Next February, I will be 80 years old. A lovely round ripe number. And sometime within the foreseeable future, I will die. This doesn’t freak me out at all; I will meet it with great curiosity and finally climb up into Hecate’s lap. It helps that I know at least something about the sweet soft young woman who got startled into motherhood and then decided to carry me to term and say goodbye. It helps even more to know that she went back to college, finished her degree, met and married a fine man and had a son. She lived fifty-four years beyond my birth, and thanks to the generosity of my wonderful brother I now wear her silver ring and have a planter whose soil is mixed with her ashes.
In the late 90’s I had the amazing experience of carrying the role of Inanna, the oldest deity of whom we have written record. Later, we repeated the production here in California, then revised and restaged it once again, so I have been through this three times. Every time something new became clear.
The queen of heaven and earth, Inanna is incomplete until she finds reunion with her sister Ereshkigal, the queen of the underworld. Once the world had been a seamless realm, but when the division came—light from dark, heaven from earth—the sisters were violently separated. Inanna ruled over pleasure, abundance, and fertility, while Ereshkigal’s task was to consume the dead.
The reunion is not pleasant. The lonely and embittered sister kills her privileged counterpart, and the world above becomes sterile. In the ancient myth, Inanna is brought back to life, but because the descent of seven gates is one-way only, she cannot return to the realm of light unless someone dies to take her place. Eventually a plan ripens: Inanna’s consort Dumuzi will die and come to Ereshkigal, allowing Inanna to ascend to thaw our frozen world, and in six months Dumuzi’s twin sister will take his place below, and he will return to Inanna. Polyamory, it seems, is very old, and it works. Inanna and Ereshkigal do not fuse, they each reign over their original realms and share their lover, who changes places with his female twin every six months. The gates are open, and the earth prospers in the ancient dance of life and death.
Inanna’s story becomes that of Persephone, and I have been an initiate in a recreation of the Eleusinian Mysteries three times. For more than two millennia the Mysteries were the defining experience in the Mediterranian world, available to men, women, slaves—forbidden only to those who had committed murder. It was a capital offense to reveal anything about the ritual, but all were allowed to speak of its effect. It completely changed the initiate’s relationship to death, and fear disappeared.
Implicit in the stories of Inanna and Persephone is the idea that birth and death are a linked cycle that binds us all in communion. No one is exempt, not even the rich and powerful. The seed produces the fruit which produces the seed. We need to find our own Mysteries again. I feel in my heart that many of the rich and powerful are doing their best to bargain their way out of the cycle, that they are terrified of death and will twist and deform life in a mad effort to become exempt.
Me, I think that’s a lot of work. I prefer to live as best I can for as long as my time allows, and then to yawn, relax, and crawl up into Hecate’s lap.