The Crop Circles of 2021
With the 2022 crop circle season now under way, how will this fit into context with what happened the previous year..? This comprehensive round-up shows that the ever-controversial crop circles had a slightly quieter time in 2021 but still delivered some exceptional and inspirational patterns which continued to challenge conventional thinking…
Back in 2020, that season’s flurry of ingenious crop glyphs had surprised the cynics; the robust pandemic lockdowns, they said, would once and for all clear away the creative vandals they believed were responsible for peppering the English landscape with mischievous shapes. They should have known better, of course, for a phenomenon which has always delighted in confounding expectations. Sure enough, the prophesied moratorium gave way instead to another summer of spectacular mandalas (and even ‘virus’-like designs – pictured), with more activity than the year before it.
Few were surprised, then, when the circle mystery seamlessly continued in 2021, despite some initial lingering restrictions on movement, putting smiles on the faces of those who find themselves enlivened and stimulated by its annual manifestation, irrespective of whether the patterns come from these or more unearthly realms, natural or psychic, human or extra terrestrial – the eternal debate. There remains something delightfully heretical about these glyphs, moving and enthusing some, while infuriating others simply for daring to exist without clear explanation.
In 2021, however, the happenings were almost exclusively in the firmly established heartlands of England – and with quieter numbers – but what was received was more than worth having. We will look at England first and then record the handful of events in other parts of the globe.
The strangely glorious weather of England’s first lockdown season was not repeated in 2021 and instead the country suffered a long, uninvitingly damp spring (a dry April aside) which held back crop growth. Despite this, events actually began slightly earlier this year, with the first reported formation arriving on 20 May, at Stanton St Bernard, Wiltshire [pictured]. The first rapeseed (or canola, a crop now grown with less frequency in Britain) pattern since 2018, it resembled an eight-pointed star within a circle, as if folded from paper, origami-like. According to geometers, its layout twice ‘squared the circle’ (in which a square can be formed with the same area as a given circle using just compass and straightedge markers), a feature seen before in the fields.
One other tradition persisted this season – the making of crop designs for advertisements. Somehow, such gimmicks have not yet become passé, which says something of the phenomenon’s continuing allure in the public eye. Two were created in these early weeks, one an ornamentation of hexagons and pathways at Uffcott, Wiltshire, on 18 May, apparently to publicise the computer game Fortnite, and the other – the one sole 2021 formation in the US, a country which has now been largely abandoned by circlemakers – created in Kansas (exact date and location unknown) to advertise Oreo cookies, one of which it resembled, with a few extra pictogram accoutrements. A further commissioned logo would be laid at Broad Hinton, Wiltshire, on 15 June – a stylised ‘S’ and ‘P’ – believed to be promoting a solar power company.
The rest of May saw just one other occurrence of unknown origin, near the Neolithic mound of Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, on 21 May, again in rapeseed. Although its simple outer rings and inner square were largely accurate, one side of it was crudely and seemingly unnecessarily broken up as if some curious affliction had suddenly struck its creator.
Impressive convention returned on 8 June at South Wonston, Hampshire, in the form of a crisp twelve-pointed star surrounding a ring of eight alternating-size circles around a further central one. Its very clear delineation resembled a cookie-cut shape (ironically, somewhat cleaner than the aforementioned Oreo effort). The next day, 9 June, saw Wiltshire’s Wootton Rivers receive a quite different construction of a wide ringed circle overlapping a flattened area (with a semi-circle of standing crop), as if representing stages of an eclipse, with a smaller circle and a rather less precise quartered cross shape thrown in for good measure.
Cookie-cutter precision returned at Ludgershall, Wiltshire, on 14 June [pictured], with an impressive mandala of four nested seven-pointed stars (heptagons) with triangular petals, one within the other, diminishing in size to the centre like a rose. Glorious to see in its medium of glowing green wheat, this was one of the year’s best manifestations. The star motif – appropriately for the solstice – continued on 21 June at Tichborne, Hampshire, this time an eight-pointed variety surrounded by clever flattened chevrons.
28 June saw the arrival of an unusual configuration at Tidcombe Down, Hampshire; eleven circles, diminishing at each end in a croissant-like array, curled around a twelfth central circle, all held within an encompassing crescent. The following day, 29 June, welcomed back an old friend at Whiston, South Yorkshire (further north than most English crop circles) – a ‘quintuplet’, typical of the kind that graced so many fields in the late 1980s. The four small circles orbiting a much larger centre were all neatly laid and made for a nostalgic nod to the days before everyone took more inventive complexity in the fields for granted. As noted in my previous circle articles, the fact that most observers now do is a telling sign of just how far this journey has taken us over the decades. If a force is slowly ingratiating itself with humankind as part of acclimatisation process, as some insist, then the ploy has worked well. If not, then we have still become strangely accustomed to unauthored and extraordinary art – from wherever.
The complex hexagonal mandala which arrived at the ancient stone circle of Avebury, Wiltshire, on 2 July [pictured] inaugurated a month of geographically scattered and enjoyably varied configurations. Its six spiral arms were scored with fine lines, giving the effect of falling into a whirlpool when seen directly from above. The outer perimeter edge was made more fascinating by its thin section of criss-crossing ‘basket weave’ notches, adding texture. Gracing a field which has witnessed so many masterpieces over the years, aerial images showing the famous Avebury ramparts next to it provided a reminder that crop circles, stone circles and sacred sights always feel like perfect companions for each other. Dowsers have long claimed that invisible geomantic energies draw them together as a common denominator.
Another classic circle site of old, Longwood Warren in Hampshire, received its own masterpiece on 4 July [pictured] in the form of an ambitious ten-pointed star (with a smaller ring of flattened triangles around the centre) set against a laid pentagon, all encompassed within a thin ring. Next day, a simpler emblem of a cross set against a double ringed circle (religious significance perhaps – or gunsight crosshairs) appeared at Wiltshire’s Hackpen Hill on 5 July. This was distinguished more by its construction than its design; the centre employed a radially laid ring around a conventional swirl, now a common feature of the phenomenon, with a central standing tuft to add further texture. Unusually, however, the rings were laid partly using a thin standard-flow but with crop sweeping outwards from this to widen them, making for an intriguing effect when seen from above. An otherwise surprisingly balanced and now very rare media report on the circles for the BBC website’s travel pages in August implied this might have been made to advertise the croppie’s favourite Barge Inn pub at Honeystreet near Alton Barnes, but no grounds nor evidence for this were forthcoming.
An unusual 14-fold mandala of fragmented petals and blocks at Okeford Hill, Dorset, on 7 July made up for what it lacked in precision (with several components being notably different in proportion) with an attractive naïve charm. A mysterious break of a week and half then followed before two formations arrived on 18 July. One was at Old Whittington, Derbyshire (not a common county for circles), and again harked back to simpler times with a quintuplet of small circles, transformed into a Celtic cross with a thin connecting ring and further enhanced by the presence of an inner square (once more geometrically ‘squaring the circle’), all enclosed by an outer ring. The same day, at Upham, Hampshire, a striking 12-fold ring of so-called ‘Mayan’ (though actually not) half-boxes surrounded a strange and deliberately broken standing ring disconnected into three sections. The outer parts, with no attempt at precision, had a curiously compelling hand-drawn look about them, seen before in similar designs as if to mimic ancient carvings. The skilfully notched central lay in the basket weave style suggested that accuracy and detail was more than possible for its makers, and that the naïve approach was therefore an artistic decision.
Hampshire received another visitation on 20 July at Tufton [pictured], this time in the form of a flattened circle around an unusual square ‘backgammon’ table-like motif of 18 negative and positive stripes, making some people wonder if the circle mystery was once again playing games with us … The month, in which a number of generally less-visited counties had seen unusual action, ended back in South Yorkshire, firstly with yet another quintuplet, small but neat, on July 29 at Rotherham, and then on 31 July at Billingley with a slightly unruly-looking pictogram resembling a strange ‘pendulum clock’ of various components, with a heart and small circle swinging beneath it.
The Season Matures
The quintuplet/Celtic cross theme was developed further at Swarraton, Hampshire, on 1 August [pictured], this time in a far more ambitious style. Contained within a thin outer ring, this complex pattern in effect comprised two Celtic crosses superimposed onto the same ring, one of small circles and the other large, all surrounding a flattened circle with a perimeter of 16 standing small boxes, alternately grooved and plain (likened by some to elements of the I Ching), with a central bow tie-like arrangement of two thin triangles.
Hampshire, which had a busy 2021 – nearly rivalling the usually more active Wiltshire – saw another grand production on 8 August at West Meon [pictured]. Returning to the folded paper ‘origami’ style, this six-pointed star was surrounded by an elaborate perimeter of 24 boxes, each one with a grooved line angled in alternating directions. Exceedingly elaborate, it put some observers in mind of ancient calendrical systems, although precisely which, as ever, remained unclear. As if in reaction against all this high complexity in its neighbouring county, Wiltshire reminded us that simplicity can also have great beauty, in the form of two thin and elegant rings, one within the other, at Marten on the same date of 8 August.
Hampshire returned to the fray with a retro-looking pictogram on 11 August at Sydmonton, very near Watership Down, scene of harrowing rabbit exploits in the famous novel by Richard Adams. Essentially a dumbbell of two connected ringed circles, the larger end was distinguished by two inner arches and a spoked basket weave centre. The central stem was surrounded by four small rectangles, two either side (a reference to the mystic importance of 11/11 numerology?), echoing a theme first seen in the early complex designs of the 1990s.
East Sussex, once home to many formations, was granted a sole sprinkling of slightly unruly rings, small circles and other features at Wilmington on 14 August, not far from the famous Long Man hill carving. Like a number of occurrences each year which are suspected of being nothing more than graffiti, some reporting websites failed to list these designs, yet one person’s graffiti may be another’s meaningful symbolism, as was seen in a cartoon-like shape of lines and jagged curves mashed into the side of a field at Wiltshire’s Hackpen Hill sometime in July. Assumed to be nothing more than a piece of jokey man-made opportunism, it nonetheless inspired one of the Crop Circle Connector website’s regular contributors to speculate that it was unconsciously tuning in the ‘real circle makers’ and contained hints of cometary impacts. The brave and imaginative speculation to be found online on the figurative meaning of virtually every crop design, hinting at ancient knowledge, catastrophic astronomical developments of future significance, and even Star Wars iconography, are almost never proven nor have yet come to anything but their authors are rarely deterred – and nor should they be. The Rorschach tests provided by the crop patterns, irrespective of their real intention or origins, usefully illuminate both humankind’s inner aspirations and fears, stimulating people to think outside the box and to take nothing for granted; no bad thing in times of highly controlled information and draconian online censorship.
One formation certainly not taken for granted was the remarkable design of 15 August at Roundway, Wiltshire [pictured]. A ring of 32 jagged triangles, half offset at curious angles to the other half in an alternating sequence, at first glance this looked like a stylised sun symbol (or a crown of thorns). But much of its creativity had been put into the flattened area at the centre, densely textured with bands of basket weave, conventional flows, notches and twisted standing tufts. Detailed attention to craft within the crop lay itself is something which has grown over the years and become another expected and entrancing feature.
In a revisit to Yorkshire, but this time West Yorkshire at Sandal Magna on 16 August, adjacent to the mound where once stood the medieval battlements of Sandal Castle, a pattern appeared which would have been quite at home in the more familiar circular environs. A five-pointed pentagram with a circle positioned between each arm, standing tufts at each centre, the whole was surrounded by an outer ring divided into ten boxes. The five-pointed theme was continued at Little Nutford, Dorset on 23 August, this time with a smaller more floral-looking star (again, with each petal having standing centres) at the middle of a more elaborate design of thin paths and larger outer petals, all held within a ring. Inside the inner star itself was a pleasingly unusual pentagon with slightly curved sides. The last English event of the year returned to South Yorkshire at Todwick on 30th August [pictured] in the form of a small but satisfying arrangement of three standing rings within a segmented outer ring. Rather like a rubber stamp mark, with neat lays, it felt like an appropriate way to close the summer months.
Final UK Tally
Taking all varieties of formations into account, by late summer there had been 29 English events in 2021; interestingly, a few less than the previous heavy lockdown season. Perhaps the phenomenon had a point to make the year before and, feeling this had been done, cruised a little more gently this season, albeit visiting some more northern climes than usual for recent times. But circle researchers have learned not to panic too much at temporary numerical retreats; the fact is that the mystery happily continued on with some inspiring entries and may revive more fully next time. As noted, it has never been, and doubtless never will be, a predictable puzzle.
Whether the answers lie in geology, natural energies, the consciousness of nations or simply a dearth of local crop artists elsewhere, the classic question remains as to why rural England still gets the lion’s share of circular activity. The circle phenomenon has been cruising gently in other parts of the globe for some time now, after earlier decades of sporadic but more numerous occurrences. But it is not entirely bereft.
What the rest of the world lacks in numbers it sometimes makes up for by getting in early; indeed, the first recorded crop formation of the year arrived in Russia at Tenginskaya, Krasnodar, on 3 May in the form of three loops connected by a snaking pathway, although information and images are scant, as is often the case outside the West. It may well be that there are more global incidences than are ever reported, especially if they lie in remote areas.
Next up was France, which only two seasons before had a bonanza year of unexpected and imaginative activity but which has since returned to occasional novelties only. The country’s one 2021 event was a ‘pawprint’ design (albeit a six-toed one) at Verdun, Meuse, on 4 July, comprising a wide and not entirely accurate ring with a connected halo of six circles, running from large to small. Some observers saw a connection, perhaps appropriately for a French delicacy, with the aforementioned ‘croissant’ design at Tidcombe, Hampshire in June.
On 13 July, Poland received an unusual scattering of around 18 small circles and rings at Września [pictured], as if a handful of buttons had been thrown across the field. Some had standing rings or thin crescents within them, while the most central circle displayed two standing pillars. If the arrangement seemed random, the inner swirls were well coordinated and beautiful. Poland, the only other country to host more than one formation this year, then saw one more burst, this time more disciplined, at Szczecinek, Middle Pomerania, around the end of the same month. Six circles, three in a row and two slightly offset, were well laid and somewhat easier on the eye.
Germany, once a busy place for formations but these days upholding the new quietness, saw a single entry near the Bavarian town of Buchendorf (Gauting), Starnberg, on 25 July [pictured] – but it was a notable one. Essentially a double ringed circle, its very accurate thin rings were studded with small, attached semicircles with standing centres, six on the outer ring, and three on the inner. Neatly laid, it was a striking formation … And that was that for international circle excursions in 2021 – just five known reports, almost certainly the quietest year for global patterns for many years. What this means, and where it goes from here, can only remain the subject of pure speculation. Doubtless, if the collective comes to desire or deserve further abstract callings in the fields, their numbers will grow again.
As I compiled this article, I was putting together the final touches for my book The New Heretics (published by Watkins Publishing in December 2021), intended to balance all the recent media negativity by giving a truly insightful and unbiased understanding into precisely why a significant section of society – now definitively branded heretical – continues to believe in so-called conspiracy theories (illustrated so strongly by COVID questioners and the storming of the US Capitol in January this year). It also reflects on how global polarisation in many areas is giving rise to a dangerous culture of suppression and completely unfree speech – and includes a substantial section on the wider learnings gained from crop circle investigation. The intense passion which has surrounded these extraordinary glyphs offers a perfect example of how both conflict and inspiration can arise from something which remains essentially unknowable at its heart.
As the book explores, with endless disputes over evidence and the absence of firm corroboration around many personal convictions, in the end everyone chooses their own truths to some extent, both in mainstream and alternative thinking. Schisms over the causes or the very reality of the pandemic have shone a light onto this reality. Fighting a corner from one polarised viewpoint to the exclusion of ever trying to comprehend the mindset of the perceived ‘opposition’, whoever is right or wrong, is both detrimental and futile in the end, and yet modern culture encourages us to keep doing this, raising suspicions that the old divide and rule equation remains worryingly active. There are bridges that we could all help build to try to defuse the current tensions just a little. Those who have become comfortable with the crop formations over the years, those ever-present emblems of heretical thinking, have had to learn to embrace mystery and come to terms with their own intellectual fallibility, accepting that they still cannot prove what is really going on; we all are free to guess at things but need to be very self-aware of when we are choosing a truth rather than absolutely knowing one. Divided factions in many other areas of contention could learn something valuable from the puzzles in the fields.
A Quiet Anniversary
As if to illustrate the above point, amidst the new circular wonders of summer 2021 it was easy to miss the unsung anniversary of a controversy that encapsulates so much about this peculiarly enchanting riddle. It seems incredible that on 11 August it was exactly 25 years since a video came to light in 1996 showing a snowflake-like crop formation at Oliver’s Castle in Wiltshire (pictured – very close to Roundway, scene of one of this year’s events) unfolding within seconds under flying balls of light, typical of phenomena seen around so many circles over the years. This Holy Grail-footage has never ceased to fascinate and every now and then comes up for renewed media scrutiny in quiet news weeks. Although generally written off as a clever fake, despite vague claims and counterclaims from possible perpetrators no definitive evidence has ever demonstrated it to be bogus; many still believe it to be real.
Given that even on the video’s 25th anniversary no one thought to produce once and for all the proof alleged to exist which would finally define it as a known hoax, this leaves the sequence officially unexplained and it retains its quantum state of uncertainty, continuing to stimulate lively arguments all these years on – which seems the perfect metaphor for the crop circles in general. Given how much easier footage like this would supposedly be to produce today on home software, it is telling that such videos are not continually forthcoming – and yet new and astonishing crop patterns do keep arriving, even if the numbers go up and down from year to year, keeping both the phenomenon and the tantalising unknowingness alive, with no need of controversial footage. The stimulation provided by endless debate and speculation seems to be the raison d’être of crop circles.
The circles’ persistent presence makes them hard to sensationalise these days. This is not easy for a journalist, which offers another reason why we generally hear so little about the circle enigma in the mainstream these days. Writers are always trying to find an ‘angle’, as I have sometimes sought in my decades of producing these annual round ups; yet, in the end, the stark truth is that the circles don’t need an angle, for they are the angle. If the idea of giant and spectacular patterns appearing around us mysteriously for many years, with all the peripheral weird phenomena and existential debates, isn’t enough to be an intriguing fascination in itself then what is?
Originally written for Nexus Magazine. All UK photographs are courtesy of Crop Circle Connector/Stonehenge Dronescapes/Crop Circles From the Air/The Hampshire Flyer – photos, articles and reports on the whole 2021 season can be found on the Connector website. Poland photo: Piotr Szykowny / Bavaria photo: Schweda Fotografie / Oliver’s Castle photo: Andy Thomas