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Travelling In All The Right Circles
England's enigmatic crop circles continue to lure "croppies," despite debunkers

August 30, 2003 AVEBURY, ENGLAND -- "Crop circles?" said the pleasant young English woman enjoying a cup of tea after visiting the ancient stone circle here with her husband and child. "Well, they're all hoaxes, aren't they?" Asked how she knows, she responded confidently: "I saw it on TV." And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have the issue in a nutshell.

Crop circles, those astonishing, beautiful, enigmatic designs that have been mysteriously appearing in cereal crops for decades, particularly in southern England, undeniably exist. But how they're made, and more importantly, who makes them and why, has been and continues to be a matter of lively, and often acrimonious, debate.

The mysterious formations divide people into two camps: debunkers, who view crop circles as a clever hoax perpetrated by people crushing down grain with boards, and believers, who see them as a spiritual message from a higher intelligence.

Despite the debunkers, however, crop circles continue to attract thousands of tourists to southern England annually to see them first-hand. Known as "croppies," they come from as far away as Australia and Japan, many on organized tours, to spend their days walking into new formations that appear, usually overnight, in fields of grain almost daily during the growing season.

"I had to come and see this for myself, knowing there was a deep, deep meaning for all humanity. How could it be anything else?" explained Mia Tschampel, who is a mind/body therapist and retired art teacher from Tucson, Ariz. "I wanted to go inside a circle and have that experience. It's like going to see the great pyramids in Egypt."

Tschampel was one of 10 Americans and one Canadian on a week-long crop-circle tour in late July led by Chet Snow, a US author, lecturer and therapist, and his wife Kallista, from Sedona, Ariz.

Snow's interest started when he noticed how closely some of the crop designs resembled sacred Hopi Indian rock carvings. He has been leading groups into crop circles since 1992.

The present group was, with the exception of one man and a teenage boy accompanying his mother, composed of women between the ages of 40 and 60. Included in the group was a filmmaker doing a documentary on crop circles; a writer; a tattooed, Harley Davidson-driving priestess; a psychic; an artist, and several others describing themselves as healers or therapists and all well versed in metaphysical, so-called "New Age" philosophy.

They spent the week exploring part of Wiltshire where the vast majority of the 100 or so formations that appear annually in England are found. It's an area of green, gently rolling, treeless hills offering stunning views for many kilometers, with fields of golden wheat, barley and other grains stretching to the horizon, dotted by picture-postcard villages built of centuries-old stone and thatched roofs. It's also a place of ancient monuments like Avebury and Silbury Hill dating back at least 4,000 years, their original purpose shrouded in mystery.

The tour included visits to these Neolithic masterpieces, including the sacred stone circle at Avebury, the largest in Europe, spanning 396 meters, covering nearly 12 hectares and surrounded by a ditch that was once nine meters deep.

Just three kilometers south is Silbury Hill, the largest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe. Dating back 4,000 years, it stands nearly 40 meters high and covers a base of just over two hectares. This huge pile of chalk and earth has been excavated three times, but nothing was ever found to explain its purpose. Overlooking the hill is the West Kennett Long Barrow, a Neolithic burial mound that dates to about 3600 BC. In use for as long as 1,000 years, it's one of 148 long barrows in Wiltshire, the most found anywhere in England.

An hour's drive almost directly south of Avebury is Stonehenge, England's most recognized ancient monument. Begun about 5,000 years ago and built in stages over 1,000 years, the riddle of its construction and original purpose remain a mystery. The general public can only walk at a distance around the fenced-in henge now, but the group was given special permission to enter one evening at sunset to touch the stones, meditate and gather in a circle to chant "Om." Even the most skeptical person in the group reported a definite "presence" to the place.

At the eighth annual crop circle conference held in Devizes in early August and attended by about 400 people from many different countries, the group learned from long-time students of crop circles (who call themselves cereologists), that it's no coincidence most of the 250 or so formations that appear worldwide (including Canada) each year are found in this ancient, mysterious part of the country.

They contend that the people who built Avebury, Silbury Hill and Stonehenge chose their sacred sites deliberately, using a long-lost knowledge of "ley lines" that follow paths of energy along the earth's surface. One theory is that this subtle earth energy may be a factor in the creation of the "real" crop circles.

And, while researchers admit they can't provide definite answers about the source, purpose or meaning of the circles, they are clear about one thing: They are not all man-made hoaxes, as the media and the scientific establishment would have us believe. And, as the conference in Devizes and an earlier one in Glastonbury outlined, there's good evidence to support that contention.

During the week, the group took a helicopter flight to get the best view of the newest formations, seeing at least half a dozen, including one that had appeared in the famous "East Field" the night before. The field, near Alton Barnes, hit front pages around the world when the first "pictogram" appeared there in 1990. Nearly 168 meters long, it looked like unknown hieroglyphics and put paid to the notion of random natural forces at work.

This current formation was a square surrounded by intertwined circles that looked like rope.

The farmer's nephew, Will Carson, was taking 2 "donations" at the entrance to the field, a common practice among farmers trying to recoup their losses from the downed crops. Some farmers won't let croppies in their fields at all and have been known to cut down formations as soon as they appear.

The group caught up with farmer Tim Carson later in the week, while visiting two other circles in his fields. With three farms covering more than 1,000 hectares, Carson said he's had 100 formations in his fields since 1990, five this year alone.

Asked if he thinks they're a hoax, Carson replied: "These big ones are just too perfect. And they appear overnight. I had two hoaxers in one of my fields one year who took 12 hours in daylight over two days to make the shape of a car for Mitsubishi. It makes you wonder. If they're doing it, I've never caught them and besides, they occur all over the world at the same time."

Asked if, as has been suggested, the farmers are in cahoots with the hoaxers, Carson smiled. "You don't go to all the trouble of growing crops to flatten them," he said. "If somebody offered me 10,000 then I would because it's more than the crop's worth, but nobody has."

Part of the thrill of seeking out crop circles is the hope that you'll be the first to walk into one before hundreds of croppies have come in to crush the grain underfoot and disturb the "lay" of the crop, which can be extraordinarily intricate, with stalks swirled clockwise and counter-clockwise and curves tapering down to leave one stem standing. Some have even been created in a basket weave.

One hallmark of a "genuine" crop circle, besides its pristine, flawless execution with no visible sign of humans thrashing about with poles and ropes and boards in the dark, is the way the stalks appear to have simply bent over to form the shape. There is no sign of the breakage seen in man-made circles created by boards or rollers crushing stems, and you can actually see the undamaged plants starting to grow back up toward the sun.

What are these symbols trying to tell us?

"A crop circle is this wonderful thing of being a metaphysical idea impressed in a physical medium," says Francine Blake, a former Canadian from Montreal who is head of the Wiltshire Crop Circle Study Group. "It can bring up fear, but it also brings up questions. What is it? Why is it here? Maybe there's more to reality than I thought.

"Humanity is in the process of expanding its consciousness and whatever consciousness is sending them is at a very high level. Suddenly, we're reconnecting with an ancient way of thinking that's as spiritual as we are materialistic. We need to reconnect with that very desperately, I think."

On the issue of hoaxers, Michael Glickman, a respected crop circle researcher who has made a study of the geometry of the designs, said: "The crop circle phenomenon is perhaps the most astonishing, miraculous even on the planet at the moment, but there is a second phenomenon which is even more astonishing and that is that people see this beauty and avert their eyes and ignore it. The truth is there is the occasional man-made circle and it's always about money and it's a pathetic, crummy side issue, but it's all you see or hear about. The media should be ashamed of itself."

-- Edited and excerpted from the full article by Victoria Stevens in The Toronto Star

Volunteers at Fake Seance 'Remembered' Seeing Table Levitate

August 19, 2003 -- The ease with which seances can create false memories of supernatural events in the minds of believers has been revealed by a study. In an experiment, up to a third of people who attended a fake seance later "remembered" seeing a table levitate - even though infra-red cameras recorded that it remained grounded to the floor.

Although the volunteers knew that the seance was set up by university scientists, a fifth reported a strange, ghostly presence during the session. Psychologists who conducted the experiments said the results, which are reported in the British Journal of Psychology, showed how seance rituals -- such as the holding of hands and the darkened room -- can create false memories.

Although many of the tricks used by fake mediums and spiritualists have been exposed by magicians seances remain popular today.

The researchers, from Hertfordshire University and Liverpool Hope University College, recreated a classic Victorian "dark room" seance in which participants gather around a table with a medium and hold hands. The table, and several objects on it, are covered with luminous paint and are the only things visible once the lights have been switched off. The 350 volunteers were a mixture of skeptics and believers.

An actor posing as a medium told the group to try to move three objects on the table with the power of their minds. In each seance two objects, such as a ball or maraca, were moved using trickery - by a man with a big stick standing outside the group. A third object, usually a handbell, remained stationary throughout. The actor then asked the group to move the table with their minds. The table remained stationary, but the actor suggested it was moving.

Two weeks later, when asked to recall the seance, 11 and 31 per cent of participants wrongly insisted that the table had moved.

-- By David Derbyshire in The Telegraph


China's 'Loch Ness Monster' Resurfaces

July 15, 2003 BEIJING -- China's legendary "Lake Tianchi Monster" has surfaced anew, with local officials reporting sightings of as many as 20 of the mysterious and unidentified creatures in a lake near North Korea.

Sightings of the strange beast -- China's version of the "Loch Ness Monster" -- date back more than a century, but like Scotland's famed "Nessie" reports vary and remain unconfirmed.

On the morning of July 11, several local government cadres caught sight of a school of mysterious creatures swimming through the lake in the Changbai mountains, in northeastern Jilin province.

"Within about 50 minutes, the monsters appeared five times," Zhang Lufeng, provincial forestry bureau vice-director, said. "At times there was one, at times there were several. The last time, there was as many as about 20." He said the creatures, about 1 to 2 miles in the distance, appeared only as white or black spots. However, from the ripples in the water, he and others determined the spots were "living beings."

In 1903, according to local records, a creature resembling a huge buffalo with a deafening roar sprang out of the water and attempted to attack three people before one them shot it in the belly six times. The beast roared and disappeared back into the water.

A more recently documented sighting compared the head of the monster to that of a human -- except with big round eyes, a protruding mouth and a neck 1.2 to 1.5 meters long. It also had a white ring separating its neck and torso and smooth, gray skin. -- Edited and excerpted from Reuters

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