- Subject: Crop Circles Precursors Or Occult Metaphors?
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
Cereal spin doctors
Crop circles: Precursors to a close encounter with ET or merely
catering to the public's appetite for 'occult metaphors'?
Rick DelVecchio, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, August 1, 2002
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle.
On April Fool's Day four years ago, Joe Nickell issued his
skeptics' Top 10 list of the world's hardiest paranormal hoaxes.
His prime examples included the Amityville Horror, King Tut's
Curse, psychic surgery and the Roswell saucer crash.
Nickell, an investigator for the Committee for the Scientific
Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal in Amherst, N.Y., is
still surprised by the tenacity of one item on his list: crop
"You would have thought that at some point the phenomenon would
peter out, that it would cease," he said, "but it's taken on a
life of its own."
And it's about to become even more popular. Three new films --
including Hollywood's first crop-circle blockbuster, which
opens Friday and stars Mel Gibson -- explore the large-scale
geometric patterns formed by the flattening of grain stalks in
rural fields, characteristically in southeastern England.
The International Crop Circle Database has cataloged 2,000 crop
formations, some going back to the 1950s. It logged three of
unknown origin in the mid- 1990s in Santa Rosa, Gilroy and in a
field of wild oats near a yoga retreat center in Watsonville
overlooking Monterey Bay.
Reported formations so far this year number 48, including 34 in
the United Kingdom. Other hot spots are Germany and the
Netherlands. A few have been made in the United States.
Virtually all are the work of hoaxers, Nickell says.
That crop circles resist the tramplings of skeptics seems to
result from their ability to inspire feelings of awe, serenity,
oneness, beauty or fear among followers from Christians to New
Age spiritual devotees to scientists with a metaphysical bent.
The most elaborate formations have the symmetry of a Hindu
mandala, or the interlocking bands of a Methodist flow chart
from post-Revolutionary America. Nickell says they spark more
ferocious feelings than almost any other phenomenon he
investigates, with the possible exception of the Shroud of
debunked as Christ's burial cloth.
Some of the designs are simple: The one reported in 1997 on
Mount Madonna, near Watsonville, swirled counterclockwise in a
single curve, 4 feet in diameter, according to the database.
Others are quizzical: A peace symbol reported in a Gilroy field
The crop circle phenomenon is bigger than most Earth mysteries
because of the formations' visual appeal. There are "circular"
calendars, T-shirts and pendants. What's called the formations'
"sacred geometry" fills New Age conferences, books and videos.
Dutch physicist Eltjo Haselhoff's "The Deepening Complexity of
Crop Circles, " a full-color production by Berkeley's Frog Ltd.,
delves into circle-related scientific oddities and contemplates
the formations' Euclidean precision.
The three new movies see circles as awe-inspiring. In Disney's
"Signs," a formation appears in farmer Mel Gibson's cornfield.
Bad news: It's a landing site for hostile aliens.
In "Crop Circles: Quest for Truth," documentary producer-
director William Gazecki says there are far too many circles in
England alone for all of them to be fakes. Are they
"navigational points," messages, warnings?
The crop circle-studded countryside of England's Wiltshire
district -- home of the world's first cafe with a crop-circle
theme -- is the setting for the British film "A Place to Stay,"
a love story between a traveler and a Gypsy.
The movies are appearing as the circle season hits its annual
peak in August, just prior to the harvest. The 2002 season has
produced at least one sensation already. Inscribed on the Fourth
of July near England's ancient stone circle of Stonehenge was a
six-pointed pattern of what appear to be flying ribbons. Nothing
like it had been seen before.
Many of the devotees, known as cerealogists or "croppies," say
such impressions signify life-affirming forces. There's lively
talk about whether the forces are natural, extraterrestrial,
interdimensional or "the mind of God. "
"What is the best way for one species to communicate with
another species? Not by language but by mathematics, which is
universal," said Joshua Shapiro, chairman of the World Mystery
The formations have crossover appeal to those who believe in
ecological catastrophe, who see them as messages for, or from
within, the sacred, maligned Earth.
But to skeptics, the circles are human creations intended to
service public demand for "occult metaphors," which are as old
as the resurrection of Christ.
Dennis Stacy of San Antonio, Texas, publisher of the journal the
Anomalist, took part in two expeditions to English circles in
the early 1990s. He sent back crop samples to the first U.S.
researchers, but later his doubts grew.
"We've had sporadic crop circles in this country, and by the
same token we've never had anything of the complexity of English
crop circles," he said. "If these are being made by alien crop
circle-makers, why do they make such crappy circles in the
United States and Canada and such exquisite ones over there?"
One reason: English wheat fields have tractor wheel paths that
offer covert access without leaving telltale footprints.
Another: The fields are thick, uniform and easily shaped. People
with simple tools can sneak in and create impressive formations
in no time.
A 1960s UFO flap in several countries featured weedy swirls
known as "saucer nests." Two English pranksters had this image
in mind when they started the modern circle trend in 1978,
Nickell said. Crop pictograms came in 1990 and grew more
embroidered over time. They continue to evolve -- twisted,
Circle-makers are "honorable pagan artists" trying to make a
better world through covert action, said Ron Russell of Aurora,
Colo., a 64-year-old artist and scientist who has investigated
"Plus, when they make it, they get what I would call a juju
experience," said Russell, who grew up in Menlo Park. "That is,
they get contact with something from beyond."
But he says not all formations are human made. He can't explain
the 400 simple circles of six to 20 feet in diameter that
appeared worldwide over hundreds of years before the modern
trend began. Just weeks ago, several such swirls appeared in
wheat fields in Canada's Prince Edward Island after wicked
thunderstorms passed over.
Along with physicist and author Haselhoff, Russell is one of the
few of a scientific bent who are studying the mystery. Their
research focuses on strange emanations of heat, light and other
forms of energy -- the source, says Russell, of the "juju
experience." Both men argue that the subject deserves intensive
Haselhoff said the formations showed "a great amount of curious
plant alterations" that couldn't be reproduced by mechanical
flattening. "Some of these are cellular changes, and dramatic
changes in the germination behavior of seeds," he said.
He believes that some method exists to allow the formations to
be created at a distance. "Heat is involved, emitted by
something that manifests itself as a ball of light," he said.
"Very rich people playing a silly game?" he said. "Aliens? The
military? It's no use to speculate as long as we don't even
understand the basic mechanism of crop-circle creation."
E-mail Rick DelVecchio at rdelvecchio@....
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle. Page A - 3
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