Like the descent into an LSD trip, where the filters of ordinary perception are removed and every dew-drop, every phrase, floods the mind with its fulsome infinity, the journey into the heart of an anomaly can teach one the ultimate precariousness of perception. Nothing is what it seems to be - or rather, beyond a few shared basics, everything can be seen as something else. I remember that when I first entered the world of crop circles, every summery wheatfield was a potential landing zone for a whirling plasma vortex, or god knew what. Upon entering a crop formation, I tended to imagine the sudden, nocturnal fall of luminous circlemaking-stuff, the hissing rush of ionized air through stalks, the moving edge of bent grain as the vortex rapidly etched its strange patterns, and then the evanescent gasp as it spent itself and collapsed intn the dark quiet of a country night. We who had gathered to capture, or merely to celebrate, this remarkable phenomenon, were like an anointed elite, uniquely able to grasp the importance of what, incredibly, seemed invisible to the rest of the world.
Of the myriad shapes found in the fields, some were assimilable into the framework of the plasma vortex theory; others, from the insectoid to the alchemical, implied a more intelligent authorship. As the latter increased in relative frequency, and accounts began to circulate of hoaxers seen here, heard there, my perception of this phenomenon began a dramatic shift. The occasional messiness of circles became due not to the dumb haste of spinning plasma, but to the inexpertise of humans. Nor, now, was the symbolism of the shapes accidental; indeed, it seemed as though the hoaxers were paying a great deal of attention to the predictions of the circles enthusiasts. Similarly, the enthusiasts' gatherings began to seem like convocations of the religious faithful, with the odd eaves-dropping hoaxer thrown in.
As I began to make circles myself, l noted that my own mistakes, or unconscious idiosyncracies, were transformed magically by cerealogists into special accomplishments that no human could possibly duplicate. A standing stalk in a circle of felled wheat, missed by my garden roller as a lawnmower might miss a blade of grass, was seen as a cerealogical miracle. A pictogram, fabricated with the aid of several pints of Guinness and a wood-and-rope stalk stomper, was later alleged, with the most sensitive instruments, to be buzzing with radioactivity.
At times it seemed that we hoaxers, rather than the crop circle phenomenon itself, were invisible to ordinary mortals, who could only see what they were programmed to see. I once lost a stalk-stomping implement, and learned later that it had been discovered by circles enthusiasts who assumed it to be some other researcher's measuring rod. A policeman, asking during a 3 am stop check why I had a garden roller in the rear seat of my car, was placated by the shrugged, nervous answer that it was 'just something I carry around.' Ironically, even rumours of hoaxers weren't always what they seemed; circlemaking friends would report having left a certain field at three, while the relevant farmer, presumably anxious to forestall religious pilgrimages through his crops, would produce a detailed account of having seen people carrying poles and garden rollers from the formation at five.
Alas, the cerealogical motifs that had been so mesmerizing I now saw to be closely constrained by the available tools and techniques of circlemaking. The formations themselves were resolved into the evolving but familially-recognisable artistic preferences of separate circle-making groups. Perhaps the most poignant change was the one which transformed my first innocent enjoyment of the crop circles phenomenon: now on the summer occasions when I found myself driving through agrarian countryside, I saw each wheatfield not as the shimmering site of a future visitation from the unknown - in the form of plasmoids or flying saucers or winged seraphs - but as a potential canvas... upon which I and others might give life to our own mysterious creations.
Jim Schnabel is a freelance journalist and the author of 'Round in Circles, Poltergeists, Pranksters and the Secret History of the Cropwatchers', 'Dark White, Aliens, Abductions and tbe UFO obsession' and 'Phychic Spies'
Photo by Steve Alexander: Bishop's Sutton, Hampshire, wheat, 300ft, 20 June 1995.
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