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The Corn Ceremony


The Corn Ceremony was held in the spring or early summer as a prayer to the spirits to grant bountiful harvests and strength to the tribe.

A man who in the preceding autumn had witnessed the ceremony in a dream, climbed to the top of his lodge. There he made a vow to the Corn Spirit, whose name, Kadhutetash means "Old Woman Who Never Dies."

"Hear me, Old Woman Who Never Dies," the man said in a loud voice. "I shall give a great feast in your honour for four reasons. I want to live to see another season. I want my people to become strong and prosperous. I want our harvest to be bountiful. And I want our children to become as abundant as the flowers in the spring."

All of his people would hear him, and he would hear a murmur of approval throughout all the village. He then began to collect robes, clothing, horses, and other things of value, to be given away as presents or exchanged as medicine bundles.

When everything was in readiness, he took a gift and a pipe to a man whom, he believed, had greater supernatural strength than himself. He requested this man to act as priest in the Corn Ceremony. If the man accepted the invitation and smoked the pipe, he became the Medicine Maker, the chief medicine man of the ceremony. The Medicine Maker soon went to the lodge of the Singer, who knew all the songs and secrets of the ceremony. When the Medicine Maker offered him a robe and invited him to participate in the Corn Ceremony, the Singer gladly accepted. They then smoked the pipe together.

When the Medicine Maker had left the lodge, the Singer dressed and painted himself. Taking a piece of charcoal, he made three motions, as if he were painting his face. The fourth time, he drew a mark across his face as he sang:

"I am walking. I am walking."

The words meant that he was still following the instructions that the Old Woman Who Never Dies gave to the first priests of the first Corn Ceremony. He then placed a necklace of corn ears about his neck as he sang, "Yellow, Yellow," meaning "corn." Taking an ear of corn in his hand, he chanted:

"I am standing. I am walking."

Putting on a cap of the head-skin of his medicine animal--the kit-fox, for example--he sang:

"Kit-fox is walking. Kit-fox is asking."

When he was ready to depart, he addressed Old Woman Who Never Dies by singing:

"Young Woman, your fire-smoke I see;
I am coming. It is here."

The Singer then went to the lodge of the Medicine Maker, where those who were to participate in the ceremony were seated. They had been invited because their medicines were various birds that were thought to be the children of Old Woman Who Never Dies, and were therefore particularly appropriate for this ceremony. Their medicine bundles were laid in the centre of the lodge.

The Medicine Maker burned incense, and then all started for the lodge of the man who had made the vow. He was called the votary. The Medicine Maker led the group, carrying the head of a deer. The others followed, with the Singer in the centre.

As they approached his lodge, the votary came forth with a pipe, which he offered to the Medicine Maker. He took a few whiffs and then returned the pipe. This stopping and smoking occurred four times before the group reached the votary's lodge.

In the place of honour in his lodge, a very fine buffalo skin had been spread as an altar. Upon it the Medicine Maker placed the deer's head he had carried. The Singer sat behind it, and at his right sat the Medicine Maker, the votary and his wife, and the other participants. Buffalo robes had been spread in front of the positions taken by the assisting medicine men. Each of them placed his medicine bundle upon his particular robe.

The Medicine Maker raised the deer's head and touched the body of the votary's wife with it. Then each of the medicine men touched her body with his bundle and laid it in front of the altar, on robes that had been spread out for that purpose. This part of the ceremony was to give to the woman the strength and the power contained in the medicine bundles.

The votary and his wife then seated themselves on the side of the lodge at the left of the Singer. The Singer said to the votary, "Bring a live coal from the fire in the centre of the lodge and lay it on an earthen bowl."

Near it was a special bowl that was considered a symbol of Old Woman Who Never Dies. From it, the Singer took a handful of sage. After making a slow motion toward each of the Four Winds, the Singer lowered the sage to the hot coal, made four circles over it, and let the handful of sage fall.

The Medicine Maker waved a large bundle of sage over the smoke. Everyone was silent. The Singer took up the bowl in which the incense burned and passed it back and forth over the medicine bundles. As he passed it, he sang, again and again:

Sage is good.
Sage is good.

When he had set the bowl down, all the people stretched their hands toward it and rubbed themselves as if they were receiving its power. The votary filled a pipe and handed it to the medicine man at the end of the row. After inhaling a puff or two, he passed it to the one seated at his left.

When all had smoked, the Singer raised one of the medicine bundles, perhaps the raven, and sang as its owner came forward:

Raven is walking. Raven is walking.
Pedhifska didahuft.
Raven is walking.

The Raven man took the bundle from the Singer's hands and danced backward and forward between the altar and the fireplace. He held the bundle in his hands and swung it back and forth and from side to side. As he danced, he and the Singer chanted:

Raven is dancing back and forth.
Raven is dancing back and forth.

The Medicine Maker brought choice bits of meat and pretended to feed the Raven bundle! The votary then gave it back to him, and he returned to his seat. His wife gathered up the presents offered to his medicine by the votary.

The Singer thus called, in the correct order, each of the medicine men, and learned the songs as he had learned the Raven songs. When all these songs had been repeated, the votary and his wife brought food and placed it before the altar. The Singer chanted the prayer to The One Who First Made All Things:

Madhidift, Ifdihkawahidith.
I am walking in your path.

The votary brought a dish of choice parts of meat and laid it before the Singer. He sang:

"Old Woman Who Never Dies, I am walking in your path."

Lifting the dish, he extended it to the Four Winds and then threw the meat among the medicine men while he sang:

I take; I offer; it is done.

This was allegorical of the feeding of her birds by Old Woman Who Never Dies. The people scrambled for the food, chirping like blackbirds, ravens, and chickadees. The votary and his wife distributed the remainder of the food among the participants and the spectators. When the feast was finished, the owners of the medicine bundles advanced to receive them, while the Singer chanted:

I am walking; I have finished.
The land is green,
The land is yellow,
The land is gray.

The Medicine Maker took a bundle of sage and waved it toward the Four Winds and toward the door, as if to rid the lodge of evil spirits. The Singer brushed himself with sage, removed his cap and his necklace of corn ears, and then washed his face with water brought by the votary. His last song was this:

Kadhakowift; huft--
It is done; come--.

This song meant that the vow had been fulfilled and asked the Corn Spirit to answer the prayers for a bountiful harvest.




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