The Crop Circles of 2023

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As we look forward to what the fields might receive this year, Andy investigates the crop circles of last summer. 2023 saw numbers of England’s crop formations edge upwards again and included some fascinating symbolic call-backs to the past. Amidst official revelations on UFOs and with public interest appearing stronger than the mainstream media might suggest, is the circle phenomenon set to have its time in the sun again?

 

A Modest Revival

When crop circles are referenced at all by the mass media, the impression is often given that this ‘mystery’ is a timeworn irrelevance, long ago explained (probably) as the work of clever human artists and one that few people pay attention to today. Strange, then, that when the popular YouTube show The Why Files ran an episode this summer entitled, if somewhat luridly, Aliens & Espionage: Crop Circles and the CIA Coverup, it received over two million views within a day. CIA cover-ups or not, given the likely younger age of many of the show’s viewers this was a telling figure, impressive for its niche, with not a single ‘thumbs down’. Other online shows have featured them of late, with similar levels of interest. The fact is that many of these alluring shapes remain unexplained and there clearly are people out there whose fascination has been undeterred by decades of lazy debunking.

Perhaps this is why the phenomenon perseveres. Although no longer active at some of the frenzied levels of yore, it nonetheless quietly ensures that it remains available for those with eyes to see. In my assessment of 2022’s crop formations, I noted that numbers were the lowest in nearly 40 years and wondered if the circles might be entering a “twilight zone” of continued excellence but at more of a background level. That observation essentially held true in 2023, with several entries of a generally fine quality at a slow but steady pace, albeit – encouragingly – with slightly increased numbers, although still with miniscule activity beyond the core heartlands of England. Whatever is behind these marvels – and, for newcomers, the usual choices must be offered here between extra-terrestrials, extra-dimensionals, natural forces, psychic forces, the human factor and all points in-between – the sometimes mind-bending debates about the very nature of reality they provoke remain valuable, regardless of their origins. Thus, documenting crop circles year by year, as these articles have for decades now, remains a viable and honoured undertaking.

The Season Opens

The year debuted with a wheel of six scimitar-like standing arms within a ringed flattened circle at Broad Hinton, Wiltshire on 28 May [pictured] – later than some season openings, but earlier than others. Precise and pleasing to the eye, the fluffy quality of the crop added welcome textures. Online speculators were soon down to the eclectic and sometimes cheerfully eccentric business of symbolic interpretation, seeing the wheel as being everything from a demonstration of the physics of paddling ducks (really) to astronomical prophecy. As yet, the imminent celestial disasters some insist the glyphs are warning of remain happily unfulfilled so, unless there are irrefutable visual themes, I leave readers to find interpretive analyses elsewhere.

Unfortunately, crop formations in other countries remained extremely rare this year but northern Italy would at least receive a simple but pleasing standing ring and crescent motif against a flat circle at Capriano del Colle in the Lombardy region on 30 May, while France would soon also see a little action. Two further formations of a very different nature (including crop squares) would be created in the Piedmont region of Italy in June by the landscape artist/sceptic Francesco Grassi, who has produced several works there over the years, while Canada’s only pseudo-formation was a huge fleur-de-lis ‘maize maze’ at La Pocatière, Québec in July, created as part of the Grand Labyrinthe Kamouraska art project.

The design that arrived at Winterbourne Bassett, Wiltshire, on 4 June was a clear throwback to the early 1990s pictogram style, as a line of circles and rings spouted the ‘keys and claws’ which were briefly a fixture of the phenomenon. Slightly rough in execution, this was nonetheless a portent for a more impressive link to the past that would follow in July (see below).

The Sunflower

The next manifestation was in a different league. Playing its hand early, on 7 June at Potterne Hill, near Devizes, Wiltshire [pictured], the fields delivered the most elegant formation of the year in the shape of a truly beautiful 36-petalled flower or representation of the sun (thus it was inevitably labelled the ‘sunflower’). With two layers of 18 petals each, cleverly arrayed around the outside of a thin ring, its geometrical complexity and precision resulted, paradoxically, in something of great aesthetic simplicity that somehow spoke to the heart and gave observers a glowing, hopeful feeling. It was not lost on some that this appeared in the same field and at almost the exact same coordinates as the ‘virus’ glyph in 2020, which materialised amidst the controversy and frustration of a world in lockdown. After the clouds, perhaps at last the sun had come out.

In addition to its attractiveness, it was hard not to be impressed by subtle touches such as the tiny ‘flicks’ at the tip of each petal [pictured], tapering to trickles just centimetres across, as if to represent flickering flames. Even more impressive was an absence of even the faintest entry marks into the centre of the ring, which seemed to be making a point (further reinforced by the Norton Bavant event below). With no tractor lines there to provide a central pivot in which to stand – there being no alternative method of manually constructing an accurate ring – those who argue that only man-made art can explain this phenomenon were hard pushed to provide a solution. We might remind ourselves that in 1991, when the two elderly (now deceased) pranksters Doug and Dave claimed they had made all the crop circles, when quizzed on how they had reached centre points without leaving trails, they said they had used children’s pogo sticks … The impossibility of leaping 30 to 40 feet or more using a pogo stick on earthy ground and without leaving marks seemed lost on the dumbly incurious journalists at the time. The stunning sunflower made the point that such questions remain unanswered today.

June in England and Abroad

On 11 June at Roundway Down, also near Devizes, an elaborate and neatly laid mandala comprised a ring with four protruding points and radiating duos of small circles, all surrounding a complex centre of arcs and a circle [pictured]. The same day, at an as yet unconfirmed location in France but probably near Saint-Babel in the Puy-de-Dôme department, a rather less neat but large flower-of-life with thin wavering paths appeared next to a busy highway. In the same area, a sequel arrived on 21 June: a collection of rings, circles and a crescent with a ‘thought bubble’ tail of three diminishing circles, it displayed a similar lack of geometrical accuracy but had a neat lay as compensation.

An unusual but pleasing three-fold design of what could be described as rippling petals or stretched ‘swallow’ icons [pictured] was discovered on 18 June at Bishopstrow, Wiltshire, adjacent to an old burial mound near Warminster where UFO flaps attracted attention in decades past. The kind of pattern that plays tricks with the eyes when scrutinised, it was punctuated with a curious arrangement of three thin lines running across the petals, thus delicately dividing the whole into three sections.

Cornwall, the most south-westerly of English counties, was once a hotspot for circles but is mostly bereft today. However, on 23 June it produced a single formation near Mevagissey. Possibly an attempt at a logo of some kind (it faintly recalled the emblem of the Extinction Rebellion activist group), this comprised a ring around five zig-zagging lines and a smaller central bar. Next day, a classic style returned to England at Nympsfield, Gloucestershire. Not far from another ancient burial site, Uley Long Barrow (known locally and more charmingly as Hetty Pegler’s Tump), here a central circle was surrounded by two thin precise rings and would have sat comfortably with the sparser patterns of the 1980s.

The month concluded with a more ambitious and unusual design at Owslebury, Hampshire on 26 June. An elaborate ringed wheel of twelve large and twelve small circles on thin spindles radiating from a central circle, the entirety was encompassed by an offset wider ring with five protruding triangular points on one side. A little rough in its lay, it was nevertheless one of the more distinctive configurations of the year.

As a June addendum, near the end of the month a peculiarity was discovered at Patcham, near Brighton in East Sussex. In a field which has hosted several ‘proper’ formations in years past, fully visible from a busy road, a vast set of elaborate thin lines and squiggles was found. At first presumed to be where a motorbike had been ridden through the crop, closer inspection revealed this to be unlikely as the tracks were too wide, were properly laid and turned too many hard right angles. Some observers felt that parts suggested crude but stylised seagulls, which might have been a reference to the local football team (Brighton and Hove Albion, often referred to as the ‘Seagulls’) – but no one ever claimed it if so, nor was there any local media coverage, so if it was a haphazard attempt at PR an enormous effort had been made for little return; the total length of the lines was around two kilometres. Although easy to dismiss, unexplained networks of apparently random lines have appeared before now and cannot be ruled out as bizarre expressions of the more usually circular phenomenon.

Hampshire’s Busy July

The county of Hampshire has long been the circle enigma’s second favourite region – indeed, sometimes it has nearly rivalled Wiltshire’s dominance. July 2023 saw an admirable resurgence, beginning on the 4th at Winchester, offering two striking yet very different patterns in the same field. One, a traditional well-laid eight-fold ringed mandala, comprised an outer layer of large standing triangular petals around a central star of smaller triangles, but its companion a few hundred feet away had no discernible visual connections, although speculators gamely did their best to find them. Here, a square box [pictured] cleverly encompassed nine radiating arcs, each getting wider, resembling transmission waves and making for a very atypical emblem, reminiscent of a computer signal icon.

Hampshire’s next instalments also shared the same date of arrival, this time 9 July. The village of Beauworth hosted another unusual style with a busy burst of multiple thin rings [pictured], the central circle being the only fully laid area (demonstrating the now familiar radial outer band haloing a conventionally spiralled centre). Six arms of four rings each were interspersed with another six arms of three rings, while the whole was satisfyingly outlined with a continuous path, bringing it all together. Its chronological companion at South Wonston had a quite different demeanour, with three elegantly thin petals set against a shield-like design chequered with alternate flattened and standing blocks, ingeniously stretched in different ways to give the illusion of a curved surface. This was all contained within two precise rings. The chequers displayed a fine array of splayed or standing centres, with nicely fluid qualities.

The striking arrangement that arrived at Charlton on 25 July was a clear relative of June’s Owslebury design but lacked some of the more eccentric posturings and exhibited a tidier lay. Another burst of circles on spindles [pictured], this was nine-fold instead of twelve and added an extra central row of smaller circles, making 27 in all. Attractive to the eye, it was notable that the thin pathways extended right to or through the laid centres of each circle. The layout was thought by some to be a deliberate, if somewhat vague, echo of an ornamental plantation of trees in the nearby cemetery.

The last formation of July’s dynamic Hampshire run, found at the classic circle site of West Meon on the 30th, seemed to draw on a different style again, being an unmistakeable eye motif. An oval lozenge enveloping a ringed circle as the central pupil, this was once more set against a background of chequers, not unlike the South Wonston ‘shield’. These standing elements were contained within a larger circle, which displayed a notable band of criss-crossing ‘basket weave’ swathes around the edge, making it the only entry of the year to employ this intriguing technique. The eye has long been seen as symbol of divinity, or, in these more suspicious times, an occult symbol of New World Order dominance, but it is one which has appeared in various crop circles over the years, reinforcing the belief of some that someone or something is out there watching us …

Meanwhile, in Wiltshire

Hampshire’s flurry of ingenuity did not mean that the fields of Wiltshire were inactive this month: on 7 July at Norton Bavant, a lattice of 24 thin interlocking petals/leaves arranged around a ring was a worthy contender [pictured]. In striking areas where the petals met the ring, stems almost seamlessly flowed together. Essentially a six-fold design playing with elements of ‘flower-of-life’ symbolism (in a nod to the Italian version, perhaps), this was, like the aforementioned sunflower, further distinguished by the absence of a trail or any downed crop in the wide central area where a standing place would be required to physically create the ring.

Overtly pictorial crop circles always generate controversy and sure enough the well-made but unambiguous design found at Broad Hinton on 11 July was dismissed by many for being just too literal. A direct representation of a classic barber’s razor, with the blade unclipped from the handle in a kind of ‘A’ shape, the emblem was rendered with standing elements against a flattened circle and was widely presumed to have been made by a human team for commercial purposes, although for who or what remains unknown at this time. Symbol detectives were stimulated nevertheless and considered what the deeper meaning of such a device might mean. There is a lingering irony, though, that sceptics are often heard to argue that a genuinely intelligent force would surely communicate with more direct imagery; when such imagery appears, they are always the first to scorn it.

On 18 July, Alton Barnes, site of so much circular inventiveness over the decades (see the Rushock report below) produced a plain but not unpleasing line of four slender rings of differing size, two of them interlinked. Here, each ring certainly did display a small central mark, making for an salient comparison to the point made elsewhere this summer. This formation, in a further irony, was broadly dismissed as a probable man-made ‘practice’ not for this reason, but instead for being too simple … And yet, irregularities were cited as the main criterion for some critics not liking the ring of multiple thin bars around a central circle which appeared at Wexcombe on 28 July. Admittedly ragged in their consistency, the bars petered out two-thirds of the way around as if having been abandoned, leaving just two thin rings – but these then received the later addition of two wide (and much neater) rings superimposed onto them on 2 August.

Wiltshire’s last production of the month, at Bratton on 30 July, was in a different league, in the form of a precise and pleasing spiralled wheel of five sweeping scimitar arms (as opposed to the six which began the whole season) around a central circle surrounded by multiple thin rings. At the tip of each scimitar perched a small circle, each with a small notch removed, as if being covered by the blade.

Stairway to Bonham

July had one more surprise: the crop formation which appeared at Rushock, Worcestershire on the 16th was unignorable even for the British media, having, as it did, a celebrity connection to draw its attention. Almost a direct facsimile of the famous 1990 pictogram at Alton Barnes in Wiltshire [comparisons pictured below] which generated the first huge public furore and initiated the era of complexity, this long line of circles, rings, boxes, keys and claws was a blatant kiss to the past. The verbatim repetition of patterns is exceptionally rare in the fields, with nearly all being unique in geometry or configuration even if they fall into established design genres. On closer inspection, minor differences could be discerned between the Rushock pictogram and its predecessor, mainly in the detail of the always oddly-proportioned key appendages, but the connotation was unmistakeable.

Most notably, however, the new version arrived in close proximity to the churchyard of St Michael’s, where renowned drummer John Bonham (who died in 1980) is buried – once of rock band Led Zeppelin … who famously used a photo of the Alton Barnes formation on their Remasters album in 1990, just a few months after its appearance. Contrary to some media insinuations, there was never any evidence (nor even a claim) that the original pictogram was commissioned by the group; fond of using mystical imagery, it was purely serendipity that a perfect modern symbol suddenly presented itself. In another curious synchronicity, the Rushock version arrived just one day after the birthday of Bonham’s son Jason, now himself a respected drummer. Was any of this meaningful in any way – a tribute from a loving fan, celestial or human? – or was it just another sly wink from a phenomenon which seems to delight in enigmatic playfulness? With no known new Led Zeppelin releases, if it was a PR stunt for a long-inert brand it was hard to pinpoint why.

Regardless, in the same way that the album sleeve attracted attention to the very existence of the crop circle phenomenon (some music fans, especially in countries outside Britain, at first assumed it was just surreal album art), so too did this story at least remind the public that crop circles remain alive and well in a world that largely pretends otherwise, and that they continue to generate provocative discussions even after all this time.

Final Weeks

Because of England’s largely damp and cool late summer (even as Europe baked), more fields than usual remained available in August, yet the phenomenon took little advantage of the lingering canvas. But a few pleasures still lay in store.

On 2 August at Preston Candover, in Hampshire once again, the striking configuration found there was unlike any other this year [pictured]. A four-pointed star within a thin ring (not quite closed at one end), tightly-spiralled circles perched at two of the tips, creating a linear arrangement. Ingeniously, the swirl in the middle of the star was octagonal, not circular. A thin path in the lay ran across the whole, remaining visible in the end circles and terminating in small standing centres. The overall effect bore a passing, though not exact, resemblance to the star symbol used by NATO, perhaps apposite given the ongoing situation in Ukraine, as East and West fight a dangerous proxy war.

Leaving aside for now the design which appeared on 4 August (see below), next up on 10 August was another return to an early style: a single small circle surrounded by a large and very slim ring at the ancient (and much circle-visited) site of Cley Hill, near Warminster, Wiltshire. Straightforward and elegant, its accuracy was impressive and the circle was distinguished by an exquisite and wide S-shaped lay, giving a whirlpool-like effect when seen shining in the sun.

Full complexity would return for one last blast, in more ways than one, at Roundway Hill, Wiltshire on 13 August. Although very different in look, it shared numerical links with June’s sunflower formation, with two radial wheels of 18 diamond shapes each (the components of the smaller internal wheel being more stretched in appearance), making 36 in all. These surrounded a ringed hexagon encompassing a circle with six protruding arms ending in smaller circles, said by some, perhaps worryingly, to resemble a molecule of fissile uranium or plutonium hexafluoride. The diamonds were indeed laid with diamond-shaped swathes, with small circular centres. Busy and exciting to observe, for many this was the ‘grand finale’ of the season, even though one more event was yet to come.

The real finale, which on 15 August revisited the same field as the ‘shield’ formation at Barton Stacey, Hampshire was less grand but again gratifyingly simple; one more small circle surrounded by a wide ring. Almost identical to its Cley Hill predecessor, it was at least a work of graceful precision to close the summer.

The Wheel Turns

If we disregard known art projects and peculiar lines, 27 ‘conventional’ crop formations (24 in England and three abroad) were reported in 2023 – a rise on the previous year’s 21. Why the rest of the world is still so neglected can only remain speculation but the good news is that we do still have a determined phenomenon that continues to grip hearts and minds in its core region.

One crop pattern is still to be discussed, though. On 4 August, near the ancient stones of Wayland’s Smithy at Ashbury, Oxfordshire, there was a surprising arrival. Three thin precise rings linked with lines in a triangular arrangement were superimposed with two larger rings, like the elaborate hubcap of a wheel [pictured]. Researchers with a long pedigree immediately recognised its importance – for this was without question the logo of the old Centre for Crop Circle Studies (CCCS) [also pictured]. This influential organisation, the first to compile databases and opinions long before the internet took over, had an extensive branch network around the world and ran between 1990–2005. Its logo was loosely based on a crop design from 1992 but never before had the full thing manifested. After all these years, why now, so long after CCCS’s demise?

Synchronicity or a specific response from the phenomenon may have played a role … This very summer had seen, after years of delays, the posthumous publication of The Great Turning (Squeeze Press, 2023 – pictured below) by CCCS founder and original Chairman Michael Green. This dense and beautiful interpretation of the circles, lovingly compiled from Michael’s manuscripts by friends and family after his death in 2018 was, like the Rushock formation, a valuable throwback to the most scrutinized years of the crop circle mystery when aficionados and the media tussled over the origins of a spectacle which had exploded into new intricacy almost overnight in the year of CCCS’s inception. Surely more than just a cheap publicity stunt, the timing and connection of this new and unexpected formation felt very right to all who knew Michael.

Tellingly, though, most who saw the new motif failed to recognise it, as it became clear that many newer ‘croppies’, extraordinarily, had never even heard of CCCS, nor the pioneering work it did in getting the circles to be taken seriously at all in some quarters. This exposed an anomaly in the research community, significant sections of which, although genuine and enthusiastic, appear to have little or no awareness of the important knowledge and data collected decades ago. Not only does this mean that the same lessons keep having to be needlessly relearnt, but the long-view perspective of where this journey has taken people is in danger of being lost. There are plans afoot to address the situation by making this crucial information available again; as one of those involved, I will share more as the project nears fruition.

A New Backdrop

One more great turning may yet change the wider context in which the crop circle mystery is perceived: July 2023 saw the first official US congressional hearing on the subject of UFOs [pictured], or “Unexplained Anomalous Phenomena”, where, in an historic and unexpected development, high ranking political representatives respectfully heard testimony from military pilots who personally testified to sightings (some footage of which has already been officially released) which effectively prove that remarkable technology of some kind IS flying around at incredible speeds and in a manner that challenges our entire understanding of physics. Whether these objects are alien or human black-ops activities, either way this admission means that the world has quietly but irrevocably changed and that the very basis of science and our entire global economy is probably destined at some stage to be completely overturned.

As for the claims of David Grusch [centre of above picture], the former intelligence officer who testified that the US government was indeed in full possession of extra-terrestrials and their craft, as conspiracists have long contended, the character assassination he has received since suggests that full disclosure may still be a way off – and of course some believe Grusch is himself a distractive shill. But the very fact that these hearings took place at all strongly suggests that something new is in the offing and that the powers that be may now know that they cannot keep everything concealed forever.

If there are further revelations, the drastically altered backdrop against which the world considers crop circles and the possible technology or energies behind them – whether aliens are involved or something stranger still – might mean that the data collected from what is happening in the fields now, and regathered from the years past, could yet take on a whole new and meaningful significance. Either way, very interesting times lie ahead.

Andy Thomas

 

Originally written for Nexus Magazine. All 2023 UK circle photographs are courtesy of Crop Circle Connector/Stonehenge Dronescapes/Crop Circles From the Air/The Hampshire Flyer.

Photos, articles and reports on the whole 2023 season can be found on the Crop Circle Connector website.