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The Mowing Devil: England's First Crop Circle

1800s | July 30, 2019

Did the Devil mow a farmer's oats into a crop circle more than 300 years ago? Source: (mercuriuspoliticus.wordpress.com)

In the 1970s, strange geometric shapes began to pop up overnight in some of the wheat fields of rural England. The designs, at first, were simple circles, giving rise to the name "crop circles," but as the '70s and '80s went on, the patterns became more detailed and elaborate. These unexplained crop circles led many to speculate that a new, mysterious, supernatural phenomenon was happening. It seems, however, that the crop circle phenomenon may have been much older than the 1970s. Let's look at the story of the Mowing Devil, perhaps the earliest known reference to a crop circle. 

An account of the Mowing Devil. Source: (anomalyinfo.com)

Story of the Mowing Devil

The written account of England's Mowing Devil is dated 1678 and tells of an incident in Hertfordshire. According to the story, a wealthy farmer asked his poor neighbor to cut his field of oats for some extra cash. The poor farmer agreed at first, but the two men couldn't reach an agreement on price. As they parted ways in a huff, the poor farmer realized that if he upset the rich farmer, he would not get hired for future jobs, so he ran after the rich farmer and explained his change of heart. To that, the rich farmer responded that "the devil should mow" his oats before he would allow the poor farmer to work for him again.

It is unclear who did create the pattern how the patterns were made in this crop field in 2014. AFP PHOTO / DPA / KARL-JOSEF HILDENBRAND / GERMANY OUT Source: (Photo credit should read KARL-JOSEF HILDENBRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

An Overnight Mystery

That next morning, to the surprise of the rich farmer, his field of oats had been mowed. But not all of it. Neat circles spanning about an acre and a half had been cut into his field. The report goes on to explain that the work must have been done by the devil himself because the work was so precise. It described how every straw was laid down with such exactness that it would have been impossible for a human to accomplish this feat, especially in the short time frame of just one night and under the cover of darkness.

A modern depiction of the Mowing Devil. Source: (pinterest.com)

An Accompanying Woodcut

The news accounts of the Mowing Devil included a woodcut engraving of the incident. The engraving shows the devil, all in black and sporting his trademark horns and tail, busily working in a field, scythe in hand. The illustration shows a circular pattern cut into the field and the stalks neatly arranged. 

The Mowing Devil story is similar to present-day crop circles. Source: (uniquenurses.blogspot.com)

Similarities to Modern Crop Circles

It doesn't take too much imagination to see the similarities between the Mowing Devil and the crop circle phenomenon that occurred throughout England and other places in the 1970s. The incident occurs in a field of wheat or other grain that is fully grown and nearly ready for harvesting. This means that most crop circle events take place in late summer, and the Mowing Devil incident happened in August. The patterns are almost always circles, like the 1678 depiction, and the stems of the plants are bend over with a high degree of precision. The circles appear suddenly overnight. 

Crop circles remain a mystery. Source: (lifedeathprizes.com)

Are Crop Circles the Handiwork of the Devil?

The people of 1678 Hertfordshire were quick to accept the explanation that the devil created the strange crop circles, but for people in the 1970s and beyond, the solution has proven to be more elusive. Rather than immediately point fingers at the devil, modern people pointed their fingers to the skies. Many of them believed that crop circles were the work of extraterrestrial aliens and that it was an elaborate means of communication. Still, others pointed to hoaxers perpetuating pranks. Another group of people looked for natural explanations, such as fungal infection or rotating winds. Although some of the crop circles can be attributed to pranksters, some are more baffling and not easily explained. Could it be that, after three centuries, the devil took up lawn care again? 

Tags: England | the mowing devil

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.