An Ancient Mystery Cult and an Abandoned Texas Rice Factory

Singing up into the magnifiscent Silos at Sawyer Yards. Houston, Texas. Misha Penton. Rehearsal for Threshold.

Singing up into the magnifiscent Silos at Sawyer Yards. Houston, Texas. Misha Penton. Rehearsal for Threshold.

RSVP here for the Sunday April 30 performance of Threshold.

The Eleusinian Mysteries, Texas rice industry, Japanese immigrant rice specialists* — farming,” so reads a note in my to-do list.

This, then— this is the Season of the Dionysia: The Houston Book of the Dead: How to Live— a city-wide arts festival spearheaded by writer and community visionary, Dr John Harvey of the University of Houston Center for Creative Work.

Threshold is my offering to the festival. This new music site-specific work is loosely inspired by the ancient and enigmatic biannual Greek initiatory rite, The Eleusinian Mysteries (as in Eleusis, Greece). Little is known of the details of the original events, but the ceremonies enacted the tale retold in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (seventh century BCE-ish): a mother-daughter passion play of abduction, loss, and renewal. The rites were held for a thousand years before the rise of Christianity and artists freely interpreted the story, as I, and my collaborators, do now. The ceremonies were said to be transformational for participants, honoring the cycle of life and offering a philosophy based in meaning-making and hope:

  • a look into the past and a glimpse ahead to the future
  • an honoring of our ancestors, of those who’ve come before us
  • an offering to and reverence of all that nurtures us
  • a descent into the personal and collective Darkness to emerge ever-transformed
Let’s quickly review, y’all: The Homeric Hymn to Demeter (an anonymous work, and called “Homeric” because (nerd alert!) of the Hymn’s use of the poetic meter which appears in the Greek epics: dactylic hexameter (say that ten times fast!). Anyhoo: Demeter is mother to Persephone (aka Proserpina, Kore, Kore the Maiden). Hades more-than-abducts Persephone, “It is difficult to find an appropriate English word to translate Hades’ act of violent abduction” (Foley 2074). Demeter petitions Zeus to intervene and return Persephone to the world above. He gives it a shot. Alas, Persephone ate pomegranate seeds while in the Underworld, so there’s no permanent escape (don’t eat down there, people!). A deal is made: Persephone will spend part of the year with her mother and part of the year in The Underworld. Kore emerges, Spring arrives, and when fall comes, Persephone descends into the darkness to join Hades as the exalted Queen of the Underworld. (Will have to discuss feminsit theory at a later date. Onward):

SITE Gallery at Sawyer Yards is an enormous, labyrinthine sonic wonderland. It’s an old rice factory now converted into an arts space. Threshold will be a mythopoetic underworld journey — a performance offering which speaks to the chaotic upheaval we are all feeling in our world. What kind of world will we create together as we pass through this difficult and historic portal in our country, communities, and personal lives? How will we nurture ourselves and each other?

Join us Sunday, April 30 at 7pm for ThresholdRSVP here.

*More, perhaps later, on early 19th century Japanese rice farming specialists who brought a rice varietal to Texas as a gift from the Emperor of Japan!

References

Foley, Helene P. The Homeric hymn to Demeter: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretative essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. Kindle Edition.