Now that fall is here, we are starting to turn our attentions to some of the lesser known myths and legends regarding this time of year. And what better way to kick off the autumn season than with the myths surrounding the scarecrow? Therefore, today we will be looking at a few of the origin stories of scarecrows from around the world.
Scarecrows have been around since the ancient world, used by farmers to ward off birds from fields in order to keep the crop before it is harvested. The earliest signs of scarecrows being in use actually comes to us from ancient Greece. Aphrodite had a son named Priapus — God of fertility and horticulture — who was considered horribly ugly, and it was discovered that birds had tended to avoid any fields in which Priapus had been. Therefore, wooden statues of Priapus were erected in fields in order to keep the birds at bay.
However, the ancient Greeks were not the only ones to use a scarecrow. In pre-feudal Japan, scarecrows of different styles littered the rice fields. The most popular of the scarecrows used, however, were called the kakashi. These scarecrows were thrown together using old, dirty rags and bells and stick and were mounted on a pole before being lit on fire. Due to the smoke and the smell — kakashi literally translates to “something stinky” — the birds would stay away. The kakashi were actually based off of a Japanese deity named Keubiko who was a god of agriculture and wisdom. He couldn’t walk, but he knew everything, and his likeness was mimicked in the creation of the kakashi.
Human-like figures weren’t always used as scarecrows, and sometimes keeping the birds away was a full-time job. In Europe during the Middle Ages, small children would run around in the fields and clap blocks of wood together in order to scare away the birds. These children were called “crow-scarers.” Though after the plague struck, leaving fewer children around, the farmers decided to try to stuff old clothes with straw, placing a turnip or gourd on top as a head, mounting these figures in the fields. This method worked, of course, and soon these human-esque figures were used instead.
Of course, we still see this tradition continuing on today. Straw-stuffed clothes and fabric disguised as human-like guardians are still used, leaving them to protect not only our fields, but to decorate our homes during the fall season. So next time you see a scarecrow, keep in mind the history of such a simple figure, and remember what our ancestors did in order to ensure that the birds would stay away.
For more reading on the scarecrow (sources):