The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Temporary temples

Monday, 20 August 2012


Posted by Rupert Callender


If the sun shines in between the deluge, the next few days should see armies of combine harvesters moving across the land, particularly in Wiltshire, the UK’s breadbasket, bringing in the harvest, and bringing this year’s crop circle season to a close, too.

After a slow start it has built to be a fine year as the delicate relationship between the people who make them, the people who interpret them and the people who, well, consume them continues to hold– just.

This most misunderstood of art forms has followed a pattern for over twenty years now, with the beginning of the summer seeing simple designs which build in complexity as the season progresses. There are two main reasons for this. The vast geometric patterns look much better incised into mature wheat, the edges are crisper and, from the air, the flattened golden crop reflects the light back with a picturesque metallic gleam, but mainly because the lengthening nights give the teams of up to twelve people much more time for their work, and work it certainly is.

This one below is state of the art, a vast Buddhist mandala, a never ending knot obviously made by one of the best teams in the world, probably the notorious Circlemakers, loathed by the croppies, the name given to the people who are certain that the circles are made by something other than human, but also controversial within the secretive community of artists who make them because of their commercial work — logos for Mitsubishi, Shredded Wheat, and idents for TV companies.

Controversial they may be, but nobody denies they are accomplished, and this exquisite circle shows all of the skill and breathtaking beauty that is their hallmark. They are not alone at the top of their game, but there aren’t many teams that can pull off something like this. Few have done as much to further the game, endlessly pushing the boundaries of what is considered possible, giving the researchers the reasons they need to insist on outside forces.

Of course the croppies view them as almost satanic. They believe that if these teams exist at all, who of course keep a low profile, because any circle that has a confirmed authorship immediately loses any power it has, then they are malicious disinformation stooges of some shadowy military elite, determined to keep ordinary folk from the awesome truth of about the circles. Nothing could be further from the truth. True, deception is necessary to imbue the circles with their extraordinary power, qualities that can have visitors swooning, or feeling nauseous, or being spontaneously healed of longstanding injuries, but their impulses are less to fool than to create a liminal space where odd things can happen, and do with spooky regularity.

In the criminally undersold book The Field Guide, the art, history and philosophy of crop circle making, published by Strange Attractor, who also publish the fifth edition of The Natural Death Handbook, author and circlemaker Rob Irving explains that what people are having when they enter a crop circle is a reaction to a work of art, but because they don’t know it’s art, they attribute the emotions it produces to something else, often with a strong spiritual subtext, and this is what gives the circles their enduring hook. They create transcendence, a simple and uplifting emotional surge that can feel like being initiated into a huge secret, a revelation that incredible things happen, hidden in plain view.

In between the tired and dew damp teams leaving a circle just as the sky is lightening, and the first wide eyed croppie entering the design, something profound happens which tells us more about things like homeopathy, belief, peer pressure and religious experience than almost anything else in our modern world. It is an extraordinary experiential game, a sociologist’s dream, the echo of our own curiousity that has changed lives for better and worse and significantly shaped our modern culture in the short time since a UFO obsessed nature artist persuaded his drinking partner to spend their Friday night after the pub making indentations in the corn, partly to fool the world into thinking a spaceship had landed, but with unmistakable devotional undertones, an attempt to call down the aliens he longed to meet.

What an incredible phenomenon to create from nothing, for camera batteries do fail in them, odd earth lights do zoom about the corridors of wheat, synchronicites build until it makes your ears pop, you really do feel like the New Jerusalem is just behind a veil in front of you, and with a bit of courage and faith you can pop through it.

All well and good I hear you cry, but what relevance to funerals does this have?

Well, for me, crop circles have played a profound part in shaping what I believe and, more importantly, how I believe it.

When my mother was dying in the mid nineties and I was at my most shaky, veering between a nervous and a hedonistic breakdown, crop circles provided a neat religious ledge to cling to, so unlike the reassurances of a Christian afterlife that failed to comfort me as when, as a seven year old, I had to process my father’s death. I so wanted to believe that the behind the circles was something amazing; aliens, Gaia, interdimensional beings dripping with spiritual resonance, and for several years that opportunity flourished. Some of the weirdest experiences of my life happened around crop circles.

Luckily for me, my gradual acceptance that they were actually made by extremely clever artists, interacting with and imbedded in the community they were ‘fooling’, didn’t plunge me into despair or denial as it has so many. If anything it deepened my interest. It also finally cut out a way of fluffy thinking that had been keeping me in childhood, an infantile yearning for cosmic intervention that reaches back to ideas of the Rapture and that permeates conspiracy culture. Not everything has fifty shades of grey, sometimes there is a right answer and a wrong answer, and it feels good to choose.

But at the heart of the phenomenon is a surprisingly pure centre that isn’t about deception or solving a riddle but, instead, is about making a space to step outside of our lives for a moment, the creation of a sacred space from scratch. One of the photographers involved in the scene, part of the multi stranded, multi million pound industry that has evolved alongside the phenomenon, calls them ‘temporary temples’, and this term neatly sums it all up. The circle makers are creating the space for people to have their own religious experience, a simple and profound act of creation that allows the believer to superimpose their own belief system on top. They are a spiritual Rorschach test, reflecting back what we want them too.

Hopefully, there is nothing deceptive about the way we create our funeral ceremonies; indeed we pride ourselves on creating entirely transparent rituals that rely on nothing more than honesty and connection. Nonetheless, we try to create an atmosphere in which people feel unexpectedly moved by the feeling of the ritual, a sense of profound connection to each other, and to the reality of the situation that comes from standing together in a temporary temple, held up by nothing more than love and each other.  Humanity make circles – of stone, or wheat or flesh – and in the middle of these circles something wonderful can happen, even if it’s just our fellow human beings finally coming into focus.



14 comments on “Temporary temples

  1. Sunday 9th September 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Sorry Michael, you’re right, that was rude of me. I have become involved in protracted arguments on this topic, though I suppose writing an article about the subject on the Internet is asking for a response. I think that a good way to compare two sides of the same story is to peruse the vast amount of material on the Internet from people who believe their is a non human explanation for the circles, and then to read The Field Guide by Rob Irving and John Lundbergh published by Strange Attractor.

  2. Wednesday 5th September 2012 at 5:38 am

    Agro-mandalas would be a far suitable name for these masterpieces 😉

  3. Tuesday 4th September 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Go away Michael. As you can see, this is a blog concerned with dying and funerals. There are plenty of forums elsewhere for you to get all het up in.

    • Michael

      Wednesday 5th September 2012 at 4:14 pm

      I wasn’t getting “all hep up”. You wrote an article on this topic, I was interested in more information. Sorry if that offends you.

  4. Michael

    Monday 3rd September 2012 at 1:56 am

    On what basis do you rest assured that these are the work of teams of artists?

    How do they accomplish these grand designs?

    And if they are human made, why the earth lights and failing camera batteries?

    Your article boasts no proof or even evidence, and seems incomplete.

  5. Thursday 23rd August 2012 at 9:45 am

    That’s right, Jenny, I remember seeing the Dalai Lama on’telly overseeing such creations, something to do with walking round that magic (and arduous) mountain in Tibet. Beautiful, fundamentally pointless to a rationalist perhaps, but a valuable meditative subject for any of us.

  6. Wednesday 22nd August 2012 at 11:23 pm

    In a similar vein, Buddhist monks in some traditions create mandalas in sand which take many hours of painstaking work and are things of great beauty. They are destroyed almost as soon as they are created by the same monks who made them as a mediatation on the concept off anicca or the impermanence of all things. ‘This too will pass’.

  7. Tuesday 21st August 2012 at 8:25 pm

    As Vale above. I had no idea – I thought they were just – well, circles in the crop, not this beautiful complexity. These are, or have the potential to be, ceremonially potent spaces, points of connection…their temporary nature is surely part of their power.

    I saw a man with a paintbrush over a metre long, writing beautiful Chinese ideograms on a dusty pavement outside the summer palace in Beijing – with water. As you watched, the water dried and the characters slowly vanished before your eyes. Mowing the corn in which these designs are cut is slower and less eloquent, but the temporary nature is surely part of the power in both cases.

  8. Vale

    Tuesday 21st August 2012 at 10:43 am

    Revelatory and beautiful: the crop circles and your blog post, Ru.

    It’s made me feel as though I am standing on the edge of a real mystery. Not the one about aliens in cornfields, but about the way we create a sense of the sacred in our lives and ceremonies, about the mystery of all the non-literal connections we make with the world around us. Thank you.

  9. Quokkagirl

    Tuesday 21st August 2012 at 5:57 am

    Enchanting art form, Ru. And yes, the only people I feel sorry for are the farmers but, as all farmers can, they can turn it to their advantage. V disappointed to find it isn’t aliens who do it, though. You’ll be telling me there’s no tooth fairy next.

  10. Phoebe Hoare

    Monday 20th August 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Glad to know there are honesty boxes! Richard, enjoy the country, hopefully the weather holds!

  11. Richard

    Monday 20th August 2012 at 4:26 pm

    I’m more familiar with graffiti artists like Banksy than these talented, covert croppies. But I’m about to leave the Big Smoke for some R&R in nature and this pastoral piece is getting me in the mood. Thanks.

  12. Monday 20th August 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Phoebe, yes, the farmers could feel a bit miffed, and many do, but others put an honesty box up and make quite a bit of money.
    Most wheat crops in this country are of poor quality and goes for animal feed. Even the largest crop circles ever recorded have not worked out at much more than several hundred pounds, but you are right, the only victims here are the farmers, some, whose farms have been repeatedly targeted, mow the crop immediately.

  13. Phoebe Hoare

    Monday 20th August 2012 at 12:36 pm

    They are spectacular but I can’t help feeling sorry for the poor farmers! Do they appreciate their crops being flattened for the sake of art?

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