As we anticipate what the fields in 2023 may or may not bring, Andy looks back on the summer of 2022, which produced some extraordinary and complex patterns in the fields, as confounding and contentious as ever. Yet there was a notable reduction in numbers and just three events outside of the usual English heartlands. What might this mean for the future of the phenomenon..?
Let us address the elephant in the fields from the start: activity-wise, 2022 was the quietest year for crop circles since 1984. With just twenty-one recorded formations by the middle of October – ten less than 2021 – for the first time in years circle aficionados had cause for concern that their favourite mystery might finally be waning, or at least temporarily faltering. The phenomenon’s global outreach also ground to a near-halt, with just France producing a solitary pattern to augment the inventive creations across the other side of the English Channel, and one offering each from Russia and Brazil.
Numbers have briefly dipped before, it should be noted, and the media has falsely reported the demise of crop circles more than once over the years, only for the enigma to revive and surprise its detractors. Sometimes-quoted claims of “thousands” of crop circles appearing each year in the 1990s and early 2000s are frequently held up as a dark mirror to more recent times but these are bogus – no year has ever exceeded 300 recorded events, unless individual circles within a single formation are disingenuously counted as separate occurrences. Appearances have fluctuated since but nonetheless the graphs do now show an undeniable downward trend.
There may be a meteorological or geophysical factor to this turn; it has been noted before that the large majority of southern England’s formations occur on the chalk or greensand aquifers (areas of underground water – this does not necessarily correlate with where most crops are grown, as some regions have many fields but none or very few crop patterns). The red circles pictured to the left in this very simplified diagram represent areas where most crop formations have clustered in southern England; chalk is shown in lime green. This may indicate that the movement of underground water and the electrical forces this can generate plays a role in the ‘earth energies’ claimed by the likes of dowsers to be connected with the creation of circles. In what was the country’s hottest and driest year for nearly a century, if figures are to be believed, might the drought have suppressed circular activity? Perhaps the dearth also reflects something of the current global malaise, with upheaval on many fronts, economic, political and beyond, a process accentuated in Britain by the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September. As in life, as in the fields, perhaps; the ultimate direction of travel is not clear. It may be that numbers go up and down over centuries, of course, not just decades and the circles may yet return in new strength, if only for future generations.
The fact is, however, that unless something occurs in 2023 to dramatically reverse the trend, it would seem that for now we may be entering twilight years for the crop formations, there but at a background level, available for the chosen few who care to seek them out. Farmers and sneering sceptics will doubtless celebrate this development but seekers who find the annual stimulation of these inspiring glyphs raises them above mainstream gloom and agendas of fear will feel a profound sense of loss if the decline continues.
As for the meaning of most other countries of the world being now largely bereft of cerealogical gifts, some contemplation may be required. Have they been deserted as some kind of judgment or, again, simply through a natural shift? Despite Ukraine being one of the key producers of grain, no hopeful symbols materialised there to offset the horrors of war, for instance – but that is not where the circular hotspot lies. Is the continued focus on the English heartlands of King Arthur’s apocryphal realm, with all its myths and mystical tropes, an indication of some kind of spiritual favouritism or actually a sign that the good king’s own people are a bit slow and still haven’t got the message? Hence, maybe, the need for the originators of the circles to keep going with at least some formations here, when other nations have moved onwards and upwards.
Or, as sceptic voices would have it, is it merely that the so-far surprisingly resilient fad of human field art has finally faded, with just a few dogged perpetrators persisting for reasons of their own? Many alternative thinkers are less likely to go for the last option; certainly the intriguing and multiple grey areas of the circle mystery have never been satisfactorily resolved, leaving all theory options on the table, from extra-terrestrial to psychic, electromagnetic and meteorological – to the eternal chagrin of the doubters.
However, rather than focus on diminishing numbers which could yet reverse once more, what of the gains made through the remarkable crop patterns that did appear this season?
April and May
The season began inauspiciously with a somewhat imprecise five-fold flower in yellow rapeseed (canola) at Sixpenny Handley, Dorset on 19 April. Constructed with thin lines around a small central circle, one petal sported an extra semi-circular ring. This did, however, restore April as the opening circle month after several years of May beginnings. More accuracy was employed in the following formation, again in rapeseed, when an archetypal Celtic cross (four circles on a ring around a central disk – pictured) arrived at Crab Wood, near Winchester, Hampshire on 24 April. The area once hosted a famous image of a Grey alien with a disk of binary code in 2002, rendered in a highly sophisticated way (see below), but this entry hinted at the late 1980s with its rather simpler configuration, when such shapes were the heights of complexity, perhaps again emphasising a slow curve back to earlier times.
Following a trend which has become established in more recent years, this short opening flurry was followed by a pause; it would be nearly a month before the next event occurred at Hippenscombe, Wiltshire on 22 May. Picking up on the theme of its predecessor, this time a Celtic cross was surrounded by a border of sixteen ‘sawtooth’ blades set within an octagon. Placed neatly between three preserved tree clumps in the field [pictured], it was neat and striking and felt more like the full opening to the season. The central circle was distinguished by a small standing area, offset from the mathematical centre by a few feet, comprised of ingenious corn dolly-like bunches of stems, woven into plaits or tied with tendrils of crop. The sheer physicality of this effect, documented a few times before now, strongly suggests something more than naturally spiralling vortices at work and is loved by some but eyed with caution by others.
Usually, these reports would save overseas occurrences for a separate section but the near-disappearance of the global phenomenon necessitates that France’s single 2022 entry, on 30 May at Saint-Denis-en-Bugey in the Ain department (region), and the two other later global events, be listed in sequence. Just a few summers back France nearly rivalled England for the crop circle crown, numbers-wise; now the normal order of very occasional Gallic glyphs, for whatever reason, has been re-established. With no aerial shots available, analysis of the harvested field and a few oblique ground photographs suggest a clever arrangement of a single ring encompassing an S-shape of small circles, thin arcs and curves, with a central circle and a large standing centre.
The Love Codes
The highly intriguing and potentially significant formation which was found on 4 June below the carved white horse at Hackpen Hill in Wiltshire marked a development which probably deserved more discussion than it received. Resembling a flattened Cassiopeia-like ‘W’ (or ‘M’ depending on which way it was looked at), this line of small connected rings (eighteen) and interspersed beautifully-laid circles (fourteen), with one short connecting path, was quickly established to be a computer language binary code employing the standard ASCII system – spelling out the word ‘L–ove’ once translated. That love seemed to be the order of the day rather than something more threatening was heartening.
The use of a known digital code clearly aimed at human beings means that this stands out as one of the very few of the thousands of recorded crop patterns to have had a directly decipherable message without ambiguity. Natural causes can be ruled out as the sole causal agent in these cases. Curiously, the only previous formation on record to unquestionably use ASCII code was the aforementioned and remarkable 2002 Crab Wood alien, with its accompanying disk of dots and dashes. The decoded message from that design (complete with its emphasised capitals) bears repeating here:
Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts and their BROKEN PROMISES. Much PAIN but still time. Believe. There is GOOD out there. We oppose DECEPTION. Conduit CLOSING.
As years go by and deception and broken promises from the powers that be appear to surround us, the above message takes on ever more resonance. Yet, strangely, after two decades anticipation for an ASCII sequel, the potential import of the long-awaited 2022 follow-up seemed to be shrugged off by many observers, hoping perhaps for something similarly verbose to the original powerful communication. This time, the message, embodying just one word, was straight and simple but, in truth, no less powerful: Love. Whether anyone will heed it remains to be seen.
Less of a wait was required for the next ASCII message when, on 12 July back at Winchester, another binary diagram appeared, this time in the form of a curved ‘bracelet’ of six circles and ten rings, again interspersed and with a short connecting path, all contained within a thin ring [pictured]. One side deciphered as the letter ‘o’ and the other side ‘m’ – ‘om’, in other words: the sacred chant of peace and tranquillity. This overtly spiritual addition to the ‘Love’ expressed at Hackpen Hill felt appropriate, and again encouraging. The small central circle displayed a limited area of notched lay, with overlapping rectangles of flat crop in a wider swirl, while some of the circles of the bracelet had beautiful splayed centres.
A number of speculators felt the stark statement of the alien-and-disk of 2002 was a watershed moment for the circle phenomenon, a kind of signing-off marking the beginning of a very gradual decline; the “conduit closing”. Not everyone agrees with this and it should be noted that newcomers continue to be inspired by the genius of what is occurring in the fields right now but the slow numerical reduction since then is unmistakeable. It will be interesting to see whether this season’s shorter and softer ASCII messages are eventually re-evaluated and looked back on as another chapter stop – or a new beginning.
Other June Patterns
Outside of the above notable events, it was circular business as usual: 3 June saw a disappointing start to the month with the almost-immediate destruction of a formation at Milk Hill, Stanton St Bernard, Wiltshire. Its insides were harvested out within hours by a farmer apparently keen to dissuade visitors, leaving the vague remnants of what appears to have been a floral design of petal-like thin rings around a central circle. Ironically, to the eye, the resulting large area of bright cut crop stood out more than the original configuration would likely have done.
5 June, at Kingsweston, Somerset, saw the discovery of a double-ringed motif surrounded by six small circles on stalks and two rounded-off ‘bars’. Conflicting reports suggest it may have first been discovered by locals on 3 June and was then unusually missed by researchers for over a week, not being officially reported until 13 June. At a squint, some thought the design slightly resembled a virus, a still-apt interpretation given the continuing controversy over COVID.
The sawteeth of May’s Hippenscombe event were recalled in the design which appeared back at Hackpen Hill, Wiltshire, on 19 June [pictured], just one field away from the ‘Love’ code. Seemingly with a harder feel, ten standing triangles arranged within a flattened circle surrounded a central circular area. Clear paths and spokes, seemingly part of the effect, were inherently visible within the lay of the crop, creating attractive textures and contours when seen from above.
For all the curiosities that generally build the earlier part of a season, the fields can suddenly produce a pattern which makes everyone exclaim “now that’s more like it”. This year such a moment was provided, if a little later than usual, at Micheldever Station (actual name of the village) in Hampshire on 3 July [pictured], perched just to one side of the busy A303 road (if invisibly to drivers), gateway to the West Country for many travellers. Crop formations that play tricks with the eyes are always popular and this ringed grid of alternately flattened and standing curved diamond-like areas did just that with an ‘interference’ technique that, after a few moments observation, cleverly resolved into two radiating semi-circular rings touching in the middle.
The hexagonal mandala of standing paths and triangles which appeared at Froxfield, Wiltshire, on 9 July was also striking, if a little more awkward in its layout, with an odd semi-formed path cutting across one of the triangles, although its lay was neat and flowing.
On 14 July, a line of three circles held within sinuous double-curved paths [pictured] appeared at Devizes, Wiltshire, and made for one of the most lovely emblems of the year. Very finely formed, its beauty was enhanced further by the S-shaped flows and splayed or standing centres of the circles, making for a very ‘sculpted’ look when seen from above. Something of a visual sequel to this appeared at West Stowell, Wiltshire, on 28 July, exhibiting three sets of differently proportioned and very well-crafted multiple rings, this time overlapping each other, with a central spine across the middle. Its precision was breathtaking. A simple single circle lay next to it, punctuating the entire design.
Crop formations that grow or alter have long been the object of both fascination and controversy and 2022’s example of this arrived at the longstanding circle site below the Iron Age hillfort of Barbury Castle in Wiltshire. Beginning on 17 July as a standing hexagon (within a large circle) traced with a spider’s web lattice of thin lines, this would transform the very next day as each alternate block of the web was then found newly laid, creating eye-catching radiating pointed triangles [pictured]. Lines and rings in the central compressed area of the formation were visible in the lay, suggesting that the flattening occurred on top of the original laid grid. Containing elements of the Archimedean ‘pi’ principles, it is notable that this appeared in the very same field which hosted a clear and unique demonstration of pi in 2008. The ratcheted spiral of that formation in itself echoed a feature of the famous triangular pictogram of 1991 which also appeared at Barbury Castle precisely 31 years to the day of this year’s entry, suggesting that some kind of long-term mathematical story is unfolding here.
The busiest-looking crop glyph of this season was discovered at Etchilhampton, Wiltshire, on 24 July [pictured], marking something of a crescendo to this unusually lean season. Almost impossible to describe in words, this extraordinarily complex and essentially eight-fold mandala of arches, circles, triangles, ‘spikes’ and lines was distinguished by a long thin chevron above a triangle that recalled the classic Masonic architectural ‘dividers’. This inevitably gave rise to discussions of darker meanings for those who believe Freemasonry wields too much influence over Western society, although given the sharp fall in membership in recent years this may not be the whole story today. The deep discussions and speculative yet stirring articles about this and all patterns mentioned here on the likes of www.cropcircleconnector.com demonstrate that, if nothing else, the circle mystery continues to broaden horizons and weave spells of inspiration even if the conclusions drawn may be completely wrong.
Last of the Harvest
With July temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius recorded in at least one part of the UK, the fields were looking dry and tired by August and farmers were keen to get the harvest in before the remainder fried. As such, there wasn’t much of a late-summer canvas left for the circlemakers to work with, which may be another factor to consider when pondering the low count.
Two final English punctuations snuck in just in time. On 3 August at Alton Priors, Wiltshire, each arm of a neatly laid five-pointed star was comprised of three diminishing circles radiating from a central circle [pictured in ‘The Elephant’ section above]. Humourists noted its faint resemblance to the ‘Michelin Man’, mascot of the famous tyre company, but those with more poetic eyes placed it in the ‘snowflake’ category. The last statement of the season materialised back at Etchilhampton on 8 August [pictured]. Another five-fold design, this was more flower than snowflake, featuring five outer circles connected by elegant curving paths around a central circle, close in detail to a pattern which appeared at the mysterious mound of Silbury Hill a whole decade before. Laid in distinct spirals of stems, like coiled ropes, the circles were gorgeous to behold from above, the central hub being distinguished with a radially laid halo. As the last UK event of the year it was a worthy enough finale.
The outside world had two final and now rare says, however, beginning with the discovery of a complex spiral of paths, dots and dashes at Lake Baikal, in the Irkutsk oblast region of Russia sometime around 23 August. As the third directly decodable formation of the year, it appeared to be Russian Morse code, roughly translating into English as ‘no more war’. Celestial or human in origin the message was clear. With some observers concerned about the growing development of what amounts to a proxy East-West war being conducted in Ukraine, this and the ‘Love’ message said it all.
And then, just as all seemed done, on 4 October one last beautiful statement arrived in a luminous green field on the other side of the world at Ipuaçu, Santa Catarina, in Brazil [pictured]. Although striking in its simplicity, this mandala embodied many fundamental shapes in one: a small central circle set within a triangle was in itself contained within a ring within a pentagon, all encompassed inside a circle. Certainly one of the finest designs witnessed in Brazil to date, it made for a worthy endnote after an uncertain, if still rewarding, year.
In the closing days of August, with only parched fields of stubble remaining, by chance I found myself driving through the old circle haunt of Cheesefoot Head in Hampshire, a beautiful area of wide vistas across dreamy landscapes. I pulled in briefly to indulge in a little nostalgia. In the late 1980s and 1990s, and occasionally since, this area was the centre of fevered activity both from the circles themselves and the then industrious research community, full of wide-eyed optimism, excitement, foibles and gloriously unrealistic ideals that humanity’s salvation might be at hand courtesy of some unknown force.
By chance, just a few days after this visit, an old cerealogical colleague handed me some surprisingly detailed and impassioned archived letters and articles we had written long ago to defend the honour and integrity of the circle phenomenon and those who studied it when even the basic facts were being misrepresented by sceptical challengers, whatever the ultimate reality about the mystery’s origins. Browsing through them, I was struck by just how dedicated and determined we were – and how that energy still counts today for some of us, but now in a wider context. In my recent book The New Heretics, which explores why people question enforced orthodoxies with their ‘alternative’ views and why they must be allowed to do so if sanity and freedom are to prevail, I deliberately included a chapter on the culture around the study of crop circles and its earlier fervent years. In it, I describe how these mysterious glyphs brought many genuinely open-minded enquirers to new thinking in a multiplicity of different areas. This process was accompanied, naturally, with all the complexities that come with fighting for – and over – truth and opinions, and the profound learning that results from daring to speculate on unknowns while navigating basic human nature along the way. Tellingly, and happily, more than one old circle friend has told me it brought a tear to their eye to read this inside account because the journey that many of us took in the face of adversity, scorn and condemnation still strikes a deep chord of universal experience amongst all who truly seek to reach beyond the grey mundanity of establishment presumptions.
This is not to indulge in talk of lost circular ‘golden ages’ – such myths have always been misplaced because every era of crop circles is a golden age for someone and each person inevitably holds onto the vivid memories of their own first astonishing impressions of this phenomenon. Nothing can ever match that freshness and although numbers are dwindling at the moment we don’t need to universally frown on everything that has occurred since ‘our’ times. All the same, looking around on my recent trip to Cheesefoot Head, with its rich circular mythology, I reflected that we are certainly in different times now. Today, the ‘Punchbowl’ field that hosted so many crop patterns and distracted astounded drivers gazing down from the A272 is a festival site [pictured], one full of the sad detritus from a recent event when I was there. It was a reminder that everything shifts in the end, as perhaps it should.
When I first entered the cerealogical world more than three decades ago, something about these ancient landscapes and the intriguing patterns forming in them pulled people back to a sense of the sacred, back to the earth and to something profound beyond the mundanity of everyday life, if always just tantalisingly beyond tangibility. Standing in a circle or even just the landscapes around them would give me a strange but palpable feeling in the pit of my stomach, something expectant and full of potential. I can still feel that today but in a world where dealing with more immediate issues and fighting for the liberty to express contrary opinions is now the priority for those with eyes to see, it is clear that those earlier chapters are done and have served their purpose.
If crop circles are the triggers for new thinking and consciousness-raising that many proclaim them as, then we can’t stay in the same idealised stamp-collecting phase forever. We should enjoy the beauty, wonder and sheer presence of the glyphs while we have them, for certain, but ultimately what counts in the long run must be the lessons we learn from the journey of enquiry they spark, those lessons that expand us outwards as we adapt them to other crucial areas of life. This learning will remain for those who remember it, whether the circles continue or not.
We will soon discover whether this year’s apparent retreat is a temporary blip or a camber into retirement – and whether the fields of the rest of the world will reignite or remain mute. Still, if the numbers remain low but something doggedly remains and the quality of the best of 2022 is retained, the few masterpieces we do receive will inescapably increase in value and perhaps be cherished all the more.
Originally written for Nexus Magazine. All 2022 UK circle photographs are courtesy of Crop Circle Connector/Stonehenge Dronescapes/Crop Circles From the Air/The Hampshire Flyer.
Landscape photo and aquifer diagram by Andy Thomas (adapted from a geological map). Alien and disk photo by Lucy Pringle. ‘L-ove’ diagram by Fernando Ortolá. Brazil photo by Jonas JP Passos. Cheesefoot Head photo by Andy Thomas. Photos, articles and reports on the whole 2022 season can be found on the Crop Circle Connector website.