The Eleusinian Mystery Poems


Poems by Fleda Brown Jackson
Images by Norman Sasowsky
Copyright 1997


Eleusis is the site of the best-kept secret of the ancient world. From the eighth century B.C. until the Goths burned the sanctuary in A.D. 395, Greek-speaking men, women, and slaves were annually initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries. The nine-day secret ceremony represented Demeter's nine days of wandering the earth in grief, searching for her daughter Persephone, who had been snatched away into the underworld by the god Hades. The ceremony linked the growing of grain, the bread of life, with the rich, dark necessity of death. The ritual was said to be transformative: to speak of it would be to endanger the cosmic cycle of regeneration. The Mysteries, the last stronghold of prehistoric agrarian goddess culture, lost ground with each wave of patriarchal invaders.

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We first intended this project to be a loosely connected series of poems and images based on the few available facts about the Mysteries at Eleusis. As our work evolved, the poems became a narrative, as did the images. The poems are the voice of one woman; the images are the collective vision of myth, interpreted by a single imagination. During the time the Mysteries were practiced, artists made vase paintings and sculptures to represent some elements of the ceremony without ever explicitly revealing either the actual experiences of the initiates or the ritual. The story here, and the images, are our vase paintings and sculpture. Working independently, we chose to allow words and images, story and myth, to tattle on each other,
as they always do.

Fleda Brown Jackson
Norman Sasowsky

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