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Crop Circles:

What follows is only intended to demonstrate what appears in the conclusion. Any other point of strangeness or alleged aspect of the "crop circles mystery is dealt with elsewhere, here.

The claim that there was a crop circle in Hartfordshire in 1668:

The Mowing Devil:

Towards the end of 1989, British ufologist Jenny Randles received a mail from Betty Puttick, a local historian who had just read her book co-written with Paul Fuller, "The Controversy of the Circles". Betty Puttick informed her that there was a wood carving accompanied by a text, which could interest her.

Here is the drawing and the introduction of the story, as generally displayed on the Internet:

Here is the full text:



Being a True Relation of a Farmer, who Bargaining with a Poor Mower, about the Cutting down Three Half Acres of Oats: upon the Mower's asking too much, the Farmer swore That the Devil should Mow it rather than He. And so it fell out, that very Night, the Crop of Oat shew'd as if it had been all of a Flame: but next Morning appear'd so neatly mow'd by the Devil or some Infernal Spirit, that no Mortal Man was able to do the like. Also, How the said Oats ly now in the Field, and the Owner has not Power to fetch them away.

Licensed, August 22, 1678

Men may dally with Heaven, and criticize on Hell, as Wittily as they please, but that there are really such places, the wise dispensations of Almighty Providence does not cease continually to evince. For if by those accumulated circumstances which generally induce us to the belief of anything beyond our senses, we may reasonably gather that there are certainly such things as DEVILS, we must necessarily conclude that these Devils have a Hell: and as there is a Hell, there must be a Heaven, and consequently a GOD: and so all the Duties of Christian Religion as indispensable subsequents necessarily follow.

The first of which Propositions, this ensuing Narrative does not a little help to Confirm.

For no longer ago, than within the compass of the present Month of August, there hapned so unusual an Accident in Hartfordshire as is not only the general Discourse, and admiration of the whole County: but may for its Rarity challenge any other event, which has for these many years been Product in any other County whatsoever. The story thus.

In the said County lives a Rich industrious Farmer, who perceiving a small Crop of his (of about three Half-Acres of Land which he had sowed with Oats) to be Ripe and fit for Gathering, sent to a poor Neighbour whom he knew worked commonly in the Summer-time at Harvest Labour to agree with him about Mowing or Cutting the said Oats down. The poor man as it behoov'd Him endeavour'd to see the Sweat of his Brows and Marrow of his Bones at as dear a Rate as reasonably he might, and therefore askt a good round Price for his Labour, which the Farmer taking some exception at, bid him much more under the usual Rate than the poor Man askt for it: So that some sharp Words had past, when the Farmer told him he would Discourse with him no more about it. Whereupon the honest Mower recollecting with himself, that if he undertook not that little Spot of Work, he might thereby lose much more business which the Farmer had to imploy him in beside, ran after him, and told him, that, rather than displease him, he would do it at what rate in Reason he pleas'd: and as an instance of his willingness to serve him, proposed to him a lower price, than he had Mowed for any time this Year before. The irretated Farmer with a stem look, and hasty gesture, told the poor man That the Devil himself should Mow his Oats before he should have anything to do with them, and upon this went his way, and left the sorrowful Yeoman, not a little troubled that he had disoblig'd one in whose Power it lay to do him many kindnesses.

But, however, in the happy series of an interrupted prosperity, we may strut and plume our selves over the miserable Indingencies of our necessitated Neighbours, yet there is a just God above, who weighs us not by our Bags, nor measures us by our Coffers: but looks upon all men indifferently, as the common sons of Adam: so that he who carefully Officiates that rank or Station wherein the Almighty has plac't him, tho' but a mean one, is truly more worthy the Estimation of all men, then he who is prefer'd to superior dignities, and abuses them: And what greater abuse than the contempt of Men below him: the relief of whose 'common necessities is none of the least Conditions whereby he holds all his Good things: which when that Tenure is forfeited by his default, he may justly expect some judgement to ensue: or else that those riches whereby he prides himself so extravagantly may shortly be taken from him.

We will not attempt to fathom the cause, or reason of, Preternatural events: but certain we are, as the most Credible and General Relation can inform us, that same night this poor Mower and Farmer parted, his Field of Oats was publickly beheld by several Passengers to be all of a Flame, and so continued for some space, to the great consternation of those that beheld it. Which strange news being by several carried to the Farmer next morning, could not but give him a great curiosity to go and see what was become of his Crop of Oats, which he could not imagine, but what was totally devour'd by those ravenous Flames which were observed to be so long resident on his Acre and a half of Ground.

Certainly a reflection on his sudden and indiscreet expression (That the Devil should Mowe his Oats before the poor Man should have anything to do with them) could not but on this occasion come into his Memory. For if we will but allow our selves so much leisure, to consider how many hits of providence go to the production of one Crop of Corn, such as the aptitude of the Soyl, the Seasonableness of Showers, Nourishing Solstices and Salubreous Winds, etc., we should rather welcome Maturity with Devout Acknowledgements than prevent our gathering of it by profuse wishes.

But not to keep the curious Reader any longer in suspense, the inquisitive Farmer no sooner arriv'd at the place where his Oats grew, but to his admiration he found the Crop was cut down ready to his hands; and [as] if the Devil had a mind to shew his dexterity in the art of Husbandry, and scorn'd to mow them after the usual manner, he cut them in round circles, and plac't every straw with that exactness that it would have taken up above an Age for any Man to perform what he did that one night: And the man that owns them is as yet afraid to remove them.


Jenny Randles decided to check whether the document is authentic, and contacted folklorists, who confirmed its authenticity.

Paul Fuller had talked about it to Terence Meaden, and the latter wanted to publish it in his J. Met, his meteorology bulletin.

Fuller and Randles asked him to wait at least a month, and in the meantime Randles published it in a folklore studies journal.

At the beginning of October, Bob Skinner [rm1], a Fortean Times correspondent and crop circles buff, was checking old books at a flea market in Surrey, when he stumbled on a book entitled Bygone Hertfordhslire, which reproduced the same drawing and the introduction of the text.

Skinner bought the book, and immediately sent photocopies of the illustration and article to Jenny Randle, but also to crop circles "experts" Colin Andrews, Pat Delgado, Ralph Noyes, and obviously Bob Rickard, a Fortean Times editor.

The initial reaction of Colin Andrews was the opposite of his usual manner. He had never had the least hesitation to publish unverified anecdotes, rumors, doubtful stories of all kinds about the crop circles, but this time, on the contrary, he declared that the plants in this case are clearly described like having been cut and not flattened like in the crop circles, and that the history might thus have no real relationship with the crop circles issue. He however did not fail to make an ad hoc comment to "save" the case, explaining that since h is convinced that "the phenomenon of the crop circles evolves", it was perhaps also a crop circle, but of an older kind.

His colleague Pat Delgado had no reserves about it. It was indeed a true crop circle to him, he simply commented that if one allots the crop circles of the present time at some "technological means", there is nothing to be astonished that before the technological era, it would have been allotted to the devil. And besides, he noted, nowadays also, some continue to think that it is the devil, or "satanic powers", that create the crop circles.

So, Delgado "studied" what he held to be a crop circle of the past. He studied it by means of what he called "regressive historical information recovery", a pompous name for what it really was: to hold a pendulum above the drawing, to mentally ask questions, and if the pendulum starts to turn in an opposite direction, the answer is a "Yes", if it keeps turning in the same direction it is a "No"!

By his pendulum, the drawing "informed" of the "exact place" where this crop circle "appeared", and informed there have been other crop circles there in the summer of 1678, including "a sizeable quintuplet".

One of the editors of the Fortean Times, Bob Rickard, offered a socio-political comment of the article, a somehow marxist comment [ft1]: it was a quite classic parabola whose true subject was the eternal argument between the persecuted Worker and the Capitalist oppressor. He explained in his Fortean Times: the authors of the pamphlets in those times used tales of fantasies, whimsical tales, to put out a quite political message. As a keen Fortean, Rickard made no decision on the crop circle, not ready to exclude that there was something supernatural in it, and wondered whether the contemporary crop circles weren't a modern version of the supernatural of old times, re-appeared on a large scale since the intensive agriculture is now of a greater extent: " are the gods of the cereals showing us their stigmata? Since then, it seems that he understood that the "crop circles mystery" is only a gigantic hoax.

Ralph Noyes had published in Country Life an article on the "crop circles mystery" and had received readers mails ensuring they remembered "crop circles" in Hampshire in the 40 last years. It was obviously not the crop circles makes by men to make believe in flying saucers landings, nor of land art, rather vague rounds caused by the wind or animals or young people rolling in the fields, and so on. But the small world of the crop circles experts was very eager to believe that the "crop circles phenomenon" went back far in the past so that was good enough. So, when Noyes received his photocopy of the "Mowing Devil" story, he was quite interested. Careful, it started by seeking a complete authentic specimen of the document, and he indeed found it in the British Library, then located at the British Museum of London. At least, he had found a mean for anyone to verify without too much trouble that the document was authentic.

Like Andrews, Noyes thought that the "crop circles phenomenon evolved", and he thought crop circles had to exist in the past, but he remained careful, noting that the "Mowing Devil" story was like the man who saw the man who saw the man, and that it was advisable to deal with it with the prudence which is appropriate in such cases.

Noyes was apparently not the only who found the document at the British Library. It seems that Bob Rickard stated to crop circle "expert" Andy Thomas he was the one who found it at the British Library, "about" the same time when Jenny Randles had received a copy. Better still, his coeditor at the Fortean Times Paul Seiveking, ensured Andy Thomas that he is the one who discovered the document at the British Library, when he worked at the service of the recordings in 1990.

Meteorologist Terence Meaden had naturally decided with some reserves that the "Mowing Devil" crop circle was caused by a weather phenomenon of wind vortex [tm1]. He was not the least concerned that the story told of a field that was mowed and/or on fire, and not flattened by any sort of wind. As Jenny Randles had not readily authorized him to publish the story, he took the opportunity that someone else found it on his side to obtain the authorization to publish it in his J. Met, then in his book, suggesting that it was an old crop circle created by a mini-tornado. Terence Meaden wrote that the discovery of the story came from a correspondent of Jenny Randles, and independently, of a certain "R. Skinner" (actually Bob Skinner alias Robert M. Skinner [rs1]), and then was found independently by two other people (or more probably than four independent discoverers during about the same time, to my opinion, too much people claimed the discovery).

The sources of the Mowing Devil story

The authenticity of the existence of the pamphlet is beyond doubt now. What Betty Puttick sent to ufologist Jenny Randles is not a forged document, it was indeed published long before the "crop circle phenomenon" really appeared.

The original print is titled "The Mowing Devil", an 8-pages folded to 5 content pages, "quarto" format pamphlet, anonymous, supposedly printed in Hertfordshire, England, in 1678. Several researchers verified that a copy actually exists, and available to the reader at the British Library, London, U-K.

And this is not all. I found another, much later, version in a book titled "Strange newes out of Hartfordshire and Kent: an account of a mowing-devil, etc", marked "Printed for R.S., 1679" (an indication concerning the original "copyright") localized at the library of the University of Harvard, USA, offered by one Edwyn S. Mullins, of New York, in 1914. This version, of 1858, does not include the drawing, and only the introduction of the text, as the first of a series of whimsical stories of the same kind:

"The Mowing Devil, or Strange News out of Hartfordshire, 1678" also was republished by William Blyth Gerish, in Hertfordshire Folklore, a folklore bulletin, Bishop's Stortford publishers, in the U-K., in issue 14 in 1905 or 1913, and appeared in a book which is a compilation of that bulletin, by William Blyth Gerish, titled Hertfordshire Folklore, in 1913. One edition apparently includes the sketch and the other doesn't, and the sketch was found by Andy Thomas to be different from the others, clearly redrawn with less care. As I write these lines, the book on sale on Internet booksales websites.

Crop circle "expert" Andy Thomas [at1] found another print, titled "Bygone Hertfordshire", written by Reverend William Andrews and published in 1898. In 2005, he said he obtained a copy of that book from an antiquarian bookseller on the Internet, and it contained a reproduction of the full Mowing Devil text, together with the illustration showing the small eye.

In fact, reprints of the original story are not missing. In "The bibliographer's manual of English literature, Volume 3" de William Thomas Lowndes and Henry George Bohn, there are references to a "Towneley" publishing, a "J. Sturt" publishing in the 1810's; elsewhere a 1815 print at the Oxford University is mentionned, another by one "J. Barker" in 1820, a fac-similé in 1860 by one "J. H. Fennell", a citation of the introduction in "Handbook to the popular, poetical, and dramatic literature of Great Britain" by William Carew Hazlitt in 1867, in "Bibliotheca Diabolica" by Welford et Armstrong in 1874, in the "Old Hertfordshire Calendar" by Doris Jones-Baker in 1974 and in her "The Folklore of Hertfordshire, Volume 1977, Part 2" in 1977.

The 'different drawings' issue:

It was Andy Thomas who found out that in the various crop circles publications and books, the Mowing Devil drawing is not always the same. Other "crop circles experts" had not notice that.

Part of it is nothing mischievous: as Andy Thomas found it, there are, before the "crop circle phenomenon" era, two different sketches, the original one in the 1678 pamphlet, and a redrawn one in the reprint by Reverend William Andrews. Andy Thomas suggested the drawing having certainly be redrawn by the Reverend as there were no scanners of photocopy then, and this makes plenty of sense.

Other versions in crop circles books and publications are more dubious: Andy Thomas found out that these are the original oat field drawing, but with the devil pasted in from the later version by Reverend William Andrews! Clearly a quite silly image editing was made by someone from the crop circle community, without any understandable reason to do so.

In his 2005 article, Andy Thomas shows there were four different versions. The difference in the oat field's two versions and the devil's two versions clearly show, and the "hybrid" recent version too.

However, none of the later or edited version shows any significant differences in terms of serving one or the other opinion on the story, so probably no hoaxing intention was at work with this.

The Mowing Devil in the "crop circles" literature:

whereas the discoverers of the document had been careful to some extent, whereas they did not go as far as claiming it is a "proof" crop circles existed in the past centuries, this was going to change two years later. Doug Bower and Dave Chorley had shown on cameras how to make a crop circle, fooling "expert" Pat Delgado who had stated their circle was "authentic". Bower and Chorley had explained they started to make crop circles in 1978 as a practical joke: they wanted people to believe flying saucers had landed. They had explained that others started to make circles, that the simple rounds in the crop supposed to be flattened by the mass of flying saucers had become a form of art. The "experts" obviously had been completely ridiculed initially, some dropped the matter, but the majority of those who made a living on the "crop circles mystery" were not going to. It is thus with delight that they put the Mowing Devil story in their books: since this crop circle goes back to centuries, crop circles are not all done by "Doug and Dave", there was and there remain "authentic" crop circles...

This is why the Mowing Devil became a "must" in the crop circles books that are still published.

Michael Hesemann claims [mh1] that old texts and "statements by many old farmers" show that there was "a certain number" of crop circles before "the modern time", but with regard to the Mowing Devil, he is very reserved: it is possible, he writes, that a report going back to 1678 evoking a work of the devil of circular shape is about a crop circle, "but it is not sure". Of Christian faith, he considers that crop circles are a "message" which invites us to get closer "to our Creator".

John Michell, author and cereologist, with Bob Rickard of the Fortean Times, published [mr1] the drawing and a short summary of the story, commenting on that one wanted to see in this an old crop circle but specifying that the oats had been cut, not flattened.

Colin Andrews and Stephen J. Spignesi [as1] give a summarized version of the story enriched by their pure fabrication that "the local population spoke about a blazing demon which came out of the sky". They reproduce the original woodcut, give "1678" as date without specifying August but at least without inventing the day of the 22nd. They speak about "an event that many among us could describe as being a report of the making of a crop circle", admit that differences exists concerning certain details of this case", but do not specify these differences and decide that it cannot be rejected "entirely" because there are too many similarities with "a classical testimony ". Colin Andrews defended initially that the crop circles were the work of the extraterrestrials, and then went on to the more "New Age" theory of an ecologist "message" by a nonhuman unspecified "intelligence".

Dutch scientist Eltjo Haselhoff, [eh1] who rejects the idea that the crop circles are a hoax that became land art, claims that the "general belief" that the crop circles are a recent phenomenon is false, and ensures that "we have the famous testimony of August 22, 1678 which undoubtedly describes a crop circles in an oat field of Herfordshire in England". He thinks that if the explanation of the time was that the devil did it, it is not the correct explanation, and quoting that it would have taken "an Age to any Man to do what the devil did that night", states that the devil on the drawing uses a scythe but that the drawing (he reproduces a drawing but it is not the original) shows that the oats could be have been flattened rather than mown. Haselhoff does not have any explanation of the "crop circles phenomenon" to give, but claims that "something strange is going on".

Werner Anderhub and Hanspeter Roth [ar1] give in quotation a short summary of the story, quoting "Thomas 1998 III" as source, and publish the original illustration. This is of course to demonstrate that crop circles go back to several centuries. To them, crop circles are "signs" of a "change of time" - which is poorly in agreement with the notion that they would exist since centuries...

Umberto Molinaro [um1] speaks about the "1678 pamphlet titled the Shearer Devil", he reproduces the small portion of the drawing where the devil stands, and says this devil is really an alien and the document indicates that the crop circles have existed for several centuries. To him crop circles are "messages" by "Beings of Light" which would like to "help us to understand who we really are".

Lucy Pringle gives a quite distorted short version of the story [lp1], adding that there had been "visions" and "strange sounds" in the night this crop circle was created, she does not mention the fire, does not mention the mowing, and describes the crop circle as being "oat laid down in circles". Her opinion o crop circle is quite on the "New Age" side with religious tones.

The Mowing Devil enters ufology:

Some rare ufologists did not understand that the so-called "crop circle phenomenon" is just a huge hoax. They still believe that the crop circles are really created by UFOS, "alien UFOs" or otherwise nonterrestrial UFOs.

So the Mowing Devil story appears in books whose subject would normally be the UFO question, such as "Confirmation", by Whitley Strieber in 1998, "Sightings", by Susan Michaels in 1996, "Alien Agenda" by Jim Marrs etc.

It also appears in articles of ufology magazines, and general public publications about UFOs such as in "UFO - The Continuing Enigma", by the Reader's Digest in 1991.

And especially, it is all over crop circles websites, but also on ufology websites.

I will not take too much time to catalogue publications or websites having promoted the Mowing Devil as proof for ancient crop circles or having missed prudence or hidden the entire text. The story is everywhere. It appeared in a magazine published by VSD, a special issue N.5 on the paranormal in October 2002, it is in sensationalist tabloid Weekly World News on July 29, 2003, and so on.

In France for example, Jérôme Beau, author of the French-speaking ufology website RR0, provides the title page of the pamphlet, and offers the complete text but only partially translated in French [jb1]. It is referred to in his web page about the crop circles [jb2], with the useful precision that it is about mowed and not flattened oat, but he claims that "many people think that the crop circles represent a relatively recent phenomenon, a product of the 20th century" but that "In fact, crop circles "have a 'modern era' which starts at the beginning of the 1980s, but seems also to have been described well before." He defends the thesis that hoaxing and land art are not enough to explain the crop circles, and has claims about scientific work by Levengood, and UFOs seen close to crop circles, and military secret laser beams.

"How" was this alleged crop circle done?

Crop circles proponents claim that crop circles are made by "beams" coming from UFOs, or coming from invisible secret military aircraft or military satellites, or by unidentified "balls of lights", or by unknown supernatural forces or "psychic forces".

In reality, the first crop circles were made on the knees by pushing a heavy metal bar, then, the stomping board was invented, allowing a faster work, standing, less tiring. In addition, other tools are sometimes used, such as garden rollers.

If one wants to consider the story is a report of a real event, and this is necessary if one want to claim it is an old crop circle, then one needs to show that the crop circle was done by one of these means, crop stomper, garden roller, ball of light, UFO, military beam, angels, psychic or supernatural forces and so on. But it is just not so!

What the pamphlet says is that the field was observed to be on fire during the night, and the next morning, the field was "totally devour’d by those ravenous Flames which were observ’d to be so long resident on his Acre and a half of Ground."

And on the drawing, flames are clearly inside the field - not a UFO or balls of lights, but ordinary flames, inside the oat.

So, the field was destroyed during a fire in the night and is entirely burned in the morning, a cause which can hardly be claimed to be a typical cause of the crop circles!

But this is not enough. Indeed the text also shows the devil clearly proceeding to mow the oats with a scythe. He holds the scythe in his hands, he bends forwards, makes the gesture, ahead of him, the oats are standing, while the oats behind him are cut down.

If one chooses this interpretation rather than that of the fire, there is no more sense to claim than it is a crop circle, since nobody claims to call "crop circle" a mown field, even if not by the devil himself!

If one refers to the text, the information is more than what is seen on the drawing: the farmer found that harvest had been mown and ready to be picked up!

Is this a technique of crop circle making, to mow crop so that it is ready to be collected? I don't think it is!

A crop circle, really?

What do we have there actually? Well, not only nothing at all that resembles closely or by far crop circle making, but still, an inconsistent story: the field is devastated by the flames, but mown at the same time as for a completely normal harvest. This is a tell-tale sign that the story is pure fabrication, a fable, a parabola, and not scientific data worthy of use to claim crop circles go back centuries.

The Mowing Devil pamphlet was evidently a religious, and moral, tale, one of the innumerable such tales distributed to the God-fearing masses in the 17th century. Folklorist Willam Gerish published it in 1913 explicitly in what he proposed as "examples of judgments on impiety and false swearing". There is absolutely no sense to single out this particular one from the others, and no sense at all in believing this is a factual report.

There are indeed thousands of such wacky fantastic stories of supernatural folklore and religion, and it is a mistake to correlate the Mowing Devil's story with crop circles:

If the Mowing Devil story of the ancient folklore is claimed to be some sort of evidence, then, on what criteria would you reject these other stories, or explain them?

Crop circles "experts" and the crop circle buffs, ufologists and New Age fans they fool are desperately in need to prove that crop circles existed before Doug Bower and Dave Chorley actually invented them, because they want to argue that the two men couldn't have invented them if it existed for centuries. So, they cling to just about any ancient stuff when it barely resembles "crop circles". They only managed to find fables that no sensible person could believe to be authentic reports of authentic crop circles, and "old" crop circles that only have a surface resemblance to the crop circles Doug Bower and Dave Chorley and then a generation of followers and artists created.


Changes history:

Version: Created/Changed By: Date: Change Description:
1.0 Patrick Gross April 20, 2010 Creation and first publication.
1.1 Patrick Gross May 24, 2012 Correction of the year in the page title; was written as "1768" instead of "1668". Mistake communicated by a reader.

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