Saturday, March 15, 2008


Jeez: a nice early 70s booklet explaining everything you ever wanted to know about corn dollies, yeah:

(whoooo: freaky! Ol Mother Earth in full-on scare mode)

Corn Dollies are a verrrrry old pagan tradition - a sort of European fertility cum fetish-doll type thing, which I think may have crossed the pond with the Founding Fathers (was there a Native American equivalent? Maybe some of my US associates might know... tho I'm sure it's something prob. more asociated with farming/crop-raising communities rather than hunter-gatherers...Hmmm: I'm pretty sure the Mayans or Incas had some sort of Maize-associated diety (googles furiously)...ah, yeah...woah: still reeling from the implications inherent in the existance of Howler Monkey Gods as patrons of the arts... Howler Monkey Gods: how cool is that?...where was I? Oh, yeah, Chicomecoatl and indigenous South American Maize dieties... ). Corn/wheat/grain/harvest dieties can be tracked back to Osiris, Tammuz in Babylon, Indra in ancient India who fought with draught demons, and even good ol' Thor who battled Frost Giants in order to save Midgard's harvests... so, yeah, a very long venerable tradition whose history parallels that of crop cultivation.

In the UK, Mother Earth (or Gaia as trustifarians call 'er these days) gave her name to one of the best-known harvest-emblems (corn-dollies to you, bub), but there are zillions of regional variants that include The Harvest Dame, The Old Hag, The Cripple pre-combine days there was a Brit tradition of cutting the last handful of corn in a field, then throwing sickles at it until it was crushed, as there was a belief that the remaining corn contained the residue of some unnamed malignant spirit. Local variations on this theme included trampling the last of the corn underfoot or playing Lily Allen songs to it until it completely fucking wilted.

Down my neck of the woods (South Somerset) we have our own regional corn dolly variants which include a 20th century addition to the canon known as the Dabinett Somerset Neck - named after a geezer from Curry Rivel - and this book even thoughtfully includes the plaiting patterns used to weave it (so expect an Ice Bird Spiral Evil Corn Dolly sometime). Neck Dollies, I should explain (if you're still awake) are distinguished by their use of a double plait of corn.

The Neck is a fairly simple design, but elsewhere in the UK they really went to town: Horns (Horn Dollies?) are an old, but more complex variant, based around the idea of cornucopia or 'the horn of plenty' where animal horns (a traditional eating/drinking impliment) were filled with the best of Nature's edible seeds. You can track this one back to Zeus in Greece and assorted Norse myths; heck I bet most cultures have got a 'horn of plenty' analogue floating around somewhere or other...

Now, though, it starts to get plain full-on weird:

Not a corn dolly, but a corn brolly lol.

Which makes me wonder what the urban equivalent of all this nonsense is? What post-pagan totems and idolatry did Victorian Cockneys create in order to make sure that the good times continued to roll - maypoles made from jellied eels? Fecund-bellied sculptures built from Stout bottles and mashed-potato? Shrines to the Pearly Queen? Joking aside, hedge-funds and the licensed margin-gambling that underpins the London Stock-Market are the modern equivalent of Nature's bounty; so you'd think that maybe there'd be come weird contempo emblem worshipped by hedge-fund managers, wouldn't ya? Just to make sure the Gods of Fortune keep on fuelling their own financial harvest, particularly after the sub-prime collapse. Maybe brands and logos have taken over from corn dollies...