Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New Corn Mother Mask

"Indigenous people have always known corn metaphorically in two or more of the four senses, mother, enabler, transformer, healer; that I use throughout this weaving.  Although early European settlers took the grain only, there is evidence in America today that the Corn-Mother has taken barriers of culture and language in stride and intimated her spirit to those who will listen, even if they don't know her story or call her by name." 

Marilou Awiakta

"Native American Indian legends tell of The Corn Mother sacrificing herself so that her people could have life. According to her instructions, in one legend, she was to be killed, her dead body dismembered, strun among the fields and planted.  In harvest ceremony after harvest ceremony the last sheaf of corn was gathered together and dressed in women’s clothing.  This Corn Mother doll was referred to as The Old Woman, The Old Grandmother, Old Wife or even The Great Mother. To assure a plentiful harvest The Old Corn Mother was given to a family for safe keeping until the next growing season began and the cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth continued. As I looked further into what I had learned about the archetype of the old woman, I realized that the power of the “Old Woman” is her ability to embrace change, her willingness to give birth to her Old Self, to make friends with her death and trust in rebirth."

Sondra Fields

Painting Courtesy http://www.returnofthecornmothers.com/
I recently made a new Corn Mother mask, which I'm taking with me on my travels (my brother's funeral in California, then a trip up the coast).  She wanted to come with me, and I will be taking the masks to show my friends Mana and Annie in Willits, to receive a blessing for it.  The story of the previous Corn Mother mask was quite wonderful, and although I've shared it before, I felt like re-posting it here.  Corn Mother is the Sustainer of the Americas, sacred in virtually all native American traditions.  I hope this mask will find many new Dancers to share Her ever evolving stories.

"And where corn is the Corn-Mother is also.‘This thing they call corn is I
Marilou Awiakta

Corn Mother has many names, and among the Cherokee she is called "Selu".  

The story is that Selu fed her family with delicious grain, but no one knew where it came from.  Finally her sons saw her shaking corn from her body, discovering her secret.  They had witnessed a mystery they could not understand. Being young, fearful, and ignorant, they resolved to kill their mother, calling her a witch, and  making disasterous assumptions about her power. Knowing she could not  give them wisdom, nor teach them the ways of nature, Selu tells them to  bury her body in the earth, and thus  is born again each year to nourish her children.  Selu does not punish - In loving generosity, She offers her children a chance to return to good relationship.  

My own relationship with Selu began in 2002.  

I had given masks to choreographer Manna Youngbear to work with, and had been gone all winter.  I didn't know what her program was going to be, and I looked forward to attending the performance. 

Several weeks before her event, I attended an unrelated event at the Ritual Center in Oakland, founded by Matthew Fox.   As I sat on the floor during a lengthy meditation led by a woman minister , I found myself absorbed by a vision. When I closed my eyes I saw a Native American woman dancing. I opened my eyes, and closed my eyes again, and still she danced in my imagination, ears of multi-colored corn in her hands.  It was so clear that when I returned to my studio, I made a mask with corn on each side of the face. 

I had been reading about Black Elk, the great Lakota teacher. As a young boy, he foresaw the destruction of his people, what he called the "hoop" of the Lakota nation. But he also prophesied a "hoop of the nations": a great circle, composed of many interlocking circles, that would someday come to be. A Rainbow Tribe. I painted a rainbow on the mask's forehead, because the children of America are now of all colors. 

"When I held up an ear of calico corn" Cherokee poet Marilou Awiakta wrote, "we would think about this wisdom of the Corn Mother. How the different kernels are ranged around the cob, no one more important than the other. How each kernel respects the space of those on either side, yet remains itself - red, black, white, yellow or combinations of those colors. How the Corn-Mother, in Her physical being, exemplifies unity in diversity." 

Just before her performance, I learned there was one dancer in Manna's cast who had no mask, Christy, who felt inspired to dance Green Corn Woman. Now it seemed she had her mask.  Here is the story Christy told me when we finally met, and the new mask was delivered.
Cornmother's Gift
by Christy Salo

I made a bouquet of corn for Manna's wedding, with a necklace of rainbow beads I bought at a garage sale. I later used this same bouquet I to dance Green Corn Woman. Manna is part Cherokee, and when she cast her show, she asked if I wanted to dance Corn Mother. We didn't have a mask for her, but I was inspired to dance anyway. 

I knew very little about the Native American Corn Mother, about Selu, who is Cornmother to the Cherokee.  I planned on doing some research. Along the way, I remember stopping at a used bookstore. Opening a rather esoteric book at random, I discovered I was looking at an article about the Corn Maiden. I was further stunned to find it illustrated by Vera Louise Drysdale. Vera was my friend, years ago, when I lived in Sedona.

And so, without any further urging, I was ready to begin. The feeling of familiarity continued as I created a costume. I was looking for materials I would need, and within a few days, Manna left a message. "Christy" she said, "There is a Hopi woman visiting Isis Oasis Retreat Center, and you need to meet her! She gave me some 300 year old corn meal to give to you!"

Once again, I felt Selu encouraging me! I thought about what She meant to me personally. To me, Selu is about the wealth that comes from the work of forgiveness. How can we be fed and sustained, how can we create peace, if we cannot practice the lessons of forgiveness, if we cannot learn tolerance and compassion for our differences? That is the beginning place for the cooperation we will need in order to evolve into a global family. In America, we have mixed bloodlines, "rainbow blood". Especially as Americans, our challenge is to understand our true relationship to each other. I've always conceived of the Rainbow as actually being a circle. Half of the rainbow disappears into the ground, into an underworld realm, where it exists beneath the Earth, hidden, but present. Like the Corn Mother. Aren't we all Her children? Perhaps, what she gives us now is the means to seed a rainbow vision.

We received the new mask at the time of the lunar eclipse, in May of 2002, and decided it was an auspicious time to consecrate it with our dried corn. As we did, a flash of light went off in the room! At first we thought it was a light bulb that blew out. But no electric lights had been turned on in that room. We looked at each other amazed, and felt the presence of Corn Mother.




Rain-in-the-Face said...

"Warriors were greatly admired by the Cheyenne, but Sweet Medicine taught that when a man was chosen to be a chief, he must renounce his warrior ways and walk in the way of peace. A man could not be a soldier and a chief at the same time.

In case of war, the soldier societies did the fighting. They also carried out the punishment decided on by the Council of Chiefs for wrongdoing in the tribe. Always, however, the emphasis was on restitution, rehabilitation, and forgiveness"

Extracted from
Peace Be With You by Cornelia Lehn, © 1980 by Faith and Life Press, Newton, KS.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

It seems to me that the Corn Mother is totally matriarchal, nurturing. I dislike the word sacrificial, particularly as it's applied to women, but I get the concept. Great mask, Lauren.