The Nature of the Descent
It must have been a very long time ago when humans first realized  that the gods descended and rose again. Katabasis, the Greeks of Classical times called it--a going down. But they were hardly the first to invent the concept. That honor must go to the first creature who noticed that the sun sinks beneath the horizon in the west and resurfaces in the east the next morning.

We don't know who that was. We don't know what festivals and rituals they celebrated and performed.

We first see evidence of the magic of katabasis some thirty to forty thousand years ago, when fantastical creatures, wild animals, and--more rarely--human shapes began to appear in the depths of caves across the world, drawn in ancient pigments or engraved. Human beings descended into dark depths for reasons they could not pass down to us; they created art; and they returned to the light.

The sun falls and rises again. So do people. It's in the nature of gods and human beings.

The first written stories of katabasis appear four to five thousand years ago in Sumer--right around the time and place that one of the earliest systems of writing was being developed. The tales themselves must be older. But the oldest story that comes down to us from there is that of Gilgamesh, and he entered the underworld and left it again.

Ancient Egypt developed a highly sophisticated set of myths and rituals surrounding the descent. Ra journeyed through the underworld of the night sky, envisioned sometimes as a sea and sometimes as the body of a goddess of the night sky. Osiris, also called Wesir, was dismembered, and he sank into the underworld as a result every year, only to be brought back by his wife, Isis or Aset, long enough to sire their Divine Child.

Centuries later, we see distant echoes of this in elusive tales of the mystery religions of ancient Greece. Some remained better-kept secrets than others: eventually, the abduction of Persephone and the dismemberment of Dionysos were committed to writing, albeit lacking certain revelations. But the essence was bright and clear: a god or goddess was flung into the underworld, only to emerge more radiant and powerful than before. Their journey served as a model for that of their initiates, and their triumphant ascent promised salvation.

Mortals are promised death, but we still strive to triumph over it.

My project is about the modern heirs of the ancient katabasis: transgender people, who descend into a shadowy and uncertain world by shedding the identity we were raised with all our lives, only to rise again as human beings better and truer to ourselves. I ask what our rights and powers are as such magicians, and who our gods might be.

This is the story of the descent of the gods, and what it means to us now.