Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grain of the Gods

gelatin silver print, 1897,
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

One thing ice age hunting magic and later agricultural fertility rituals have in common is the central importance of food. Hunters relied on the shaman’s uncanny perception to secure a successful hunt. In the corn grower’s world the grain itself is considered sacred.

Corn as we know it today was slowly domesticated in the Valley of Mexico between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago. The name of its wild ancestral variety, teosinte, literally means “grain of the Gods”. As corn became domesticated it lost its ability to survive as a wild plant but also became a more palatable and a more valuable food source. From a tiny ear a few inches long with only a few kernels encased in hard shells it was selected over time to produce the plump juicy ears of corn we know today. 1

Corn remains influential in the spiritual traditions of the American Southwest. The Hopi prepare prayer-meal called Hooma from coarsely ground white maize. It is rubbed on the hands before handling sacred objects and is sprinkled on altars and shrines. The substance is considered sacred and is used for purification and as a vehicle to carry spiritual intentions. 2

1. Nicolle Ranger Fuller, National Science Foundation
2. Hopi Indian Altar Iconography by Armin W. Geertz

Teisinte - Modern Corn