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Corn Mother

Since maze is a substantial food among the Native Americans it would certainly be included within their mythology. One legend concerns an old lady and an orphan boy. The old lady lived alone and walked her beaten paths everyday. On day she found a spot of blood on one of the paths. She covered it with a jar, which she later removed and discovered a little baby boy under it. When the boy grew older he called her Grandmother.

When he became seven he made his first bow and arrows, and was very curious and full of questions. Almost everything he saw, he would ask his Grandmother what it was. So when he saw a bushy tailed animal run up a tree, he asked Grandmother, "What is that?" "It's a squirrel," she told him. "Shoot it; bring it home, it's good to eat." So he did. Next he asked her what it was that flew from tree to tree. She answered, "It's a bird and good to eat. Shoot it and bring it home." Next the boy spied an animal with no tail and round ears. Grandmother said that was a bear, and added it was good to eat; so he shot it and brought it home. By this way he learned the names of all the animals and which were valuable as food.

Now he could hunt everywhere, but the Grandmother told him to never go pass a distant blue mountain on the horizon. He hunted all sorts of things, but never discovered from which creature his Grandmother made the sofky maize and the blue dumplings of maize and beans. He was unaware of plants. Then one day he decided to peek through the door as she prepared food. He saw her remove her dress and straddle a corn sieve. As she scratched one of her thighs, a stream of maize poured down. When she scratched her other thigh, a stream of beans descended. Afterwards, when coming in, he would not eat. His Grandmother guessed that he had found out her secret. Then she said since he had discovered her mystery he had to leave her and go beyond the blue mountain. To protect him, she made him a magical headdress of intertwined rattlesnakes and blue jays that sang as he put it on.

Then Grandmother told him that he was ready to start his journey. He was to marry the first girl he met, and then returned. She instructed further that when he left he was to close the door and set fire to the house, with Grandmother inside, so nothing would remain but ashes. He sat the fire, and everything was consumed just as Grandmother had decreed. (For details of the orphan boy's journey see the Hare)

When the orphan boy retuned with his wife to the place where Grandmother had been burnt, they found the grounded with a find crop of maize plants and beans. Every maize plant was wearing a skirt of earth around its base, which is which Indian people subsequently made little skirts of earth for their maize seeds to sprout through. They believe the maize is truly Grandmother.

In the Penobscot version, First Mother, Corn Mother, when the first people began multiplying on the earth and came to her because they where hungry the First Mother became very sad. Her husband became sad too and asked her what he could do to make her stop weeping. She told him, "You have to kill me." He was thunderstruck and refused, instead sought the advice of the All Maker in the north.

The old All Maker told him that he must do as his wife, the First Mother, said. The husband, now weeping himself, returned home. So the First Mother told him that when the sun was highest in the sky, he was to kill her, and then have two of her sons drag her body over the empty parts of the earth, pulling her back and forth by her silky hair until her flesh had been scraped from her body. Then they were to leave, waiting until seven moons had come and gone before they returned. At that time they would find her flesh, lovingly given, and it would feed the people and make them strong for all time.

These sad instructions were carried out, and after seven moons had come and gone, her children and their children returned to find the earth covered with green plants with silken tassels, and fruit-their mother's flesh-was sweet and tender. As instructed, they saved some of their find to be place back into the earth at a later time. In this way the First Mother's flesh and her spirit are renewed every seven moons and continually sustain the flesh and spirit of her children.

Whenever her children eat corn they remember their mother, and in this way she lives, her love constantly renewing itself from generation to generation.

The Cherokee legend of the Selu, Corn Mother, involves the lucky hunter Kanati. Each time Kanati went hunting in the woods he brought back an ample load of game for his wife Selu, whose name means corn, and their little boy. Selu would was the meat by the riverside; and gradually some of the blood rose up and became another little boy whom they named He Who Grew Up Wild.

The two boys became curious about how Kanati always came home with such fat bucks, does, and turkeys. So one day they secretly followed him to the western mountains where they saw him pull a big slab of rock back from the mouth of a cave. Out came a deer which they saw Kanati shoot with an arrow.

Several days later the boys snuck off to the cave. Once there the removed the slab of rock, a deer game out, but they were not quick enough to shoot it. In their bewilderment they forgot to replace the rock over the cave entrance, so all the animals escaped. To this day, all of the animals are scattered throughout the forest, and hunting is much harder.

They boys went hungry for they had no meat. They spied on their mother, seeing her make corn and beans. She did this by rubbing her stomach and armpits. The boy's were disgusted by what they saw and refused to eat the food when the mother offered it to them. They began to be afraid she was a witch, and planned to kill her.

Knowing what they were thinking, their mother agreed, telling them to kill her, bury her body, and keep watch over it that night. They did as she said, and the next morning the corn had grown up ready to be harvested.

The news of this spread to the people, and they came from everywhere asking for corn. The boys gave them some, but warned them to keep watch each night of the seven days it would take them to journey home. On the seventh night, though the people tried to stay awake, the people fell asleep. For this reason corn doesn't grow as fast anymore, and farming became hard work.

Mother Corn or Grandmother Corn is definitely a symbolism of a Mother Goddess. She is the one who gives her life to provide for her children. She is the corn or maize which dies and returns to the earth, her body, to be replenished or renewed again. The disgust described in the legends when the children first find out the Mother's secret of producing corn may reflect the embarrassment most children feel when finding out about sex, but have done so and becoming adults they help the Mother to continue to fertilize the Earth. She not only provides nourishment for her children, she gives birth to the children too as symbolized each of the boys, Orphan Boy and He Who Grew Up Wild, that came from a spot of blood on the earth. A.G.H.


Burland, Cottie. North American Indian Mythology. Middlesex, England. Hamlyn Publishing Group. 1968. pp. 111-112
Leeming, David, Jake Page. The Mythology of Native North America. Norman. University of Oklahoma Press. 1998. pp. 64-66

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