The last sheaf of the harvest, dressed in a woman’s dress or woven into an intricate shape and decked with ribbons, is regarded as the embodiment f the spirit of the crop, the spirit of the growing grain itself. The safe keeping of this corn dolly over the winter insures fertility for the following harvest, provided that some portion of it is given to cattle and horses to eat, and some portion of it strewn in the field or mixed with the seeds for the next crop.
The practice of saving the spirit of the harvest is extensive throughout Europe.
In Northumberland, the corn dolly is attached to along pole and carried home to be set up in the barn. In some communities it goes home on the last load. Sometimes it is fairly small. In parts of Germany, the heavier it is, the better.
On the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, the corn dolly’s apron is filled with bread, cheese and a sickle. In other parts of Scotland, the reapers hold races. The man who finishes reaping first designates his last sheaf the corn maiden; the one who finishes last makes his last sheaf into a hag.
In some localities, the corn dolly is made by the first farmer who finishes his harvest and then passed from farm to farm as each farmer finishes his harvest, ending up with the farmer who finishes last. In this case, no one wants the dolly as it is a sign of procrastination.
In Wales, others try to snatch the dolly from the reaper who carries it from the field. If he gets home safe, he gets to keep it on his farm for the rest of the year.
French, Slavonic, and some Germanic regions use the last sheaf to create a Kornwold, believed to hold a wolf-like spirit that resides in the last sheaf and provide the same life force for the next season. This is a fiercer version of the corn dolly and is sometimes use dot scare children.
Historically the word corn was applied to the small hard grain or fruit of a plant. It was used generically to refer to the leading crop of the district. In England, corn was wheat; in Scotland, oats; in the U.S., maize.
Today, Corn Dollies are seen as emblems of abundance.
Visit this link for a step-by-step instruction on making a corn dolly.