Rituals of corn, history, life, and Mexican culture today and surely the future

The article deals with some aspects related to the history of corn, as well as some of the rituals that accompany its cultivation in Mexico.

Rituals of corn, history, life, and Mexican culture today and surely the future
UNESCO declared Traditional Mexican Cuisine as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and, of course, one of the basic elements of indigenous cuisine is corn. Image by Uki_71 from Pixabay

Thanks to corn, certain rites are performed that vindicate the connection with the deities, their particular beliefs, knowledge, traditions, festivities, myths, legends, and religious practices of the producers. Its cultivation transcends to this day its importance beyond its consumption. Corn is history, life, and culture. Without further ado, join us on an adventure through the mystical journey that corn offers us.

While corn has been one of the most important foods from its first harvest to the present day, its value and richness go beyond flavor. Any presentation you can imagine is possible. Drinks such as pozol, tejate, champurrado, atole; dishes such as tamales, tlacoyos, a typical tortilla, and, not least, an exquisite pozole are prepared. The world of corn allows us to explore that within gastronomy there is innovation. Furthermore, there is another magical, spiritual and traditional universe that surrounds everything related to this sacred food.

Corn is a distinguished food and the basis of Mexican gastronomy. The relationship between the cornfield and the human being, in this case, everyone who harvests this plant, is as important as life itself because they mutually depend on each other for survival. It supports the economy in which diverse factors of the culture of the place itself are involved in all its splendor. Currently, the communities continue the practice of rituals and festivities that are carried out according to their cycles. It builds the identity of the community. The people identify with the planting itself because it is an extension of themselves.

History of corn

The discovery of corn until today has been the most important, not only for Mexicans but also for the world. It was in the cave of Guilá Naquitz, Oaxaca, where the oldest evidence of its existence was found. It is approximately 7,000 years old, although it is asserted that its cultivation dates back more than 10,000 years.

It was not always called corn. Before the arrival of the Spaniards it was known as centli. In addition, as it traveled through the Americas, it was given different names such as: choclo, jojoto, corn, milho or elote. And it was not until the arrival of the conquistadors that it was called mostly as we know it today.

For the Mayas and Aztecs, corn was a very important element in their festivities and, therefore, in their cosmovision. They believed that the blood and flesh of us humans were made up of this great cereal. That is why this sacred food is essential in the Mexican economy, food, but above all it tells us about the indigenous communities. They are the ones who have cared for and cultivated this seed throughout the centuries. They are one and the same: they take care of the corn because it feeds them and brings prosperity.

In modern times, according to some sources, each Mexican consumes half a kilo of corn a day. In addition, it is estimated that 30 million tons of corn are used annually in Mexico for direct consumption. Sinaloa is the leading producer of this grain. Forty percent comes from diverse and small native crops grown by farmers, about one-third from extensive land in the north of the country, and another third is imported from the United States.

That is why the Senate of the Republic approved a ruling to declare September 29th of each year as the National Corn Day. The purpose of this day is to encourage awareness and reinforce the merit of its use in different practical and spiritual stages of human life.

The corn ritual

Land preparation

It is time to work the land where the corn will be harvested. Before starting, the land must be prepared. The farmers make a prayer addressed to mother earth. They apologize for the intervention they will make on it and also ask her to favor them because the crop will be their main sustenance. After they have prayed to mother earth, they turn to their deity, which could be Quetzalcoatl (protector of agriculture) to give them the necessary strength to till the soil.

Rain petition ritual

The first ceremony corresponding to the complex rain ritual. This ceremony contains spiritual practices of the cosmovision of each region. In these petitions, the communities express their praise for the deluge. This practice dates back to pre-Hispanic times since it has the objective of establishing a harmonious relationship with the gods since they sustain the water necessary to have productive crops.

This ritual is performed on the hill closest to the community or in the harvest, where the deities related to the phenomenon of rain, for example, the tlaloques, live. The whole community participates, but certain people are in charge of particular activities. They also consult the huehuetlaka religious specialists or graniceros; those farmers who know the prayers and methods.

It is even said that the graniceros ("grain collectors") are sometimes manifested in dreams by a deity who tells them what to do to improve the rains.

They embed in the hill the crosses that represent the earth. These are adorned with garlands of flowers, either cempaxuchil or cacaoxochitl. They also make offerings with food, incense, chicken blood, or guajolotes (turkeys). According to each region, papel picado or wooden figures are placed. The constant element in most of these ceremonies is the teponaxtle, a sacred and feminine instrument.

Afterwards, they meditate with the purpose of invoking the 4 cardinal points. At the same time, they offer copal and play music, together with the singing graniceros ("farmers"), intoned by the typical instruments of the region. The offering is first made to the east, then to the west, because it is considered the place of the earth, then to the north which is the place of the air, and finally to the south; the place of the water. Finally, they light some candles in each of the cardinal points and make a 360-degree turn. Meanwhile, the people on the hill pray for water.

Corn planting ceremony

The ceremony is known as Xinachtlacualtiliztli in Chicontepec and begins before passing the land to the house of the owner of the cornfields. It is prepared beforehand with a prayer. In some regions, they usually place the seeds in water mixed with some special bitter herb to protect them from insects and bugs, as these can affect the harvest. On the other hand, some communities prefer to sprinkle blood from sacrificed birds.

On the day of the ceremony in the selected house, they pray and sing. At the same time, they chant prayers to the corn seed that has been selected. Afterwards, the corn is smoked with copal and blessed laurel so that the corn is cleansed and purified. Afterwards, a mass is held. The priest blesses the seeds while performing music and dance.

In some localities after mass, they return to place the seed on the altar of the house for a while. Once it has rested for a while, they put incense and incense on it and ask it to return. They exhort that it does not stay there, that it does not get lost, since sometimes the seed does not germinate due to different circumstances.

After this, the ritualist, the musicians, and practically all the people, with the exception of the women. They make the food at home that will serve for the ritual and for everyone to eat after the sowing. They go to the milpa carrying everything they need for the ritual: food, flowers, aguardiente, copal, etc. These will be placed on the provisional altar or on a cross made of cempasúchil in the center of the field. Finally, they place the food and beverages in the 4 points of the milpa. Meanwhile, some men make offerings and others begin to plant the corn.

The first week

In the Mazateco region, the ceremony is known as the Miltlacualtiliztli. It consists of taking care of the corn when it is growing. Especially in the first week, since it requires special attention as if it were a newborn baby. In this ritual, the owner of the land or the cornfield stops having sexual relations, because the necessary energy is required for the growth of the corn. After 4 days, certain communities go to the planting to see the growth of the plant. They believe that they are small children that are breastfed by Mother Earth.

Rituals against animal and insect attacks

Once the corn sprouts and looks tender, the animals and birds of the field crave it. Another concern, but also another ritual that can solve it. After eight or fifteen days since the corn had sprouted, the farmers take a wax and copal candle to the land, light it and burn it in the middle of the cement field to ask the gods (tlaloques or tlamacazques) to please free their plants and land from animals such as mice, badgers, and squirrels.

After this first petition, they take fire and incense. They made a tour along the banks of the cemetery, where they removed the broken reeds or shattered cobs and ears of corn that they found along the way. They even collected all those fallen fruits that the animals damaged or began to gnaw. In these affected places they made the sahumerio because the cleaning and the combination of copal (abacus and fire) is believed to drive away from the destroyers of the crop. There are even communities that make bonfires near the places where these animals frequently roam.

There are animals that persist more than others, among these are the badgers. They are particularly identified by the destruction, excrement, and footprints they leave behind. Although the ritual is very similar to the previous one, the tobacco plant is burned and bonfires are lit in the affected areas to remove the damage. In this case, specific prayers are used for the animal.

Now it is the turn of the ants. With them, an even more drastic measure is taken. They had to demolish their house and poured two pitchers through the entrance of the anthill previously sprinkled in its entirety with tobacco. It was intended to sink it in its entirety or at least that the ants moved far away from the place. You might be thinking, what happens if the ritual does not bear the expected fruits? If the first means of warning failed, permission was sought and obtained to kill the destroyer without remorse.

First corn

After a few months of growth, the plant begins to become massive. The farmers go to the cornfield to cut the first corn and bring a bunch of ears of corn or miahuatl, which they place on the altar. This process is known as Miahuatlacualtiliztli. At the same time, the plants are weeded with the intention of protecting them from certain animals and the wind.

The same day they go to the planting, the farmers carry out a ceremony called "food for the cornfield". This consists of taking a wax candle and a hen or turkey to sacrifice at the edge of the cement pits. The candle is placed in the middle of the ground and then the bird is cooked with tamales. Then the fire is removed and finally, the copal is burned.

In other regions when the corn is in milk (roasted or cooked corncob) the ceremonies called xilocruz, tlamanal, elotlamaliztli are performed. In the house where the initial processes were carried out, the rezandero ("prayer maker") enunciates the first prayers. Music is played followed by a toast and aguardiente is offered in front of the altar. The rezandero and all the musicians return to the milpa. There they continue with the prayers while expressing gratitude to their deities. They begin to cut the corncobs and return with them to the owner's house. When the noble work of harvesting is finished, fireworks are set off to let the women know that the corn has been harvested and is on its way.

They celebrate with joy and happiness for the longed-for sacred food. In the courtyard, the men make a cross known as elocruz; while the women, inside the house, make a corn doll called piloxanconetzin. Once finished, the famous "corn dance" begins. Immediately, to the sound of songs, the ears of corn are taken inside the house, which are peeled of their outer leaves, and then the food is served around the plants that will be venerated all night. The next day, the leaves that were cut are taken to the courtyard, where they are prayed to. The owner of the cornfield gives thanks to all involved and gives their respective ears of corn to each one. The leftover corn is left on the plants to ripen and dry.


When the corn is finally ripe, it is harvested. Before starting to lift it, the farmer looks for a sign in his cornfield. It consists of finding the xolotl; the cane that carries two or three ears of corn. When this particular and beautiful specimen is found, the rezandero ("prayer maker") orders two types of tamales to be made the following day: white and with salt. On that day, the rezandero and the owner of the milpa pluck the cane from two ears of corn. They take the tamales and proceed to head away from the village to a place where two roads divide. There they offer the food and the gemelar plant ("twin plant") to their deities. The only rule with the tamales is that they cannot be taken by a poor person passing by or given to someone in the village, as they say, he is a messenger. In the end, they invoke and give thanks so that again, after asking permission, they proceed to pick and raise all the corn.


After performing the rituals and efforts to sow, take care, and have a good harvest of corn, the crop is stored in the granaries cuexcomates or cincolotes, in order to use them during the year. Necessary rituals are performed for proper preservation and care against vermin, vermin, or fungal decay. With this, the farmer seeks to ensure the corn for a long time without damaging the stored paste. Finally, the cobs that will be used to be sown next year are placed on the altar of the house.

Prayers after harvesting "I am already raising my seed from the good storm, and I hope that, if God gives me leave, I will sow my labors again. I thank thee, O Lord, that thou hast given us to eat, and that thou wilt not leave us without food. You are so good that you, whatever we 'ask' of you, never leave us without performing a miracle. Jesus and Mary favor us and 'bless' us with our seed and our home and workers. Amen."


Burritos: toasted corn topped with piloncillo

Coricos: corn flour cookie.

Chicales: corn soaked for three days and cooked in a pot with piloncillo and sugar.

Gordas: cookies.

Harinillas: cookies made with corn flour.

Huachales: dried and rehydrated corn in stews.

Huajolote: fermented and boiled gruel.

Maíz Cristalino: corn with hard kernel, shiny and translucent crystalline appearance.

Maíz Dentado: corn with soft starch which when dried takes on the appearance of a tooth with intermediate hardness.

Maíz Dulce: corn with low starch grain that has a sweet taste and wrinkles as it matures.

Maíz Duro: corn with hard, round kernels that are soft to the touch. The endosperm is mostly made up of hard starch.

Maíz Harinoso: opaque-colored corn with soft kernels of soft grains with a soft and porous texture, composed exclusively of soft starch.

Menudo: stew made with a beef belly.

Piznate: drink made from cooked and fermented corn.

Ponteduro: small balls of toasted and spongy corn stuck with syrup.

Pozol: drink made from fermented dough.

Téjate: refreshing and nutritious drink.

Tesgüino: an alcoholic beverage made from germinated, ground, and fermented corn kernels.

Tlayuda: large tortilla with a leathery and flexible texture.

Xocos: tamales.

Source: National Institute of Indigenous Peoples