Earth Goddesses – CORN WOMAN
In Native American lore, it is the Corn Woman who is known as the “first mother.” It is said that there was once a time of great famine. The Corn Woman went to her husband and asked that he kill her. The husband, distraught, went to the tribe’s teacher, who confirmed that he must do as his wife asked. With great reluctance, he complied. He dragged her body around a field and burned her in the center of it. In a few months, corn and tobacco filled the field, saving the tribe from starvation.
In the Pawnee tribe, Corn Woman held rule over the west, while Buffalo Woman held the east. Together they guaranteed that the tribe had both meat and corn.
In one of the earliest tales, we find that the Corn Woman emerged from an older world, one in which animals were not slaughtered for food and hides but rather were treated as kin. The old world had a greater respect for life, be it animal or human. The people began to lose balance and greed crept in. The deer set forth a punishment for any who would eat of its flesh – man’s first known disease. Corn Woman thought it was time to begin again and restore balance and harmony to the people.
She watched her grandsons preparing to go out to hunt and asked them to stay. She said she would cook the finest meal they had ever tasted. The grandsons replied that they were hunters and must hunt, Corn Woman nodded sadly and went about creating her meal, but not before she asked her grandsons to respect the animal life they came across in the forest. The grandsons laughed.
Corn Woman cooked, all the while singing and blessing the food. When her grandsons returned home, she saw that they had killed a wild pig. She said nothing. They sat down and began to eat of her feast. Loudly, the grandsons proclaimed the food the best they had ever tasted and proceeded to eat their fill. They asked her where she had gotten the corn, but she did not answer. She just listened to the compliments and smiled.
The next day, the young men again reached for their weapons. Corn Woman cooked again. The aromas from her kitchen reached them out in the woods as they hunted. That day, they brought home a slain deer. Corn Woman said nothing. The grandsons gifted her with the deer, and she recognized it as an honor and so returned it to the forest. She sang long into the night, invading the dreams of her grandsons.
When they awoke the next morning, instead of reaching for their weapons, the grandsons asked Corn Woman to make them breakfast. She did and they ate until they were sleepy again. When they awoke from their naps, they gathered their weapons and set about preparing to hunt. Corn Woman asked the not to go. She said, “we have so much food already.” The grandsons said they were hunters and set out toward the forest. Corn Woman called after them to respect animal life.
While on the hunt, one of the young men asked the other where Corn Woman got all the corn she was using to cook with. The other man replied that he did not care and the he knew Corn Woman would only give him what was good for him. They returned home with a turkey but once again sat down to a delightful meal of corn.
After many days of wondering, the younger of the two grandsons decided to sneak back to the home and find out where Corn Woman was getting all of the corn. As he watched, she slapped her sides and the corn fell out of her body and into a basket at her side. He ran to tell his older brother. The eldest grandson was upset. He said. “this is a bad thing, an unnatural thing. We cannot eat our grandmother. Something has taken hold of her.”
That night the grandsons returned home in fear. Corn Woman piled their plates high but the two could not eat. Her heart grew heavy as she realized that they knew her secret. She began to age rapidly before their eyes. The youngest started to cry and beg forgiveness. Corn Woman replied, “Listen well, child. For I have no long as I am to tell you all you need know. I am the Corn Mother. I a her for your abundance, harmony, health and peace. When I pass, you are to drag my body through the field and plant me in the center. I will come back to you as tall, glorious plant, with yellow hair at my fruit. Do not eat all of the seeds; save some for the planting again the next year, so that I might be with you forever.” The grandsons swore to do as she wished. Thereafter they refused to hunt unless they were on the verge of starvation. Hence, balance and harmony returned to the people.
In the Navajo tribe, we find variations of the Corn Woman. According to Navajo beliefs, there was a Corn Girl (yellow corn) and a Corn Boy (white corn) sent forth by the creator god to bring corn to the tribe. Corn was sacred and the main food of the people and was also used in religious ceremonies. Shaman’s masks were fed corn meal to “bring them into being,” or animate them.
The Aztecs have their own version of the Corn Woman in Chicomecoatl, the goddess of sustenance. It was thought that yearly sacrifices held in her honor assured a good crop. Each year a young girl was chosen to represent Chicomecoatl and was ritually decapitated. Her blood was poured over a statue of the goddess as an offering. She was skinned and her flesh was them worn by a priest.
The Hopi and Pueblo tribes have the Blue Corn Maiden as their representative of Corn Woman. On a cold winter day, the Blue Corn Maiden went out in search of firewood. Normally this was not a task for her. While she was out searching, she ran across Winter Katsina, the spirit of winter. When Winter Katsina saw the Blue Corn Maiden, he immediately feel in love. He took her back to his house, whereupon he blocked the door and windows with ice and snow. He was very kind to her, but she was sad. She wanted to go home and make the blue corn grow for her people.
While Winter Katsina was out one day going about his duties, Blue Corn Maiden sneaked out and found four blades of Yucca plant. She stated a fire. As she did, in walked Summer Katsina, carrying more yucca and blue corn. When Winter Katsina returned, the two fought. Seemingly getting nowhere, they sat down to talk. They agreed that Blue Corn Maiden would live half the year with her people, during the reign of Summer Katsina, and the people would have corn. During the other half of the year, she would live with Winter Katsina, and the people would have no corn.