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Mother Earth And Daughter Corn

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



"H'Uraru, the Earth," said the Pawnee priest, "is very near to man; we speak of her as Atira, Mother, because she brings forth. From the Earth we get our food; we lie down on her; we live and walk on her; we could not exist without her, as we could not breathe without Hoturu, the Winds, or grow without Shakuru, the Sun."

It is difficult to realize the deep veneration with which the Indian looks upon his Mother the Earth. She is omniscient; she knows all places and the acts of all men; hence, she is the universal guide in all the walks of life. But she is also, and be-fore all, the universal mother she who brings forth all life, and into whose body all life is returned after its appointed time, to abide the day of its rebirth and rejuvenation. The conception was not limited to one part of the continent, but was general. "The Sun is my father and the Earth is my mother; on her bosom I will rest," said Tecumseh to General Harrison; and from a chieftain of the far West, the prophet Smohalla, comes perhaps the most eloquent expression of the sense of Earth's motherhood in Occidental literature. Urged to settle his people in agriculture, he replied:

"You ask me to plow the ground! Shall I take a knife and tear my mother's bosom? Then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest.

"You ask me to dig for stone! Shall I dig under her skin for her bones? Then when I die I cannot enter her body to be born again.

"You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it, and be rich like white men! But how dare I cut off my mother's hair?

"It is a bad law, and my people cannot obey it. I want my people to stay with me here. All the dead men will come to life again. Their spirits will come to their bodies again. We must wait here in the homes of our fathers and be ready to meet them in the bosom of our mother."

On the Great Plains a remarkable ceremony, known to many tribes, represented the union of Heaven and Earth and the birth of Life. The fullest account of it is preserved from the Pawnee, though the Sioux and Omaha tribes have contributed many elements of the ritual. The Hako (sacra, or sacred objects, employed in the ceremony), as the Pawnee rite is called, is a dramatic prayer for life and children, for health and posterity. It is directed to the universal powers, to Father Heaven and the celestial powers, and to Mother Earth and the terrestrial powers, with the beautiful imagery of birds as the intermediaries between earth and heaven. The central symbols of the mystery for mystery it is, in the full classical sense are the winged wands which represent the Eagle, the highest of the bird messengers; a plume of white featherdown, typifying the fleecy clouds of heaven, and hence the winds and the breath of life, "breathed down from above"; 60 and an ear of maize, symbol of "Mother Corn," daughter of Heaven and Earth.

"The ear of corn," said the priest, "represents the super-natural power that dwells in H'Uraru, the earth which brings forth the food that sustains life; so we speak of the ear as h'Atira, mother breathing forth life. The power in the earth which enables it to bring forth comes from above; for that reason we paint the ear of corn with blue. . . . The life of man depends upon the Earth. Tirawa-atius works through it. The kernel is planted within Mother Earth and she brings forth the ear of corn, even as children are begotten and born of women. . . . We give the cry of reverence to Mother Corn, she who brings the promise of children, of strength, of life, of plenty, and of peace."

It is impossible to study the Hako ceremonial without being struck by the many analogies which it affords for what is known of the Eleusinian Mysteries. In the latter, as in the Hako, an ear of corn was the supreme symbol, while the central drama of both was the imaging of a sacred marriage of Heaven and Earth and the birth of a Son, who symbolized the renewal of life, physical and spiritual, in the participants. The Hako did not, as the Eleusinian Mysteries did, convey a direct promise of life in a future world; but this is only a further step in symbolism easy to take, and it is by no means beyond reason to presume that the great religious mysteries of the ancients took their origin from ceremonies of the type for which the Indian rite furnishes us probably our purest and most primitive example.



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