The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion
2. The Corn-spirit as a Wolf or a Dog
WE begin with the corn-spirit conceived as a wolf or a dog. This conception is common in France, Germany, and Slavonic countries. Thus, when the wind sets the corn in wave-like motion the peasants often say, “The Wolf is going over, or through, the corn,” “the Rye-wolf is rushing over the field,” “the Wolf is in the corn,” “the mad Dog is in the corn,” “the big Dog is there.” When children wish to go into the corn-fields to pluck ears or gather the blue corn-flowers, they are warned not to do so, for “the big Dog sits in the corn,” or “the Wolf sits in the corn, and will tear you in pieces,” “the Wolf will eat you.” The wolf against whom the children are warned is not a common wolf, for he is often spoken of as the Corn-wolf, Rye-wolf, or the like; thus they say, “The Rye-wolf will come and eat you up, children,” “the Rye-wolf will carry you off,” and so forth. Still he has all the outward appearance of a wolf. For in the neighbourhood of Feilenhof (East Prussia), when a wolf was seen running through a field, the peasants used to watch whether he carried his tail in the air or dragged it on the ground. If he dragged it on the ground, they went after him, and thanked him for bringing them a blessing, and even set tit-bits before him. But if he carried his tail high, they cursed him and tried to kill him. Here the wolf is the corn-spirit whose fertilising power is in his tail.
Both dog and wolf appear as embodiments of the corn-spirit in harvest-customs. Thus in some parts of Silesia the person who cuts or binds the last sheaf is called the Wheat-dog or the Peas-pug. But it is in the harvest-customs of the north-east of France that the idea of the Corn-dog comes out most clearly. Thus when a harvester, through sickness, weariness, or laziness, cannot or will not keep up with the reaper in front of him, they say, “The White Dog passed near him,” “he has the White Bitch,” or “the White Bitch has bitten him. In the Vosges the Harvest-May is called the “Dog of the harvest,” and the person who cuts the last handful of hay or wheat is said to “kill the Dog.” About Lons-le-Saulnier, in the Jura, the last sheaf is called the Bitch. In the neighbourhood of Verdun the regular expression for finishing the reaping is, “They are going to kill the Dog”; and at Epinal they say, according to the crop, “We will kill the Wheat-dog, or the Rye-dog, or the Potato-dog.” In Lorraine it is said of the man who cuts the last corn, “He is killing the Dog of the harvest.” At Dux, in the Tyrol, the man who gives the last stroke at threshing is said to “strike down the Dog”; and at Ahnebergen, near Stade, he is called, according to the crop, Corn-pug, Rye-pug, Wheat-pug.