Hay-Man’s Creepy Origin
For centuries scarecrows have been erected in fields across the world. Their singular purpose is to deter birds from steeling seed and feeding on growing crops. Also called a hay-man, it is comprised mostly of straw stuffed inside a shirt and pants. Sitting atop a high pole or wooden stick, the wind whips and wildly flails the arm sleeves, thus giving it the allusion of life. A large straw hats tops the display that completes the crude human replica.
To birds, they appear human. To humans, they are nothing short of creepy. While no one knows for sure who actually created the very first scarecrow, there is one tale that is as disturbing as the faceless hay-man itself.
Ever the innovators, ancient Egyptians used a wooden frame covered in a net to protect their wheat fields from invasive quail. Their tactic was two-fold as they would hide in the fields and chase the quail into the nets which later provided a meal.
During one season, the crops yielded much less wheat than anticipated. The Egyptians feared that they had angered the gods in some way and were being punished. Eventually, speculation fell to the flocks of quail that were being trapped and eaten.
Quail immediately became a protected bird in ancient Egypt and those found to have hunted and eaten them would be sentenced to death.
However, the Egyptians didn’t place all of their hope for a prolific crop in the kindness of their deities. With quail free from being hunted, they needed more effective deterrents. Thus, dozens of lifelike scarecrows were placed on frames and above the crop line. The netting draped across the wooden frames was replaced with a sagging body wrapped in human clothing. A head covered in papyrus rested to one side as two arms and two legs dangled beneath.
For years the invasive quail avoided the fields and the crops yielded bountiful wheat. The Egyptian people sang the praises of kind deities as food was again plentiful.
Finally, an Egyptian field worker discovered the terrifying truth behind the quail’s retreat from the wheat fields and the subsequent abundance in wheat. On a day with particularly strong winds, the wrapping around one of the scarecrow’s heads whipped by the wind fell to the ground. The preserved face of a familiar man known to have been executed for hunting quail to feed his hungry family looked down at him.
The worker looked across the field at the dozens of scarecrows poised in the same position. A sea of death cloaked in limestone to mask the smell of decay stretched as far as he could see. He dropped to his knees to pray for the hay-men and for the gods to have mercy on their souls.