Corn Flakes

John Rimmer
Magonia 41, November 1991.

Now reduced to a local tourist attraction in England (although taken much more seriously in the USA) corn-circles were once seen as an integral part of the UFO phenomenon. However, by the time this article was written the increasing complexity of the designs meant that proponents of a ‘meteorological’ explanation were backtracking rapidly, leaving the subject almost entirely to the mystical New Age fringe. Eventually corn-circle making became almost a competitive sport!

I think we can now safely say that the corn-circle mystery is solved. The solution came with two of this year’s most spectacular and beautiful patterns, the Barbury Castle construction [below], and the Cambridgeshire Mandelbrot Set. The Barbury Castle figure is notable for the complexity and precision of its design, and its unveiling of the splendid new figure in cereal geometry, the `ratcheted spiral’. The appearance of the Mandelbrot figure just a few miles from Cambridge, the centre for computer and mathematical research and development in Britain, is a splendidly satirical piece of nonsense.

We can be pretty certain in ruling out even the most intelligent meteorological phenomena as the source for these masterpieces. Some of the more mystically inclined cereo(a?)logists will enthusiastically embrace ‘unknown intelligences’ as the creators, but I would ask them why, in the otherwise faultless Barbury pattern, the side of the triangle is diverted slightly to avoid cutting into the middle ring of the central set? This looks far more like the subtle adjustment of human perpetrators who realised at the last moment that their construction was slightly less than totally accurate, that the deliberate design of some supernatural agency. After all, to err is human, and to fudge the results reassuringly human.

The ‘Ickleton Wonder’, as John Michell calls it, is a gigantic representation of the mathematical figure known as the Mandelbrot Set, familiar to students of Chaos Theory (another subtle satirical dig here too, I think). According to Michell it displays the “characteristic plaited effect which no human imitators… have been able to reproduce”.

There can be no doubt that both these figures have been produced by human beings using very terrestrial technology. The only alternative is the ‘unknown intelligence’ theory, which, of course, is not really a theory at all, just an unsupported assertion. No explanation of how this ‘intelligence’ operates, how it can be proved, or most importantly, how it can be disproved, has ever been proffered. I am not being deliberately obstructive when I say that until these questions are answered, we just do not have to consider this so-called theory at all.

If, as I suggest, these figures are of human construction it is clear that they have involved quite a number of humans who are able to work very quickly, as these figures seem to appear every bit as suddenly as the more traditional, simple circles. This implies a well-equipped, highly disciplined team. It also suggests that the sheer number of circles that have appeared over the last ten years is not a problem for the ‘human agency’, as any group of people capable of producing Banbury or Ickleton probably overnight and quite undetected, would have no difficulty in producing the larger, but geometrically less complex figures of 1990, or any number of the simpler rings and duplexes of earlier years. It is this plethora of rings that has been one of the mainstays of the meteorological hypothesis, but the numbers now seem less impressive and well within the capacity of several organised groups.

There is no reason why a personal account of the
witnessing of the creation of a corn circle should be
treated with any less scepticism than the
personal account of the landing of a flying saucer

Despite the meteorologists attempts to extend the history of corn-circles back to the twenties and thirties, and even to earlier centuries, they have been singularly incapable of coming up with any really convincing contemporary records. Most of their examples have been in the nature of personal anecdote and memory, which, as all ufologists know, can be most unreliable. There is no reason why a personal account of the witnessing of the creation of a corn circle should be treated with any less scepticism than the personal account of the landing of a flying saucer. Some cereologists, who in their other hats are competent and sceptical ufologists, seem to develop a sudden reverence for the literalness of witness accounts of corn circles which they would not display if conducting a UFO investigation.

The historicity of the circle phenomena founders on Warminster. Since we raised this matter in a previous article in Magonia we have seen no convincing explanation of the lack of corn circles around Warminster in the sixties and early seventies. We need just one aerial photograph of a classic corn circle, taken near Warminster, before 1979 to revise (but not withdraw) our contentions. There are of course some photographs of strange markings in cornfields from the sixties, and ones that have been reported in a ufological context.
About a hundred years ago, when I first became interested in UFOs (well 1968 actually, but it feels like it) the very first issue of FSR I ever read had a cover photograph of the now almost forgotten ‘Whippingham Ground Effect’. This was a line of damaged crops in a field of barley at Whippingham, near Newport, Isle of Wight. Looking at the photos of this, it looks clear that this actually is a meteorological phenomena. The line is very rough, it follows the line of a hedge, the corn stalks are broken and some are pulled from the ground. But in true ufological manner, such mundane considerations are pushed aside – “for this reason neither a whirlwind nor a plasma-type phenomenon can satisfactorily explain the cause of the damage” – and the claim is made that only a UFO could have created such a mystery. A UFO, we are told, was actually spotted at the scene of the crime. Yet this at Whippingham and zilch at Warminster.

When we first raised the matter of the Warminster Non-Effect we were sent a number of accounts of people remembering seeing rings at or near Warminster at any time from the twenties to the sixties. These may be true, but this is not the point. If circles were around in the sixties at Warminster, they would have featured in contemporary accounts and been reported and investigated in the context of the Warminster UFO scene. This just did not happen.

Some of the meteorological theorists have begun a retreat from their previously held positions. The number of formations which are accepted as ‘hoaxes’ increases as time goes on. This seems to be a way of protecting the ‘core phenomenon’, the simple circles and basic formations, for meteorology, in much the same way that early ufologists used to conveniently forget the more absurd contact reports in order to concentrate on the comparatively ‘respectable’ lights-in-the-sky cases.

Now is surely the time to admit that all the crop circles are man-made, and get down to the really interesting problems: Who’s making them? How are they doing it? Why are they doing it? Who’s helping them? Some people have suggested a military involvement. That certainly meets the demand for a large number of organised, disciplined, well-trained operatives.

Unfortunately those who make this suggestion seem to put it forward as a sort of ‘government cover-up’ plot, with the military doing hoaxes to disguise the ‘real’ phenomenon (This is not surprising, as oldtime ufologists were just waiting for the ‘government cover-up’ theory to come out of hiding). My betting is still on an artistic involvement somewhere. Anyone who saw the recent conceptual art exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery could see how corn-circles would fit into this context. I think this is how we should see the phenomenon in the future. The time for explanations is past. The circles have provided their own, unless you still want to hang onto the ‘unknown intelligence’ and carry on dowsing. Let us enjoy the circles, appreciate them as art, and perhaps carry on with a bit of behind-the-scenes digging to find out the identities of the artists. Or maybe just leave them to get on with their work, while we sit back and wonder.

Finally, can I enter a plea to stop referring to the people who make corn circles as `hoaxers’? As they are not making any claims about them, and are obviously not imitating something also, they cannot be hoaxing any one. They are `creators” or ‘artists’. Let’s get the terminology right.


CRAMP, Leonard G. ‘The Whippingham Ground Effects; was the damage to crops caused by a UFO?’ in Flying Saucer Review, vol.14, no.3, May/June 1968.