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The Green Corn Dance is performed by many Native Americans  throughout the United States as part of their ceremonies throughout the year. Because it has no specific month, but is mostly observed by the Seminole Indians of Florida in the month of May, that is the month we choose to put it in. For the Seminole, this time of year marks the end of the old year and beginning of the new year, much like our New Years Day does in January.

Most North American Indian tribes have a commonality with corn. They all have three celebrations dealing with corn: the planting ceremony, the harvesting ceremony and the green corn ceremony.

The Green Corn Ceremony is held several weeks before the main harvest when the corn is nearly ripe. This ceremony was considered their annual rite of renewal and purification and was dedicated to the god who controlled the growth of corn or maize.

It was considered a crime against the gods to eat or even touch the newly ripened corn until the Green Corn Dance took place.  During the 18th century, the Indians in the southern area considered this a time for getting new clothes, new pots and other new household items.  They would collect their worn-out clothing and also left-over grain and other provisions, and make a huge pile and then set it on fire.

The Green Corn Dance has died out in many areas. It was observed long ago by Indian tribes of the Prairies, the Southwest and Eastern areas.  But, today it is mostly associated with the Seminole Indians of Florida, who hold the Green Corn Dance in May.

The Seminole dance is derived from the Creek ceremony called the busk, which comes from the Creek word boskita which means "to fast."  As I said above, this marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year for the Seminole.  So, this is also the time when they would hold their annual council meetings.

Spiritually, it's also the time of year when the sins of the old year are forgiven and the tribe members repent for anything they've done wrong.

The Green Corn dance can vary in length from tribe to tribe. Some of the events that take place during the festival include stomp dances, special rites for young males who have come of age during the year, and ball games. The Iroquois celebrate the Green Corn Dance for 4 days in September (not May like the Seminole.)  They perform a  variety of thanksgiving rites (i.e. The Feather Dance and Corn Dance.)  Almost every pueblo in New Mexico holds a corn dance on its saint's day, the most elaborate being the Santo Domingo Pueblo Green Corn Dance (New Mexico) held on St. Dominic's Day in August. In the pueblo Green Corn Dance, koshares or holy clowns (represent the spirits of their ancestors) weave among the dancers carrying evergreens what symbolize growth.

The Green Corn Dance has died out as a vegetation rite among the Cherokee and Creek Indians. But it still remains a curative ceremony.  


Note: The follow two customs might be disturbing to some.

The basis of the corn dance involved drinking an emetic or purgative. In other words, it would make you vomit.  This was standard procedure of the rites of the Green Corn Dance Ceremony.  This drink was usually casine, from which a special tea was made. Or it could be ilex vomitoria, which is made from a holy shrub that was found along the coast of Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida.  

The Indians believed that by drinking the "Black Drink" on the evening of the festival's first day, they were purifying themselves physically and spiritually emerging in a state of perfect innocence. Then, the next day they would eat the green corn, which they believed contained the divine spirit that must be permitted to touch any common, unpurified food when it entered their stomachs. After fasting for yet another day, it was followed then by a great feast.

It was a common belief among the Native Americans that anyone who did not take the Black Drink could not safely eat the new corn and would get sick during the year. The Indians also felt that the drink made them brave in war and cemented the bonds with one another.

A common practice during the Green Corn Dance among the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Yuchi and Catawba tribes was ceremonial scratching. This took place on the 2nd day of the ceremony just before the Feather Dance. Those who participated would inflict deep scratches on their bodies, especially their backs.  

Among the Cherokees, a bamboo brier with stout thorns was used. The Seminoles used snake fangs inserted into a wooden holder.  Ceremonial scratching was a symbolic act believed to cleanse the body from impurities. At other times of the year, it was also used to punish children and to relieve fatigue.

Return to our  May Holidays for more celebrations.

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2003

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