11/23/08

Goddess of the Week: Corn Mother

The pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving had not only their own god to thank, but perhaps also the great Corn Mother.  Native Americans from Mexico to Canada worshipped many versions of the corn mother, and they gave her many names: Green Corn Goddess, Sela, Iyatiki, White Buffalo Woman, and more.  In each case, however, the corn mother gave the indigenous people the gift of harvested corn, thus freeing them from the unpredictability of a purely hunter-gatherer existence.  

To communal tribes that privileged the group over the individual, the corn mother symbolized the importance of self sacrifice.  In story after story, she gives her own life so that the people can have corn.  The Keresan people say she planted bits of her own heart to establish the first corn fields.  The Creek say she had the men of one village kill her and drag her body across the barren ground.  Wherever her blood landed corn began to grow.  The Penobscot people tell a similar tale, but in their version, she asks her husband to kill her and drag her body around so that corn can grow and feed her starving children.

From my modern eyes, I find these tales a little disturbing.  They fall far too neatly into gendered ideas about women's heroism stemming from their literal self sacrifice.  Then again, such tales surely taught Native Americans of both sexes that their existence was intended to serve something bigger than themselves.  And if they hadn't believed that I wonder if they would have ever fed those pesky Europeans in the funny black hats.  

3 comments:

altadenahiker said...

Oh, ow. I like that bitch of a Norse goddess better.

Margaret said...

I know what you mean. I always have a hard time with the sacrificial mother thing.

pasadenaadjacent.com said...

I guess today we're both fiddling with female archetypes. Just at opposite ends of the spectrum. Kind of a funny coincidence.