I am going to be incredibly arrogant and say that I think that quite a bit of the current thought on therianthropy may be going about this the wrong way.
By ‘going about this the wrong way,’ I mean that there seems to be a general tendency to think of therianthropy in terms of a process or means rather than an end result. In my incredibly arrogant opinion, this is incorrect.
Take phantom limbs, for example. I recently experienced what could be dubbed ‘phantom paws’. And yes, they felt like phantom paws, and my brain interpreted them as phantom paws. Notice interpret. They were most likely not, as I initially thought, phantom paws. Most likely, they were odd sensations brought on by bloodflow abnormalites after lying down in my bed after two and one half hours on the road in a cramped seat. But my brain interpreted them as phantom paws, and that’s what got me thinking. The vast majority of our phantom limbs may be abnormalities such as these- exactly what kind of abnormality I don’t know. Does this make our brain interpretation false or not? Well, yes, but that does not necessarily kill therianthropy. It does, however, make the idea of therianthropy as a condition in all cases that less likely. In my opinion, what matters is not why a phantom limb occurs, but how our brain interprets it. Our self-image, I think, has been modified in order to construe what normal people would regard as simple odd feelings as phantom limbs- that would also explain why so many therians cameo-shift phantom limbs. And I think that that is what in the end matters. Exactly how I’m not sure. I’m thinking about it.
What if almost all of our behaviors can be explained through similar means? I’ve heard people argue it, and argued back that therianthropy is a group of behaviors, not an underlying condition, at least not in all cases. But I think that an addendum should be added- part of therianthropy is how the brain interprets this information. It is well-documented how our brains can turn random noise into patterns. It is also not unheard of for a therian to interpret everything as a shift. Perhaps a large part of therianthropy is interpretation- this thing and this thing and that thing are because I’m a therian, we think. Of course, most people don’t exactly have consistent symptoms- a few common trends are reported, but on closer examination these ‘trends’ turn out to be general things (phantom limbs) that cover a huge range. Instead, I think that a consideration of therianthropy as an end result is in order. Instead of ‘this thing and this thing and that thing are because I’m a therian,’ ‘this thing and this thing and that thing make me a therian.’ Where does interpretation play into this, you may ask?
Well, let’s put it this way. If someone thinks they have a psychiatric disorder, and they don’t but the end result’s the same, it doesn’t exactly matter all that much why they actually are having the symptoms of the disorder, at least in regards to how they view themselves. If I think I have autism but actually have a host of other things that make my symptoms like someone with autism, then I might as well be autistic. If I think I have therianthropy but actually have a host of other things (blood flow abnormalities, autism, learned behaviors, etc) that produce an end result pretty much identical to therianthropy, for most intents and purposes about talking about therianthropy, I might as well have it. Yes, there are exceptions, but the rule generally holds. And that is where the two are linked.
**This is only a list with descriptions for the wide variety of explanations and beliefs as to what may cause therianthropy and being otherkin. It is presented in a neutral manner to allow others to see the diversity of beliefs on this topic, regardless of how few or many therians/otherkin hold a particular belief, or how ‘believable’ any given concept on this list may or may not be.
- Biological: Therianthropy is a biological phenomenon, rooted in the hindbrain and showing up in physical characteristics and changes, like elongated eyeteeth and shifting eye color. Or there’s an abnormality of the brain, a genetic mutation. (Can be said to go along with the “genetic” theory.)
- Dissociation: Therianthropy is related to or due to a dissociative disorder, whether it be full dissociative identity disorder or a lesser form of dissociation. Shifting is dissociation from higher thought processes and emotion, the “human side”.
- Dual Souls/Walk-In: Two souls occupy the therian’s body, one human and one animal, or his soul is part animal and part human.
- Everyone’s Therian: Everyone’s a therianthrope, everyone has an animal side. But very few people become aware of or accepting of this fact, and so there aren’t a lot of awakened therians. Anyone can awaken, though, and become therian.
- Genetic: Therianthropy is passed from generation to generation, like body type or mental disorders.
- Imprinting (from Winged Wolf’s site): When young, the human imprinted on an animal of a different species, and thus grew to believe (at some level) that she was that animal, imitating the behavior and mannerisms of that animal.
- Links to Gaia: Therians are links to nature and the primal side of humanity, an attempt by nature or deities or some other power to return balance to the world. Therians are to fight for this and protect the environment.
- Mental: Therianthropy is a mental fabrication, where the person desires so much to be something other that he tricks his mind into experiencing shifts of perception, phantom limbs, etc. It’s an elaborate game of ‘let’s pretend” taken to a new, more vibrant, more serious level. (Similar to the “dissociation” theory.)
- Primal Association (from Winged Wolf’s site): “Everyone has a primal side–this is the part of the brain and personality which is instinct-driven. It may be that in some persons, the primal side is very well-developed. On top of that, the person may identify their primal nature with an animal or animals, similar to the way a dissociative has seperated different personalities in their mind.”
- Psychic Connection (from Winged Wolf’s site): “If a person, when very young, developed a very deep psychic link with a certain animal, then they may take on–or take in–the mind of that animal to such a degree that it becomes a part of them, and remains so even after the link is severed.”
- Reincarnation: The therian was her animal in a past life, and shifts are past life memories. Or her soul is animal, but instead of being reincarnated into the corresponded body, something happened to reincarnate her as a human. Or she spent enough lifetimes as a certain species (or had a lifetime as that species that heavily impacted her soul) that the energetic nature of her soul (or something of the like) is that of a certain animal.
- Shamanistic/Totemic: Therianthropes are people with a natural affinity for shamanistic practices, astral shape-shifting, etc, and their theriotype is their power animal, not who they are. Or the totem animal of the therianthrope has more influence over the therianthrope’s behavior and mannerisms, or they’re more in touch with their totem.
- Soul Parts: The soul has many parts (such as with the Egyptian concept of the soul) and one or more of those parts resonates with, has the nature/shape of, or in some other way is animal. This can also explain polyweres, if each part is, in some way, a different “species”.
- Soul Splitting/Shattering: Souls can split, break, fission, or shatter into more than one piece, and often do. Soul-pieces sometimes/often fuse onto other soul-pieces, and sometimes a nonhuman soul-piece fuses to a human soul, resulting in a therianthrope.
- Spiritual Link: The therian is linked to an animal or animal spirit (similar to the concept of daemon in the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman). This link provides her with some animalistic behaviors and instincts.
I am Earth Listener. I am a therian with two theriotypes, a dire wolf and quilled shark. I am also only one of several people sharing the same body and living life as a multiple system. And finally, I am a dæmian whose dæmon is named Danteberos who takes the shape of a Hovawart. If any of these terms and concepts or the differences between them confuses you it is my hope that I clear some of those questions up in this article.
The nature of being a therian, a daemian, and/or part of a multiple system are different entities unto themselves, though at times any one of them can share some small similarity in overlapping traits. The online communities that any of these three topics can be found in certainly reflect this as it is not unheard of to find a member of one community who also identifies with another of these communities. However, the majority of each community’s members are often completely separate to the remaining two, and does not mean that they are subsets of either or the other in any which way.
Therianthropy is an identity phenomenon in which a person integrally and personally sees themselves as being a certain animal or animals whether it be spiritually, psychologically, or otherwise. One identifies as being a certain animal or even animals which is referred to as a theriotype. It is an internal identification that is greatly integral to the person and their identity and sense of self.
Multiplicity, or being part of a multiple system, on the other hand is an umbrella term for a number of phenomena of having more than one person and/or individual in the same body. Multiplicity can include a wide variety of phenomena from walk-ins, mental constructs that gained separate sovereignty, multiplicity that is natural from birth, and much more. The number of individuals in a system can vary from two onward and upward. The connection and relationships between these members, often referred to as headmates within the multiple community, can vary greatly beyond simply being like a ‘friend’ or ‘sibling’ or ‘roommate.’ The term ’multiplicity’ is truly quite an umbrella term and no two systems just as any group of people will be or act alike in relationship structure and life together.
Daemonism is a concept/philosophy in which an individual, referred to as a daemian, imagines seeing and speaks to, often exultingly mentally, their daemon. A daemon is often likened to by many daemians as a mixture of an imaginary friend, a mental construct, and Carl Jung’s archetypal anima and animus that basically embodies part of that person’s mental thought process. The drive towards having a daemon varies among daemians, though the most common reasons stem from influences involving self-introspection, entertainment and/or comfort.
The shape of an animal, commonly referred to as a daemon’s form, ideally is usually set to reflect on the person’s personality. Unlike a theriotype, it is not uncommon for a daemon to change form seeing as how they are only limited by the daemian’s imagination. Regardless of a dæmian’s age, as long as they have the imagination and care to do so, their daemon can take the form of just about anything. However, one of the defining features and draw to daemonism is the prospect of finding one’s ‘settled form.’
A person’s settled form unlike the books, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman from which the beginnings of the concept of daemonism first got its initial base and some terminology, by far is not based on symbology or archetypes but instead goes for deep, great detail into an animal’s behavior, temperament, adaptability, lifestyle, and more. With the concept of daemonism itself, daemians are naturally encouraged to not only see inside to discover as much as they can about themselves, their personality, and who they are, but also research and look into the animal kingdom in search of an animal whose behavior not only suits a person’s personality completely but also has a form a person is comfortable with projecting.
Despite being a concept that could take on the shape of virtually any animal and the idea of who wouldn’t want a large and ’exotic’ animal to be them, there is actually a great variety in not only the forms of people’s daemons who are not settled but also to those who are. Large and ‘exotic animals’ are actually not a majority among most daemians. Small animals, from countless breeds of domestic dogs and cats to a wide variety of birds and reptiles and so on, are far more common than wolves and big cats, unlike the therian community.
Another common reason often given for a person being a dæmian is for entertainment reasons. The act of speaking to and projecting a daemon, either from time to time or constantly, naturally keeps one’s mind from becoming too idle or bored from mundane activities. The act of having a daemon splits a person’s normal mental monologue chatter (“My alarm went off… need to get… need to get dressed…where’s my shoes?”) into a mental dialogue (“My alarm went off.” “Yep, and that means you need to get up.” “Fine, just now let me get dressed.” “Wait, but now where are your shoes?”). This breaking up of a person’s stream of consciousness can help a person open themselves up and away from circular thinking by allowing part of their mind to think as the person’s own personal,internal ‘Jiminy Cricket’ normally and even their personal devil’s advocate when need be.
Some have often tried to liken this mental dialogue within the mind as similar to multiplicity, but again the similarities are only at face value. For the daemian, their daemon is still a part of them and their consciousness. The daemon is a mental construct – a bubble within a bubble, rather than two bubbles outside one another. The daemon is still them and it is something that they are willingly diverging from themselves to a point, rather than being actual separate and independent entities such are the headmates of a multiple system. Within a multiple system, a headmate can and/or does control and operate the body, often called Fronting; however this does not happen with daemians and their daemons. A daemon, instead, is often ‘seen’ by the daemian as being beside them similar to how a child sees their imaginary friend during childhood. The other members in a multiple system do not, at least not traditionally or that commonly, ‘see’ any other member outside their physical body. While it is not unheard of for certain multiple systems to have nonhuman members or even members which are animals, such members and the animal identity they have is their own and is not inherently connected to another system member.
Originally, much of the community’s terminology and thoughts sprang from concepts found within Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. However, the daemon community as it exists today bears only slight resemblance to the work of fiction’s dæmons, most of which is only in the use of certain common words alone rather than their meaning. This is a hauntingly similar parallel to how the therian community originally began from Alt.Horror.Werewolves: something of fiction sparking the realization of something vaguely similar regarding identity rather than fiction and fandom. In the very beginning for both communities, terms and certain thoughts stemmed on or around their fictional counterparts, however as both communities have existed over the years both have matured away from that. As within the therian community, there is less talk and wondering over ‘physical shifting’ and ‘the effects of the moon on shifting,’ so too is there less talk of ‘daemons ever possibly becoming corporeal’ and ‘how old someone has to be before they are settled.’
The primary similarity between being a therian and a daemian might be the existence within a person of an animal shaped identity; however from there these two topics diverge rapidly. For with a therian, their animal identity is a strong, integral part of their very identity and self (they see themselves as that animal in a nonphysical way more often than not), while with a daemian their animal is quite symbolic within its form and is simply a part of a person’s consciousness rather than direct identity. A daemon is not actually an animal, just a construct in the form of an animal. The form of a daemon is who someone is and how they behave, not what they are. A therian’s theriotype is what they are despite having a human body, and what theriotype a therian has is not dependent on their personality.
Of course, these descriptions are only rough and general concepts of their subject matters. All of these above phenomena are highly based on an individual’s experiences and views which no one person will be exactly the same, so the basic descriptions in this article are but an overview and part of the overall different subject’s spectrum. In fact, this whole essay is actually somewhat biased despite my best intentions with only my own limited experiences of these communities over time and my own personal experiences within these topics.
In the end, this is only a rough over view of the differences and similarities of daemonism, therianthropy, and multiplicity, and there will always be people who experience things somewhat differently or those whose experiences fall around a gray area between one topic and another. Just as someone’s experiences with their theriotype can almost be totemistic in ways, so too with these topics and more, can lines blur for some. At times someone’s experiences with their theriotype can take on third-person-like qualities and so be somewhat more easily confused with certain aspects of either multiplicity and/or daemonism. And for some, their experiences with their daemon might be so unconscious and with so little mental effort and focus when it comes to projecting and/or speaking to them that one could begin to question if their daemon was actually another entity.
There are more types of shifts than listed and defined here, but these are the key ones used in discussions and writings pertaining to therianthropy. And thus these terms listed do not encompass the full expanse of ways in which a person (therian or not) can experience “shifts” to a non-human creature. They are limiting, and though terms have been made for some other types of shifts, they are rather redundant and/or needless (since the term is self-explanatory, as some of these listed are, but the ones listed are generally used more often anyway), and nevertheless they don’t cover all the shifting manifestations of therianthropy. Also keep in mind that these shifts are not exclusively therianthropic and can be experienced by people who aren’t therians or by therians to animals that aren’t of their theriotype(s). These shifts can also come in the manner of being voluntary or involuntary.
Mental Shift (m-shift): this term indicates a change in mindset toward a non-human creature. That change/shift can be very mild, to very strong, and any level in-between.
Many therians tend to understand mental shifting as being an extreme shift in mindset toward one’s theriotype (or other animal) when that is actually only one type of manifestation of it, and it happens to be the seemingly more uncommon type. Most m-shifting is the mild to moderate types when part of a human mindset/mentality is maintained. Some people can signify these shifts in supposed percentages of %human, %[theriotype], etc., but not everyone who experiences m-shifting can or will denote theirs with percentages.
It is unclear and undecided by consensus on whether ‘minor fluctuations’ toward or away from the animal mindset should be considered a type of mental shift, mainly because they do mention some level (albeit very minor) of mental ‘change’. There are also the implications that people sometimes see in the concept of m-shifting with them assuming that it indicates a notable separation from the ‘therioside’ and the person, when instead mental shifts do not have to exclude integration of the theriotype(s) with the human or self. Also, the boundaries as to what is and is not a mental shift have not been clearly defined by a therian community consensus. The term’s definitions are often so vague or ambiguous that they could be applied to more or less than mental shifting itself might actually encompass.
Phantom Shift (ph-shift): the term is based off of the “phantom limb” experience that some amputees have, but this is only a similar, obviously not the same, occurrence. It is when a person feels a non-human body part attached to or super-imposed on their human body.
The specific ways in which these can be experienced varies vastly, but included amongst them are a diversity of levels of ‘realism’, some being very minor to some even being so intense that the phantom part feels almost or entirely “real” regardless of the fact it is not physical. Some phantom parts are constant, but the ones referred to in this definition are those that are temporary and ‘shift’ in and out of occurrence. Other effects associated with some phantom parts include pain or discomfort in/on or associated with the phantom part, movement (voluntary or involuntary) of the phantom body part, and reactions to outside ‘real’ stimuli such as objects, sounds, movement of other things, and so forth.
Astral Shift: when a person shifts his/her astral body to the ‘form’ of a non-human animal, whether it be of a person’s theriotype or some other type of animal.
Dream Shift: self-explanatory, but this is a shift that occurs as the person shifting partially or entirely into his/her theriotype(s) or any other non-human animal within the dream. If the person shifts to an animal that is a theriotype of his/hers then it is a therianthropic dream shift, and if it’s to some other type of animal then it’s, of course, non-therianthropic (as applicable to other types of shifts).
Physical Shift (p-shift): this type of shift is widely and often highly believed to not be possible to occur, but because of its usage on therianthropy sites and boards it’s defined here. As the name indicates, a physical shift is a shift that would occur with the person’s physical body changing partially or entirely into a non-human animal. Some people claim that because they experience color changes in their irises that it is or maybe a very minor physical shift, but well-made arguments have been made against that notion and other claims of actually physically shapeshifting, in part or whole.
Cameo Shift: used to indicate a shift not of a person’s theriotype(s) (like a “cameo appearance” in some forms of media). This term is not used widely much anymore, and the term itself is actually meant to denote that the person is experiencing shifts to an animal that the person doesn’t ‘usually’ shift into—the animal is a rarer occurrence to shift for the person. However, that latter description gives implications that an animal shifted to non-rarely (even if not necessarily on a regular basis) would be a theriotype, when instead shifting does not define a therianthrope nor his/her theriotype(s), and thus a more frequent occurrence of shifting to a non-therianthropic animal could be from the person experiencing some other form of animal connection, animal spirituality, or such similar things.
These definitions are supplied for primarily educational reasons for people who come across or are part of the “therianthropy community” online. They are not designed as convenient labels to be applied to a person needlessly, though they can be used of course to aid in better, quicker, and more practical communication to other people (therian or not) about therianthropy or one’s personal therianthropy. However, the definitions provided are not completely set-in-stone and are designed as simplified versions of the experience, concept, etc. they pertain to but each may encompass some things not mentioned in these definitions. There are many occurrences of people misunderstanding therianthropy terminology, so resources with definitions of that terminology need to be available somewhere online rather than terms being left as too highly self-defined and thus hindering the benefits of having them as terms.
Cladotherianthropy: A term coined to describe a broader kind of theriotype that is not species specific. It denotes therians who have a theriotype that is not one species but encompasses a broader spectrum of related animals. Some consider it to refer to having an entire genus as a theriotype, however, there are many animals that have only one identified species under a genus, and thus in numerous cases it would not be appropriate to denote oneself as a cladotherian with a theriotype that is of a genus with a single species. However, this may lead some to argue that because their theriotype’s genus has, for example, two or three species within it they must be a cladotherian because their theriotype encompasses that whole genus. There can also be the concern as to how broadly of a theriotype the term applies to, in which during the origin of the term it was applied to a therian with an entire class (Reptilia) as the theriotype as well as ones which have theriotypes fitting suborders. Another example is it can also be used well in describing a single theriotype that encompasses many animal species of the same taxonomic family (or class, order, etc.) without necessarily including all species within that family (such as many feline species, yet not every species of feline).
Exactly where the lines are or should be drawn regarding uses of the term cladotherianthropy is unclear, especially since it is a term that has always been used rarely, and around the time it was coined only few people felt the term properly fit them, and since then it has grown widely out of usage. Something else that is clear about the term is that cladotherianthropy should not be applied to indicate someone who is unsure of their theriotype’s specific species but are still searching for that species-specification. Instead it is intended for application to those therians who have theriotypes which actually are broader than an exact species, in that the cladotherian is not “still searching” for their theriotype’s species but that they have already found the conclusion of “it is not a specific species”. As also, cladotherianthropy should not be confused with having multiple theriotypes (although a person could be a cladotherian and have another one or more theriotypes), because the breadth of the cladotherian’s therianthropy is not a matter of having a large number of separate, single related species as theriotypes. But instead the cladotherianthropic theriotype is itself so broad and non-specific that it includes or encompasses many related animal species without actually being separately those species as theriotypes.
Contherianthropy: This term was defined initially by Lion Templin in 1997 with his essays on the subject, and the word derived from the Latin “constans” meaning unchanging/constant. It came about in controversy at the time from people in the community claiming that it was mandatory for therians to shift, but Lion Templin’s term of contherianthropy brought about a concept that was new and is now widely accepted in the therian community.
That concept is that a therian can be so integrated with his/her ‘animal aspect’ (regardless of the number of “theriotypes”, per se) that the therian does not shift, instead they remain in a “constant” humanimal mindset. And thus contherians are also recognized by the consequential effect of that full mental integration: they do not mental shift (to their ‘animal aspect’, for lack of there being anything to “shift into”). However, contherians have too often been defined by their lack of shifts rather than by their full humanimal integration that causes an incapacity for therianthropic mental shifts (this may also, in some or all cases, extend to phantom shifts with the animal phantom sensations, if any, remaining constant instead of temporary and shifting).
There is, though, a lot of confusion, misuse, and some controversy over the exact definition of this term as applied to an individual’s therianthropy, which should be kept in mind if used to describe one’s personal therianthropy. The definition of a “mental shift” is not well defined, regardless of what definition I have come across, and thus it’s difficult to define what constitutes (in experience beyond words) what is not mental shifting. I won’t be the one to make that call for individuals.
Otherkin: There are two main definitions of this term, and both are provided here so as to denote the prevalence of both definitions being used often. One definition is that otherkin is a general, overarching term for those people who feel they are in part or whole [non-physically] non-human, with one or more non-human otherkin types/aspects (also known as a ‘kintype); this is a category that therians are a subsection of, but it also includes a variety of other non-human creatures, including but not limited to mythical creatures. The other definition is the same except that it is not as generalized of a category and instead only denotes the creatures that are mythical, fantastical, or non-Earth animals.
Phenotype: This term is still in usage by some therians online, as is “wereside”. Phenotype helped move more therians away from the wereside terminology, but the term was eventually decided to be changed into theriotype (or therioside) in order to get away from the misnomer of a phenotype being a biological term about the observable expression of a genetic trait. Theriotype was decided over phenotype because of this on the account that phenotype gives the implication that a therian’s “animal sides/types” are expressed physically in one’s body (in ways beyond behavior and instead with physical appearance, forms, organs, etc. being abnormally like that of the person’s animal-type, rather than human). The continued usage of the term phenotype for a theriotype is not forbidden in general but it is largely unpreferred, as also is the term wereside.
Polywere: A therianthrope who has more than one theriotype/therioside. Some therians dislike this particular term and will use “polytherian” instead or may avoid using either term altogether. It should not be confused with a polymorph/polyshifter (a type of otherkin which, simplistically-speaking, is a ‘kin-type that shifts between many, many types of creatures, organisms, or sometimes non-living things).
Suntherianthropy: This is a term defined by a single therian to describe his type of therianthropy, though it can and has been appropriately applied to other therians. It is pronounced “soon-therian” and derived from the Greek word “sun” meaning ‘with’, and used to indicate ‘with animal’ as the term suntherian. There’s also a syntherian variation used sometimes because of the two prefixes having the same meaning, though the creator of the term preferred the pronunciation of suntherian (many people, however, prefer the syntherian variation because of the more appropriate prefix). WordWolf, the creator of this term, defined it in 2005 as:
“This is similar to contherianthropy. In fact, it is what is USUALLY meant by contherianthropy.
A SUNTHERIAN is a therian whose therioside (primary or sole therioside) is integrated into his baseline personality.
HOWEVER, that integration does not prevent him/her from having minor fluctuations of mood that feel slightly more animal, or slightly less animal. He/she can feel them both at the same time, human and animal. He/she can NOT m-shift into his/her base theriotype (whether primary or sole.)”
The extent of this term’s definition is not well defined, and as with contherianthropy, deciding what does and does not constitute a mental shift is too subjective of an answer to be written here in a clear, concise definition.
Therianthropy: The state of being a person who is, feels, or believes he/she is in part or whole (non-physically) one or more non-human animals on an integral, personal level.
Wereside: Used as synonymous to “phenotype” or “therioside/theriotype”.
If you have a few more questions, or anything has been unclear, the questions and answers below may help to clear any confusion up. If you’re still curious or have a question to add please don’t hesitate to ask.
I am always my theriotype(s), does this mean I don’t mental shift? I have fluctuations and times when I feel more or less my theriotype(s) but I am always it/them; is this contherianthropy or suntherianthropy?
I have dreams about being an animal (or insert specific animal) [once, twice, frequently, etc.], does that mean I’m a therian? Or “does that mean my theriotype is [animal dreamt of being]?” Similarly, “I see [insert animal(s)] in my dreams a lot (or recently), would it/they be my theriotype(s)?”
No, even though many people attempt to define contherianthropy by that. Contherians do not have the ability to shift into their theriotype(s) because they are 100% humananimal all the time in a fully human-animal integration. This does not, however, mean that those who shift have theriotypes not integrated greatly into him/herself, but this has to do with human-to-theriotype integration, not theriotype-to-self integration. Contherians can’t be “half-shifted” or in a constant state of shift because it renders the application of the term “shift” meaningless in this case on the account that if there is nothing for the contherian to shift into, they can thus not be constantly shifted into that thing.
In the past, this question would be quickly met with a blatant “no, therians are born as such”, and currently most therians online hold to this belief particularly since such a large number of therians have consistently stated things along the lines of “I have been this way [a therian] for as long as I can remember”. Until recently, few if any people have come forward to openly speak in sincerity about some therians, including their own selves, not fitting within that standard. This should not at all be confused with ‘becoming a therian overnight’ or some such superficial explanation and reasoning for not being born a therian. The truth of the matter remains in that we have no verifiable enough proof that any person is necessarily physically born a therian, let alone that it is an absolute requirement for every therian to believe he/she is such since physical birth. Overall, this topic can be a controversial matter that has yet to be discussed extensively enough to better settle conflict between the different reasoning on it from some therians or groups of therians.
There remain some therians, even sites or boards, that believe only certain types of animals can be theriotypes while other animals are excluded. However, a wide variety of animal types have been represented in the online community, including but not limited to fish, marine mammals, land mammals (regardless of type), insects, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. There appears no restriction on the capacity for a person to end up being probably any type of animal, and that may even include animals such as jellyfish, coral, sea anemones, microscopic animals, and so forth. Numerous therians have even expressed that they believe a person can be a “plant otherkin” (or plant ‘kin) in a very similar manner in which a person can be a therian—the difference being that the former is of a plant ‘kintype and the latter of an animal theriotype/’kintype.
We currently do not know the bounds and limitations by which the internal self, identity, soul, or psychology can subjectively manifest within an individual. And there is thus the potential that there are people (whether or not they ever enter the online therian or otherkin communities) who have animal, plant, other organism, etc. internal aspects equivalent to that of therians and otherkin but of creatures or organisms many therian/’kin may not expect or even want to accept are such internally. Skepticism can be understandable, but it’s important to be respectful to others even amongst skepticism and to realize that we are far from honestly having all of the “facts” about being therian and otherkin.
In simplistic terms, most therians appear to admit and realize that our food and drink diets in our obviously human bodies have little to no impact from what their theriotype(s) is/are. Therians with “carnivorous” animal theriotypes are not inevitably bound away from being vegan or vegetarian, for any of a variety of reasons. Those therians with “herbivorous” or insectivorous theriotypes are similarly not limited to eating by only a vegan/vegetarian or insect-based diet, respectively.
Though it’s not to say that a person’s theriotype(s) necessarily can’t affect and influence one’s eating habits in other ways or even be in ways connected to a drive to eat certain foods (meat, insects, particular plants, etc.). Some therians express having mental shifts involved in strongly craving food types of their theriotype(s), or that the person’s otherwise non-therianthropy related preference for eating certain foods also sometimes manifests an inner satiation therianthropically of eating a food type which his/her theriotype would normally or prefer to eat. Therianthropy can also affect the ways in which a person behaviorally consumes, searches for, gathers or obtains, or otherwise acts regarding food.
I am always my theriotype(s), does this mean I don’t mental shift? I have fluctuations and times when I feel more or less my theriotype(s) but I am always it/them; is this contherianthropy or suntherianthropy?
The answer to this is a difficult and probably complex one that is ultimately answered by each individual him/herself. However, I believe this misconception does need additional clarification. Just because a person is “always” his/her theriotype(s) does not necessitate that s/he is experiencing being a contherian or suntherian. It’s generally understood that therianthropy is something that is nevertheless a constant part of oneself, rather than an aspect that is only existent in the individual for brief, temporary amounts of time. Yet its consistency does not always have to manifest in a completely active form, it can also be inactive, in a passive and even sometimes dormant form, for varying lengths of time. This passive form maybe no longer than a few minutes, a few hours, or it can for some be days, weeks, or longer; though again, it’s up to the individual to figure out if that animal aspect is actually a theriotype rather than some other type of animal connection, manifestation, or association.
In essence, it’s expected that a person’s theriotype(s) be a ‘constant’ part of him/her from whenever they first exist to the point when they cease to exist within the individual as a theriotype, however long that may be. It’s not like the misconceived idea of a person solely being his/her theriotype during mental, phantom, or other shifts, or that it’s something that’s just “sometimes there” within and manifest in the person, in whatever manner. Further explanation of this topic can be found in Sonne’s “Fluidity and Fragmentation” essay.
Therians are highly diverse types of people, with not much really tying all of us together other than that we are therianthropes—those who experience that particular (though diverse itself) form of animal-human state of being. Therefore we are by no means limited to only being of a certain type(s) of belief systems, spiritualities, religions, philosophies, and so forth. And similarly, we aren’t restricted by race, gender, financial status, body size or shape, and so many other things. Numerous Christian therians exist as members (past and present) in the therian community, and they have each come to their own conclusions and beliefs as to why therianthropy does not conflict with them being Christian. Atheist therians also exist because there’s nothing preventing such; there’s no requirement that a person believe in one or more deities in order to be a therian. Also, there are even people who don’t believe in spirits and/or souls who are therians because explanations for therianthropy are not restricted to only spirit or soul causes or origins.
Actually, phantom wings can be rather ambiguous things to experience. Sometimes they are associated directly with the person’s theriotype(s) or ‘kintype(s), and for other therians they are symbolic, totemic, or some other non-therianthropic manifestation. They are also phantom parts which are sometimes experienced by non-therian/non-‘kin people. Like numerous questions in this article, it’s one of those things that is up to the individual to carefully decipher the proper answer to them. Though I will note that in addition to just feeling them as phantom wings in general, the frequency or length of their occurrence and the level at which they feel “real” should be considered. Yet just because they occur a lot, even constantly/near-constantly or feel ‘very real’ does not necessarily mean they are therianthropic or otherkin-related. There’s also the matter to be considered as to what type of animal or creature they are part of, especially if they are of a theriotype/’kintype.
There is no concise, basic answer to this other than that it’s something each individual must discover on his/her own, within. Generally though, because we are human, any of our experiences and manifestations of being therian are going to fall within the widely diverse spectrum of human experience. Thus the aspects of one’s theriotypes can also be applied to being “human aspects”.
When it comes down to it though, figuring out oneself as therian and identifying one’s theriotype(s) isn’t about just picking a simple list of “non-human behaviors, thoughts, shifts, etc.” and reaching a conclusion easily from there. It’s instead about a wide composition of aspects within and about oneself that are non-human and human and that it’s about being that animal internally on an integral, personal level. Where exactly a person draws the line (if at all) between non-human and human, or between therianthropic and non-therianthropic, is a subjective decision reached through the extensive and thorough efforts of self and internal understanding and introspection by each individual who believes him/herself maybe therian.
Behavior can serve as some indication of a person’s therianthropy and is not something that has to be disregarded. Yet each person needs to put forth caution in evaluating and reevaluating his/her behaviors that seem “animalistic” or “non-human”. A good, general perspective to take when introspecting on what one’s theriotype(s) is/are involves viewing the behaviors as being manifestations you do in part because of your theriotype (whatever it may be), rather than the behaviors being clear indicators of what the theriotype actually is. In a sense, it’s the scenario of “I do [X behavior] because I am [Y animal ‘type], and not that I am [Y animal ‘type] because I do [X behavior]”.
Therefore behaviors are fine to consider amongst a variety of other self aspects and experiences to help oneself figure out what his/her theriotype(s) is/are, but that behaviors should not be treated as stand alone (or near stand alone) evidence to draw conclusions on what the theriotype(s) is/are. Behaviors maybe more efficient to explore and take validity in being therianthropic during and after the personal verification phase in which the person has already reached a seemingly likely conclusion on a theriotype and is looking for more and long-lasting supporting evidence for (or against) this conclusion. Thus that above scenario can better be reached in that situation—figuring out your behaviors are related to your theriotype after figuring out (for the most part) your theriotype, rather than the other way around.
I have dreams about being an animal (or insert specific animal) [once, twice, frequently, etc.], does that mean I’m a therian? Or “does that mean my theriotype is [animal dreamt of being]?” Similarly, “I see [insert animal(s)] in my dreams a lot (or recently), would it/they be my theriotype(s)?”
Dreams are one aspect of the self that should be applied cautiously in therianthropic introspection, especially pertaining to the level of validity attributed to them for determining oneself as a therian or of a specific theriotype. The thing about dreams is they can be highly symbolic, let alone difficult to decipher well, even for the individual experiencing them. Although a person’s theriotype may manifest in one or more dreams, it’s unadvisable to use that as good evidence to verify to his/herself that “I am [X animal] because I dreamt I shifted into it”. Non-therians can and do have dreams with animals in them, whether totemic or not (and a totemic or spirit guide relation should be considered, along with other animal associations), and they can dream-shift into an animal within the dream. Focusing on aspects of yourself, thoughts, shifts, experiences, etc. that occur during wakefulness and not dreaming are more reliable and indicative of whether you are a therian or not and what your theriotype(s) is/are.
Although the therian community has a term called “sensory shifts” which deal with a mental perception enhancement in one or more senses, this is not an experience at all limited to therians. As also, having a normally (constant, non-shifting) higher level (or seemingly such) of one or more senses does not the therian make. It’s a flawed idea to compare ‘enhanced human senses’ to that of, for example, a canine, feline, bird, etc. that has a notably stronger sense of that type beyond natural human capacity, and using it to draw the conclusion that oneself must be [insert animal].
Senses have two main parts, mental (where they are perceived and processed) and physical (the actual sense organs and sensory cells). Some people have greater or lesser physical or mental sensory capacities as the human “norm” for them, but nevertheless we are humans with human sensing limitations, not those of a wolf, lion, shark, and so forth. We don’t have a tapetum lucidum (reflective layer behind the retina) in our eyes to greatly enhance our nightvision to that level of many animals adapted for seeing in the dark, and we don’t have nearly as many olfactory cells and types for smell as a wolf, for example. Among the other senses we are limited in.
You may actually have a higher human sense of some type compared to an ‘average’ person, or may experience sensory shifts (whether accompanied with an animal mental shift of not) that enhance the mental perception of a certain sense. Yet you are still a human with human sensory capabilities and limitations. Trying to attribute those human senses to being of any particular non-human animal (especially as a theriotype) will likely lead to an inefficient search and a jumping to false conclusions.
Even though many therians express a preference for spending time in “natural” areas outside of human buildings, cities, etc., it is not something that is a required attribute of therians and it’s also something that is found largely amongst non-therians. The only thing it really indicates is (obviously) that you are a person who likes or prefers to be in those types of natural areas for whatever spans of time. Some people feel their therianthropy is connected to that preference yet it’s not a necessity, and even with therians one may attribute it more strongly or equally to being human as to being therianthopically non-human.
This essay is designed to explore the nature and effects of cameo shifts in relation to therianthropy; not solely the definition of the term. Keep in mind that as therianthropy is a highly personal experience, all statements and information (however researched) are still subject to the scrutiny of the individual reader.
I. What is a Cameo-shift?
The term “cameo-shift” in regards to therianthropy references a shift (of any kind) into an animal which is not one’s own therioside. For example, a wolf therian who experiences a mental shift into the state of a leopard, for however long a period of time, or however many times this occurs, would be said to have experienced a cameo-shift.
It is more the personal experience of the individual therian that determines if this shift is caused by some external force, or by some internal force. It could most likely be called non-integral, due to the fact that therianthropy is most specifically referred to as “A person who is, feels, or believes he/she is in part or whole (non-physically) one or more non-human animals on an integral, personal level”(source 1). This non-integrated feel of the cameo-shift is basically what separates it from being a shift into one’s actual therioside.
It can be extremely hard for someone who is newly “awakened” to their therianthropy to determine which is a cameo-shift and which is not. As such, it is highly recommended that one (even one not precisely new to thoughts on therianthropy) delve deeper into the nature of a shift, before jumping the gun and claiming it a therioside.
II. Brief notes on shifting in general.
“When you get into any sort of altered state, which humans do on a regular basis, through practice, adrenaline, drugs, etc., you have shifted away from your normal baseline state of mind..” (source 2)
This statement by Morg is extremely well said. Anyone can shift. Everyone has the ability to either induce or experience a shift of some sort in some way. Therians and non-therians alike can, for example, experience a mental shift into that of a wolf or a tiger; or a phantom shift into that of a hyena or a bird. It can also be said from this that any non-human shift a non-therian experiences is indeed a cameo-shift.
Morg goes on to say in this essay, “The difference between [non-therian] shifts and the way a therian shifts, is that a therian’s shifts are innate.” Since a therian is said to actually be their theriotype, whether in part or wholly so, the shift is much more integrated.
III. Cameo-shifts in Therians.
Most therianthropes who experience cameo-shifting can isolate the differences between a cameo-shift and a shift involving their own therioside. Even when a cameo-shift is as strong, or even stronger, than one’s own therioside’s shifts, there is a difference (however subtle) that separates the two on a more integral level. Only the individual can truly determine the nuances of each shift and how each shift relates to them personally.
In the case of some therians, a cameo-shift can be as short as a single second, or as long-lasting as (but not restricted to) several years. For some it is a very brief shift, occasionally even non-recurring. For others it happens many times, and yet again others never even experience this sort of shift.
IV. Cameo-shifts in Contherians
As this is not an essay on Contherianthropy itself, only a brief definition will be listed:“Contherianthropy is a variation of therianthropy where the therian’s human and animal(s) selves are blended together into one single constant and unchanging aspect of the person. This condition makes any change from side to side impossible, as sides are non-existent; thus contherians are shiftless.” (source 3)
Although rarely mentioned in the context of Contherianthropy, it is just as possible for a contherian to experience a shift, just as a non-therian would. All this entails is that the contherian experiences a shift into an animal other than their own therioside; since a Contherian does not experience shifts into their therioside in the first place, an animal shift experienced by the contherian would be a cameo-shift. But just as some therians and some non-therians never experience this shift, some contherians also never experience this shift.
V. Causes and Methods of Cameo-shifting.
Just as any shift occurs, a cameo-shift is usually caused by something. Whether this something is internally or externally based, instinctual or induced, there is some underlying factor to the occurrence.
Differing at times extremely based on the individual, there are several “causes” that can be attributed to cameo-shifting. Of these only two are going to be discussed at any length, due to amount of resources available.
Totems are generally related to the ancient belief in “a reverence for animals and a respect for what they can show us and teach us” (source 4). As such, totem animals and their symbolic meanings are usually used in situations – mostly in reference to a more shamanistic point of view – wherein totem animals are message-bearers, guides and power animals for those who call upon/work with them.
In this capacity, totems animals can be worked with and used to gain the aspects of that animal. Say, working with Bear (who is mostly known for its aspects of power and healing) for example, one might experience a shift into a mental state of a bear, becoming closer to this animal guide and what it represents. This is not to say that each time one works with a totem animal they experience a cameo-shift; only that the process can sometimes end up with a cameo-shift in that person.
Very near to this is the subject of spirit guides. Occasionally it has been documented through personal experience where a therian will identify enough with their spirit guide to find themselves undergoing a cameo-shift. For example, a fox therian who feels they have a wolf spirit guide/guardian may connect to their spirit guide so strongly that the fox therian will almost feel that they were wolf.
Other methods/causes for cameo-shifting can include any effort or motivation used or experienced in a therian’s ‘normal’ shift into their therioside. From emotional changes such as anger, frustration, happiness, to external forces like music or actions of other people/animals, each can trigger a cameo-shifting response in an individual.
Therianthropy is an internally based experience; it’s an integral and personal experience. Although the experience can differ between therians, there are several things that remain consistent.
Probably the best definition to date (one general enough to describe most therianthropic experiences) has been put forth by Sonne Spiritwind: “A person who is, feels, or believes he/she is in part or whole (non-physically) one or more non-human animals on an integral, personal level”(source 1).
I. Therianthropy is Personal and Integral.
Therianthropy is not caused by any external force – such as totems, spirit guides, or any form of spirit possession/ walk-ins, etc. This means that although these experiences can be valid, they arenot valid cases of therianthropy.
In reference to therianthropy, the word “connection” is tossed around an awful lot without paying much attention to the level of connection experienced. A “connection” can be anything from justliking a certain animal, to an actual connection to an animal as one’s therioside, so it is best to be specific and try to avoid or elaborate on this buzz word.
II. Therianthropy Is An Individual Experience.
There are many different ways in which people ‘explain’ their therianthropy, or reasons they believe they are therian in the first place. Several reasons include (but definitely are not limited to):
- Having the spirit/soul of their therioside.
- Current therianthropic experience influenced by a past life in which the individual was their therioside.
- A mental irregularity in which something in the individual’s brain causes the urge or impulse to behave or think like their therioside.
- A non-spiritual theory/belief that the therian identifies more as a non-human animal than as a human.
Respect others’ beliefs on this matter as you would want them to respect your own.
III. Cameo Shifts, Totems, Spirit Guides, and Walk-Ins.
Many times, there is confusion between what constitutes a therioside. A therioside (personal and integral) is based on an internal force. A therioside is the individual, just as the individual is the therioside. A therioside is NOT another entity. Common external mistaken therioside-identities include cameo shifts, spirit guide influence, totems and walk-ins.
A cameo shift in a therian – “a shift (of any kind) into an animal which is not one’s own therioside”(source 2) – can often times feel as strong or even stronger than a shift into the therian’s own therioside. In regard to non-therians who experience a shift in state of mind/behavior, these shifts can almost feel like a therioside. However, cameo shifts are NON-integral; while they may have personal meaning to the individual, and can be brought on by many things, there is a separation between a therioside and a cameo shift. Often times someone will mistake a cameo shift for a shift into a therioside because they do not pay close enough attention to how integrated the shift itself feels. A cameo shift can be so strong as to completely overtake your functions, but it is not a therioside unless it is who you are. A shift does not a therian make.
A mix-up between a totem and a therioside can, at times, be easier to mistake. Animal totems often have specific traits or attributes for which they are known. Individuals may see this, and assume that because they match these traits they are in some way also this animal; in some cases they may call this a “therioside” in reference to therianthropy. It should be noted that however close an individual’s relationship with a totem gets, a totem is still external. An animal totem is NOT the same thing as a therioside – in fact some therians have personal totem animals that are quite different from their theriosides.
Spirit guides are another tricky matter in certain cases. The main issue of concern in this situation is developing behavioral patterns from communication to a spirit guide/guardian. If an individual associates with any other person/entity/animal for a certain length of time, they have a chance of picking up certain habits or behavioral traits that are commonly exhibited by that person/entity/animal. It is because of this that an individual might consider themselves a therian even though their behavior is more of a ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’ sort of scenario. Again, it is up to the individual to decide how to approach and diagnose this particular situation. Many people who mistake a spirit guide as a therioside do so when the guide’s behaviors are close to their own, often times referencing their falsely assumed therioside in third person.
Walk-in experiences are “..used to describe a spirit that manifests a physical body, to which it was not the ‘original owner’” (source 3). Spiritual or other sorts of possessions are NOT examples of therianthropy. So if an individual is inhabited by the spirit or mind of another entity (whether in a peaceful or hostile manner, or somewhere in between) this is not therianthropy. This is a “walk-in” or something similar, with its own definition and traits.
IV. Therianthropy And Dissociative Identity Disorder.
“Dissociative Identity Disorder, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a condition in which a single person displays multiple distinct identities or personalities, each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment” (source 4).
There are some therians who refer to their theriosides almost as a separate entity. For example, “My cougar side always feels the urge to chase things that move.” In this situation it is truly a question to the individual whether or not this ‘cougar side’ is just another facet of the individual’s personality (which would be more integral) or an external force affecting their personality/behavior. So even as therianthropy is a personal, integral experience, a therian’s animal side can often feel like a separate side of a therian’s personality. This is mostly the case in those therians who experience DID-like shifts, as nearly completely separate instances of thought/personality/behavior; one for human, one for animal.
This is not to say that there is anything mentally wrong with a therian’s relation to their therioside in this manner. It is just another individual therianthropy experience. People who have this sort of experience are the ones who need to truly delve within themselves and determine if they are experiencing a form of therianthropy, or if there is some other cause at work; only the individual truly knows themselves.
V. Therianthropy, Furries, And ‘Animal People’.
- Therianthropes =/= Furries. Although there are therians who are furries (and vice-versa) these two things are not interchangeable. Both terms are used to label, at times, similar experiences, but they cannot be substituted equally for one another. Extremely basically, a furry (or member of the furry fandom) has “an interest in anthropomorphic animals and/or mythological or imaginary creatures which possess human or superhuman capabilities” (source 5). This means both animals who exhibit human like characteristics (from old Egyptian gods to Disney animations, and so on) as well as what many furries represent themselves as: bipedal, half-human/half-animal creatures sometimes referred to as “anthros” or even “furries.” It is most likely here that the confusion lies, for many therians may also represent themselves in this way as were creatures (also a hybrid form of human/animal). This is probably why many people would see furries and therians in the same light, but it is extremely misleading.For instance, there are many therians who view their therioside as strictly quadrupedal, as well as those who believe their animal side to have a completely natural and feral influence on their life/characteristics/mind/spirit/etc. In this, the animal portion of the therian is not anthropomorphic at all.As a final point of this specific topic, the term “furry” is a label that only the individual can choose to call themselves. There are no unwilling furries – being a furry (in its base definition) is a choice.
- Differences Between Therians And ‘Animal People’The term “animal person” has been tossed around with enough frequency to be taken into consideration with regards to therianthropy. An animal person is a person with an extreme empathy or connection to one or more non-human animals.Quite unlike therianthropy, however, an animal person’s connection to an animal is not necessarily integral. Although there are therians who consider themselves animal people, it is more about self-identification than a general blanket term for all therians. It could possibly be said that all therians are animal people because of their profound connection to their therioside, but like many situations where labels are tossed around, it is neither encouraged nor suggested to label someone else.
VI. On ‘Becoming A Therian’.
Therianthropy, being an integral experience, is something that IS the individual. It was when the individual became ‘who they are’ (whether personal belief holds that was during a past/first life, at conception, at birth, etc) that therianthropy became part of them as well.
When a therian comes to the realization of their therioside/therianthropy, they are often termed as “awakened”. This realization can sometimes feel like a ‘becoming,’ but the biggest difference between therians and non-therians in this situation is that the therian is capable of determining that they have always been this way.
Someone who claims to have ‘become’ a therian often experiences some sort of event that triggers either one-time or continuous therian-like behavior, such as shifting, animal traits, etc. Although with non-therians this trigger is usually something external.
(Disclaimer: This essay is not intended to represent the views of the entire therianthropic community. I am writing this to explain a very specific view of therianthropy, one that is psychological in nature. While a large amount of this information can be applied across the board, it should not be taken as an absolute reference on how every therian views their therianthropy. In addition, we should do well to remember that the cause of a thing is not the same as the thing itself. Even given a possible explanation and source for therianthropic experiences, neither the explanation nor the source is the actual experience.)
Consider your brain. The overwhelming likelihood is that you have a human brain, with two hemispheres, divided portions, and all the other notable qualities of a brain. At a glance, it would seem just like any other brain out there.
Yet if you are an animal-person, a therianthrope, then chances are good that it is very different from most people’s brains. In fact, whether you are a therianthrope or not, your brain must in many ways vary from those brains that it seems just like. Certainly it is a mysterious organ, and we don’t yet know all of its intricate workings. At the same time, modern neuroscience has revealed a wealth of possibilities about the brain – and information about atypical ones.
There are many ways that a person could have atypical neurobiology – indeed, the boundaries of “normal” are very narrow, and one might wonder if anyone at all could claim to fit it. While I will explore the connections that may exist between them, I will be focusing on the therianthropic brain. Remember, though, that as formal study has not been performed on those who claim to be therians, this must all be understood to be hypothetical.
To begin with, most any neurological model holds basis on the physical nature of the mind. And if therianthropy has such a neurological explanation, then one could certainly say that therianthropy isknowable, an antithesis to the common view that therianthropy is too personal to be understood in such a way.
Not so fast. There are two issues with this idea: first, that the definition of therianthropy includes personal and sometimes spiritual models, and so one cannot hope to ultimately give therianthropy “knowability” through a neurological foundation. The definition is not so malleable to be changed by understood causes. More importantly, therianthropy has never been unknowable to begin with.
The idea that therianthropy is so mysterious and personal that it can never be proven, never be stated in absolute, is one of the first mistakes that those new to the idea of therianthropy make – and often, those who aren’t new to it make it as well. While I will be exploring the likely mechanics, it is not my intent to impose knowledge that is already there.
The fact is that therians know they’re animals. They know they’re animals because they are animals, and if they didn’t know they were animals then they wouldn’t be animals. Maybe they don’t know it on the surface – oftentimes they don’t.
But their brains know. A therian ultimately identifies as an animal. They identify so because their minds interpret their existence so. And identity implies their existence; as individuals, animal-people, consciousness, words, non-words, flesh, spirit: they are animals.
That’s all therianthropy is. Identity. And that’s not what it is at all: it’s smells and tastes and fur and noises and thoughts and mindstuff that doesn’t match humanstuff. But it ends up as identity, because it’s why the brain tells itself that it is an animal and knows this to be true.
Don’t confuse this with blindly accepting whatever proposition someone gives of being an animal: even given this, a person asserting that they are an animal does not make it so. You know what you are, but this is easy to cloud by delusion and refusal to accept what is true. You know what you are, but you don’t always know what you know. As we all know, people have a penchant for lying to themselves even more often than they lie to others. It can take a good long while to discover your own identity, and even longer when you have to deal with stymieing the bias of your own hopes for certain outcomes.
If you’re trying to find out if you’re a therian, then while you should listen to all the advice out there telling you to question yourself – this is integral to finding out what it is that you know and not rushing into things – you should think about the fact that you already know what you are. You’re not giving yourself any new information about yourself; you’re only discovering what is already there and what you’ve always known.
The question is, why are we animals? Why do we have these animal natures, these impulses and desires and, for some, shifts? What is it that is happening in our brains?
It is my belief that the origins of therianthropy, in the overwhelming majority of cases, lies in atypical neurobiology. As with things ranging from autism to synesthesia, from high IQs to developmental disorders – there are certain patterns that suggest that the hardwiring of the brain is fundamentally different.
Quite plainly, it seems to be the case that therians work like animals do. A great number of therians report being visual thinkers, or otherwise thinking mainly in some non-verbal form. And while there doesn’t seem to be a much higher number of therians with other atypical neurological functions such as synesthesia, autism, Asperger’s, etc., than in the general population, many therians display traits that are similar to these, and having a few of these traits is possibly fairly unanimous among therians.
These include the aforementioned sensory thinking, synthesis between so-called “left-brained” and “right-brained” activities, ADD or OCD-like patterns, and so on. Note that not all therians will experience all of these, and it’s certainly possible that someone could be a therian and experience none of these. The majority, however, seem to experience at least one or two from this list, and it would probably be safe to say that almost all therians process information differently from the majority of the population.
In addition to this, individual therians seem to have hardwiring that matches their animal type. How this happens on an individual level is up for debate, although I will be exploring it later on. But what exactly is causing this all?
Certainly, atypical neurobiology is usually something a person has from birth. This lends itself nicely to the concept of “therianthropy is from birth.” On the other hand, it should be obvious that a person won’t be a therian just because their brain works a little bit differently. They – their brains – must first consider themselves to be an animal. When does this arise?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that it normally occurs at least by the time that a sense of identity begins to form. Almost all therianthropes report having felt animal-like their entire lives, tracing back to their early memories. Whatever factors trigger the animal identity to develop, then, must do so by this time.
Our nature as human beings is half-seated in the abstract. We drag what we see in the physical world through the filters of our minds, form patterns, and out come ideas, thoughts, and identity. The ability to do so is given to us by our propensity for consciousness and self-awareness; modern neuroscience tells us that identity is intrinsically linked to consciousness. The development of a personal identity is a result of observation of patterns and the distinctly human ability to interpret the abstract relationship between oneself and one’s environment.
In case you didn’t catch that, I’ll reiterate: this is distinctly human. While it is possible, even plausible, that some species (such as dolphins) are developed and social enough that the evolutionary imperative for identity and awareness is there, the very abstract nature of a human’s identity – especially atypical identity – is something that, to our knowledge, no other species experiences. The irony, of course, is that in being animal we are expressing being human, but there is more to it than just irony. Being human – or, if you prefer, being self-aware – is a sort of key to becoming something other than what your body dictates. This means challenging the notions of what it means to be a member of a particular species. There is, of course, no large dichotomy recognized by modern science between the body and the mind. But a self-aware mind has the possibility to recognize itself as any multitude of things, growing exponentially the more abstractly the person functions. And a spiritual person would be justified in suggesting that human nature is optimal for spiritual growth, assuming that their definition of spirit is something akin to our “identity.”
Human beings evolved in such a manner that they gained self-awareness, as we can clearly see. Because being self-aware is distinctly more advantageous than being unaware, a species gaining it has a get-out-of-jail-free card. A self-aware animal can better respond to its environment, making survival more likely. It is also deeply tied to social function: theoretically, humans may have gained self-awareness through observation of others in their social groups and applying what they observed to their own selves. Anthropomorphism is a result of this, which we can see in the way that early humans were usually animistic. This is referred to along with the “god gene”: humans will even go so far as to anthropomorphize the entire universe, saying that it must have a human-like Creator.
The development of an individual human has a funny way of retelling human history. During the first few years of life, the similarities a child recognizes between their own self and the things in their environment solidify into a very basic identity. The core self.
For a child with atypical neurobiology, their own behaviors may lead to observing different patterns than that which a normal child may see. Because of this, a different sort of basic identity may develop. For therians, this means animal. Which animal, though, is a question that needs to be dealt with. Most therians were unaware of the existence of their theriotypes during those first years of life. So how did they come about identifying as such?
This begins down the well-trodden lane of “why are there so many canines and felines in the therian community?” If one’s theriotype is determined during the timeframe I believe it is, then strong animal influences that may be readily available to a child’s psyche are cats and dogs. Even if the child’s household does not personally own one or the other, the influence of these domestic pets on most children is significant. And for children whose behaviors don’t seem quite like the other humans they see around, recognizing patterns in these animals may be enough to solidify their identity.
Of course, most therians feel that they are a wilder cousin of our domestic friends. If we assume that at least some of these individuals are correct in their assessment of their theriotypes, and recognize that while some may also have been influenced by actual wolves and the like, the majority have not, then we are forced to further recognize that the nature of identity is enormously abstract. A child can take with them the feeling that their identity is very akin to a cat or a dog, but leave room for the development of other factors of their behaviors and self to become an unlabelled identity – only to be recognized as a match for another species later on.
This leads us to therians whose animal types are not similar to animals that directly impacted their lives. A child’s species identity could be suspended so far as a label is concerned – if they recognize that human isn’t all there is to them, but do not see what it might be, then the result may be that their species identity is temporarily nothing but a collection of traits. If they later find a species that is an undisputed match for those traits, then they may recognize it as being their inner species – though this might never happen. Thus, you have young children who have never seen a deer growing up to be stags, and kids who eventually understand that their natures match more an inner concept of dragon than of any living species. And so on.
From there, the reinforcement of this identity and relevant behaviors and the specifics of the child’s neurobiological structures will serve to create a way in which the individual relates itself to its animal type. The degree to which their mind separates higher-order and lower-order thoughts may have an impact on how they experience their therianthropy, as might their relationship to being human.
As the therianthropic community is well familiar with, different therians experience different “flavors” of therianthropy. This, much to some dismay, is categorized by the degree to which the animal side and the human side are polarized, and the subsequent possibility for a mental shift.
A therian with more extreme polarization (referred to as a dichotomistic therian) has developed a brain structure where there are two (or more, in the case of multiple theriotypes) essentially complete and independently functioning operating systems. The therian has entirely separated the human behaviors from the animal ones, and their brains distinctly classify certain behaviors as belonging to the human set and certain ones as belonging to the animal set(s). The degree to which they overlap is only so far as to allow for switching over from one mindset to another.
While the mindsets are separate, unlike an individual with MPD/DID, the therian does not have separate identities for the additional mindsets. Both human and animal remain an integral part of their inner identity, no matter which mindset they are in. (Someone with more than one relevant identity may instead be a ‘Multiple’, or, as noted, someone with MPD/DID.)
A therian who has separate mindsets that overlap, but are not integrated, has developed similarly, with the exception of that the mindsets do not function independently: they are instead coordinated. Their minds still segregate human behaviors with a human mindset and animal behaviors with an animal mindset, but they run side-by-side, with the capability to easily slip into focusing more one or the other, much as you can have multiple programs open on a computer with only one window active. For some, one program can also shut off to allow the other to run in full.
If a therian has an integrated mindset between human and animal, but the integration is not full, then while their brains will not segregate behaviors into distinct mindsets, behaviors within the single mindset will be interpreted as being more human, more animal, or some degree of both. They may be clustered accordingly by association, and so the triggering of a behavior considered human or considered animal may result in behaviors clustered with the triggered one, resulting in the possibility of feeling a bit more human or a bit more animal at any given time. The links between the clusters are strong, so a human behavior that is linked to an animal cluster might just as well set off the processes needed to feel animal-swayed, and there may even be cross-categorized processes within a single cluster. The result is some degree of vacillation between human and animal, but clearly the specifics of this are dependent upon the individual.
If the integration is full, then no matter how the clusters are organized, every process will be categorized under “human-animal,” just like in a non-therianthropic brain it is all categorized under “human.” The brain interprets every behavior as originating from the nature of the overall human-animal, and never from one individually.
(I do not claim that these are the only types out there, as I imagine there are many people who don’t quite fit into any of these categories. These are simply what seem to be the most common types, and my explanations of what may be going on. Therianthropy, as always, is not dependent on the “flavor” of your experience.)
While it would be interesting to consider why a particular type develops, I can only offer explanations that are yet more tentative. I believe that the person’s own considerations of what it means to be human and what it means to be animal will have an impact, but I couldn’t say how much of an impact it would be, compared to other factors such as their brain chemistry and their environment. Most likely, different amounts of each contribute to it depending on the person. It seems to be the case, for example, that like with MPD/DID, a dichotomy between mindsets is more likely to occur in individuals whose lives have been filled with stress, which would imply that for these individuals, the environment had a significant impact. This does not, of course, mean that contherians are the most well-adjusted and that dichotomistic therians are the least, or that a dichotomy is always the result of stress. Most folk function just fine with the way their animal nature corresponds to their human nature.
The mental experience of being human or animal is, of course, not the end of the “shifting” book. Many therians also experience something similar to the phantom limbs of amputees, and it is appropriately dubbed “phantom shifting” (though “phantom limbs” is also in use, particularly for individuals who always have them, rather than who shift into having them). Some aspects of this phenomena may very well remain mysterious or require other explanations, but it is my belief that most phantom experiences are the result of the brain “mapping out” how it feels the body should be, in accordance with what body dysphoria results from the atypical species identity.
It has been found by some studies that the brain has a way of creating a sort of 3D imagery of the body and its motions, and that this system is not foolproof. Conscious and semi-conscious manipulation of it – which I refer to as “mapping” – can result in significant effects. In one study, individuals who mapped out the motions of performing a certain action, such as dancing or shooting a basketball, did worse than those who actually practiced, but much better than those who did nothing at all. This system is also fooled naturally – without conscious interference – such as with referred pain.
Note that when I say “fooled” I do not mean to imply that the experience of phantom limbs are in any way invalid. They are different from what the brain would normally track, but this does not make them false or superficial. They’re there because you (your brain, your semi-conscious mind) felt they were important, and so most likely they are.
It is not surprising, then, that many therians might themselves map the body of their animal superimposed over their human limbs. The result is a model within the brain that runs along with the model relevant to the human body. In some individuals, the phantom model may at times override the human model, and vice versa. In others, the two may always run side-by-side, and still in others there may be different scenarios that develop.
The interesting part is that this is not restricted to one’s theriotype.
Cameo-shifting. It’s an important thing for any prospective therian to know about, so they can understand that their shifts might not be into their actual animal. Remember that both therians and non-therians can experience cameo-shifts. I believe that both mental and phantom cameo-shifts are the result of mapping.
For phantom cameo-shifts, the individual may map out the body structure of the thing they are shifting into. Usually, this is a temporary model, unlike the therianthropic one, which is most often permanent. (Of course, someone could also permanently map something not relevant to their theriotype – a likely contender for why we see so many people with phantom wings whose theriotypes don’t have wings in real life to begin with.)
In a mental cameo-shift, what is explored is not the body structure, but the mental structure. The behaviors, instincts, etc., temporarily become a part of the person’s functioning psyche.
A strong shift of this sort is normally self-induced, but simply thinking about an animal can cause mild shifting. If the individual’s mind is always seeking to make connections, to understand from the animal’s point of view, then the individual is likely to experience many cameo-shifts. It is not a sign of instability, but rather of wishing to further explore one’s world.
Some people may wish to often revisit one particular animal in their explorations. This is often a totem, or in some way holds meaning, though it may simply be an animal that an individual enjoys shifting into.
The experience of discovering who and what you are can be a very rewarding one, no matter whether you’re therian or not. The important thing is that you come to have a deeper, more complete relationship with yourself… and it’s not whether or not this is the result of your brain or your soul or whatever you believe in! While it has been interesting and important to my path that I consider the neurological possibilities behind therianthropy, any such explanation will never take the place of the actual experience of being an animal-person. There will never be any diagnostic test that takes the place of simply looking inside yourself and seeing what you have to offer.
A lot of people come to me saying that my writing helped them to understand the species they always knew they were. But, a lot of people also come to me, saying, “I don’t feel human, but I’m not sure what I am, how do I find my species?”
You’re not alone. Identity is not something that everyone understands about their self. When you have a non-normative identity, it can take a lot of time to really understand it, and sometimes, you might just feel that your identity is “not X”, but you can’t pin down what your identity is. There are many possible reasons for this. Society does not encourage us to explore these identities or gives us behaviour to model them. Stereotypes of identity can get in the way of understanding if you don’t feel that those stereotypes match you, or you start to consciously or subconsciously feel that you have to act in the way of a stereotype to be a “real X”… or, if you are acting in the way of a stereotype because you want to, and you worry that others will think you are “not a real X” for this. And it’s very possible to have an identity or combination of identity that does not match anything you have seen before.
Nonhumans mostly fall into two groups, ones who always knew their species (but might not know what it means to feel they are that species, until they get older) and ones who have to find it. Being someone who knew my species identity, it’s a little difficult when people ask me this question because I don’t have personal experience. And I also think, there’s not a sure way to find out, there is only learning and understanding yourself more, like any identity. But, these are some things that might help to speed the understanding.
One thing that I recommend to people a lot is this meditation from The Pagan Book of Living and Dying. Whether you see it as a psychological tool or a spiritual one, it can help you “cut through the noise” and talk directly to the part of self that knows your identity. If understanding does not happen immediately, be patient… if you are not used to meditation, you might need to practice before images and words “become clear”.
You also can ask your dreams. Again this method can be used by both spiritual people and non-spiritual people, because it works by the fact that your subconscious self knows what your conscious self does not. Just before you fall asleep, repeat a positive statement over and over in your head like, “I will find my identity in my dreams tonight”. It might not work the first time, but, after some times you should begin to program your mind to dream about your identity. If you have a list of species that you feel you have a connection with, and you are trying to understand what they all mean to you, you can do this also: for example, say, “Tonight I will dream about Seal” or “Tonight I will find out what Rat means to me”. Do this every night until you understand what that species means to you, then move to the next one.
Try and visualise yourself as a number of species that feel like they could be “right”. Or, start with anything that sounds fun, if it doesn’t feel right, you will get a strong idea of what direction is wrong for you. Visualise your body becoming the body of that species. Imagine that you live in the environment of that species, try to create the temperature, weather, smells, sights, the feel of the world against your skin/fur/etc. Imagine that your friends, your family, are this species, you are surrounded by your pack mates, flock mates, elven family etc. and you speak to them as this species would, or you are in the society that you imagine them in. Does it feel natural? Does it feel hard to imagine? Does it feel uncomfortable? Is this body that you imagine, too big, too small, too light, too heavy, too furry, too full of aggressive feelings, too quiet and calm, too alien? How is the body language feeling? Are the ears, eyes, legs, tail in the wrong place? Is the skeleton wrong? Does the voice feel wrong or right? What is missing? When you are ready, write down all the things you feel about this visualisation, good and bad. Then try another one, remembering the things that feel “wrong” and “right” to guide you. For example, if you tried to visualise being a lizard, and scales feel right but legs feel wrong, try visualising a snake next time. Or, if the water feels right, try water creatures.
This link, it ignores/erases non-binary identities in very a problematic way, but it can be good to get you started. It’s very much not perfect but, if you replace gender with species you can use these kinds of questions to help you begin to think. For example, looking at old childhood drawings, self-portraits or writing can help you to remember some identity understandings you might have had as a child that you later pushed away.
Past life regression might be useful if you personally feel that an identity lies there. Again, if you don’t believe in past lives it also can be a psychological tool to search the inside of yourself. You can find plenty of past life meditations for free online, or, buy a CD of meditation. You don’t have to go to a therapist.
After doing all these methods for a short time, it’s important to give yourself time to rest. Don’t try and visualise being 40 species in a day, you will quickly tire your mind and become confused. Do at most 2 in one day, then have a day or more to rest and work out how you feel about each one. Also, try to work out where you fit in the big groups first (land creature? sky creature? meat eater? vegetarian? biped? quadruped?) before trying to visualise between a lot of species of cats, for example. Start with the big things and work out the small details later, unless you get a sudden “flash” of details that you would like to explore.
If one method seems to become more confusing than useful, stop and try something else. If you get two ideas that don’t seem like they match, don’t try and decide what that means yet, don’t try and make it fit into any box. Just let it exist and keep exploring. You will find the answers eventually.
Don’t expect to exactly fit any species. Even a physical parrot, wolf, ape, etc. who is raised only by humans will learn a mix of human behaviours and their natural species behaviours. There is a reason that animals raised in captivity usually cannot return to the wild. Remember you spent most of your life being raised as human in human society, and expected and even forced to be human your whole life. It’s quite common for children to be punished if they show too many “strange” behaviours, and if that happened to you, it is natural you will be particularly confused because you learned to think your natural behaviours are “wrong”. If you are not truly human, then that part of you will keep appearing in your life, but it might also be confused by other things. Don’t focus on how “pure” it is or whether you sometimes have “human thoughts”, but, focus on the parts of yourself that you can’t push away no matter how much you try, even if they are mixed with other feelings.
Remember that it’s okay if you don’t know immediately. About any identity, a lot of people take many years to understand it. Even identities that seem like they “should” be very simple, can take a long time to work out. So give yourself some time and don’t push it.