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.