NOTE to all non-Indians: These stories are meant to be taken symbolically as opposed to literally

Corn Mother: How Corn Was Given to the Penobscot

When Glooscap lived on earth, there were no people yet. But one day, when the sun was high, a youth appeared and called him "Uncle, brother of my mother." This young man was born from the foam of the waves, foam quickened by the wind and warmed by the sun. It was the moistness of water, the motion of the wind and the warmth of the sun that gave the youth life. And the youth lived with Glooscap and became his chief helper.

Now after these two powerful beings had created all manner of things, there came to them, as the sun was shining at high noon, a beautiful girl. She was born of the wonderful earth plant, and of the dew, and of warmth.

"I am love," said the maiden. "I am a strength giver, I am the provider of men and animals. They all love me."

Then Glooscap thanked the Great Mystery Above for having sent them the maiden. The youth, the Great Nephew, married her and the girl conceived and thus became First Mother. And Glooscap, the Great Uncle, who teaches humans all they need to know, taught their children how to live. Then he went away to dwell in the north, from which he will return sometime when he is needed.

Now the people increased and became numerous. They lived by hunting, and the more people there were the less game they found. They were hunting it out, and as the animals decreased, starvation came upon the people. And First Mother pitied them.

The little children came to First Mother and said, "We are hungry. Feed us." But she had nothing to give them and she wept. She told them: "Be patient. I will make some food. Then your little bellies will be full" But she kept weeping.

Her husband asked: "How can I make you smile? How can I make you happy?"

"There is only one thing that will stop my tears"

"What is it?" asked her husband.

"It is this: you must kill me"

"I could never do that"

"You must or I will go on weeping and grieving forever"

Then the husband traveled far, to the end of the earth, to the north he went, to ask the Great Instructor, his uncle Glooscap, what he should do.

"You must do what she wants. You must kill her," said the Great Instructor.

Then the young man went back to his home, and it was his turn to weep. But First Mother said, "Tomorrow at high noon you must do it. After you have killed me, let two of our sons take hold of my hair and drag my body over that empty patch of earth. Let them drag me back and forth over every patch of that earth until all my flesh had been torn from my body. Afterwards, take my bones, gather them up and bury them in the middle of the clearing. Then leave that place."

She smiled and said, "Wait seven moons and then come back, and you will find my flesh there, given out of love, and it will nourish and strengthen you forever and ever"

So it was done. The husband slew his wife and her sons, praying, dragged her body to and fro as she had commanded, until her flesh covered all the earth. They took up her bones and buried them in the middle of it. Weeping loudly, they went away.

When the husband and his children and his children's children came back to that place after seven moons had passed, they found it covered with tall, green tasseled plants. The plants' fruit-corn-was First mother's flesh, given so that the people might live and flourish. And they partook of First Mother's flesh and found it sweet beyond words. Following her instructions, they did not eat it all, but put many kernels back into the earth. In this way her flesh and spirit renewed themselves every seven months, generation after generation.

At the spot where they buried First Mother's bones, there grew another plant, broad-leafed and fragrant. It was First Mother's breath, and they heard her spirit: "Burn this up and smoke it. It is sacred It will clear your minds, help your prayers and gladden your hearts."

And First Mother's husband called the first plant Skarmunal, corn, and the second plant utarmur-wayeh, tobacco.

"Remember," he told the people, "and take good care of First Mother's flesh, because it is her goodness become substance. Take good care of her breath, because it is her love turned into smoke. Remember her and think of her whenever you eat, whenever you smoke this sacred plant, because she has given her life so that you might live. Yet she is not dead, she lives: in undying love she renews herself again and again."

As told by Joseph Nicholar

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