Dancing For the Corn Mothers


January 1st dawned cloudy and mild. We left for the Pueblo of Santa Domingo to see the Winter Corn Dance around 1:30PM. After driving through majestic country that had relatively flat areas with mountains rising up over the plains we arrived and parked the car near a very large white church within the pueblo with govt housing stretching out all around us. Thunderous clouds loomed in the distance as we walked to the plaza which seemed huge.

I had been told that ‘reversals’ were part of the Winter Corn Dance. Clowns too. Both appeared absent. The men wore fox tails – could wearing the tails reflect a reversal or trickster element? After all, foxes like corn when they can get it. Or, was this a tribute to the “animal ancestors and familiars” (including the tricksters), that are danced all winter? The annual Green Corn Dance is held in August and celebrates the harvest with foods prepared in each household for those who are invited to the feast.

The members of the audience had gathered in the hundreds. Most were Indians, who were wrapped in brightly colored blankets that were incredibly beautiful, each with its own original design. There were few outsiders present. Dogs roamed the area and the people were very quiet during the dancing. I would have loved to know more of the particulars of the dance but the meanings are kept secret. For the Indians, the part that is most important is having people witness the dance – to experience it. I believe that a corn dance on January 1st must bring with it the prayer and hope for a successful harvest in the coming year. Perhaps too the holy people come…

The beat of the drum was deep and resonant as men, women, and children accompanied by bells, gourds, turtle and hoof rattles, acted out their story… I could hear the rain falling from the sky… There must have been 200 hundred men, women, and children – very small children – who participated, dancing in two lines, at first in place, and then meeting each other, separating, and reversing directions. I recall the light green headdresses with two corn husk and cloud feather tufts for ears. Evergreen sprigs were held by all participants. I had the impression that this regalia was worn by all and the sound of the people’s chanting, the drum, the dancing blended in with the “rain” leading me into the still place of lucid dreaming while awake. Before I knew it the last set was finished and the dancers retreated into their second Kiva, perhaps to finish their obligations in private. I had read that these dances were the culmination of a ceremony that could last days.

On the way home I felt for the first time that for all Indigenous people, these dances are their prayers. And for the first time I understood that this embodied knowledge might be enough…


That night I had two dreams. In the first I was with my beloved brother who died 45 years ago this month. In the dream he knew I couldn’t drive and was helping me. This dream pierced my heart waking me from a deep sleep; my grief over losing him was agonizing and palpable. How could I feel that much anguish so many years after his death, I wondered, before finally slipping back into the night and a second dream… In the sequel I am baking square corn cakes and giving them to two other women. In this dream I can drive.

Driving anywhere is no small thing for me because I am severely dyslexic with directions (and numbers) and cannot drive in traffic. I get confused and overwhelmed because I can’t discern left from right. The resulting anxiety literally paralyzes me. This rare form of dyslexia is a continuous source of shame, but I have learned to live with it by living and working in rural areas throughout my adult life. When I came to live in the high desert I believed I could drive here but the four lane highways have totally defeated me. So far I have managed because I can shop locally at the little store in Abiquiu. In addition I have been fortunate because after a couple of serious blunders I met a few people who have become real friends. These folks have been willing to drive me to places like The Winter Corn Dance yesterday. That I am grateful to each and every one of them is a massive understatement…

The point I am making here is that to witness the Winter Corn Dance, and then to have a dream in which I have a visitation from my dead brother who helps me to drive, and then another in which I bake corn cakes and can drive borders on the miraculous if taken literally.

There is something of a mystery here. Like the corn dance being reenacted during the winter on the first day of the new year, my dreams speak to the power of life in death, and perhaps to the importance of ritual and prayer to invoke the life bringing powers of the Corn Mothers to bring the harvest in, or even to create new way of being in the world?