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The Maidens of the Corn
Whence came they, the Maidens who are told of in the stories and sung of in the songs of our Fathers, the seven Maidens with their magic wands and plumes who were lovelier than the seven bright stars that are above us now? Paíyatuma the Flute-player, the God of Dew and of the Dawn, brought them to our Fathers; they were his foster-children. And when he had brought them to where our Fathers were, he sang a song that warned all who were there that these were virgins and must be forever held as sacred beings. Paíyatuma sang:
[paragraph continues] The mists of the morning were clearing away. Even as his voice had already gone into them, Paíyatuma the Flute-playing God went into the mists. Seven plants of corn he had left before our Fathers; seven Maidens he had left who would cause the corn to grow. "Thanks, thanks to thee, O Paíyatuma," our Fathers cried into the mists that closed round him. "Verily we will cherish the Maidens and the substance of their flesh."
Thereafter, as the season came round, our Fathers would build for the Maidens a bower of cedar-wood that was roofed with timbers brought from beyond the mountains. They would light a fire before the bower. All night, backwards and forwards, the Corn Maidens would dance to the music of drum and rattle and the songs sung by the elders. They would dance by the side of the seven growing plants of the corn, motioning them upward with their magic wands and plumes.
Then the first Maiden would embrace the first growing plant. As
she did this the fire would leap up, throwing out a yellow light. The second Maiden would embrace the second growing plant, and the fire would burn smokily with a fuller grasping of the brands; blue would be the light the fire would throw out. The third Maiden would embrace the third of the growing plants, and at this the fire would reach to the fulness of its mastery, and the light it would throw out would be red. Then the fourth Maiden would embrace the fourth growing plant, and the fire, flameless now, would throw out a white light. As the fifth Maiden embraced the fifth growing plant the fire would give up its breath in clouds of sparks and its light would be streaked with many colours. The sixth Maiden would embrace the sixth growing plant; the fire would be sleeping then, giving out less light than heat. And as the seventh Maiden embraced the seventh growing plant the fire would waken afresh in the wind of the morning, and, as the fire of the wanderer stays glowing with many colours, it would stay glowing. Beautiful the dance of the seven Maidens, delightful the music they would dance to. And when the mists of the morning came they would go within the bower and lay down their magic wands and plumes, and their soft and shining dresses, and thereafter they would mingle with the people.
All rejoiced in the dance of the white-robed Corn Maidens. But a time came when certain of the young men of the village began to speak of a music they heard sounding from Thunder Mountain. This music was more wonderful than the music we had for the dance of the Maidens. And the young men declared that the dance that went to it, the dance they had not seen, must be more wonderful than the dance that our Maidens were praised for. They spoke of these things so often that they made our dance seem a thing that was of little worth. Then the Fathers summoned two messengers and bade them take the trail that went up the mountain. They were to find out about the music and the dance. Perchance they might be joined with ours, and a music and a dance that would seem wonderful to all might be given between the bower and the fire.
The messengers took the trail that went up Thunder Mountain. As they climbed they heard the sound of flutes. They went within the cavern that the music was being played in--the Cavern of the Rainbow. Mists surrounded them as they went within; but they knew what
being was there, and they made reverence to him. Here was Paíyatuma the Flute-player, the God of Dew and of the Dawn.
They heard the music and they saw the dance that was being given in the Cavern of the Rainbow. The music was not as our music, for the musicians were flute-players. The Maidens who danced were as beautiful as our Corn Maidens; seven were they also. They carried in their hands wands of cottonwood: from the branchlets and buds of these wands streamlets flowed. "They are like your Maidens as the House of the Seven Stars seen in water is like the House of the Seven Stars as it is in the sky. They are fertile, not of seed, but of the Water of Life wherein the seed is quickened." So said Paíyatuma, the God of Dew and of the Dawn. And when the messengers looked upon them they saw that the Maidens were taller than ours were, and that their colour was fainter.
Then did Paíyatuma lift up his flute and play upon it. A drum sounded also, and the cavern shook as with thunder. And as the music was played a white mist came from the flutes of the players. "Athirst are men ever for that which they have not," said Paíyatuma the Flute-player through the mist. "It is well that ye have come, and it shall be as ye wish," said he to the messengers. They knew then that he was aware of what errand they had been sent upon.
They went back and told the elders of the village that Paíyatuma's flute-players would come amongst them and make music for the dance of the Corn Maidens. The flute-players came down to the dancing-ground. Out of their bower came our white-clad, beautiful Corn Maidens. The flute-players lifted up their flutes and made music for the dance. And as the Maidens danced in the light of the. fire they who played the flutes looked on them in such wise that they were fain to let their hair fall down and cast down their eyes. Seeing the players of the flutes look on the Maidens amorously, our own youths looked on them amorously also. They plucked at their garments as they, in their dancing, came near them. Then the players of the flutes and our own youths sprang up and followed them, shouting and laying unseemly hands upon the beautiful, white-clad maidens.
Yet they finished their dance, and the seventh Maiden embraced the seventh growing plant. The mists came down, and unseen, the Maidens
went into their bower. They laid their magic wands and their plumes upon the ground; they laid their white robes down also. Then they stole away. They were gone when Paíyatuma appeared. He came forth from the mists and stood amongst the assembled people. The flute-players, waving their flutes over the people who were there, followed Paíyatuma as he strode, wordless, through the mists that were rolling up the mountain.
The drum was beaten, the rattles were shaken, but still the Maidens did not come forth from their bower. The Elders went within and they found nought there but the wands and plumes and the garments that had been laid away. Then it was known that the Corn Maidens had gone. Grief and dismay filled the hearts of the people. "We must seek for and find our Maidens," they all cried, "for lacking them the corn-seed, which is the life of the flesh, cannot flourish." But where could one go seeking? The Maidens had left no trail behind them. "Who can find them but our great Elder Brother, the Eagle," the people said. "He is enduring of will and surpassing of sight. Let us send messengers to the Eagle and ask him to make search for our Maidens white and beautiful."
So messengers were sent to the cavern where the Eagle had his nest. The three eaglets that were there tried to hide themselves in the dark recesses of the cavern. "Pull not our feathers, O ye of hurtful touch," they cried, "pull not our pin-feathers, and when our wings have grown and we are flying high we will drop feathers down to you." "O great Elder Brother," said the messengers, when the Father Eagle came whirring down to his nest, "we have come to you to beg that you will make search for our Maidens white and beautiful." "I will search for them and I will find them," said the Eagle. "Neither blue bird nor wood-rat can hide from my eyes." He snapped his beak, and he looked aslant, and then he rose high in the air and went searching, searching.
All through the heights he circled and sailed, going towards the north and the south, towards the east and the west. Nowhere did he get sight of the maidens. Then he came back and he spoke to the elders of the village. "I have journeyed far and I have scanned all regions," he said, "but no sight of your Maidens did I get. Go to my younger brother the Falcon and ask him to make search for them. He flies nearer
the ground and he takes his flight ere sunrise, and it may be that he can find your Maidens."
Messengers were sent to the Falcon. "If ye have snare-strings with you I will fly off as swift as an arrow," said the Falcon. "We have no snare-strings with us, O Great Brother," said the messengers, "we have come to beg of you to make search for the Maidens who have gone from us. Our great Elder Brother the Eagle went searching for them, but he could not find any trace of them." "Ho," said the Falcon, "the Eagle flies too high; he clambers above the clouds, and so how could he see your Maidens? But unless they are hidden more closely than the sparrow hides I will find them for you." So the Falcon spread his sharp wings and went skimming off the tops of the trees and bushes as though he were seeking for birds' nests or for field-mice. He travelled far. But one day he perched upon an ant-hill outside the village, and he spoke to those who came to him and told them that he had not been able to find the Maidens white and beautiful.
Then when the people wept because of their loss, the Falcon said to them, "There is yet one who might find the Maidens for you. He is Heavy Nose the Raven. Go to him and ask him to make search for your Maidens white and beautiful." And saying this the Falcon flew off the ant-hill and went searching for birds' nests.
Then the people went looking for Heavy Nose the Raven. They found him at the break of day as he was wandering about the edge of the town, seeking food in the dirt and rubbish-heaps. "O Grandfather," they said to him, "neither our Elder Brother the Eagle nor his Younger Brother the Falcon have been able to find our Maidens for us. We pray you to give us counsel and guidance in the search for them." "Ye want me to go search for them, do ye? But too hungry am I to go abroad on business for you and your kind," said Heavy Nose the Raven. "Ye are stingy. Here have I been since perching time, striving to win a throatful, but ye pick the bones and ye lick the bowls too clean for me to get anything." "O poor Grandfather," said the Elders, "come with us and we will give you something to eat."
Heavy Nose went with them to where the Council sat, and they made much of him, and they gave him the best of tobacco to smoke. But as soon as he drew in the smoke he gasped and he gulped and he nearly coughed his head off. He had smoke inside and outside
of himself. And to this day, blueness of flesh, and blackness of dress, and tearfulness of eye mark the kin of Heavy Nose who smoked at our Fathers' Council.
They brought him the best of corn, and Heavy Nose ate standing up, looking at our fathers out of one eye and then out of another. "Ka, ka," he said, when he had finished eating all they had brought to him, "and now tell me what you want me to do for you?" "We would have you search for our maidens white and beautiful."
Heavy Nose sat and considered and then he flew away without speaking to our Fathers. He flew to a rubbish-heap, and he sat there and considered again. Then back he flew to our Fathers. "Only one can find your maidens white and beautiful," he said, "he of the Mist and the Dawn, Paíyatuma." And saying this, Heavy Nose the Raven flew past the rubbish-heaps and away from the village.
Our Fathers considered what he had said. They knew now that neither the Eagle, the Falcon, nor the Raven could find and bring back to them their Maidens white and beautiful, the Maidens who could make grow the plants without which life of flesh cannot flourish. Only Paíyatuma could find them and bring them back. They came upon him outside the village; he was where they had found Heavy Nose the Raven--beside the rubbish-heaps.
And Paíyatuma was in his daylight mood. His dress was soiled and torn, his eyes were bleared, and with uncouth mouth he was muttering uncouth words. He laughed at and joked with our Fathers when they came up to where he lolled--like a clown he laughed at and jested with them. And when they begged him to come with them he rose up and went with them as to some boys' performance. He strode rudely into where the Council was being held, and he greeted all who were there noisily and without dignity or shame. And when our Fathers, lamenting, begged him to find for them and bring back to them the Corn Maidens whom he had once brought to them, he shouted, "Why find that which is not lost nor summon those who will not come?"
Like a clown Paíyatuma behaved at the Council, and like a clown he would have gone on behaving if a certain priest who was there had not gone to him, and put his hand between his lips, and stroked away what was on his lips. "Thou hast drawn from me the breath of
reversal," said Paíyatuma. Purify yourselves now and I shall speak to you as it is becoming in me to speak to you." No longer was he a clown, talking thoughtlessly, speaking words that shamed his own sacred being. No, Paíyatuma stood before the Fathers, tall and grand as a great tree that has been shorn by lightning. Verily, again they knew him for the God of Dew and of the Dawn.
In his presence they purified themselves, putting away from them all that disgraced them in his eyes. From the youths in the village they chose four who had not sinned in their flesh. These four youths they brought to Paíyatuma.
And with the four youths he set out for Summerland. Where he paused he played upon his flute, and butterflies and birds came around him and fed upon the dew that was breathed forth from his flute. In a little while he came to Summerland. The seven Maidens of the Corn were there. They heard his flute-playing, and when they saw his tall form coming through the fields of corn that was already quickened they went to meet him. The butterflies and the birds came and fluttered over them--over the seven Maidens of the Corn, over the four youths from the village, over Paíyatuma, as he played upon his flute.
Back to the village they went, the Maidens, the four youths, and Paíyatuma. O greatly did the people rejoice at having their Maidens back once more amongst them. The bower was built and the fire was lighted as before. All night, backwards and forwards, the Corn Maidens danced to music and to songs sung by the elders. They danced by the side of the seven growing plants, motioning them upwards. And as each Maiden embraced the plant that was hers, the fire threw out its yellow light, its blue light, its red light, its white light, its streaked light, its dim light, its light of many colours.
Ah, but as each Maiden embraced her growing plant, she put into the corn and, by a mystery, the substance of her flesh. Then, as that light of many colours was thrown from the fire, the Maidens went forth as shadows. Into the deep night they went, and they were seen no more of men. The dawn came and the Fathers saw Paíyatuma standing with folded arms before the fire. Solemnly he spoke to them all; well have the solemn words he uttered then been remembered. The corn would grow because of the substance of their flesh that the Corn Maidens had put in it; in future seasons maidens chosen from
amongst our own daughters would dance backwards and forwards to the music of the flute as well as the drum, and would embrace the seven growing plants in the light of the fire. And all would be well for the growth of the corn. But as for the Maidens white and beautiful whom he had twice brought to us, they were gone from us forever. "They have departed since the children of men would seek to change the sustaining blessedness of their flesh into humanity which sustains not, but is sustained. In the loving of men and the cherishing of men's children, they--even they--would forget the cherishing of their beautiful seed-growing. The Mother-maidens have gone, but their substance is in the plants of corn."
For that reason the corn that is for seed is held by us as a thing sacred. Through the nights and days of the Moon Nameless, of the Moon of Sacred Fire and Earth, of the Moon of Earth Whitening, of the Moon of Snow-broken Boughs, of the Moon of Snowless Pathways, of the Moon of Lesser Sand-driving Storms, the seed of the corn is held. Then it is put in the earth reverently; it is buried as a tribe might bury its beloved dead. The seed which has in it the substance of our Maiden-mothers becomes quick beneath the earth. Paíyatuma, the God of Dew and of the Dawn, freshens the growth with his breath; then Ténatsali, the God of Time and of the Seasons, brings the plants to maturity; then Kwélele, the God of Heat, ripens them with the touch of his Fire-brother's torch, giving them their full vitality. And our own maidens dance beside the corn-plants in the light of the fire, motioning them upwards--upwards.