The Sacred Way began at the sacred gate in Athens, nineteen kilometers from its destination at the Sanctuary of Eleusis where birth/death initiations were held in honor of the mother goddess Demeter, controller of seasons and grain, and her daughter Persephone; she who ate the pomegranate seeds, impregnated by the underworld. Without these women we would have only one season, under the god of Sun; death would be final. The moon might die in vain.
The Sacred Way is lined in orange trees, traveling along the salt air of Athens’ coast, by bus, car, or foot, one cannot find Eleusis unless they look. Lined on one side by wood fences, the other three hold in the rubble with chain links. Google will undoubtedly send tourists to an unmarked fencepost. Atop the hill, a little church points its hand to the sun. Below the cave where Hades dwells punctures the cliffside. Not far from it sits Demeter’s well.
My used copy of Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter arrived one August with 30 pages torn from its spine. The gods know no coincidence: the missing chapter Demeter Mythology & Rape Mythology, like Eleusis, could be found only if I knew what to look for. The afternoon I walked Eleusis, the woman at the entrance muttered: “don’t worry, you’ll be back again.” As the evening gates locked behind me. Demeter and her daughter too, return each year.
For centuries men and women were inducted in the secret rites of Eleusis. From a time when secrets stayed secret, we still know little of these rituals. But we do know women were seen as the emblem of death and rebirth, just like the moon.
Sitting on the edge of the well, they spoke: mother and daughter on the low winds off seawater. Like all sacred ruins, the marble sweats magic as I wondered how the procession began. Nineteen kilometers to arrive at Eleusis. Days for fasting, prayer, and the pantomime of abduction.
For many rites, Demeter required a piglet. The first pig ever in my dreams wanted to eat crayons in my father’s garage. A cave of the underworld if there ever was one. The next morning the young girl next door sat on her deck playing with a small stuffed pig. During the festival of Thesmophoria, women sacrificed young pigs. Their soft carcasses decay, often until the next spring. Today, the well by which Demeter mourned grows flowers into summer, and maybe fall.
Amy Bobeda holds an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University where she sometimes teaches writing & art. Read her work in Hobart, Columbia Review, Ecotheo Review, and elsewhere. @amybobeda on twitter.