Crop Circles and ETs and Orbs, Oh My! Exploring the Sacred Landscape of England

The lingering midsummer twilight filtered through the window into the upstairs chamber of the farmhouse B&B as my sister and I settled into our twin beds. Before turning off the light she asked me, “What do you want for your birthday?” reminding me that tomorrow I would officially transition into the middle age of forty.

Pondering a moment, when nothing tangible came to mind, I jokingly replied, “How about a crop circle? That would be just fine,” and after a long day we quickly drifted off to sleep.

At the crack of dawn I was shaken awake by my sister exclaiming, “Wake up! Look out the window.” I sat up and there across the field on the lower slope of a hill etched with one of Wiltshire’s famed chalk White Horse carvings, beckoned a pristine crop circle. We threw on our clothes, rushed out the front door and in the waxing light bee-lined along the tram line through the knee-high barley towards this exquisite mystery that I sensed was meant just for me.

A Personal, Intimate Experience

Fifteen years had passed since my auspicious crop circle experience — a formation that, despite my repeated searching and inquiries, has never appeared in any photo, book or website — and as my 56th birthday approached, I decided to fulfill my dream of spending the summer among the crop formations, along with the colorful cast of characters who chase them.

Having previously gathered from the Internet that crop circle ground zero was the Silent Circle center in Yatesbury, upon arrival in Wiltshire I headed there, easily locating the cafe and bookshop on the grounds of an ancient Saxon church. I soon met Charles Mallett, a be-capped man with a hand-rolled cigarette perennially in hand who first arrived in Wiltshire in 1997 to investigate, sleeping many a night overlooking fields.

“For 15 years the principal thrust has been investigating the physical manifestations as soon as they appear. Like a crime scene, you must arrive quite early, otherwise the truth is obscured and it’s hard to draw conclusions. If you find obvious repetitive damage, regular crushing consistent throughout the formation, it is likely made by people.” Taking a puff, he added, “The statistics are debatable, but somewhere in the middle are amazing phenomena and paranormal elements.”

Crop Circles and ETs and Orbs, Oh My!

The author, excited to be in the center of a spiritual formation that he “discovered” and was first to be in near the village of Hinton Parva.

Mallett explained that formation sightings are phoned in from passing vehicles or small craft pilots scouting the landscape. Like storm chasers, once an approximate location is established a carload of “croppies” heads out to find it; after visiting hundreds of formations, Charles no longer feels the need to see them all personally.

Being a newbie, I was eager and a formation was rumored near Hinton Parva. Though out of the way, I decided to locate it with Dave and Luke in their car. With an ordnance map — a croppies' best friend to navigate the winding, archaic roads — on hand, after asking several villagers directions to Charlbury Hill, we bumped up the track to the summit. A 360-degree scan of the fields below failed to reveal anything. About to give up, on a hunch I pointed to the far side of a low rise a quarter mile away. Back in the car my inner voice suddenly clamored “turn right” toward a gate. Scanning the field, I noticed a disturbance up the hill in the crop. Standing atop the car, it was indeed a formation.

I raced up the tractor line in the field and when reaching the perimeter I reverently walked around, eventually discerning it was an eight-petal flower formation with a large central spiral. Oddly enough, the previous night I had shown two croppies photos of my artwork, the latest featuring distinct spirals in the impressionist brushstrokes. While some sleuths report experiencing swoops of energy while inside circles, anything subtle was overwhelmed by my mere excitement of being the first to “discover” a circle.

Later my friend Dave said, “This one was your crop circle. It was meant for you.” And oddly enough, I did feel that way. As many croppies attest, crop circles often become a very personal, intimate experience.

Closer Inspection Reveals A Higher Perspective

Historically, most early crop circles were just that: circles, sometimes accompanied by concentric rings or smaller, outlying “grapeshot” circles. The earliest known account comes in 815 CE from Agobard, Bishop of Lyon, who believed the circles were created by the “magic storms” of extraterrestrial Magonians. Another depiction appears in a 17th-century woodcut showing a devil with a scythe mowing an oval of crop. The folks of the day thought them the work of Satan or faeries; in more modern times, they were attributed to atmospheric mico-bursts, like small twisters, though in light of later complex geometric glyphs that theory was rendered moot.

Crop Circles and ETs and Orbs, Oh My!

Examining the lay of a crop circle in canola plants for elongated and bent nodes. Canola is particularly brittle and would easily break if flattened by ropes and boards, yet these plants were gently bent.

The phenomena enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame in the early 1990s when a rash of more complicated pictograms popped up in England (along with the notorious pensioners Doug and Dave claiming credit for several pedestrian formations), yet dozens still appear every summer but no longer rate headlines. Despite researchers at night scouting fields with infrared cameras and irate farmers with a bounty out, circle makers are rarely, if ever, caught in the act.

One formation had been discovered two days later, so I drove to East Kennet and parked. The mid-summer sun lingered along the horizon as I walked up the tram line to the formation. It took a while to make out the quadrennial form with arcs through the center. Initially disappointed by the uneven lay, later aerial photos posted at the Silent Circle revealed a lovely Celtic Cross, the interplay of light in the feathered lay creating a sublime three-dimensionality. The lesson of the experience was to suspend judgment until seen from a higher perspective and also, it turns out, some closer inspection.

Numerous anomalies within crop circles have been noted by researchers, among them: some seed husks contain stunted or no seeds; accelerated or stunted seed germination rates; torn leaves and scorch marks; “nodal elongation” visible to the naked eye and “expulsion cavities” better seen with a magnifying glass. Michigan biophysicist W.C. Levengood evaluated hundreds of sample plants — both downed and standing — taken from inside crop circles against hundreds of control plants collected at varying distances outside the formations. Over a ten-year span, more than 250 crop formations from numerous countries were examined, the conclusion being that rapid, intense exposure to heat such as microwaves, which transforms the internal stem moisture to steam, was likely the cause of the anomalies. (For more in-depth research, please see the websites below.)

I met a young man from Austria named Christian who was able to convince his professors to grant him a thesis on the “Phenomena of Crop Circles,” collecting samples within and without circles and testing for anomalies. He passed with the highest marks and the professor said that according to what Christian presented, though unable to posit how they were made, he could not believe that humans were capable. Christian concluded, "I also cannot say who or what makes crop circles, but I believe that they deserve to be researched more.”

Crop Circles and ETs and Orbs, Oh My!

Avebury Henge, mother of all stone circles and one of the most important features of the Wiltshire landscape to croppies.

How Farmers Fare With Crop Circles

The next day, another glyph was reported near Chicklade, west of Stonehenge. Five of us crowded into a car and set off, scanning the fields until spotting it. Walking down and up the roller coaster of a hill, upon reaching the formation the sun broke through, bathing the six-sided flower of life formation in light. Gathered near the tidy center whorl, I played my wooden recorder until a truck bounded up. Two farmers jumped out, one yelling, "This is criminal damage you've caused here!" Replying that we'd only recently arrived, he retorted, "You bloody well know you made it, and it is a right poor one too!" Our spontaneous laughter irked him more, and he threatened: "You can leave now, I can call the police, or…." Not interested in the third option we duly left. Later, Denni, a veteran crop circle enthusiast who leads tour groups, said this was the most angry farmer she had ever encountered.

Understandably, farmers are not pleased because of lost crop. Some immediately mow them out; others, especially in high frequency locales, make the best of it and place a donation box to recoup a small portion. One famous agriglyph, a Julia Set fractal that appeared mid-day near Stonehenge in 1996, reportedly received over 10,000 visitors, netting the farmer thousands of pounds, far more than the crop was worth.

In a formation dubbed the "Unfinished Symphony" (mysteriously completed the next morning) near Honeystreet, I met James Reed lugging a metal donation box, into which I dutifully dropped a few quid. “My fellow farmers would hang me for fraternizing with the croppies,” James laughed, “but if a third one appears in my fields I'm going to cut them all out." Later that day, while pondering the lovely swirls of another formation — two circles joined by cryptic code — across the canal, poor James arrived again, this time with his adorable baby in tow. He laughed, "Well, this one was already here so it doesn't count."

In that same glyph I met a trio of women healers and, as often happens in circles, convivial conversation ensued. “For eight years I've come to see crop circles and with all the energy lines intersecting throughout the countryside here, I feel this land is important," explained Cynthia Barnard, a shaman from Boxford, Massachusetts. "The Earth is alive, so I travel around the world to sacred sites to help reawaken and anchor the feminine energy."

She added, "If I knew the answer about how they are created I would be a millionaire, but I feel it is impossible for a couple of people with ropes and boards. Anyhow, I love the idea of an ongoing mystery."

Crop Circles and ETs and Orbs, Oh My!

Mike and Sue and their motion sensory infrared camera-equipped van.

Military Interest

A couple days later, in a steady drizzle, after hiking over Milk Hill, Adrian from Australia and I descended to a small formation in the canola seed field. No sooner had we entered when a black, unmarked helicopter swooped over the hill and began circling. With extensive military presence in the Salisbury Plain just south, it's common to encounter military craft, so we dismissed it as an exercise. But when it descended and hovered 50 yards away with someone aboard taking photos of us, I was momentarily frightened. After sharing our encounter back at the Silent Circle, we learned it is common to be monitored by the military. Clearly, the military would not maintain a keen interest in crop formations if they believed they were entirely a human phenomena. Researchers Janet Ossebaard reported in one of her many books that pilots have told her that military over-flights actually see patterns with their infrared cameras imprinted in the fields before they form, some never appearing.

Orbs, Greys and Other Visitors

While crop formations have been reported in over 50 countries — in January, 2011 several appeared for the first time in rice fields in Indonesia — an overwhelming number of them congregate in southwest England. Few think it is a coincidence the locus of the crop circles are centered on this ancient hub of terrestrial power, subtle energies that our ancestors would have been more attuned to. Here, rendered in stone and earth across the rolling Wiltshire hills are endless stone works, the most famous being Stonehenge. But far older than its spiritual sister is the mother of all stone circles, Averbury Henge, so enormous that the thatched homes of Avebury village encroach into this ring with sheep grazing amongst the hulking stones.

One morning I spent two hours with Maria Wheatley, an expert dowser and author of several books including Avebury: Sun, Moon and Earth. Sheep grazed about as we wandered amongst the hulking stones and Maria, with copper rods in hand, explained about the underground water, earth currents and ley lines converging in the henge creating a “powerful energetic center that the ancients were able to perceive and harness.”

Crop Circles and ETs and Orbs, Oh My!

Silbury Hill is the largest artificial mound in Europe and has miraculously defied erosion for over 5000 years.

Nearby, commands conical Silbury Hill, the largest artificial mound in Europe. So deftly constructed from chalk and turf was this 131-foot tall mount that is has miraculously defied erosion over 5000 years. Directly across the highway crouches the West Kennett Long Barrow, believed to be a ritual chamber and later a tomb. Reached by a ten-minute walk across the fields, basking in the sun above the stone entrance I spotted another small crop circle.

Hanging out long enough in Wiltshire’s cosmic landscape rife with fairy mounds, stone circles, sacred trees, castle ruins and routinely encountering the likes of gypsy travelers, a Saxon shaman reader of runes, a man capable of bending spoons and stopping watches, UFO abductees, and a self-proclaimed keeper of a stargate, you soon become inured of stories about UFOs, balls of light, and orbs appearing in photos, of which I obtained several inexplicable ones on my own camera.

Balls of light darting over the fields are the Holy Grail of croppies. (Well, to actually witness a crop formation being made would be the Holiest of Holies, which only several people have). Colin Ferneyhough, a fiercely sunburned man from northern England and a croppie for a number of years, told me over Indian food in Pewsey, “In 1997 I slept the night in a crop formation and around 12:30am I saw a ball of light in the sky that arced in the letter C. The following night, I took a time lapse photo of a light zig zag across the sky.” Colin pulled out a photo and showed me the strange picture. He added, “I also have photos from July 20, 2011, of a UFO being followed by an Apache helicopter, and suddenly the UFO darts behind the chopper.”

The next day I attended a talk in the Alton Barnes town hall given by Colin Andrews — author of the new book, Light Quest: Your Guide to Seeing and Interacting with UFOs, Mystery Lights and Plasma Intelligences — who proposed that, “We need to stop thinking about UFOs as a nuts and bolts phenomena, but rather multi-dimensional experiences that respond to and are affected by human consciousness,” a supposition that most croppies would agree with.

Crop Circles and ETs and Orbs, Oh My!

Stonehenge and sun.

Mike and Sue, a delightful couple who I became quite friendly with and who spend the summer in their van equipped with a motion sensor triggered infrared camera, related several paranormal stories. Driving one night they saw a “grey” (alien) cross the road and into the field. Sue, rather boldly, jumped out and followed it into the corn but thought better of it. “What if he was leading me to big daddy?” she laughed.

Another time, while asleep in the van, three tall, dark figures approached the window, the middle one with LED blue eyes. Freaking out and still buck-naked Mike jumped into the driver seat and raced away. Sue recounted, “I have never, ever been so fully terrified, like we had to simply get as far away from them as possible.”

I found Sue and Mike particularly intriguing. Despite the above paranormal experiences and what I might categorize as some of their New Age beliefs making them naturals for “fundamentalist” croppies (that crop circles are ET sourced), they frequently sported t-shirts reading: “Isn't it wonderful that people create crop circles." Believing that 99% of crop formations are human-made, Sue explained, “Some of the firm believers take offense at that notion, but I like that it leaves open the possibility that maybe humans are more amazing than some give us credit for.”

Who Are The Circle Makers?

Downing a cider at the lively Barge Inn, a tavern overlooking the Avon-Kennet canal, I met Mathew Williams, an ex-circle maker holding the dubious distinction as the only person prosectued for “criminal crop damage.” Matt, who now airs an online show called Circle Makers TV, explained the thrill of the illicit art and tricks with boards and ropes of his former avocation. But the discussion veered into unexpected territory when he related paranormal experiences that he and other circle makers have had while creating formations: darting light orbs, humanoid figures appearing then disappearing, eerie sounds, and once discovering that he'd created a formation shape that a group had meditated on the previous night. “Often circle makers do not know why they suddenly feel inspired and because of my experiences I keep an open mind as there seems to be a lot more going on than meets the eye.” Then Matt added, “Some people are offended that humans might be the conduit, but I say that it is proof of human potential, and why deny that?”

Yet human hands do not explain numerous associated anomalies: watch, cell phone and camera malfunctions within formations — most famously, an inexplicable two-hour glitch in the equipment hired by National Geographic; altered soil structure as evidenced by crop circle “ghosts” of accelerated (or stunted) crop appearing in following summers; snow melting more rapidly (or slowly) on former sites; detectable electromagnetic changes within crop circles; and the aforementioned elongated and blown-out grass nodes, none of which are easily explainable by human involvement. Reportedly, surveyors and mathematicians have estimated it would take days to lay out the plot points for some of the more complicated geometric patterns. Proof for myself, and many others, would be a video showing humans executing a large, complex pattern within five or six hours of darkness, but human circle makers are as of yet not forthcoming.

Crop Circles and ETs and Orbs, Oh My!

This Celtic triangle appeared in West Fields below Milk Hill in two stages. This view was taken the first day. By the next morning the center had been filled in. While some allege that because it was done in two nights it must be manmade, numerous crop circles have been added onto later, some with the peculiar anomalies attributed to circles of unknown origin.

When asked about the famous Milk Hill Galaxy formation that appeared after a stormy night in August 2001, Matt estimated that one of that magnitude — some 400 circles and over 800 feet across — might require from 12 to 20 makers toiling through the night and even he conceded it would be a tough task for humans.

Several days later, in another crop circle — a six-pointed star surrounded by an intricate basket weave — I met Alexa Borden of Guilford, CT, who has made the pilgrimage to Wiltshire for several summers. “I think crop circles are a multi-dimensional experience. Within these beautiful designs you can have a heart connection with people from all walks of life from all over the world. I feel a range from profound peace to excitement and joy, and sometimes energized like I could run a marathon. Usually the night after being in a circle, I will wake up and see, feel and experience glyphs or symbols moving through my energy field, like I am in-taking encoded knowledge and deepening the connection to all that is one in the Universe.”

Paul Jacobs, who spends the summer in his easy-to-spot yellow van and wrote a lovely book of verse and poems about the crop circle experience — The Little Book of Crop Circle Rhyme — is a firm believer that formations are largely of non-human origin. He said, “If people admit that they are read, then they would have to readjust their worldview. When you open up to crop circles your world changes. It gives us an unassailable strength and power, a power we can engage with for change.”

One evening I and several new croppie friends — artists Jineen and Joanna —hiked up Adam' s Grave, a long-barrow burial chamber on Milk Hill thought by many to be a stargate or inter-dimensional portal, to mediate on a crop circle. In the past, several groups had contemplated shapes that showed up, so we decided to give it a go. An hour before sunset we gazed out on the idyllic countryside below — church towers rising from the villages, sunlight rolling across the varied patchwork of the fields stitched together with the hedgerows, the ever-changing cloud formations — and drew shapes, eventually settling on a “Spiraweb,” a combination of spiral and spider web. We set our intentions on East Fields that had yet to host a crop circle this summer, envisioning a thin network of lines extending into six fields, a formation delicate and large enough that the farmer couldn’t mow it out. In the following days nothing appeared, but perhaps coincidentally, several nights later almost identical double spiral formations appeared near Windmill Hill and another east of Glastonbury.

Crop Circles and ETs and Orbs, Oh My!

At night the Barge Inn on the Avon-Kennet Canal is a gathering place for many croppies and also reputed human crop circle makers. Because it is an illegal activity and they could be arrested, circle makers are quite secretive about their activities and will not tell you flat out until you gain their trust.

On my final days in Wiltshire, I splurged and in a micro-light plane swooped over the landscape: the network of roads I’d become so familiar with, White Horses striding emerald hills, beloved Avebury henge and Silbury Hill, and a dozen fantastic jewel shapes in the ripening fields — crop formations I’d marveled at close-up, meditated and sang in, and where I encountered people from around the world.

While a fierce, and often acrimonious debate swirls — I certainly have no ready answers — many other enthusiasts embrace this possibility: perhaps some agriglyphs — mathematical, mandalas, spiritual, astronomical, symbols -— are a collaboration between the collective human consciousness and other inter-dimensional intelligence whether ETs or Gaia, reminding us of our collective history, of the beauty we are on the verge of losing if we are not better stewards. Whatever the circle makers’ origins, one cannot fail to admire the stunning formations as masterful works in the heart of nature, art that weaves synchronicities and magic to those who seek them out.

Bill Strubbe is a travel writer, journalist, photographer and painter whose articles and photos have appeared in over 100 US publications, including the New York Times, Yoga Journal, Essence, Wildlife Conservation, The Village Voice, Women’s Sports & Heatlh, and San Franciso Magazine.


Martinsell Centre
Located in lovely grounds and garden, Martinsell Centre hosts short-break and week-long retreats for small groups promoting holistic disciplines including yoga, pilates and meditation. B&B and self-catering apartments available.

Avebury Life B &B
Located in Avebury Trusloe, not far from Avebury Henge. Antoinette, the B&B owner, enjoys hosting guests who are particularly interested in crop circles as well as the spiritual experiences of the Wiltshire region.

Mayfield House
Located in the town of Burbage, the oldest section of this lovely thatched home dates back to 1460. The two en-suite rooms are cozy and plush and Angie, the gracious hostess, serves up a sumptuous and delicious breakfast.

Visit Wiltshire
The official tourism website covering places to stay, dine, upcoming events and festivals, family fun and activities.

Wiltshire Crop Circle Study Group
Established in 1995, the group supports scientific research and data collection related to crop circle phenomena, explores the metaphysical aspects, and sponsors various events and an annual conference in August.

Crop Circle Connector
Gives the latest updates and photos of crop circle formations in the UK and around the world, as well as interpretations and the latest research.

The BLT Research Team
The BLT Research Team, Inc.’s primary focus is the discovery, scientific documentation and evaluation of physical changes induced in plants, soils and other materials at crop circle sites, and to publish these results and disseminate information.

The Silent Circle
Website for the café and bookshop, the main gathering spot for crop circle enthusiasts to share information and experiences, and make new friends from the world over.

Maria Wheatley
Expert dowser and co-author of Avebury: Sun, Moon and Earth, takes you on private walks to around Avebury, Stonehenge, and other megalithic stones sites.

Concsious Crop Circles: The Message Is Known. Sunday, September 25, 2:30-4:30 pm at the Natural Living Expo in Sturbridge, MA. Renowned crop circle expert Colin Andrews will be sharing newly gathered evidence of how the crop circle phenomenon — both genuine and manmade — is inextricably linked with human consciousness. Visit