Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Green Corn Festival / Ceremony

Through out the months of August, September and October, many different beliefs and cultures celebrate some type of harvest festivals. Even though many of my posts in the Grove deals with the European continent, I would like to talk about a Native American harvest festival known as The Green Corn Festival.
     Many tribes of the Native Americans depended a lot on the corn crop and many attribute even their origins with the corn.
     The Green Corn Festival was celebrated by many Indian tribes in one form or another. Many tribes held several festivals through out the year to say their prayers and thanks to their deities. This particular festival could last up to 3 days. The opening day of the festival varies differently across the Americas, depending on when the corn was ripe. The time of the festival is called for by the Keepers of the Faith or the Elders, who also instructed the members of the tribe when they could eat green corn, which refers to the ripe sweet corn. Mostly the corn was not to be eaten until the Great Spirits were given proper thanks. The act of thanksgiving was very sacred to the Native Americans. Many of the prayers of thanks was given in respect to the corn (of course), rain, sun and a good harvest.
     The Green Corn Festival, which was also known as the Green Corn Dance or Ceremony, was held in late summer of early fall. During the festival, many tribes held many dances such as the Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Yuchi and Iroquois.
     This festival was held also a religious renewal. Members of the tribes would clean out their homes, throw out ashes, buy or make new clothes. The tribal towns and homes would be cleaned of all the trash and broken items, would be put into a heap and then burned. Some tribes partake of a drink that would cleanse the body, as well. This drink was known as the Black Drink. This drink would cause the individual to vomit. You would probably ask, "Why would anyone cause themselves to vomit?" Well, this was considered to purify the participants from minor 'sins' and then they would be in a state of perfect innocence.
     During the Green Corn Festival, many youth who had come of age and babies were given their names. Many sporting events were played during this time as well especially a ball game which were at different times and had different rules depending on the tribe.
     At the end of the day, the members of the tribal towns would gather and feast. After the Green Corn Festival, some corn was left on the stalks to ripen even more. Dried corn and corn meal made from it was very important as staple food to the tribes during the months of winter.
     The Cherokee celebrated the Green Corn Ceremony by honoring Selu, the Corn Mother. It would last up to 4 days. Their festival had many sacred dances which were performed within a sacred circle. This festival began by all members of the tribal town going to a running body of water and cleaning themselves. A deep pit would be dug inside the sacred circle. A branch of wood that came from a tree that had been hit by lightning would be lit and used to bless the grounds for the ceremony. The coals from the thunderwood, the name for the wood that had been struck by lightning, would be used to start the fire in the pit.
     Many of the dances would last anywhere from 2 to 4 hours long. The War Dance would be perform by the men. There would be several other dances performed which would symbolize the planting and harvesting of the corn. Inside the sacred circle, the leader of the dance and shaman or priest would make offerings to the Thunder Beings and the ancestral spirits, thanking them for a plentiful harvest.
     The final dance would be the running dance. The entire assembly of people would enter the circle, forming a sinuous line circling the fire, like a snake. Dancers would use rattles make from gourds which was filled with small rocks and a stick of wood from the lightning struck tree. Only the war dance and running dance was accompanied by a drum.
All clan matrons would take coals from the sacred fire in the circle to their home fires. In some tribes, all would bring out their furniture and destroy them and then they would make new furniture.
     So you see the idgenious people of North American were no different in their harvest festivals as the European ancestors. People lived closed to Mother Earth and depended on this closeness. The seasons determined our way of life.  Just as then, we are ALL part of the Sacred Circle of Life.

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