of this enigma, which has opened doors to remarkable avenues of enquiry for so many years regardless of its real cause or purpose, changing lives as it does so. Unable to resist, even the mainstream media reported the ‘virus’ crop formation, drawing yet more people to the circles and unwittingly sending them on their own journeys of expansion. A widely circulated meme of a computer-generated crop design combining a coronavirus and the Microsoft Windows logo, taking a swipe at the many conspiracy accusations surrounding a certain Bill Gates, also received some coverage, although draconian censorship would soon suppress such dissenting views in the mainstream.
With all the division over the truth of the virus and government responses to it – too much or too little – it was maybe appropriate that the next UK formation was a neat yin-yang symbol [pictured] at the classic circle site of Cley Hill, near Warminster, Wiltshire on 30 May, reminding us, perhaps, of the need for balance.
One contentious casualty of the pandemic was that some circle websites initially refused to give locations for the early appearances, presumably fearing censure for encouraging people to break lockdown measures. Already an issue in recent years, where farmers have applied pressure to restrict information, those wishing to know where the new designs were, even just for home research purposes, were relieved when restrictions eased and whereabouts were again revealed. Even so, arguments about reportage continued, with some sources sidelining particular formations to minor pages, ignoring others completely or officially declaring them ‘man-made’ in the absence of presented evidence. With a growing number of observers happy to accept all crop glyphs as meaningful expressions of the deeper collective, reductive judgements somehow diminish the importance of an individual’s response to them. They also suggest an omnipotent knowledge of a formation’s validity – unlikely, in the absence of incontrovertible criteria either way, never fully agreed after 40 years of ongoing investigation and arguments. With a modern dearth of true forensic research (biological anomalies, lay complexities and other qualities are barely discussed these days), an opinion is just an opinion. If something is known to have been made for a television programme or project, then this should be stated, but otherwise information sources are more welcome than juries.
The Mandala Principle
The twelve-fold pattern of 31 May at Sixpenny Handley, Dorset [pictured] set a template that would be repeated throughout much of the summer: a circular mandala with detailed spokes or segments. Probably now the most established style of crop formation, its presence seemed particularly prominent this year. A few examples stand out as particularly notable: another twelve-fold mandala at Barbury Castle, Wiltshire on 14 June; an 18-fold multi-petalled example at Ogbourne St George, Wiltshire on 25 June; a 15-fold design around a central pentagram at the classic site of Cheesefoot Head, Hampshire on 29 June; a six-fold spinning ‘sawblade’ at Etchilhampton, Wiltshire on 17 July; a complex 10-fold series of nested pentagrams at Hackpen Hill, Wiltshire on 23 July. Other entries not listed here could nearly compete with these, but the season concluded (at the time of writing) with a final articulation of the mandala principle in the form of a 24-fold spinning wheel of many slanted ‘sawteeth’ at Woolstone, Oxfordshire on 9 August [pictured]. All of these displayed an impressive consistency and neatness.
Designs of Curiosity
Beyond the mandalas, some other English configurations stood out. A Maltese cross-like form surrounded by a Celtic cross with a superimposed ringed circle was found at Wilton, Wiltshire on 17 June; a very odd rectangular grid of thin lines back at Sixpenny Handley, Dorset on 21 June was at first taken for a farmer’s spray test site but then reclassified as an unusual crop formation; a ringed circle at Easton Royal, Wiltshire on 10 July was made more curious by its inner emblem of eight standing circles linked with chain-like standing paths, surrounding a further four at the very centre; a detailed series of broken rings encircling circles and wedge shapes was discovered at Cley Hill, Wiltshire on 12 July; a complex series of thin concentric rings, circles and semi-circles at Luxenborough, Wiltshire on 16 July was distinguished by a marked ‘basket weave’ criss-cross lay in its circular components and a thin notched ring in the central circle.
One of the season’s most ambitious designs arrived at Stanton St Bernard, Wiltshire on 7 July. A hexagonal motif surrounding an impression of three ‘cubes,’ [pictured] it employed the technique of cross-hatching the lay with many standing tufts on specific sides of the cubes to give the impression of light and shade. Unruly on the ground, it made perfect sense when seen from above, creating a subtle three-dimensional illusion.
Perhaps the bizarrest creation was found near Yeovil, Somerset (although some sources place it at an unrevealed location in Hampshire) on 25 July: a central triangular sun ray motif with a double-headed forked-tongue snake coiled around one side, radiating small circles around it. It was clearly too bizarre for some, with (unsubstantiated) claims that it was made for a Masonic lodge, and not all sites reported it fully. Yet, for all its cartoon strangeness, it had something unique and playful about it.
There was a playfulness also to the Celtic cross at Potterne, Wiltshire on 4 August [pictured]. Very neat, with thin double paths comprising the ring, it was distinguished by the fact that its central circle was swept around a large tree, thoughtfully left standing by the farmer amidst the wheat. The lay merged seamlessly into the grass around the trunk. Celtic crosses have played with features in fields before now, occasionally utilising ancient round barrows, but this was a new and somehow joyful device, adding a genuine dimension of height to an otherwise effectively 2D pattern.
One of the last formations before the combine harvesters moved in was also one of the most distinctive. Arriving on 8 August at Beechingstoke, Wiltshire [pictured], ten crisp small circles were connected by very straight thin triple paths, and very closely resembled the molecular structure of Trinitamide, potentially a very efficient and much cleaner rocket propellant. Was this, as some saw the COVID design, offering scientific solutions to some of the world’s current problems? The circles certainly had some of the best lays of the year, employing the technique of flattened radial bands around more conventional central swirls.
Two very late entries unexpectedly snuck into the few remaining fields, first on 5 September at Urchfont, Wiltshire, with a simple yet effective ring with its centre halved into flat and standing sections, and on 13 September with a neat quadruple ‘Celtic knot’, at Roundway, Wiltshire, apparently a closing punctuation for another intriguing season.
Other counties not yet mentioned, which also hosted occurrences this summer (if of variable quality but not without interesting elements), included Derbyshire, East Sussex, West Sussex and West Yorkshire. The best visual reporting website remains www.cropcircleconnector.com but for a full round-up of all the year’s events, the good, the bad and the curious, www.cropcirclecenter.com is another excellent resource and has extensive databases going back many decades.
England, then, with its exceptionally high claimed COVID count and infamously muddled response, not to mention the English harvest yield being the worst in four decades due to extremes of wet and then very hot weather, may have had a rough year in other areas but in terms of cerealogical offerings, with its total of 41 (several more than 2019), it had little cause for complaint, with some exquisite and inspirational designs brightening up the countryside.
The Global Picture
The rest of the world has largely been quiet in the last few years, if with some notable exceptions. In 2019 France, for instance, surprised everyone by unexpectedly producing a plethora of inventive crop glyphs right across its map, almost rivalling England in numbers for a few weeks. But this year, for reasons just as unknown, it slipped back into relative slumber, with only two conventional formations. The first, at Tarabel, Haute-Garonne on 30 May was a crisp if simple duo of a ringed circle and a wide crescent [pictured]. The next, at Vimy, Pas-de-Calais on 5 July was more adventurous, featuring a Maltese cross surrounded by a double ring and four petals, created with notable finesse. But that was it this time, bar a complex astronomical chart at Amiens, Hauts-de-France in June: initially mistaken for a crop circle, it was actually cut into the field as an artwork to celebrate the labyrinth in the famous cathedral there.
A number of other countries received two formations apiece. Outside of France, Poland’s were perhaps most noteworthy: a huge ringed circle eclipsed with a very thin ring, not unlike other previous Polish designs, was found at Orchów, Łódzkie on 3 July, followed by an attractive triple-armed fractal-like swirl of diminishing circles at Nadarzyce, Wielkopolska on 18 July. The Netherlands, meanwhile, had two of its usual modest and lightly compressed circles with smaller satellite circles around them at Breda, Noord-Brabant, both on 2 June. The very last formations of the year occurred in Brazil, one at Entre Rios, Santa Catarina on 11 October in the form of rather wobbly thin rings and circles, and a clearer triangular motif at nearby Iguaçu on 29 October.
Countries to receive sole events included Italy which, despite its heavy lockdown, received a single circle at Saterna, Emilia-Romagna on 8 May (growing some scrappy additional paths and smaller circles around 15 July). Hungary also received a single circle at Nagykanizsa, Kiskanizsa on 2 July. Russia had a more advanced design of a pictogram comprising ringed circles and a spiral at Woronesch, Voronezh Oblast on 13 July, while its old superpower counterpart, the USA, ever-bereft these days, produced only a company logo at Elba, New York on 29 July, created by commercial artists as an advertisement. Taiwan also managed some wobbly circles and rings, but they were trampled out by students for the annual wheat festival at Taichung, Waipu District on 21 March (making these the first formations of the year, in fact).
Without question, the most remarkable pattern to arrive outside of England’s shores in 2020 was the complex and precise eight-fold mandala of ‘folded ribbons’, rings and small standing circles found in Germany at Ammersee, Bavaria on 26 July [pictured]. A design which would have been quite at home in the English fields, it helped make up for the recent years of quiet activity in the Germanic regions and delighted local researchers. With only twelve reported non-UK events of unknown origin around the globe this season, it was a rare treat.
A New Generation
In the three solid decades since those first beguiling pictograms of 1990, against all the odds the crop circles have survived puzzlement, scepticism, condemnation, apparent cover-ups and now pandemics. Their one consistent feature, paradoxically, has been their inconsistency, as patterns of behaviour, numbers and visual styles have come and gone and then returned again as we have been led on a dance of entrancement seemingly devised to keep us always one step behind them.
However, in 2020, one established component of cerealogy did leave us, never to return, as the architect and eminent circle authority Michael Glickman passed away just a few days before his 79th birthday. For those at the core of the research world Michael has been a powerful presence over the last thirty years, flamboyantly and sometimes savagely defending the veracity of the astonishing crop formations he saw as radiant and beyond mundane causes. His analyses of their geometrical qualities were sharply incisive, and while his unremitting condemnation of sceptics and refusal to compromise his opinions made him some enemies, he gained far more supporters, who felt upheld by his fiery stands. Michael was one of the last great characters of ‘croppiedom’ and was for a long while a stalwart of the Glastonbury Symposium truth and mysteries conference, which had to celebrate its impressive 30th anniversary as an online event this year due to the inevitable restrictions. I am proud to have worked with him there for many years.
Michael’s passing did not go unnoticed in the wider world, as his friendship with the well-known film director Mike Leigh led the latter to contribute a heartfelt and fitting obituary in the UK newspaper The Guardian. It was telling, though, to see underneath the piece a series of comments from people who clearly had no knowledge of either Michael or the crop circles, crowing at the gullibility of believers. Aside from this closed-minded ignorance of context, history and evidence, which demonstrate plainly that a meaningful number of crop formations cannot be the work of human artists, they also missed the point made above that origins matter less to some people now anyhow, as fresh and less polarised seekers come to the circles and simply take them for what they are – expressions of universal symbolism. As old enthusiasts leave us, new ones arise.
It would be easy to conclude that the cynical and anxious times we live in might make these pretty shapes in the fields irrelevant to upcoming generations. But this may not be the case. The media is increasingly run by young people (which is why many of its agendas speak for that demographic) and I have recently been involved in the making of several television or film projects about crop circles. Chatting to the affable and creative folk in their 20s making these programmes, it is fascinating to see that they are being drawn back to the circles because they feel to them like something magical, the living thread of an alluring legend which began in more open-minded times before they were even born. With this rediscovery, perhaps their renewed interest is an open reaction against all the years of reductive conditioning from modern education?
This, then, is why the crop circle enigma is likely to continue, for it has an almost unique place in the world, one of cryptic ambiguity and yet glowing splendour which takes people to new places within themselves. With a future of masks, anxiety and restricted freedom creating uncertainty and fear, the stimulation and unexpected beauty that other kinds of uncertainty can offer may bring solace and grow ever more attractive. It may still only be a minority of people who become intimate with these elusive patterns in the fields but the ones that do will find the same stimuli of insight, expansion and rebellious thinking that have fired up generations before them. That is reason enough for the circles’ continuing existence.
Originally written for Nexus Magazine. All UK photographs are courtesy of Crop Circle Connector/Stonehenge Dronescapes – photos, articles and reports on the whole 2020 season can be found there. French image: 2Drone2. German image: Philip Hebeisen.