To begin with, the circles (we shall use this term for all of the patterns, even though many are no longer circular), although more common in recent decades, have been around for a long, long time. There are old legends about "fairy rings" that appear overnight, usually in grass, and the modern explanation is that these are fungus rings, even though, quite often, no mushrooms are visible. Fungi can make such rings, but to assume that this is the only basis for the legends is mere speculation. Some of the circles may have had other, less conventional causes, and we should take note of the association with fairies or elves, with the mysterious beings, not all of them small, that play a role in folklore almost everywhere on Earth. And the similarities between the "little people" and modern ufo entities has long been noted; before ufo abductions there were abductions by witches, demons, and fairies, and a belief in one or more parallel worlds. Then there was the famous woodcut of the seventeenth century "mowing devil," which some skeptics suspect to be a modern hoax. In 1880 one John Capron described crop circles in western Surrey that seemed to appear after storms. Then there are ufo landing traces, reported from all over. On 1/19/66 Queensland (northern Australia) farmer George Pedley said that he heard a hissing sound near a swamp, and then saw a double-convex, nine foot high, 25 foot diameter ufo rise up from the swamp and fly away. He noticed that the water in one area was swirling and was clear of the reeds that grew thickly everywhere else. Later the reeds in this circular area, which had been pressed down into the water, resurfaced, but were flattened in a 30 foot diameter circle, and had been swirled into a clockwise radial pattern. The news media arrived and found and photographed five similar "flying saucer nests" in the area.
And the phenomenon, while most common in southern England, is found all over the world, in the US, Canada, Russia, Japan, and elsewhere, with the reported number well in excess of 12,000. Circles have appeared in wheat, barley, canola, trees, linseed, rice paddies, and ice.
In 1991 two elderly British men, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, claimed that they had made all of the circles, and demonstrated for television viewers their technique, using a board held by a rope and pressed down with the feet to flatten the grain. They said that they had been inspired after hearing of the Australian "saucer nests." Circles can certainly be made this way, but the sheer number in England alone was far beyond the capacity of two men, no longer as fit and healthy as in their youth, to have made. And they failed to show how they could have made the more complex patterns, or somehow travelled all over the world. Either Doug and Dave exaggerated their achievements, or they were lying about everything, or, at worst, they were disseminating disinformation for the government. At most, they could have made a few hundred of the simpler circles...something else was going on.
But, counter the debunkers, Doug and Dave could have made a few of the earlier and simpler circles and inspired large numbers of more sophisticated hoaxers, and this is, undeniably, partly true. But consider a few inconvenient facts overlooked by the debunkers. Trespassing at night and vandalizing crops is a crime, and many farmers, especially those with livestock, are up very, very early. Why have so few hoaxers been caught and so very few prosecuted (or hit with shotgun pellets)? Remember, few of the farmers have made money charging admission, and many have suffered financial harm from the crop damage. So, in most cases, the farmers are not likely accessories. The English summer nights (when the grain is growing and the circles appear) are very short. How can such vast, complex, and precise patterns be constructed in only a few hours, in darkness? Night vision equipment was not even generally available in the seventies and eighties. And where did the hoaxers park their cars for hours every night on the narrow and twisting Wiltshire roads/ Why did the police not notice long lines of cars? If they arranged for confederates to drive them out in vans, drop them off, and return later, how did they time it, especially in the years before cell phones? Cerealogist Freddy Silva has pointed out that many circles have up to five cross-woven layers, and the stalks are often bent at the nodes, not broken. I have seen this myself on samples of the grain. There are often expulsion cavities on the nodes, which can only be caused by internal heating, which can be done with ultra sound or microwaves. Are we to believe that these hordes of incredibly talented hoaxers, in addition to their other achievements, carry heavy sound and microwave generators into the fields? And what is their power source? A fine dust of iron compounds is generally found on the circles...why would hoaxers have thought to do anything like that? A team from MIT tried and failed in 2002 to duplicate the distribution pattern, but meteoric dust, which rains down constantly, could explain it...if the circles involved powerful magnetic fields to attract and concentrate it far above the usual levels.
Any number of researchers have seen, photographed, and videotaped very small lights, clearly not birds, flying over newly found circles, or even flying over a field as the circle formed, and seemingly causing it. Again, some of these are surely hoaxes, but all of them? Are all of these people, some well known in the field, and accompanied (their voices are on the audio) by other witnesses lying, and scarcely any of them have ever confessed?
Some 80 witnesses, including a Japanese research team, have reported tubes of light or balls of light seemingly creating circles in seconds. Are they all hoaxers? On one video, not involving a crop circle, a strange object is in the sky near Stonehenge, pulsing and changing shape, and, in synch with it, dark and shadowy blobs appear and vanish over nearby ancient burial mounds. In 1996 a pilot flew over an area of Wiltshire at 415 PM and saw nothing unusual; a second pilot flew over the same spot 15 minutes later and saw a complex 900 foot diameter fractal pattern (a Julia set) with 149 circles. Cerealogist Freddy Silva and his team of 11 took five hours just to survey it. Colin Andrews and others have seen and videotaped military helicopters taking a great interest in circles, sometimes buzzing researchers at dangerously close distances as if to frighten them away.
And many witnesses have reported odd behavior of farm animals, who seem unwilling to approach the circles, and odd physical and mental effects on people who enter the circles, such as dizziness or disorientation. This is, admittedly, a bit subjective; less so are the numerous reports of malfunctioning electronic equipment within the circles.
Of course, most of the circles are near ancient pagan sacred sites such as Stonehenge, Avebury, and Silbury Hill, although it must be admitted that hoaxers would be aware of that also. But, as we have seen, it is impossible for hoaxers to have made most of the circles. Some of the patterns resemble those formed by soundwaves on metal disks or membranes covered with fine dust, a field of study called cymatics pioneered by Hans Jenny and Ernst Chladni. I mention this because some believe that all of reality may be a kind of pattern created by sound, or by something analogous to sound. So we are confronted by a continuing mystery where ufos, the paranormal, and ancient legends all seem to coincide. And the matter is far from settled.
William B Stoecker