The Corn Maidens
by Katharine Berry Judson
Myths and Legends of California and the Old
Zuni (New Mexico)
After long ages of wandering, the precious Seed-things rested over the
Middle at Zuni, and men turned their hearts to the cherishing of their
corn and the Corn Maidens instead of warring with strange men.
But there was complaint by the people of the customs followed. Some said
the music was not that of the olden time. Far better was that which of
nights they often heard as they wandered up and down the river trail. (6)
Wonderful music, as of liquid voices in caverns, or the echo of women's
laughter in water-vases. And the music was timed with a deep-toned drum
from the Mountain of Thunder. Others thought the music was that of the
ghosts of ancient men, but it was far more beautiful than the music when
danced the Corn Maidens. Others said light clouds rolled upward from the
grotto in Thunder Mountain like to the mists that leave behind them the
dew, but lo! even as they faded the bright garments of the Rainbow women
might be seen fluttering, and the broidery and paintings of these dancers
of the mist were more beautiful than the costumes of the Corn Maidens.
Then the priests of the people said, "It may well be Paiyatuma, the liquid
voices his flute and the flutes of his players."
Now when the time of ripening corn was near, the fathers ordered
preparation for the dance of the Corn Maidens. They sent the two
Master-Priests of the Bow to the grotto at Thunder Mountains, saying,
"If you behold Paiyatuma, and his maidens, perhaps they will give us the
help of their customs."
Then up the river trail, the priests heard the sound of a drum and strains
of song. It was Paiyatuma and his seven maidens, the Maidens of the House
of Stars, sisters of the Corn Maidens.
The God of Dawn and Music lifted his flute and took his place in the line
of dancers. The drum sounded until the cavern shook as with thunder. The
flutes sang and sighed as the wind in a wooded canon while still the storm
is distant. White mists floated up from the wands of the Maidens, above
which fluttered the butterflies of Summer-land about the dress of the
Rainbows in the strange blue light of the night.
Then Paiyatuma, smiling, said, "Go the way before, telling the fathers of
our custom, and straightway we will follow."
Soon the sound of music was heard, coming from up the river, and soon the
Flute People and singers and maidens of the Flute dance. Up rose the
fathers and all the watching people, greeting the God of Dawn with
outstretched hand and offering of prayer meal. Then the singers took their
places and sounded their drum, flutes, and song of clear waters, while the
Maidens of the Dew danced their Flute dance. Greatly marvelled the people,
when from the wands they bore forth came white clouds, and fine cool mists
Now when the dance was ended and the Dew Maidens had retired, out came the
beautiful Mothers of Corn. And when the players of the flutes saw them,
they were enamoured of their beauty and gazed upon them so intently that
the Maidens let fall their hair and cast down their eyes. And jealous and
bolder grew the mortal youths, and in the morning dawn, in rivalry, the
dancers sought all too freely the presence of the Corn Maidens, no longer
holding them so precious as in the olden time. And the matrons, intent on
the new dance, heeded naught else. But behold! The mists increased
greatly, surrounding dancers and watchers alike, until within them, the
Maidens of Corn, all in white garments, became invisible. Then sadly and
noiselessly they stole in amongst the people and laid their corn wands
down amongst the trays, and laid their white broidered garments thereupon,
as mothers lay soft kilting over their babes. Then even as the mists
became they, and with the mists drifting, fled away, to the far south
(6) The mists and the dawn breeze on the river and in the grotto.