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1678, August 1~21: Mowing Devil of Hartfordshire

On August 22, 1678, a pamphlet was released in England entitled THE MOWING-DEVIL or, Strange NEWS out of Hartfordshire. And strange news it was, too.

Cover of The Mowing-Devil
[Larger version here]

        Sometime that August (earlier than the 22nd, of course), a "rich industrious farmer" in Hartfordshire decided his acre and a half of oats was ready to be cut and gathered; so he contacted a "poor neighbour" who was commonly employed in the Summer doing harvest labor to hire him to "mow" [cut] the oats. The poor mower asked for a rate somewhat higher than average, hoping for good pay; the farmer, "taking some exceptions at" the price requested by the mower, came back with an offer far below the usual rate... lower by the same amount, in fact, that the mower had estimated over the average. Sharp words were exchanged between the two, and the farmer stated he wouldn't discuss it further, and turned to leave. The mower, realizing he stood to lose all other work the farmer would normally offer him, relented and ran after the farmer and told him that he would do the job at whatever rate the farmer felt was reasonable, and immediately offered the farmer a rate lower than he had done mowing for at any point in the year previous. But there was no way of calming or pleasing the farmer, who looked sternly at the poor mower and told him "That the Devil himself should mow his oats before he [the Mower] should have any thing to do with them." Having uttered this rude and disrespectful statement, the farmer left.

        That same night many people passing the farmer's field saw that it appeared to be on fire, and the apparent fire lasted for a long time "to the great consternation of those that beheld it." The farmer was only told of this the following morning and, in fear that his crops had been burnt to ashes, he rushed to the field. Instead he found that the crop of oats had been fully cut... but it had been cut "in round circles," rather than in the normal fashion, and "plac't every straw with that exactness that it would have taken up above an age, for any man to perform."

        The pamphlet is clear about how this happened: quite simply, the Devil himself took the farmer at his word, and cut the crops. And the pamphlet also tells us that the farmer was too afraid to actually go and gather the cut oats, so they may well have been left to spoil due to the strange circumstance of the situation.

Much Ado About Nothing?

        The account above was only reported once, we don't know who wrote the pamphlet, and the pamphlet does not mention who was actually involved in the incident; so, on face value, there is nothing to prove it actually happened. The pamphlet itself leans heavily on the idea that this event proves the devil exists and, by extention then, GOD in Heaven must also exist... so everyone should go to church immediately, which is more the actual message being delivered. As such, it may just be a story created to pass on the writer's desire to make good Christians of his or her readers... therefore I've marked this account as "unreliable."

        Of course, the account does have two small things going for it. First, it has a wonderful picture displaying what no one reported seeing... the devil mowing the field. Secondly, the field was cropped in circles... which meant that hundreds of years later, people who were interested in the 'Crop Circles' that were being reported in England in the 1980's-1990's felt that this account (or at least it's picture) proved that crop circles were being reported as far back as 1678 -- as long as you ignored the three-hundred year space in which no other reports had been made, of course. This claim of a crop circle connection also actively ignored that the crop reported in the story above was found actually cut, when 'genuine' crop circles are said to have the plants just lain down somehow, never cut.

        In the end, it's up to the individual to decide if this event happened or not, and then to decide if it has any relation to the modern weirdness of crop circles. For me, I'll wait off until I get a chance to study the crop circle controversies and evidence in depth.