Tuesday, 17 February 2009
Before Christianisation, in traditional pagan European culture it was believed that the spirit of the "corn" (in modern American English, "corn" would be "grain") lived amongst the crop, and that the harvest made it effectively homeless. J.G. Frazer devotes chapters in The Golden Bough to "Corn-Mother and Corn-Maiden in Northern Europe" (chs. 45-48) and adduces European folkloric examples collected in great abundance by W. Mannhardt. Among the customs attached to the last sheaf of the harvest were hollow shapes fashioned from the last sheaf of wheat or other cereal crops. The corn spirit would then spend the winter in this home until the "corn dolly" was ploughed into the first furrow of the new season. "Dolly" may be a corruption of "idol" or may have come from the Greek word 'eidolon' (that which represents something else as does the word 'idol').