Here come the crop circles, pop mysticism at its silliest

On Books

January 05, 2003|By Michael Pakenham

I lament that I can't recall precisely when I lost faith in Santa Claus. I remember, however, my certainty that the Easter Bunny was alive, well and working hard: My sister and I spent long Easter mornings discovering eggs he had intricately decorated and hidden under shrubs, in crooks of trees, in other mysterious venues.

I have respect and affection for living mythic experiences. I have an even greater affection for people with the energy and imagination and ludic genius to enrich the lives of others -- child and otherwise -- with joys of belief.

Thus, my fondness for crop circles.

What?

They are huge and often very elaborate patterns of flattened stalks found in fields of wheat, corn, oats, barley as well as occasional vegetable crops. The earliest was probably in 1972, in Britain. By 1989 the phenomenon had exploded. In 1990 they became more elaborate and imaginative and detailed in design.

There have been sightings in Australia, the United States, Holland, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, Ireland and elsewhere. But they are primarily British. There are fields in southern England where spectacular circles have appeared year after year.

I was living in Britain during much of 1990, when it often seemed people in pubs talked of little else. I visited one, on a farm in Wiltshire that made up for crop losses by charging admission. I long have reacted to grownups who gravitate earnestly toward the mystical with an emotion that swings from fascination to revulsion and back.

I have just read two of many books about them. One is Crop Circles: The Greatest Mystery of Modern Times, by Lucy Pringle (Thorsons, 144 pages, $27) -- published in 2000. Pringle is a founder of the Center for Crop Circle Studies and a member of the British Society of Dowsers and chair of the Unexplained Phenomena Research Society. She has been on the case for more than 10 years. The other: Crop Circles: Exploring the Designs & Mysteries, by Werner Anderhub and Hans Peter Roth (Lark, 144 pages, $14.95 soft cover) published last August. They too write that their intense interest is 10 years old. Such writings have becomes a major industry. The bibliography in the Anderhub and Roth book lists 51 volumes. Pringle lists 68 published references.

Both books are resplendent with illustrations, mostly aerial photographs, many in color. Both report some patterns stretching more than 300 yards and many that are 150 to 200 yards in length. They are often very precise, geometrically intricate and perfectly proportioned. A few are pictures, sometimes of snails and other animals. Many suggest stars and galaxies. Some designs are reproductions of geometric signs and symbols. Others are patterns associated with ancient religions.

So, what's this all about?

Lots of cases have been exposed as human pranks -- including several sponsored by British newspapers, television stations and others as advertising gimmicks. The writers of both these books rage against these human endeavors -- convinced as the authors are that the "real" circles are all of supernatural or otherworldly origin.

Lucy Pringle is a True Believer. She claims to have been a clairvoyant since childhood. She says she's visited 300 crop circle formations. At most, she reports having sensations of mysterious well being, though she felt ill at about 10 per cent of them. She dowses the sites, using a pendulum "to record the Yin and Yang energies." She's very keen on "theta rhythm brain waves." She believes all people have auras that express their nature -- and are affected by the circle sites. She suggests that the crop formations are acting as facilitators of ESP. She leans toward connections with unidentified flying objects.

She has one narrative device, used repeatedly -- the unanswered rhetorical question: "Are crop circles a form of communication from another world? Are their shapes and patterns meant to tell us something?" In most cases she goes on to give anecdotes of people who so believe, without declaring a position herself. The ultimate conclusion of Pringle's book is "that there appears to be no ready solution to the crop circles, no simple answer, does not mean that one will not be found." Finally she comes off as harmless, disorganized, utterly obsessed -- a rather cheery loon.

Anderhub's and Roth's writing is much clearer than Pringle's, and much more reporterly. They often give full names and dates and locations for their anecdotes, while she uses mainly first names and vague identifications. But they also believe.

They give almost a hundred pages to recounting crop circle appearances, methodically and without judgment or speculation about causes or origins. They then offer this conclusion: "Geometry is the response language of earth, spirit, and heart, and has been considered holy since ancient times. Many highly developed cultures have left geometry's legacy for us in buildings and other depictions. Crop circles may give us new impetus to help us remember again geometry's deeper meaning."

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