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Crop circles: An introduction

If you read this blog regularly, you know that a lot of the things I make involve circles. My fascination with circles and radial symmetry has extended to kaleidoscopes, fibonacci spirals, music, card tricks, spinning wheels of lunch, and so on.

You may also know that I am prone to develop short term obsessions, which occupy a great deal of my thought during my (increasingly scant) free time.

It was only natural that I should eventually develop an obsession with crop circles (which are both circular, and attractive to the obsessed), and so I have been giving them an inordinate amount of attention, the past two weeks.

I have a lot to say about crop circles, so I’m going to try to spread this out over a small handful of posts. This one will serve as an introduction.

People who haven’t given much thought to crop circles generally think of them in a simple way: either you “believe” in them, or you “don’t.” Of course, I believe in them, just as I believe in pop-tarts. Clearly, crop circles exist.

What people actually mean, when they ask, “do you believe in X?” (be it crop circles, UFOs or jesus-shaped potato chips) is “Do you believe X has a paranormal, extra-terrestrial, or divine origin?” People who don’t “believe” in X, will generally consider X to be not worthy of further attention.

Well, in the paranormal/ET/divine sense, I don’t believe in crop circles. Nor do I believe in UFOs, tarot cards, astrology, bigfoot, miraculous potato chips, or the delusions of the mentally ill. But I find all of them incredibly fascinating, and worthy of further attention and study by disbelievers.

And so I’m studying crop circles.

I am studying them, not as a skeptic, out to convince the believers they are wrong (this is a mean-spirited and fruitless task), but to understand the intricate machinery of art & belief itself.

Crop circles represent an interesting kind of crypto-economy, a “tightly intertwined network of symbiotic relationships” according to Mark Pilkington, an insider in the crop circle making community. The circles fuel a not-insignificant tourist industry in the UK, whose principal benefactors are true believers.

This nature of this symbiotic relationships presents one of the most interesting paradoxes about crop circle creation. Even more than a graffiti artist, the creator of a crop circle cannot take credit for his work. Not only is there a legal issue (the crop circle artist is trespassing and damaging private property), but nearly everyone involved in ‘cerealogy’ has a vested interest in maintaining the mystery and anonymity of the creators.

Crop circles are also temporary art, like sand castles, and etch-a-sketch drawings. As an artist with a typical colossal male ego, it is hard for me to imagine my work lasting mere days, and being unable to take credit. It boggles the mind.

But even if all these things weren’t true, I’d probably still enjoy studying crop circles.

They are circular, after all.

One Response to “Crop circles: An introduction”

  1. becky Says:

    It will be interesting to read your findings! I too am a “believer” in crop circles, in the same way I “believe” in magicians. They definitely exist, I’ve seen them! :-)

    It’s interesting that I come from a part of the UK that is very agricultural, but has hardly any crop circles. This is because it’s very flat, which would make it hard for the circles to be seen from the ground. In the southwest, where crop circles are more prevalent, they have rolling countryside with hills that make ideal canvases for crop circles.

    So although the artists are content for their art to be anonymous and ephemeral, they do want it to be seen!