The corn dolly is an ancient harvest custom, still widely practiced throughout Europe. In ancient Europe it was customary at harvest time to leave a small portion of the grain in the field, often twisted or tied into the shape of a man or the symbol of a god or goddess. Sometimes, it was even dressed in men’s or women’s clothes, kept in a cradle, or hung atop a pole.
This bundle or effigy (immortalized in Burns’ ballad of John Barleycorn) was believed to contain the essence of the spirit of the grains- a representation of the solar deity who would be burned and ‘reborn’ as the spring grain. At the end of the season (usually at the winter solstice), the bundle would be ritually sacrificed, burnt, or plowed under to ensure the year’s crops.
In later times, corn dollies evolved into a household tradition, with elaborate symbolic figures crafted from straw, which were usually hung over doors or in barns and burnt at Christmastime; sometimes small grain dolls were kept in cradles or given ‘pride of place’ in the home through the winter. Today the corn dollie is little more than a craft tradition, with each region ‘specializing’ with a particular design.
Traditional corn dolly
See Also:Wicker Man