Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sept. 2004)
Illustration by Arik Roper
“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck
“Regarding Crop Circles…”
By the time you read this, the 2004 crop circle season will be over. Harvesters will have scooped up the fallen wheat and canola, as it lay swirled into inscrutable patterns. The symbols that attracted thousands to the verdant countryside of Wessex, in Southern England, will only exist as a set of astonishing images (to see this year’s patterns, visit http://www.cropcircleconnector.com, http://www.temporarytemples.co.uk and http://www.cropcircleresearch.com). The pictures will go into the archives and databases kept by the “croppies,” those devoted students of a phenomenon that has been resoundingly ridiculed by journalists and ignored by the masses. After all, the prevailing judgment offered by the media and the public is that the crop circles are a hoax, made by drunken farmers, bored teenagers, or unemployed artists. If this is the prevailing belief, then surely it must be the case. When is the mainstream media or mass popular opinion ever wrong?
Crop circles have appeared annually, in the UK and around the world, since the late 1970s. The patterns began as simple circles, but quickly started to complexify into formations such as “quintuplets,” four smaller circles arrayed around a single larger one. In the early 1990s, the crop circles moved to a new level, as hundreds of designs appeared each summer. One type of formation seemed to display a kind of abstract sign system unscrolling across hundreds of yards. In 1991, crop circles started to depict recognizable symbols from alchemy, fractal geometry, and various mystical traditions. Beginning at that time, hoaxers stepped forward declaring that they were the perpetrators of the phenomenon. Some of these groups—such as http://www.circlemakers.com—continue to claim responsibility, parlaying their skills in simulating formations into lucrative contracts with corporations and music video producers.
Through the rest of the 1990s and until today, the crop circles continued to evolve—and this took place in relative quiet. Much of the media coverage and popular attention dispersed after the phenomenon was officially labeled a con job. However, those who continued to follow the patterns were treated to ever-more elaborate and extraordinary configurations, using increasingly complex geometry. Averaging perhaps 100 configurations a year, the formations branched into Moebius Strips, toroids, DNA spirals, sunflower bursts, astronomical configurations indicating certain dates in the future, “Trees of Life,” futuristic iterations of the Yin-Yang symbol, various complex fractals, and “strange attractors.” The execution of these patterns—except for the obvious human-made attempts—has been persistently virtuosic.
The intellectual profile of the circlemakers was raised considerably by Gerald Hawkins, former chair of the astronomy department at Boston University and author of the influential book, Stonehenge Decoded. Hawkins began to study the geometry of the crop circles in 1990. He found that even seemingly simple formations contained hidden layers of intention and geometrical complexity. He analyzed a triplet of circles, in a pyramid shape, discovered on June 4, 1988, at Cheesefoot Head. He was able to draw three tangent lines that touched all three circles. These three lines formed an equilateral triangle. He drew a circle at the center of this triangle, and found that the ratio of the diameter of this central circle to the diameter of the three original circles was 4:3. He tested this out with circles of different sizes that allowed tangent lines to be drawn in the same way, and he found that the ratio remained constant. The formation had yielded a geometrical paradigm. Since Hawkins was well-schooled in Euclidean geometry, he went looking for this theorem in the pages of Euclid, and other later texts. It did not exist. The formation was displaying a new Euclidean paradigm that no other geometer had found.
Hawkins found three other original Euclidean paradigms in different crop circle patterns. From these four paradigms, he was able to generate a fifth Euclidean theorem that Euclid, and all later authors, had missed. This theorem involved concentric circles placed inside different types of triangles. Circles drawn within three isosceles triangles generated one typical formation; circles drawn within equilateral triangles generated the other. In one science journal and one magazine for math teachers, Hawkins offered a contest to see if anyone could derive the fifth general theorem from the four earlier ones. Nobody could. “One has to admire this sort of mind, let alone how it’s done or why it’s done,” remarked Hawkins, who also found diatonic ratios in many formations, suggesting the circlemakers take an interest in the musical scale.
Biophysicists have studied the biochemical effects on plants within the formations, discovering that the bent “nodes” on stalks of wheat and canola are elongated towards the center of a crop circle, as if by heat. Many observers have seen “balls of light” hovering over fields in which crop circles have appeared; some have witnessed the extraordinarily fast creation of patterns—within a few seconds—seemingly orchestrated by these “balls of light.” Eltjo Haselhoff, a Dutch physicist and laser engineer, collated data supporting the hypothesis that crop circles are created by single-point sources of electromagnetic radiation. He published the results of his investigations in Physiologia Plantarum, a peer-reviewed scientific journal on plant physiology and biophysics. In his excellent and levelheaded book The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles, Haselhoff writes:
This publication has an important consequence. It means that the hypothesis that “balls of light” are directly involved in the creation of (at least some of the) crop formations is no longer a hypothesis, but a scientifically proven and accepted fact. Moreover, it will remain such a fact until someone comes forward with an alternative explanation for the circularly symmetric node lengthening, or proofs that the analysis was erroneous. However, such a proof will not be an article in some daily newspaper or on the Internet. The discussions about node-lengthening effects in crop circles have clearly outgrown the level of the tabloids and entered the era of scientific communication by means of scientific literature. Consequently, the only comment that can be taken seriously at this point will have to be another publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
The Wessex area of Southern England is the epicenter of the crop circle phenomenon. It has attracted a group of thinkers and researchers over the last decades, who have studied the formations and contemplated them over a considerable period of time. Their perspective is that the phenomenon may be intentional, orchestrated by levels of nonterrestrial consciousness considerably more advanced than our own.
John Martineau is the Glastonbury-based publisher of Wooden Books, a wonderful series of slim volumes on astronomy, physics, Neolithic monuments, and other subjects. Martineau’s A Little Book of Coincidence illustrates the beautifully harmonic set of relations between planets orbiting our solar system—Earth and Venus, for instance, create perfect pentagonal geometry. Martineau became fascinated with cosmology and Neolithic stone circles while researching the crop formations in the early 1990s. He describes the crop circles as a “coincidence nexus.” He considers the crop formations to be great works of art: “If they are made by people, I want to study under them.”
Michael Glickman, a retired architect and industrial designer, is one of the most entertaining and articulate of the crop circle researchers. Glickman considers the glyphs to be “a series of profound, diverse, and complex communications of a substantial lightness and subtlety. They are using shape and geometry, number and form, to access fundamental parts of our being which have become culturally deactivated over centuries.”
The crop circle symbols point towards the possibility of reconciling modern scientific knowledge with esoteric wisdom traditions. In recent decades, a bridge has been built between these two modes of understanding—reflected in popular books such as The Tao of Physics, The Dancing Wu-Lei Masters, The Cosmic Serpent, Godel Escher Bach, Earth Ascending and so forth. Quantum physics seems to be a continuation of mysticism by other means. The crop circles repeatedly focus attention on astonishing correspondences between the fractals of modern chaos science and hermetic symbolism. To take one example, variations on the “Koch fractal” have appeared several times. The Koch fractal is the Star of David, with an endless series of triangles added on to each edge to create mini-stars in a self-recursive pattern with an infinitely expansive perimeter, resembling a snowflake. Although the perimeter of the Koch Fractal is infinite, the icon can be contained within a circle, demonstrating the esoteric principle that the infinite is contained within the finite. An extremely beautiful series of crop patterns have presented previously unknown variations on the yin-yang symbol, as a self-recursive shape in which negative and positive are held in dynamic balance.
I began to study the crop circles a few years ago, spending the last two summers in the region of England where most of them appear, tromping around fields and talking to farmers, croppie philosophers, and self-proclaimed hoaxers. My perspective on the crop circles is that they are a teaching on the nature of reality, geared specifically for the Western mind. This teaching is multi-levelled. Some of the formations are made by human hoaxers—although probably considerably fewer than one would think. However, you can never be certain – and this seems to be an intentional part of the teaching. If you take them seriously, the crop circles force you to confront indeterminacy and paradox, without rushing to make some deterministic judgement. In this way, they undermine the dualistic habits of the modern mind, which wants something to be “real” or “fake,” “true” or “false,” right away. Overcoming dualism is essential to the teaching of the Dzogchen tradition from Tibet. Chogyai Namkai Norbu writes in Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State:
Duality is the real root of our suffering and of all our conflicts. All our concepts and beliefs, no matter how profound they may seem, are like nets which trap us in dualism. When we discover our limits we have to try to overcome them, untying ourselves from whatever type of religious, political, or social conviction may condition us. We have to abandon such concepts as “enlightenment,” “the nature of the mind,” and so on, until we no longer neglect to integrate our knowledge with our actual existence.
It may be that the circlemakers are guiding us, gently but persistently, to achieve a new understanding of our world—if we could only be bothered to pay attention.
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“Here and Now” columnist Daniel Pinchbeck is a founding editor of Open City Magazine and author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books). http://www.breakingopenthehead.com
Arik Moonhawk Roper lives in New York City with his cat and two roommates. He’s currently producing a book of graven images and psychonautical roadmaps designed to create true hallucinations through visual stimulation. http://www.arikroper.com