The Man of Straw.
If I was to tell you that close to a crossroads where traditionally Witches, murderers and suicide victims were buried can be found someone who is continuing to keep alive a pre- Christian custom, not only that he lives on Pixie hill road (Pexhill road) which in the past is said to have connections to the Pixie’s, you would probably think that it was some sort of wind up. However 82 year old Raymond Rush continues to keep this custom alive in his small workshop at The Golden Cross in Siddington where he lives.
Going back fifty years Raymond saw his first corn dolly made by an East Anglian farmer, it so impressed him with its delicate, intricate beauty that he started making them himself, since that time he has made thousands for people all over the country. Also at harvest festival time many can be found adorning the walls of Siddington church which stands next to Ray’s home.
The belief in this custom came about because it was believed that” the Spirit of the Corn” lived amongst the crop as it was growing, however when the crop was harvested the corn spirit was effectively made homeless, for this reason the last sheaf of corn or cereal crops was used to make a shape or doll, the Corn Spirit would remain in the farmers house over Winter contained in the doll, before being ploughed into the first furrow at the start of the new growing season in the belief that it would ensure another successful crop. It is thought that the word doll maybe a corruption of the word “idol” or possibly derived from the Greek word “eidolon”.
In Europe there are slight variations to the corn dolly, for instance in the vicinity of Danzig it is the responsibility of the person who cuts the last ears of corn to make them into a doll which is called the “Corn Mother” or “Old Woman” which is then brought home on the last wagon. In some parts of Holstein the same thing happens except it is drenched in water, which is thought to be some sort of rain charm.
In later times, corn dollies evolved into a household tradition, with elaborate symbolic figures crafted from straw, which were usually hung over doors or in barns and burnt at Christmastime; sometimes small grain dolls were kept in cradles or given ‘pride of place’ in the home through the winter. Today the corn dollie is little more than a craft tradition, with each region ‘specializing’ with a particular design.
It is a sad fact that when Raymond Rush is no longer with us this custom may die out in this particular part of the country, however if you wish to maybe buy a corn dolly or see Raymond in the process of creating one you can contact him on 01260-224358.