Day 153: Fall Equinox

Naturally, as the equinox holds night and day in equal balance, Mabon has a lot of ‘balance’ energy and calls attention to its liminal state.  Neither day nor night, neither bounty nor dearth, it holds the extremes in equal weight on the cosmic scales.  Roderick says taht because it lies between such extremes, it, like the spring equinox, is a time of increased hauntings and psychic stress.  Unlike the spring equinox, though, Mabon’s power focuses more on the harvest aspect rather than growth.

In Oregon, it seems that September is pretty much the height of the agricultural year.  Everything seems to be getting ripe, and it really isn’t until the tail end of October that productivity tapers off and you can get out of the fields.  I suppose that in England, Germany, and the Nordic countries, September is grain harvesting time.  The equinox marked a time where the air began to chill, the light really began to ebb, and all the foliage started to blaze into reds and oranges.  Mabon, then, was a huge final harvest festival filled with lots of different traditions.

As Roderick notes, one of these traditions was “Harvest Home”, which officially marked the end of the year’s toil.  In some areas, the landholders would treat their laborers to a feast during which the laborers could speak their minds without recrimination.  Another practice was the “Corn Mother”, who needed to be driven out of the fields by the time of the harvest, possibly so that she was not injured in the reaping.  Many communities held that the mother’s spirit was contained in the last ear of corn on the final cornstalk (or wheat stalk, most likely).  And there is a plethora of things people did with that final stalk.

Today, though, we’ll be crafting a ‘corn mother’ of our own:  a corn husk doll.  Luckily for me, some of my housemates made tamales earlier this week.  I was able to use some of their leftover corn husks for this activity, which happily saved me a trip to the grocery.

Practice:  Making Corn Husk Dollies

Throughout rural Old Europe, pagan folk would practice harvest customs that often included making corn dollies.  The dollies were often made of an entire sheaf of corn, dressed in woman’s clothing, representing the Corn Mother.  In other customs, folks would remove the corn’s husks, dry them, and then fashion these into a figurine.

In today’s practice you will make your own corn dolly to use as a representation of the magical energies of the mother goddess at harvest time.

What You’ll Need:

  • Corn husks, fresh or dried, between 6 and 14 pieces, depending on elaboration
  • 4 cotton balls
  • Twine or string
  • Scraps of cloth, yarn, buttons, and dried twigs (optional)

If using dried husks, soak the husks in fresh water for at least 2-4 hours before attempting the project.  Once the husks are pliable, tie at least two husks together at their smaller end.  Wad the cotton balls around the tie, then fold the husks back over the cotton.  Smooth out the husks, then tightly cinch them around the cotton with a piece of string.  This will form the head of the doll.

Next, you can make the doll’s arms by folding another husk and tying it near each end to make hands.  Slip the arms between the husks that extend under the head.  Tie with string below the inserted arms to form the doll’s waist.  Next, arrange enough husks around the figure’s waist so that they overlap slightly, and then tie them in place with string.  Fold these husks down carefully so that you do not see the string beneath.  This then form the skirt of the dolly.  Before setting aside the doll to try, gather up the skirt husks and loosely tie them with a length of string.  This will help keep all the husks neat and straight when the doll dries.  With the husks gathered, take a sharp pair of scissors and cut the skirt in an even line.  This even edge will help the doll stand upright if desired.

You can leave the figure as it is, or you can dress it up with a face, hair, or clothes.  If the doll does not stand upright on its own, you could fashion a broom or a staff and attach it to a hand.  The extra support should help the doll remain standing.

My drying corn husk dolly

Growing up as I did in Indiana, I made corn husk dolls many-a-time as a child, and I got to be a snob about it.  Therefore, I re-wrote some of Roderick’s original instructions into the ones seen above above, but I have a few other pointers.  Namely, the challenge is to only use corn husks and string, and no string should be visible on the final doll.

It’s been awhile since I made one, though, so I did forget a few things.  Firstly, you really do have to wait 2-4 hours for the husks to get pliable enough to stretch as you need them to stretch without splitting.  Splitting is a big deal whenever you flip a husk over as you do with the head and how I’ve tried to make the sleeves here.  Secondly, the doll looks better if you give her ‘shoulders.’  I didn’t do it quite right here, so my doll looks like she’s being choked.  To make shoulders, take two husks and fold them into two strips.  Place one strip on the left shoulder, then bring the ends across the front and back and pinch them at the right hip.  Take the other strip, place it on the right shoulder, then bring the ends across to pinch them at the left hip.  Tie off the waist, then proceed with the skirt.

You should also make the arms longer than you think they’ll need to be.  Ideally, you should bend them and give the doll elbows.  Also, if you want to make hair, shred a couple husks and insert them into the head pieces before you tie and fold them over.

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