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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Corn Demon


A sinewy man in his 60s - hale and browned from the sun and dusty from the road - walks alongside the edge of a fallow field. He carries a gas can - the old type, metal and dome-shaped, the kind with a thin rubber spout. There is a dry and chill breeze, and his coat is not enough for this time of year. A light dusting of snow is falling, and the sun is lowering. Dusk comes early in an Iowa February, and the tough old farmer wants to find help before dark.

He pauses to rest on the shoulder, hopeful that he will soon see the welcoming sign of headlights or run across a farmer patching fence line or inspecting his drainage system. He's left his truck just a few miles back so he knows if he can hitch a ride, he can still make it home before it gets too late.

He crouches down on his haunches and blows on his hands. The left one in particular is stone cold from being exposed to the wind. The right has fared better, since he can keep it stuffed in his pocket while the other hand carries the gas can. He decides to light a cigarette, but the breeze kills the lighter flame. He looks around, and notices that he can get out of the wind by climbing down the little embankment beside the field that leads up to the shoulder of the road.

His boots hit the powdery soil of the field and he idly examines the tillage as he manages to light his cigarette. Here and there, half-buried in the dirt are the tell tale signs: the dessicated husks and stubble of a cornfield. He turns back to the road, watching for any signs of passers by. He has just made the decision to climb back up into the wind so that he can be seen on the road. As he begins to climb, he does not hear the thing that comes out of the dirt at his back with lightning speed. He feels the impact and the piercing, and he opens his mouth to scream as a terrible disorienting wave hits his panicked brain. Then the earth closes over him with terrible finality... 

When we began our investigation of the Corn Demon phenomenon we were understandably skeptical. The first time an article regarding this creature received mention at the Anomalist, the editor wisely noted the potential pop-cultural links to films like Tremors, whereas we had thought almost immediately of the sand worms of Dune, not least because it is the business of Athena's Men to bring about an actual Kwisatz Hadderach. But I digress...

Several months later, it appears that the Corn Demon is a genuine phenomenon from the standpoint of at least a few perspectives. First, I have personally heard tales related directly by migrant workers involving this creature. We have also collected tales from residents of various small towns throughout the area of Southern Illinois, southeast Missouri and also parts of Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. What is interesting about these stories is that they do not universally describe the creature we were first introduced to. Instead, a range of forms and likenesses have been conveyed, leading me to conclude that what we have is myth-making in action. Like most myths, there is likely to be a solid core of truth in this. Much like the Chupacabra of Puerto Rican origin, the Corn Demon is thought by some to be natural, others to be the result of U.S. Military genetic manipulation and still others believe it is a paranormal entity with shape-shifting qualities and an ecology that causes it to feed not on flesh, but rather on souls.

The latter view is somewhat related to the widespread practice of Santeria amongst Central and South American migrants. Most of the workers in the Midwest are coming from Mexico and Guatemala, but one occasionally runs across people with South American roots. The general rule regarding these kinds of belief systems is that the more remote the origin, the more unique and jarringly different from civilized norms the rituals and dogma become. Thus, it is not at all impossible that the notion of the Corn Demon is more spiritual in form than it is physical.

The best exposition for this is the mere fact that categorizing these articles represents a challenge. Are we seeking a cryptid? An alien entity? A military experiment gone awry or - worse yet - unleashed on the populace for testing? Or is this being a parapsychological or paranormal phenomenon? As each piece is written and goes for publication and distribution, the relevant category issue raises it's head. We at the Lamp end up having to make a call based upon what the most recent information reveals. But the most recent information doesn't always make sense in the context of what has gone before.

The first time we had a report of El Diablo del Maiz, we were apparently dealing with a cryptozoological phenomenon, a burrowing creature with reptilian and perhaps even ornithological features. What seemed to be described was an ambush predator, and there are anecdotes from migrants to support the idea that men and women and even - horrifyingly enough - children have been snatched and dragged below ground in broad daylight in the midst of fields. Most attacks are placed at night, however. This sounded to us like total nonsense, largely because if such a phenomenon were occurring even semi-regularly, it would raise awareness quickly. Even if the victims are mostly migrant workers, their disappearances would still make an impact on the communities they work in. There would at least be significant upset in the camps. Migrants often know one another, even if they are an invisible part of the Midwestern workforce and temporary population from the standpoint of the citizenry. What we first thought we had encountered was a metaphor for INS, reflective of the U.S. government's mixed attitude toward these labor sources and the power of immigration officials to rapidly remove any migrant who runs afoul of the law.

This kind of surrealist, metaphysical outlook, particularly applied to political issues, is a bit of a fixture in Latin literature. La Mandragora is a fine example of the same; a political group characterized by literary and artist members whose primary focus was surrealist. We thought initially that we had stumbled onto a political front emerging amongst migrants, but for the very obvious fact that labor populations tend not to be characterized by high levels of education and subtle means of pursuing desired outcomes like freedom, equality and justice. It was through contact with social workers that we had become aware of the phenomenon in the first place.

What now seems clear is that a number of factors make the Corn Demon a much creepier prospect than ever before. This entity is said by some to be a spirit that haunts the corn fields of middle America, sometimes associated with early sacrifice rituals practiced by indigenous peoples. Literally, native American nations at some point in the distant past killed young people of their own culture groups in the expectation that the land could be persuaded to provide bounty. When the region became conquered by the Europeans, the spirits "seeded" into the earth rose up in retribution. As it turns out, reports of mysterious activities in the corn, including haunting, spirit & paranormal manifestations, monster sightings and a general sense of dread strong enough to give rise to certain Halloween practices and the iconic Children of the Corn have long been part of American lore.

To determine if such a thing can even exist is hard enough; to figure out what it is and how it behaves is another crusade entirely. The first step was to figure out if people were really talking about this. And they are. The second step was to follow up on a report and do an on-site assessment. And we did. The third step has been to delve much more deeply into folklore and the varied reports that are inevitably and constantly generated by the fringes of humanity and the edges of sanity.

The first account presented at the top of this posting is of course fictionalized and - frankly - sensationalized for effect. It constitutes a fair hook for the rest of this article and we really couldn't resist. But the facts from which it is drawn are very real. Following the link provides the curious reader with two mysterious cases - one a death from unknown causes and the other a total disappearance. While there is not enough to go on to conclude that a malevolent force associated with corn and corn fields is to blame, it does serve the purpose of introducing this very idea: To the ancients, sacrifice was essential to making the crops grow. Are we still locked into this mode of thought on a Jungian, unconscious level? A great many bodies are deposited in cornfields, as a brief review of literature relating to missing persons and unidentified remains can attest. The corn makes a convenient temporary hiding place, but... Is an ancient unconscious motivator causing some murderers to deposit their kills on what would have been sacred ground? Or did we long ago sacrifice to a thing beyond our true understanding in order to hold down casualties amongst the farm hands? Is there something other in our fields, even as the Fae are still walking in our forests and meadows?

Are These Additional Victims?

People disappear all the time; here at the Lamp we often offer other explanations for the mysteries that surround these events. In the two cases identified above, the missing persons were last traced to locations in direct proximity to cornfields and appear to have vanished without a trace.

And Are These Sightings?

This particular piece is an excellent example of the mythological, metaphysical otherness of an encounter with something in a cornfield. Note how the author is struck by the sheer weirdness of what he is seeing. This is precisely the same kind of experiential detail Jacques Vallee discusses in Passport to Magonia and elsewhere.

I was loathe to include Bigfoot-style sightings in our review, but Sam insisted that the fact is we haven't got the slightest notion what a Bigfoot is any more than we know what the elusive Corn Demon is. No less, we have always to deal with the fact that frightened people in a hurry are not necessarily very good observers. Besides, does Bigfoot eat corn? And if so, would a Corn Demon eat Bigfoot?

Far and away the creepiest thing we've found that relates to the research to date. The sighting and experience described here suggests something very different from anything we'd heard of before, except for the fact that it is somewhat similar to the first possible sighting posted above. If true, this is an account that relates something other is in the corn.


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