Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Polite Skeptic Interview: Matthew Williams, circlemaker

Matthew Williams is a circlemaker.

After a strange experience earlier in life, Matthew took to investigating the paranormal. His investigation into crop circles showed him a world that he didn't expect. One thing lead to another, and he found himself out in the fields, with a stomper-board, some surveyor's tape, and a group of good friends, making his own contribution to the UFO mythology. Everything went fine until, wanting to prove a point, Matthew sent a diagram of an upcoming crop circle to Author and UFO researcher Whitley Strieber, and then wound up with police at his front door.

Matthew's arrest was something of a blessing in disguise, suddenly allowing him to become more public about the art of crop circle making, and to speak out against circle researchers who, in his view, often skewed evidence, not to mention, from time to time, flat-out lying about their findings.

Matthew Williams explains on his Youtube Channel that crop circle makers are not hoaxters, but artists, and that the wonder that the circles inspire in the public give them joy. Another message is that, even though it's humans that make the circles, the circles themselves are still surrounded by mysteries that even the men with the boards can't begin to explain.

Matthew gives us a look into a secretive world of the circlemaker, a world that very few know about, and even fewer have firsthand experience with. It's fascinating, and evidence that both the images of the grinning prankster, and the artistic UFOs, are both very simplistic when compared to the reality of the situation.

The Polite Skeptic: It would be commonly expected that someone with your experience would be skeptical of paranormal things. Why is it that you aren't, and could you give a rough estimate of what percentage of crop circle makers are skeptical?

Matthew Williams: I started off as a skeptical child, reading books about the paranormal but seeing them as just wide tales, and treating what I was reading as fiction turned into fact, perhaps in the same way that I viewed religious books. Then, my cynical mind took a powerful bashing when I experienced something odd whilst driving over a mountain road one night. I saw a triangular light, with a placement that would have made it hundreds of feet in size. It was standing vertically in front of a mountainside, behind a tree line. I lost sight of the object after, and to this day am no nearer to knowing what it was, although parts of my investigation led me to ask even more questions about our faculties for perception and our recall of strange events. This was my trigger moment, if you like.

After this point, I was in a position where I had to state that I could not understand my experience, and I felt pity and empathy for those who, like me, might be retelling their genuine experiences and having no way to fully understand what it was they saw. My interest in the paranormal became rekindled, and I dug out my old books and read the pages with a new vigor, to learn what I had perhaps missed previously. Now the words on the page had a meaning to me, and a gravitas, that they had not had before. I started to meet people who were interested in the paranormal, and through talking about interests, and eventually interviewing people about their strange experiences, it became clear I was starting to become an investigator of sorts.

If we skip forward a long way to me now being a circlemaker, and believing that the circles we create are a paranormal trigger for not only the circlemakers, but for the people who visit the circles afterwards, I am still interested in investigating and relaying strange experiences to others as truthfully as I can.

To answer your question, nearly all circlemakers I know have claimed to have had odd experiences whilst out at night. Whereas many circlemakers try their hardest to work out what these experiences were, they are left scratching their heads. Up until this year, all bar one major circlemaker had told me of their own strange experiences. This year though, out of the blue, I was told that this major circlemaker had recently seen a silent, black, triangular object fly over him, and his team members had seen this as well. I would like to be able to do an interview to record his experience, but this circlemaker is a bit like Banksy, and a bit shy of being known by face or name. So the interview, if it does take place, will have to be anonymous.

So that just about wraps up all the circlemakers as having strange experiences, and being far more open-minded towards their place in circlemaking and their ability to connect with strange stuff by being out in the fields. Even if they do one day manage to convince themselves of rational explanations for their experiences, they certainly do not have any rational explanations at the moment.

Would you recommend circle making for someone who's interested in studying supernatural things?
I have always stated that, since my involvement in making crop circles, the frequency of paranormal events in my life has gone up remarkably. Since I'm not making so many circles anymore, I have noticed that things have gotten quieter. So, I would say that being involved does seem to have an effect for strange things happening in your life.

This includes ghost sightings, UFO sightings, precognitive events and sightings of strange black figures in the fields who disappear once discovered. Then you have the balls of light which chased us out of one field where we were just about to make a circle. That time, we were at first unable to do so because of some kind of mind blocking effect, and when we tried to shake this blocking effect, these balls of light appeared and forced us to leave. We have experienced time alteration in one crop circle we made. I once observed an oval shape in the cloud above us, and I realised that it was raining outside of the circle we were making, but not raining inside.

I was once able to pick up a "transmission" of a circle design that I felt compelled to immediately go out and do, and it turned out that this circle was a few hundred feet away from people meditating, asking for that same design. There was also the time that we were shrouded from view by a fog bank while making a circle, and it kept a group nearby from seeing us working, but we could clearly see them, almost like a one-way mirror effect.

All of these events, and a whole lot more I haven't mentioned, make me say that yes circles are freaky things that put you right in the heart of strangeness. It can raise your heart rate when you try to stay calm in the face of such weirdness, but I have become a bit cocky about it, having now seen so much. It's almost as if my brain says "Oh yes, what next?". I am in no doubt that we circlemakers have experienced the weird!

What's your response to crop circle researchers with evidence that the circles are made by "balls of light"?
It is very easy to see one thing and attach its importance to the nearest weird thing around. Say, for example, we are making a crop circle, and people see balls of light in or near that circle. The first thing they would say is "The balls of light made the crop circle", or A + B must = AB, and they usually go on to assume C and D also. This is very common.

We don't deny that people see strange things at or near the circles we create, but seeing as we too have experienced weird things whilst making circles, we cannot deny other peoples' experiences. However, it is very hard for us to believe some of these experiences, because there are also, it would seem, a glut of people who get attracted to circles who are severe liars and make stuff up. It's not easy to separate the liars and fictionalists from genuine people with real stories. We do know, however, that when you create hysteria of a certain type, then others will tend to latch on to themes and start seeing and experiencing those things.

Take, for example, the myth that the military are somehow sampling circles, and flying overhead and dropping stuff into circles. Complete nonsense. Nonetheless, you have people now taking a close look at every helicopter in the heavy training airspace of the Vale of Pewsey and thinking they see things coming out of these helicopters. These are mostly stories, and not backed up with photo or video evidence. The one or two cases where there is photo evidence leads people to make connections that this must prove their theories.

In fact, these events might just be chance happenings that appear to be connected because you have A: a helicopter or B: a ball of light. To make such assumptions I think is wrong, as perhaps the balls of light are there all the time. Like with our own observations, we assumed the balls of light were there chasing us out of the field. Perhaps the balls of light were in the area and had nothing to do with our making a circle. To an outside observer, they would have seen the balls of light go through that field we were chased out of, and say "Ah you see? It was the balls of light making the crop circle". So it is all relative to your experience, how much you actually saw, and the assumptions you made.

What frustrates me is that I have heard people say, quite convincingly, that they have seen balls of light and black shapes make certain circles that I know 100% were made by people I know, or, in fact, by myself and our team. There is very little chance that you would convince the person who says they saw this that you, in fact, made that circle. They simply wouldn't have it, and they would see what we are saying as some form of conspiracy to silence the "balls of light make circles truth" around this subject. I can see why people would react this way, but what I must say to people is that you have to try and stand back a little, and realise all the possibilities, before running away with just one. What I would like people to try to do, is just see each event as a separate thing and not jump to conclusions, but present the events as factually as possible without sensationalising and making vast connections.

Now, with the proliferation of the "balls of light create crop circle" footage (AKA Oliver's Castle), where balls of light seemingly create the crop circle star shape, it has long been established that this was a fake piece of computer art by a TV trained graphic artist called John Wabe who lives in Bath and works for HTV. He has taken investigating camera crews to his HTV studio in Bristol, and showed them the footage on his CGI workstation, and explained how he created it. The lid is on and sealed over this case being fake, yet you speak to 80% of crop circle lovers out there, and they are not having any of it! They will argue against you loudly and with great arrogance when confronted with the facts about this story.

If you don't believe me, check out my video which has a link to the explanation footage, although now that I've just checked, National Geographic, who just did the piece, have pulled it off YouTube due to copyright infringement. Which means that loads of "it's real" videos remain, and not the original footage. I will see if I can track it down and get someone to repost it.

It's funny that parts 1 through 4 are still up there, just part 5 has been pulled! Odd that, don't you think? I would imagine National Geographic have been harassed by the croppies [crop circle researchers/enthusiasts] to remove this evidence. Otherwise, why would parts 1 through 4 still be there? And don't believe that croppies are beyond doing such a thing. In their war to control information on this subject, this would be damning proof they don't want you to see!

You've recently posted on YouTube a seminar where you revealed all of the crop circles you were involved in, up until the year 2000. What kind of response has this gotten?
Strangely, this hasn't had as much of a reaction as I thought it would. I know that believers do go out of their way to avoid such information, though, so probably they would be offended by it, and not want to click a link to such a video, and would turn it off quickly if they started to realise what they were watching. I also expect that all the crop circle proponents such as Blake, Glickman, Pringle, Silva etc. would never approve of any of their crowd ever watching such a video, so would probably not even mention it to their followers, in hope that they had never heard about it.

I have had the very usual "fuck you idiot all the circle you showed were crap ones, nothing like the real thing and I had sex with you mom last night". That type of comment is becoming more common on my channel recently. It just shows the levels of low some people who claim to have higher knowledge over crop circles than me are prepared to go to in order to try and wear me down. I assure you, though, that anyone who's had sex with my dead mother is rather sick... (That's a joke. Yes they did say that, and sadly my mum is dead).

Is there any bad blood toward you within the community of crop circle makers because of your outspokenness, or the publicity you give to a fairly clandestine art form?
Yes, there is some apparent bad blood towards me, it would seem, from only one camp, but I ignore it really, because (without mentioning names) it boils down to the fact that I am talking about making circles, and this is for "publicity to make a name for myself". The very same people who say this have a website dedicated to making circles, and go on TV talking about how to do it. So you go figure... This just seems like a bit of professional jealousy, because those saying it would like to be thought of as the best circlemakers that have ever lived, and they want to give that impression in order to charge money to make circles. Which is something that we have never had the opportunity to do, nor done to this point. Well, unless you call £75 all day making a circle for a newspaper story payment. Having two faces on the block talking about it detracts from their prime limelight, I guess. It all seems very petty, but i try to ignore any strange attitudes which come across like this. After all, we're circlemakers - lets just get on with doing that, and not bitching... (oops I am doing that now, hehe).

On the subject of money, none of the hardcore unknown circlemakers ever get paid diddly squat. That goes with being unknown. I suppose I have got a form of payment in being asked to go to New Zealand and Italy to make a circle, but then money which was handed over only covered money lost for team members being away from their normal day jobs.. Anyhow, I digress. I suppose the bad feelings on never being offered any commission to make a paid circle runs the other way, because the circlemakers who do 95% of the unpaid/uncommissioned real circles which appear every year in Wiltshire don't ever get a look in on any commercial work. Due to their high profile, all paid work goes to the unnamed highly public team.

I know that spats between Wilts circlemakers and teams from outside that come in have probably made working with each other impossible now. It's like chalk and cheese personality issues which have led to actual fights breaking out in the fields, where team members have ended up walking out of a formation and have never worked with each other since.

Very little is known outside of circlemakers about such events, and there's a hell of a lot people who don't know about the internal politics of circlemaking. There is a bitter feeling about the teams who do most of the work making circles seeming to provide a platform for the art, which helps promote the making of money for a team who publicises themselves a lot, but doesn't actually make many unpaid circles anymore. That would seem unfair as it could be considered cleaning up based on kudos for someone else's work. I'm sure the commercial team would argue that they did a lot of work in the past, so it justifies their position, but the truth is that there are a lot more teams out there than just one. Most of the teams that work never get any credit or payment for it. They do it for the pure love of the art. It's hard to think of how this unbalanced situation will ever sort itself out, unless the unknown circlemakers decide to become more well known, but these teams are quite shy and fear prosecutions.

I would say that, infights and jealousy aside, we all do try to remain on speaking terms with circlemakers from different teams, and at a push would probably all still help other teams out if we can. But, all I can say without being specific is that this year has seen many of the well-known teams working on their own and not getting so much help from other teams, if any.

What is never really understood by outsiders is that, although the art of circles is unsigned, there is a competitiveness between teams to make the best work, and to get the most exposed work, and to have the best reviewed and most loved work by the circle viewers. This is important to all teams. To this end, one team will often follow a theme of a style (say cubes) one year and try and invent new and unique styles based on that theme. It's as if the teams say through their art "ha ha, look at this one, beat that!" and other teams often try to, and do, beat them in a continual top trumps game out in the fields.

This is why the art form has raised itself to new heights of complexity and wonder, because of the competitive spirit. I know of some circlemakers who seem to do nothing but obsess on designs throughout the winter--so much so that they could probably do the design out of their head with nothing on paper. Obsessive Circular Disorder. OCD one could call it. Still, I am sure the art world has always has its obsessive artists, and that is why the art gets to be so good, and this is perhaps a demonstration of the artists being secretly jealous of each other and wanting to do one better. It's actually healthy competition, though, and keeps the teams on their feet.

Do you have any estimate on how many individuals are out there making crop circles right now (as in, this year)?
If I do a quick count on teams this year, I would say as few as 5 teams this year.

If you discount known manmade commissions from this calculation, I would say that the output from two of the teams has gone up dramatically, and out of the two main teams the split is 70% vs 30%. So, you can say that one main team, last year, probably did about 80% of all the circles out there. I know you are going to go, wow, as did I. The output of one circlemaker and his team was phenomenal last year. This circlemaker also decided early on in the year that he was going to do most of his work out of the central area of the Vale of Pewsey, as a way to show the public that this work was not only clearly manmade, but that it was, in fact, done by his team. He wanted it to be known that he would be avoiding the central area, and stated that it was to give the normal farmers a break from using their fields. Finally, he wanted to introduce a bit of diversity into the circles' locations, as there are lots of great places out there that have never been used for circles, and it would add to a broader, nicer, picture catalogue of new sites which could be visited and photographed by the croppies.

Is there any other message you'd like to give to the readers of The Polite Skeptic?
I would like to say that being skeptical is a good thing, as we should not be so wide-eyed with beliefs that we ignore other things, and we should constantly strive to review our experiences and update our opinions based on new facts. I am well aware that people can self-convince themselves easily that events they are experiencing are truly paranormal and outside of our science, or out of this world (so to speak), but careful review of events can sometimes help us understand that perhaps little-known parts of our minds can make us filter experiences, so we see what we want to see, and then remould those memories into even more distorted things.

It is important to remember that we try to fit out experiences into boxes our brains can handle, and sometimes when round pegs don't fit into square holes, our brain will start squaring off those round pegs. To understand some of how these mechanisms work, and why what we think we see is sometimes not what we are seeing, I would suggest a very good read: Perspectives by John Spencer, is a superb primer on the subject of the paranormal, and it will help you to realise that, although trigger events can be real, sometimes the brain can spiral a little bit out of control. This book will not turn you into a disbeliever, but will, in fact, just help you to rethink events, and keep a more keen and open mind as to other possibilities. The work of Derren Brown is also fascinating for understanding how our subconscious minds act like sponges for creating events to fill a vacuum.

That aside, I still do truly believe in the magic of crop circles, and I do think there is a valid reason for people to be interested in crop circles from a paranormal point of view. If people wish to disbelieve that circlemakers are the individuals responsible for the circles, that's fine, because it's natural for people to deny mundane explanations in place of the fantastic and empowering feelings of wonder brought on by seemingly paranormal things. However, I think that, as people learn and mature, they will end up realising that people do make the circles, and that, perhaps not understanding that, and being a believer, was a very nice route on their journey to learning other bigger truths, which are still just as exciting and life-altering.

Matthew Williams's: YouTube channel, 2nd YouTube Channel

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