Corn Mother

Would corn dollies that wake up the corn mother to ensure a good crop of grain grows, be a magic or faerie charm?

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Depends what you want the "corn mother" to be?

If this references a specific canonical creature in a supplement that I'm ignoring, then I apologise for missing the reference. But assuming you're referencing the range of European folkloric harvest practices and beliefs, then...

My take on folkloric entities, or what we might think are pre-Christian hang-overs (pagan goddesses, etc.) is that I will happily mix and match. I view some us magical, some as demons, some as faerie (yes, I'm using a 4th edition view of faeries - I personally don't find the 5th ed useful when drawing on real faerie beliefs; YMMV).

Going for just one rather than the other seems to miss a lot of opportunities. E.g. saying "all pagan deities and beliefs are demonic" sounds like imposing an out-of-period theology (more reformation/counter-reformation than medieval) and disparaging the beliefs of the people of the time; saying "none of them are demonic, they're all just tragic/romantic spirits oppressed by the church" sounds like a typical 21st-Century secularist or romantic neo-pagan sneering at "evil/foolish Christians" (and hey, I'm a 21st Century secularist - but much of what makes Ars Magica interesting is that the medieval period was so alien - I'd rather explore than sneer at their beliefs).

So, better to mix and match.

If the players come across peasants making corn dolls, or arguing with a new reeve about how important it is to leave a lair for the Roggenwolf, or raising an "old woman" figurine to preside over their harvest festival... then they should have no idea whether they are dealing with faeries, magical or demonic entities. That adds mystery and surprise to the story. It also frees up the storyguide to tell different stories, rather than being constrained by some kind "X is always = Y" rule.

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For the ones who boarded this train in 5th ed., what is the 4th ed. view on faeries?

Sorry @RafaelB , I was being obtusely brief with that comment. Briefly (less less obtusely briefly!)...

The 4th edition version of faeries was very vague, and very flexible. The 4th ed supplement was largely written in the first person, with some very general rules and guidelines drawn from faerie folk lore, and examples of how these guidelines work within narratives. Then a chapter on how to integrate that with some of the conventions that had become established in Ars Magica by that point (E.g. Regiones), and a bestiary which was, as far as I remember, comprised of fairly folkloric faeries.

In other words (if I remember correctly):

  1. It had stripped out the focus on Seelie and Unseelie Courts which had become quote heavy in earlier editions (which was fine - it is derived from a faerie tradition - but IIRC it had kind of become a defining feature, so I wasn't sorry to see it go, though I do still use it in my sagas as I think it gives players an intuitive handle on the fae.)
  2. It did not include the 5th edition stuff like Cognisance, or agonising over the relationships between different realms, or different sorts of vis, or Crafted Offers or Pretence or how such-and-such a Babylonian goddess is actually a faerie, etc., etc.

Everyone is going to play the game differently. And my main memory of reading the 5th ed Faeries (Realm) book was "if I ever went back to playing Pendragon, I could so use this!", so I'm not saying it's useless. It's just that personally, I tend to flick through books of folklore, or legends referenced in medieval texts, and find myself thinking "I will totally use that!" The 4th ed view of faeries (as natural but mysterious creatures who are deliberately undefined) lends itself well to that. Wondering "how does this involve feeding on Vitality?" or "but can faeries do that if, as per 5th ed, their bodies are just temporary vessels which exist only to interact with humans...?" has never really helped me.

So I guess that in briefly, when I say "more 4th ed" I mean, more folkloric.

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Not at all! I just got curious if there was any key aspect that you liked more, since I'm not aware of most of 4th edition. Thanks for your explanation! =]

Personally I like the 5th edition idea of faeries being drawn to, and being created by, stories, but I'm not a fan of constraining them too much.

As for the original question, personaly I think it is a better match with faerie, but I can see it being magic (or even infernal) depending on the case.

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Agreed, it feels like a natural match.

Though having been thinking about it today, this has triggered me to start thinking through a series of incidents / mini-stories based on a magical corn-mother.

And in a long running saga it could be interesting to have the characters encounter a benign-ish/faerie version of this early on in the saga, and then later come across something which they assume is similar but turns out to be much darker (infernal)

Wasn’t corn/maize a crop from the Americas? Is this for a modern or post-1492 game?

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Maize is certainly from the Americas, but the word "corn" existed in English long before anyone in Europe had ever heard of maize.
"Corn", and cognates in other Germanic languages, referred to some cereal grain - usually whichever ones(s) were domininant in that region. In England that was mainly wheat and barley.


Lvgreen's referring to this type of corn dolly which has a huge regional variation in design, name and materials used.

Generally I'd use this sort of folklore in Ars to help anchor the sense of place by using one local to where the PC covenant is, and then having local fae be involved. That's just my personal preference though - when you think of things like the virtue Folk Dancer in Hoh:TL, or the Folk Magic virtue in The Sundered Eagle, then certainly people can make Magic-realm charms to do something similar. However, as the OP referenced corn dollies to awaken the Corn Mother, I think this type of folk tradition is more likely to involve faeries.

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@dc444 - an early example of this is Dado, Bishop of Rouen in the 8th century:

"I denounce and contest, that you shall observe no sacrilegious pagan customs. For no cause or infirmity should you consult magicians, diviners, sorcerers or incantators, or presume to question them because any man who commits such evil will immediately lose the sacrament of baptism. Do not observe auguries or violent sneezing or pay attention to any little birds singing along the road. If you are distracted on the road or at any other work, make the sign of the cross and say your Sunday prayers with faith and devotion and nothing inimical can hurt you. No Christian should be concerned about which day he leaves home or which day he returns because God has made all days. No influence attaches to the first work of the day or the [phase of the] moon; nothing is ominous or ridiculous about the Calends of January. [Do not] make [figures of?] vetulas, little deer or iotticos or set tables at night or exchange New Years' gifts or supply superfluous drinks. No Christian believes impurity or sits in incantation, because the work is diabolic. No Christian on the feast of Saint John or the solemnity of any other saint performs solestitia [solstice rites?] or dancing or leaping or diabolical chants. No Christian should presume to invoke the name of a demon, not Neptune or Orcus or Diana or Minerva or Geniscus or believe in these inept beings in any way." Internet History Sourcebooks

The two interesting things here are:

  1. This is an early example of a cleric claiming that all pagan and folk beliefs are inherently diabolical. There was this strand of thought, but equally plenty of others were happy to accept that other powers were at play. E.g. reading Walter Map or Gerald of Wales just before our period, these were educated clerics who were quite happy to accept that faeries etc. existed without having to call everything outside of their theology "diabolical". By the time we get to the early modern period, the idea seems to have been established that basically everything that isn't from God is from the devil. But 12th/13thC this is a minority opinion. So, we could go with "look, I've found some educated people who believe all residual pagan and folkloric practices are diabolical, therefore that's the paradigm" but that's kind of boring, and prejudices a certain type of intellectual above common opinion - way more interesting to say that multiple possibilities exist.

  2. The "vetulas" are presumed to be (straw?) depictions of a grandmother figure. This idea persists through from the 8th to the 19th centuries in rural communities. People today often understand this to be a kind of residue of mother-goddess worship, and link this explicitly to fertility, though we might argue that that says more about us as modern people (with romantic ideas, and an influence of neo-paganism) than it actually does about medieval people. So there is a medieval "thing" here, and there's a load of fun ways to interpret it - though the use of the word "corn" does misleadingly make it sound more modern.

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Sorry, I forgot to explain I meant the original meaning of corn as grains, rather later regional meaning as restricted to maize.
Rather like how "apple" originally referred to generic fruit (Apple of Eden), whereas now it refers to a specific type of fruit.

Perhaps I should have asked, would the corn mother typically be a magical genius loci / mini daemon, or is it a faerie?

And if a faerie, then what purpose does it perform as Corn Mother? Well, improved crop yeild in exchange for corn dollies, but otherwise it doesn't seem very anthropomorphic.

A mythological being that is widely worshipped in various places at the turn of seasons is classical faerie deity. Bear in mind that magical beings, such as daimons, although able to be in several places - don't care about being worshipped. If everyone in a region at harvest time worships a corn mother... it's a faerie looking for vitality. On the other hand, very fringe cults that never market themselves to the broader population... that might be a magic entity.

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