In the Northern Hemisphere, August 1 is Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, 'loaf-mass'), the festival of the wheat harvest and is the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop. But wheat is not the only grain available today.
Maize, known in some countries as corn, is a large grain plant domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. Corn dollies or corn mothers are a form of straw work made as part of harvest customs of Europe before mechanization.
Cornhusk dolls have been made by Northeastern Native Americans probably since the beginnings of corn agriculture more than a thousand years ago. Brittle dried cornhusks become soft if soaked in water and produce finished dolls sturdy enough for children's toys.
A cornhusk doll is a Native American toy, a doll made out of the dried leaves or 'husk' of a corn cob. Cornhusk dolls do not have faces and there are a number of traditional explanations for this. One legend is that the Spirit of Corn, one of the Three Sisters, made a doll out of her husks to entertain children. The doll had a beautiful face and began to spend less time with children and more time contemplating her own loveliness. As a result of her vanity, the doll's face was taken away.
In addition to their use for amusement, some cornhusk dolls are used in sacred healing ceremonies. A type of Iroquois cornhusk doll was made in response to a dream. The doll was then discarded, put back to earth to carry away the evil of the dream.
In traditional Pagan European culture, it was believed that the spirit of the corn lived amongst the crop and that the harvest made it effectively homeless. Among the customs attached to the last sheaf of the harvest, hollow shapes were fashioned from the last sheaf of corn or other cereal crops. Different regions had different cereal crops: Prussian rye, Great Britain wheat, Irish rush, French palm leaves and Americas corn. The spirit would then spend the winter in this home until the 'corn dolly' was ploughed into the first furrow of the new season.
Both boy and girl dolls are made using the corn silk tassel for hair. Feet and body are stuffed with leaves and tied while arms and legs are made from braided or rolled husks. Dolls measure anywhere between four and ten inches tall. Sometimes a face is drawn or red dots are painted for cheeks, but more often than not the doll's face is left blank.
The dolls are often dressed in cornhusks, animal hide or cloth but some are made without clothing. Personal equipment is produced for many dolls and this helps children practice to prepare the things needed for everyday life. Girl dolls would be given cradle boards, hoes, sewing kits or other home things, while boys could be provided with bows and arrows, canoe paddles and warrior's gear.
You will need the husks from one or two ears of corn for a 6" doll. You can get whole corn stalks from farms or farmer markets. For the Urban Pagans, dry corn leaves can be often found in craft stores or grocery stores. This should take you about less than 1 hour to make. Soak dry cornhusks for 10 minutes in warm water. You'll also need scissors and string.
As many recipes exist for making cornhusk dolls as for apple pie. No two dolls are identical and you will probably find ways of making your doll unique after you learn the basic steps. A simplified doll:
Gather dry cornhusks. Soak cornhusks in warm water 10 – 15 minutes. Keep moist. Use 6 husks for 1 large body, 4 husks for a small body and 2 husks for arms.
If using in a ritual, the doll can sit on your harvest altar. Keep it somewhere in your home safe throughout the winter and then return it to the earth in the spring either by burying it in your garden or field, or by burning it and scattering the ashes in the wind.
Add the corn silk to the top for a hair look. Or add a face. Or dress in doll cloths. Either way they can be used as toys, decoration or in a ritual.
Have a Blessed Lammas!