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.
The otherkin and therian communities both online throughout places on the internet and offline where people meet-up and know other ‘kin in real-life can be a very diverse group. Yet one way to divide otherkin and therians which leaves very few people still is to note all the aquatic and water-related theriotypes and kintypes. They collectively are not common, or at least not as common as land based kintypes. Within the therianthropy community – sharks, fish, seals, and even dolphins let alone other animals are not all common in terms of numbers in most online forums. Similarly, in the otherkin community – dragons inclined to water and sea serpents, mermaids, undines, and such – while having been in the community a number of times over the years are also not very common overall.
Having desires and wants more akin to their given kintypes and/or theriotype is not unheard of among many therians and otherkin to lesser or greater extents. However, given the nature of human society and the physiology of the human body, being kin to any creature more at home in water than land can leave a slightly different set of challenges to adapt to and live with. Living on land or even possibly living nowhere near a large body of natural water, can possibly leave any given person frustrated at being away from their desired place. It can be hard for any therian or otherkin no matter what they identify as being and if any given place or habitat tugs at their heart.
This essay is a listing and description of ways which have helped both Earth Listener and myself over time with craving and wanting for the sea, and what we have heard from other aquatic kin. It’s a hope that this might come in use for other otherkin or at least be an interesting read for other people on this topic. May it either be useful as it is or a brainstorming jumping off point.
It’s not always possible to go swimming or even take a long soaking bath or shower every time one gets the urge or need for one’s natural element. For the latter, while one’s cleanliness will never be questioned again the subsequent water bill will surely make it impractical for this coping technique to be used every single time. Going swimming is also nice, but not everyone has access to either a swimming pool or natural body of water where swimming is permitted. This can be due to either distance, financial constraints, or limitations of the local area. Other physical methods are also possible that could be useful in-between.
Taking a cool and wet rag or simply a wet hand across the skin can be a great way to stave a need for water. It is a lot more subtle, quick, and easy than a full drenching no matter where and when in most cases and it can still have soothing effects. This might be especially nice on areas where phantom sensations are coming from such as phantom gills or fins. Leaving the water on the skin to slowly evaporate on its own can help.
Another touch related tip is to try running your hand (or hands) through water, running or still. (Though for us, still water seems to work better.) Perhaps dipping your fingers or whole hand in a bowl or glass full of water for a moment might help soothe some desires for water for a little while. An alternative to that might be soaking your feet instead.
Actually being able to visit natural bodies of water of any form no matter the kintype is often a wonderful experience. Whether it be a stream, pond, river, or even the greatest place to find water – the ocean. Even if you can’t physically take a dip or wade into the water for whatever reason, just being near the water and experiencing it can be a great thing. Being able to see, hear, smell, and touch the water can be enough for some.
For techniques using the gift of sight, perhaps give guided visualizations of swimming in or being in water a try. For added effect, try compounding senses by doing such visualizations while listening to any given preferred track of ocean or water sounds or while relaxing in a bath or standing in a shower.
Daydreaming or anything that stimulates a sense of sight or being there can be very useful if water isn’t near or available at any point in time. If you have trouble visualizing a detailed scene or places, try using photos or videos of watery places which you are strongly drawn to. Try visualizing yourself into the scene itself rather than working with a blank slate and see if that makes it easier on you or is more rewarding.
Even just watching videos of aquatic life can be fruitful; either of general life or specific to creatures more relevant to you identity. If you are a therian of a still living species, finding video of your theriotype might be easier to find than an otherkin or therian of an extinct species might have. In those cases, trying to find videos of creatures similar enough either in appearance or behavior might work. For example, given their size and ways of hunting, large toothed whales are creatures which can pull certain strings of emotion and instinct while watching videos of them since taniwha are not physical Earth creatures.
There are countless written materials – fiction and nonfiction alike, based around watery bodies and their inhabitants. Reading stories and accounts of aquatic life can be a great release of emotions and thoughts. We have heard from at least two aquatic kindred who have found the book, The Music of the Dolphin by Karen Hesse, despite being more of a children’s book, to be rather moving. We have personally found the manga series, Children of the Sea, with its mystery plot and amazing graphics to be incredibly moving to our otherkinity. Even nonfiction works have their mystique. Books about real life underwater can be a completing outlet. For example, we own one little book, The Majesty and Mystery of the Sea: A Photographic Celebration of the Marine Environment, which is full of ocean photographs coupled with quotes and proverbs about the sea and aquatic life there.
Keeping a plant or fish aquarium might also be a lovely idea though not everyone has the time or money to care for other living beings. However the sounds of water falling and the sight of fish swimming and/or live plants waving slightly can be beneficial to the psyche.
One technique might be the use of sounds. There are countless tracks of ocean waves, babbling brooks, whale songs, and other aquatic related sounds. Play around with sounds which influence you the most, for example, both Earth Listener and I enjoy the rolling lull of water currents but not so much the sounds of crashing waves on a shore. Try listening to something while relaxing or even trying to sleep, they might even influence your dreams to involve a body of water.
For more permit sounds in daily life, there are indoor or desk water fountains. They come in all sort of shapes and sizes and can produce a nice present background sound. They are not mobile, however placing one in a bedroom, on an office desk, or simply nearby where a lot of time is spent can be something to listen to throughout the time you are within hearing range.
There are some songs and hymns which either are about water or involve a water effect in the tune itself, if not both for the same song. For example, the orchestral song, “Rain” from the soundtrack of the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron involves a very aquatic feel within its tune as does the song “Hymn to the Sea” from the soundtrack for the movie, Titanic. Songs either orchestral or lyrical could have soothing effects on one’s desire for water.
The smell of cool humid air can have a very soothing effect; anything from an actual humidifier to a simple misting bowl or fountain as they are sometimes called. Smelling and feeling the extra hint of moisture can be very nice to breathe in. It can also be very refreshing during the time of the year when the humidity is low.
Also, there are various fragrance oils, forms of incense, and even perfumes which have been created to have salty or aquatic scents to them which might be appealing to burn (or in the case of perfume, to wear). We do not wear perfume ourselves, but we have been told by Elinox that the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Pool of Tears and Deep Ones are very nice. I personally love to burn fragrance oil and my own favorite scents for the brand we buy are called Oceanic and Rain, the smells of which remind me of water quite nicely indeed.
Something as simple as taking a sip of water could help. Actual water rather than carbonated beverages and such tend to give the best effects for both myself and Earth Listener. Not only does having the taste of water in our mouth make us feel better but keeping our body adequately hydrated helps keep down the drive for water.
Ice is a nice cooling treat to let melt in your mouth. Just DON’T try and chew or bite down on it – you can damage your teeth! Also always be wary of swallowing the piece on accident. As to avoid chewing or swallowing, there are reusable popsicle trays that can be bought (or made) and filled with water to let freeze.
Being kin to any creature at home in the water can be something in which coping and calming techniques, or even trigger techniques, can end up being rather inventive and quirky compared to others, though not to say aquatic kin have it any harder than any other otherkin regardless of kintypes or theriotypes. It’s merely different perspective just as kin that are at home in the air might be able to find similar enjoyments. Every kind of otherkin, and down to the individual in fact, have things which work for them which might not help anyone else. It’s my hope that this essay works as brainstorming for others to work with. It’s my hope these ideas and things we have found useful to be useful or helpful for others.
* Before reading this, please note that everything in this article is based on my own conclusions and beliefs, drawn from various Biblical studies, debates with my peers, and personal experiences.
When people talk about therianthropy, one common theme that seems to carry between many individuals is the theory of reincarnation and beliefs in an astral plane. For some researching therianthropy for the first time it may seem that these elements are a sort of prerequisite to being therian and I’m writing this now to say that this is not the case. As well as to share my findings on how one of the religions that seems to conflict with typical ideas of therianthropy the most, Christianity, can coexist with it as well as any other. To do this I’ll be delving into other theories for therianthropy, and exploring some key Biblical texts and beliefs that people often use to try and debunk the idea of spiritual therianthropy for a Christian.
I’d like to start with one theory for the origins of one’s therianthropy that seems to be on the rise in the last 5-10 years. The idea that therianthropy is something psychological. That either the mind someone is born with is somehow inclined to identify as an animal (either through hormones, or atypical genetics), or that at a very young age they imprinted on a nonhuman identity because they saw, and could relate more to, certain animals than they could humans. Obviously it is this theory for therianthropy that coexists with the Christian faith the easiest. It is when one feels that their therianthropy has a spiritual aspect that a lot of things get fuzzy and appear to go against some Christian doctrines.
In this section I’ll go over one of the most controversial issues that people have with spiritual therianthropy. The idea that humans are the only creatures with souls. Before I go any further I’d like to make a note that I have not studied Hebrew, and have drawn the conclusions I have by studying The Word and referencing Strong’s concordance for each verse’s original Hebrew and each word’s meaning. Now, the idea that humans are the only living things with souls is not a new one. It’s very much a staple of traditional Catholicism and many branches of Protestant Christianity. However if one were to actually look at two passages in particular, you’d see that this belief is not true. Gen. 1:21-25 where God creates the creatures of the sea, sky, and land. In those verses you will see the phrase “God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves,” (NASB Translation). The part of this verse I want to emphasize is the phrase, “living creature”. The Hebrew words for this section are “chay nephesh”. The word “chay” translates to living, life or revival/renewal, depending on the context it’s used. The word “nephesh” however had a long list of meanings to it. One being creature, but a few others being soul, self, life, person, mind, emotion, and passion.
In Gen. 2:7, when God creates man, the Bible says, “And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (NASB) In this passage I want to first focus on the last bit. That man “became a living being”. Here again the words “chay nephesh” are used, indicating to me that in this way humans and animals both have a soul. To this day science does not know what jumpstarts a person’s brain, or how one’s heart continues to beat, despite the fact that it receives no signals from the brain. I propose that this is caused by the soul. That every breathing thing, with a beating heart, has a soul that starts and sustains this autonomous feature. Like an on switch for life if you will.
But why, you may wonder, if humans and animals both have souls, were humans given dominion over the Earth. Earlier today I sat down with my husband, whose knowledge and insight into Christianity I greatly respect and admire, and discussed this very topic, and together we discovered a Hebrew word in Gen. 2:7 that we believe answers this question. In the passage mentioned above it says that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;” and it is this I want to focus on. In Hebrew the “breath of life” is neshama chay”. We already know that “chay” is the word for life, but neshama is a special word that is used very sparingly in the Bible. The word itself means spirit of man, or breath (of God, or of man based on context). In Gen 2:7 I believe that the “breath of life” is really referring to God bestowing man with his breath, the breath of God. According to Gesenius’ Lexicon, the breath of God is essentially the spirit of God, and imparts life and wisdom into a being. Being made in His image, and given His breath, it’s little wonder that God quite literally gave Earth to humanity. In fact I believe that before the fall he intended man to be almost like a child, or successor that would govern the newly made world, and would act as a liaison between Earth and God.
Because of this, I don’t necessarily believe, from a Christian standpoint, that therians have the souls of the animal they identify as, but rather that our souls are instead influenced by said animals. I believe that when God spoke everything into existence his words gave a sort of resonance to each creature’s soul, and so that humans could better relate and communicate with the creatures they’re supposed to be caring for, he gives some a soul that resonates similarly with certain creature(s). This would give an individual a feeling as though they are supposed to be said creature. Technically the soul itself is still human since it possesses the breath of God, but God also made it so that it strongly relates to, or resembles in frequency, one or more creatures, causing a form of spiritual therianthropy, but one that’s compatible with Christian beliefs.
So you can see that while therianthropy and Christianity need not conflict with each other, it does take some study and creative thinking to find the middle ground where what one feels is true, and what’s Biblically true do not contradict each other.
I am the Bewylderbeast and I am not a therianthrope.
I have considered myself a therianthrope since around 2001, but as of July 2008 I decided it was time to open up and embrace my lack of therianthropy. I decided to write this little essay for two reasons: to share the path I followed and to possibly help other people who have doubts.
When I was a child I was always playing make believe with my friends, and did my best to always find an animal role in those games. I’d stay up watching documentaries on animals. I’d spend as much time with the family pets. I think it’s important to mention that the majority of the pets in my family were dogs.
As is the way, we grow up. You have to stop being one way, and become another. Other kids lost interest in make-believe games, and naturally so did I. I spent more time reading though, and watched more documentaries. I got through high school and made it to university.
I did my degree at art school, which gave me a lot of freedom to be myself a lot more. All of my projects revolved around the animal kingdom, and in my later years, the ideas of animals within totemist beliefs. I’d spend my days meditating on what it would be to be an animal, and what their energy meant. I believe this was me becoming a self-taught shapeshifter, which holds me in good stead to this day.
At this time, I had access to my first ever internet connection. Naturally, as someone who was interested in animal symbology and mythology, I eventually stumbled across Werewolf.Com. Yes, I am ashamed to admit that this was the place that opened me up to therianthropy. Perhaps if I had discovered the idea elsewhere, I wouldn’t have been so seduced by the concept.
This discovery triggered feelings of being “canine”. I should have known then that the idea triggering the feelings was wrong and that it should have been the other way about. But I pressed on, and decided that I was a wolf. That was that. I was a wolf therian, just like every other wolf therian out there. I eventually left Werewolf.Com for the Werelist and the Awareness Forums. Here, the discussion was far more rational, so I started to doubt my therianthropy. I wasn’t really a wolf, was I?
This point was very painful for me. I couldn’t pin point a species, which seemed very important within the community. I did experience shifts, and they fluctuated so much! The majority of them at the time were of canine species. I mentioned this on the Awareness Forums, was it possible to have a non-species specific theriotype? Mokele coined the term “cladotherianthropy” to describe this experience. Happy that I had a nice shiny label, I left any self-discovery alone.
As these things tend to be, I eventually was dissatisfied with being a cladotherian. I was experiencing more regular shifts at this stage, which I sketched out. A former friend of mine, who was pretty experienced with identifying canines, guessed that I was either an Ethiopian or Maned Wolf. From here, with some help from wikipedia and a trip to Edinburgh Zoo, I discovered that I was a Maned Wolf.
This was a very emotional day for me. My heart welled with emotion and it felt like I had come home. No matter what I say about my therianthropy, Maned Wolf is still a major influence on my life, and I still shift into him/her several times a day.
I was very content at this stage. By this time, Jakkal had given me space on TO’s server, where I hosted a lot of my own essays on the subject of therianthropy. I kind of hate myself for doing that. From where I am now, I kind of feel that I was bullshitting everybody, even though it wasn’t intentional.
I drifted off from the community at this time, around 2006, as I felt I had all the answers I needed.
So how did I escape from the idea that I was a therianthrope? It took the help of my best friend, who is non-therian. Last summer (July/August 2007) I was describing therianthropy to him, starting with the basic definition then describing how it actually affected me. While talking out aloud, my mind was saying “You know this isn’t right. You know this isn’t you”. So I returned to the communities, as a lurker. By this time, I was more happy taking time out to question myself and had some knowledge of totemism and shamanism. (I hesitate to add that it is a very small amount of knowledge!)
I thought, and thought and thought.
I noticed several things. As a therianthrope, I experienced several cameo shifts. I can induce these or they can just happen. These shifts stay with me for days or weeks. They were separate entities, and I genuinely believed I could have conversations with them. They share my body, but were not of my body.
From this, I noticed that while Maned Wolf was nearly always present, I could hold conversations with him/her, and that they too were sharing my body but were not of it. From here, I started to think more about the gaps, those times I wasn’t shifted. They can tell you so much! I became aware that when I wasn’t shifted, I was just me. There wasn’t another aspect, part of myself, however you want to describe it.
Logically, if the animal isn’t a part of me, then I can’t be a therian.
So where does that leave me now?
Well, I have to say I’m very happy. When I first said out aloud “I am not a therian!”, I felt a huge wave of relief. I could see clearly how I came to trick myself into thinking I was one. I felt foolish, yes, but you have to learn somehow.
Now that I am not burdened with the label of “therianthrope” I feel freer to work with the random shifts I have, without trying to justify them in terms of therianthropy. And I do work with them. I consider myself a totemist-druid mutt at present, and a student of animal lore. I am quite privileged to be able to shapeshift, and to be able to speak with animal spirits, but I know I still have far to go.
Maned Wolf is still very close to me. I guess she is what would be referred to as a primary totem. Other animal energies come and go, I try to experience them as much as I can. From here, I’m starting to learn about the land spirits, and moving more into a druid-based philosophy.
I feel that I went through all of the above for a reason, to get to the path I’m currently on – the path of an animal person.
“What advice would you give to someone who is pretty sure that their theriotype is extinct? How would you advise them to come to terms with potentially never discovering the ‘name’ and type of their animal?”
My first suggestion to someone who suspects their theriotype is extinct is to keep researching and looking for matches among extant species. I say this because I do believe many people don’t cast their net wide enough in their search and tend to focus on more well known species. Fossa could easily be mistaken for a feline, Grackle mistaken for Crow. Also, even if you know in your deepest heart that your type is extinct, this research will be valuable for the next steps.
The next step would be to start comparing and contrasting your inner beastie with extant critters. Nature loves variations of themes. What animals feel similar to or remind you of what you feel inside? Try to figure out why. Is it something in their physiology, behavior, habitat, and so on? Once you think you have a good feel on that similarity, what is different about your theriotype and this animal? For instance, I found my theriotype species partly because I felt a noticeable difference between my therioside and Grey Wolf (the closest match I could make), yet recognized some of its traits reflected in Spotted Hyena. The problem for me was that even after realizing the fact I still was convinced I was more canid than hyenid. About a year later, I stumbled on a website that explained that the niches occupied by dire wolves and spotted hyenas are probably very similar, it clicked together…hard.
Try to keep in mind that this sort of searching is primarily an intuitive process. Sometimes connections aren’t obvious at first, so don’t dismiss a recognition simply because the animal that triggered it seems to be very different from your theriotype. I see traces of Eel in my housecat’s love of dark crevices, flexibility, and quick predatory strikes. As I said, Nature loves variations of themes. A therian who is quite sure they are not an eel or even a marine lifeform could possibly feel kinship with Eel due to a recognition of similar ambush tactics and love of dark hidey-holes. It is for these reasons that I feel extant creatures hold the keys to finding extinct inner-creatures. Studying them helps you start to learn what is and is not possible, what forms and behaviors keep showing up over and over again, and it helps you find the creatures that may hold clues to help make educated guesses about what sort of life your theriotype may have lived.
There is a second path to discovering clues if you feel like you have memories or a sense of the lands and times your theriotype lived in. Of the few other “extinct” therians I’ve found, most do claim a sense of feeling out of place/time or feel like the Earth as it is now is not the Earth they came from. They, like myself, often feel this way long before coming to an understanding of the extinct status of their therioside. If this is the case for you, one way to try to find the era you are from is to see if you can figure out if any extant creatures, plants, or landscapes seem very familiar to you or very alien to you. If a group of animals like birds is absent from your “memories” or if you picture many varieties of fern but never any trees, this may help you start narrowing down the time your theriotype roamed the earth. This method can be a bit tricky if it ends up that your theriotype had a small range or lived an area kept isolated from migrations of newer species. For this reason and many others, I am convinced that research into evolutionary biology, ecology, paleontology, ethology, and similar fields is vital to any therian’s searchings for their therioside. The science helps you stay grounded and new knowledge always has the potential to open up new doors.
The second part of this question asked how to deal with the possibility of never finding a name for ones therioside. I’m afraid I don’t have much sage advice on this because I know I was terribly frustrated when I knew I was *something* but didn’t know exactly what, but later I *did* find it. I’m fairly sure I would still be flustered today if Dire Wolf hadn’t whacked me upside the head. I can only say honor yourself and your feelings and keep searching. Over 95% of all species that have ever lived on earth are extinct and humanity will likely uncover knowledge of only a fraction of those, so the possibility of a theriotype remaining unknown not just to the therian but to all people is certainly there. You may get only as close to your theriotype as “ancient whale”, “desert-dwelling dinosaur”, or “raccoon-like mammal”. That is still something, and that something is you.
And oh, if you do undergo a quest to find an extinct therioside, please do write about your findings. This sort of “spiritual paleontology” does exist among therians and totemists but little is said or written on it and speaking as a dire wolf, that is a shame.
How do you decide what is real and what is not? How do you decide what is plausible and what is not? Everyone has personal criteria for what is possible, probable, and impossible, but most people make flash decisions on such things using their own cognitive shortcuts. People who follow paths less traveled have to be more aware of their personal criteria, lest they stumble off the sometimes difficult-to-see path and into delusion and nonfunctioning.
Why do you believe what you believe? When you have an unusual experience, how do you figure out whether or not it’s valid or true, or where it comes from? When someone tells you about their own identity or odd experiences, what controls your “bullshit meter”? How do you check your perceptions?
I encourage you to develop your own criteria if you haven’t already. It may differ from mine, and that’s fine; my outlook on the world is my own, not yours, and my approach to gnosis is my own as well. The following is my personal criteria for determining whether something is true or not, valid or invalid, distorted or relatively sound. Please keep in mind that this is a very general list; it’s modified for different experiences, but listing individual procedures for evaluating everything from dreams to memories to encounters with deity is beyond the scope of this article.
Step 1: External Consistency
- …with science: Is the phenomenon consistent with established science, or does it outright contradict known science? For instance, mental shapeshifting does not contradict well-supported scientific findings (and could possibly be explained or re-interpreted through some mechanisms of psychology), but full physical shapeshifting from a human into a wolf contradicts known biological possibility.Now, just because something isn’t consistent with known science does not mean I discard it outright – what is scientifically “known” has been known to change, after all (we once “knew” the sun revolved around the Earth), and could be inaccurate or misleading – but it does mean I am more skeptical and will subject the phenomenon to a harsher scrutiny.
- …with lore: Is the phenomenon or experience consistent with established lore or wide cultural experience, or does it outright contradict such? If someone experiences Hethert/Hathor as being partial to beer, that’s not hard to believe; it’s well-supported by extant lore and texts. If someone experiences Yinepu/Anubis as enjoying chocolate – well, there’s no textual or cultural evidence to support it, since chocolate wasn’t exactly a highly available commodity in ancient Egypt, but there’s also nothing to contradict it. My response might be something along the lines of, “That could be possible; I’ll have to try offering Him chocolate and see if my experience is that He likes it or doesn’t like it”. If someone experiences Sekhmet as being an evil servant of Apep/Apophis, however, I’d look at the claimant in a rather askance manner and wonder what they’re smoking, because that outright contradicts established lore and cultural experience in a very big way. This does not mean that every time an experience contradicts lore that it is wrong, however; simply that, like with scientific contradictions, I will be more skeptical and subject the claim to a more intense scrutiny.
- …with my experience: Is the phenomenon or experience consistent with my own experiences and perceptions? This is the least weighty of all the consistencies, because my own perceptions could be skewed or inaccurate, but they’re still true for me to at least a moderate degree. If I normally experience Bast-Mut as a bright warmth, and then suddenly one day some entity pokes at me saying xe’s Bast-Mut but feels like prickling saltwater, I’m going to be suspicious, because it doesn’t fit my past experiences of Bast-Mut. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an alternate explanation (i.e, a different spirit, or one of Her messengers), or that it’s not Bast-Mut, but I’m nonetheless going to be very careful in my interaction with said entity.
Step 2: Internal Consistency
- …with itself: Does the explanation of the phenomenon contradict itself in any way? For instance, if someone tells me in detail about an experience they have, and partway through the story new information crops up that conflicts with information earlier in their storytelling, then they’re contradicting themselves. Alternatively, if the spirit masquerading as Bast-Mut in the External Consistency example gets aggravated and changes demeanor suddenly before schooling its behavior back to the masquerade, that’s also an inconsistency and makes it less believable.
- …and synchronicity: Is there any synchronistic evidence, either in corroborating stories that the person relaying the experience can tell about, or in my own experience, or in another person’s experience?
Step 3: Alternatives
- Mundane explanations: What are possible mundane explanations for the phenomenon? Depending on what the experience is, this is often the first thing I check. If, for instance, I’m experiencing a strange feeling in my stomach that I suspect might be mostly or wholly energetic, I don’t automatically assume that it isn’t mundane. I run down a checklist of mundane possibilities first: When did I last eat? What did I last eat? Could I have picked up a stomach bug from somewhere? Where in my abdomen area is it – could it be related to menstrual cramps, and if so, when is my period due? Have I been stressed out lately? Of course, stress can tie in easily to energetic complications, but I don’t believe there is much that doesn’t have at least some sort of mundane counterpart. I just believe that the mundane part can be added to, complicated by, caused by, or itself cause energetic/subtle reality/Unseen world effects or phenomena.
- Lore/science-consistent explanations: What are possible alternative explanations for the phenomenon that are consistent with lore and/or science? In the example used with External Consistency, let’s say someone is experiencing Sekhmet as an evil servant of Apep. I’d first get more details: What exactly is She doing, how is She behaving, what are the details of the experience? Could it simply be explained as Sekhmet being particularly harsh or intolerant ofisfet on the part of the person having the experience? That would fit with the lore. Alternatively, could it be that they are not experiencing Sekhmet at all, but rather a different entity or energy? Or, in the other example of someone claiming to physically shapeshift… If we do not outright assume that they’re bullshitting and lying, and accept that they actually believe they physically shifted, then there are more questions to ask. “Were they under any mind-altering influences at the time (drugs, alcohol, blood sugar crashes, beta state…)?” is probably the biggest one, and the likeliest possibility as far as science-consistent explanations go.
Step 4: Consider the Source
- History of reliability? Is the source (my own mind; another person; an instrument like an EMF detector or other paranormal investigation tools) reliable, and has it shown itself to be reliable multiple times in the past? If my fiancé described an experience, I’d be reasonably likely to accept it as strong possibility, even if it didn’t meet everything in the checklist (though I’d bring up the possible contradictions to him, certainly), because I know him to be fairly solid in his perceptions. If a very paranoid friend described an experience, I’d be highly skeptical and more prone to outright disbelieve him or come up with a very scaled-down alternative version of his story, as he’s shown himself to be the sort who blows things way out of proportion and sees danger where there is none. If I was detecting something with some sort of mechanical instrument and it gave me unusual findings, I’d check all the settings on it to make sure something wasn’t out of whack or distorting the findings, especially if the instrument had a history of being touchy and easily going out of balance.
- Possible perceptual bias/contamination/distortion? What are the possible perceptual distortions? Every person has an intricate set of perceptual filters, a set of preconceived beliefs and ideas about the world, themselves, and the interactions thereof that color their perceptions and interpretations of phenomena (both physical and otherwise). This includes (but isn’t limited to): personal symbology, the person’s favorite heuristics (cognitive shortcuts), mood and temperament, and learning style.These filters color everything. It’s the reason five different witnesses of an event (such as a crime or accident) will give five somewhat different (and sometimes wildly different) depictions of what happened. By comparing and contrasting the different stories, you can come to a closer idea of the truth – but even then, your ownperceptual filters will color your conclusions.If I perceive that there’s some sort of malevolent entity in a room, for instance, what could be interfering with these perceptions? I’d ask myself the following questions:
Is the room dimly lit or cluttered with stuff that could be unsettling my mind? Did I have a heightened state of arousal before entering the room – for instance, was I already stressed, or have I just seen a horror film or been told a scary story? How is the room typically used, or who typically uses it – could there just be unpleasant energetic residue built up over time that I’m misperceiving as an entity? Is anyone else sensing anything similar, and could they be suffering from the same sort of perceptual distortion? Did someone suggest to me that there was a malevolent entity here, and I’m only sensing what I expect to sense as a result?
Step 5: Intuition
- Does it feel right/wrong? Sometimes, after running all of the above checks with inconclusive results, it comes down to gut instinct. Does the phenomenon or the story of the phenomenon “feel” right? Does it ring true? Or does it just feel as if there’s something off with the whole idea, interpretation, or situation? Obviously this is not something to base my belief on completely, but it is a factor. If something doesn’t quite feel right, or a conclusion seems a bit off, then I will give the subject a closer scrutiny, even if it checks out all right with the other criteria I demand of any paranormal or nonphysical phenomenon.
- Does it feel as if there is a grain of truth? Maybe the phenomenon fails some of the big checks on my list, and doesn’t feel right, but still there’s that niggling little sense in the back of my mind that there’s something to what I’ve experienced or what another person is relating as hir experience. It feels like there’s a grain of truth to the matter, buried somewhere deep under fluff and misperception and paranoid extrapolation. If I feel there is worthwhile truth buried deep within layers of distortion and dross, I may dig until I find it.
Conclusion & Assimilation
- Believe it? Partial belief? Disbelief? Finally we come to the conclusion. Does the phenomenon pass all or enough of my checks? If so, I’ll probably accept it as true, or valid, or at least as a good possibility. Does it just pass some of the checks but fail others, or is it inconclusive? Perhaps I accept it as a possibility, but am still a bit skeptical; or accept it as possibility with a few revisions in the explanation of its cause, source, or nature. Or, if the phenomenon fails too many of the checks, I’ll reject its validity or veracity outright. Alternatively, I may choose a differing explanation for the phenomenon from the one originally suggested (by my own mind, or by a book, or by someone telling me about their strange experience and what he believes it to be, etc).
- How to incorporate into personal paradigm? If I think the phenomenon, theory, experience, or story is true, then it gets incorporated into my personal outlook on the world; how I think the world works, my personal schema or paradigm. I have to figure out how to incorporate it into said paradigm, of course. Most things fit fairly easily, without any need for adjustment to phenomenon or paradigm, but sometimes something requires me to stretch or alter my paradigm. A truly life-changing, perception-shattering experience will require an entire rewriting of said paradigm – but those are rare, and I believe such experiences require the utmost scrutiny before being accepted as true.
- Personal explanation/interpretation? Validity and usefulness? How do I, personally, explain or interpret the phenomenon? can say “I believe this phenomenon occurred” or “this experience happened”, but not agree on the nature of, cause of, or reason behind the phenomenon with another person who experienced the same thing. I have my own interpretations.Secondly, is the experience valid or useful? Just because something has a distinctly mundane cause or counterpart doesn’t mean it’s not valid as a mystic experience; and just because a belief or perception may be entirely psychological and entirely within one’s head doesn’t mean it’s not useful for one’s identity or personal growth. For example, I believe that on some level, I am hawk. This could be all in my head and have no spiritual or energetic reality whatsoever, and I freely admit such possibilities. However, it’s a useful identity construct for me, and it’s something I experience and is thus valid as experiential reality and personal mythology.Essentially, I ask myself: If this experience is entirely mundane, or if this thing I might believe turned out not to be true, would it harm me to believe it or use it in my identity/paradigm? If not, would it be helpful, useful, or add to my life experience in some positive way? If it’s useful and valid, then I just may incorporate it into my paradigm anyway, regardless of how I interpret it and regardless of whether or not it’s factually true (as opposed to archetypally, mythically, or emotionally true). I just won’t incorporate it blindly, not considering the alternatives.
Not every community or individual out there is healthy or has your best interests in mind; here’s some things to look out for.
Why So Many Wolves?
It’s an often asked question: just why are there so many wolf therians out there?
Lost in Translation: Getting Over Terminology
Advice and commentary from Spectre on the difficulty of putting experiences into words.
What is your definition of a pack? How much real life commitment and emotional attachment is implied in being a member of a pack? There is no single correct answer here, because a group of people calling themselves a pack may range from a very casual online roleplaying group to a totally committed extended family who share a house and a bank account and are co-raising children.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to join either of these types of packs, or something in between. Maybe you just want some casual online friends to talk to, and that’s fine. Or maybe you need or want a commitment that is a lot more serious than that. What is critically important is that you need to communicate clearly and honestly to everyone else in the group about what you want to get from being a member of a pack and what you are willing to give in return.
Unfortunately there is a lot of room for mismatched expectations and emotional problems when everyone in the group has a different idea of what the commitment level is. If one person expects and needs the emotional commitment of a real life pack, an online pack might fail to live up to those expectations because the rest of the folks in it are just casually roleplaying. So your definition of pack needs to be clear right up front, and it needs to match everyone else’s definition of pack. Otherwise the relationship is not going to work and somebody is likely to get hurt.
There are some potential problems and downsides to attempting to join or form a pack, especially online. In some situations, a less than mentally stable person may try to set themselves up as a pack leader and get others to be emotionally dependent on them. They crave this kind of power and control over others, but they don’t have the maturity or responsibility or real life resources to be a good pack leader. If the “alpha” of a pack is not a fully mature, responsible and ethical adult, even if he or she means well and wants to offer good quality emotional support and leadership, people can get hurt.
There are some bad “alphas” out there who want the feeling of power and ego they get from leading a pack, but they are totally unsuited to give anything back to the pack members in return for the ego stroking. Or they’re exploitative predators who don’t care about the people in their pack other than to get personal or even sexual gratification from them. These are not healthy situations.
Some people like playing dominance and submission games within a pack. I think that is fine as long as they confine their play to the consenting adults who are comfortable with these roles. But trying to force people to play those kinds of games when they don’t consent is not being an alpha or a dominant, it’s being an asshole. If you are not comfortable with dominance and submission roles, look carefully at the pack you are proposing to join and make sure that they don’t try to push these kinds of interactions on people who are not comfortable with a strictly enforced heirarchy. In particular, it is a major red flag if an “alpha” demands sex or cybersex or overt submissive behavior from pack members who are not interested or not okay with this.
The more casual packs may be easy to get invited to join. “Hi, I’m DarkWolf, what’s your screen name, wanna join our wolf pack chat room on AOL?” If that’s all you want in a pack, you won’t need to invest much time and effort getting to know people first and making sure that you can function well together in the boundaries of a serious committed relationship. On the other hand, if you want a real life pack to live with and sleep with and raise children with, an instant online commitment can’t (and shouldn’t) happen. The higher the degree of intimacy and support and commitment you need from a pack relationship, the longer it is going to take to build that level of trust.
At one extreme end, a “pack” is just a chat room. At the other extreme end, it’s a group marriage, whether or not it involves sex. Some packs are also ethical polyamorous relationships that involve a relationship between two or more members or couples or triads in various configurations. Some aren’t. It depends on the individuals and their different relationships with one another. Most packs, especially online ones, are somewhere in between a casual chat room and a total real life household commitment. As long as everyone is on the same page about what is expected, there really is no right or wrong way to be a pack.
Wanting to be part of a pack is not automatically a bad thing. Being careful about joining a healthy and functional pack with clear and honest communication about what everybody expects to get from pack membership is an even better thing.[Top]
In the time I’ve spent in the online communities, which all things considered, isn’t really all that long, I’ve noticed that the majority of therians and Otherkin have this deep-seated need to belong. They form meet-ups or howls, search for people with the same or similar ‘kin types as themselves and they enjoy talking to others who share similar experiences.
With the internet, this is relatively easy as it connects us worldwide with people we’d probably never come into contact with without it. However, I’ve noticed that people tend to gravitate to others of their same ‘kin type and I’ve begun to wonder why. Isn’t it enough that, besides the fact that we’re all human on the outside and have various likes/dislikes, we’re also something “other than human” on the inside? You’d think this basic idea, that everyone in the therian and Otherkin communities identifies as some non-human creature, would help connect us. It seems that people are never satisfied with just finding someone else online who shares the therian or Otherkin label with them. They need to be the same; share the same theriotype or ‘kin type so as best to understand each other and to satisfy that belonging urge inside all of us.
But where does this need to belong come from? I believe that it comes from that ingrained instinct where there’s simply safety in numbers. Herd and pack animals alike understand that not only is it easier to attain food with help, but it’s also safer and comforting to have others just like you nearby. Humans are, after all, animals and their instincts are to gravitate to groups that share similarities. Think about the last time you went to a movie, you probably went with friends that also wanted to see the film because you all share a similar interest in that particular movie genre. Or what about at work; people tend to make friends at work with people who share like interests with them. It helps them to feel more comfortable, not only with themselves, but it also gives them some common ground with the group at large.
The therian and Otherkin communities are no different. The question often arises as to why there are so many wolf therians. Perhaps it’s because not only are humans more comfortable in groups where they share interests, but wolves too are pack animals and are really only successful (although not always the case) when they work together. It would stand to reason that because of their human and lupine nature, a wolf therian would gravitate more to a community because they would feel the community pull from both sides of his/her nature. But why there are so many wolf therians is not the topic here. The need for people to belong is.
People feel the need to belong, and it’s because of a very simple reason, because then they don’t feel so alone in this wide world. We’re all aware of how different one person can be from the next and it can get frustrating when the people around you in your everyday life don’t agree with your opinions or don’t “understand” you. Seeking solace in an online community is a good way of soothing that anxiety and communicating with other people of a like mind. And it only makes sense to join communities where you will find people with similar interests. Obviously we’re all different and we’re all going to have a different favorite color, etc. but it’s still nice to find people who believe that inside they’re something other than human. It helps in dealing with your own everyday life if you can share your experiences on shifting or past life memories with people who are aware of and accept the concepts. It makes it easier to talk about it. There will always be one person who nitpicks or disagrees with you and your opinions, but most people find that an online community relating to their interests is generally accepting and helpful.
The issue comes up as to why do people feel the need to seek out others with their exact therio or ‘kin type online. The answer is much the same, because of the deep-seated desire to find someone else just like you. If you can share your experiences with someone who shares an understanding of the concept, that’s great. However, if you can find someone who’s had the same experience or same sort of experience, because you’re of the same ‘kin type, all the better, right? I disagree. I think that no matter what the ‘kin type, what matters is that you’re sharing your experiences with other people who understand. The focus shouldn’t be on ‘kin type. To me, it doesn’t make a difference if I’m reading about a rabbit therian who experiences mental shifts when faced with a salad or a demon who sometimes feels like a kleptomaniac. What matters is that we all identify as something other than human and we’re all going to have different experiences based on external and internal circumstances. The most important point is sharing what you experience with the community.
Would I love to meet another wolf therian in real life? Of course I would, but then I’d be just as happy (and thrilled) to meet a bandicoot therian, or a dragon, or an elf. To me, it’s about meeting someone who A) believes and accepts therians and Otherkin and B) simply meeting a therian or Otherkin in person. A meeting between two therians or ‘kin types shouldn’t leave the people involved focusing on their differences. Rather, they should leave the experience happy to have met someone else who feels “other” and is open to discussions relating to therians and Otherkin. What we should take away from the experience itself is that while we’re different, we also share common ground and are open-minded individuals.
The need to belong can create a very strong pull to join a specific group or community. And while the community at large can provide a place to connect with others, it comes down to the members that make it what it is. So while it may be nice to sometimes seek out others exactly like yourself, keep in mind that we all identify as one thing or another. The most important thing is to share the sense of community with all of those who can see to it that our questions keep each other honest, our differences make the community diverse, and our likenesses – whether we identify as therian, dragon, celestial, fae, demon, etc. – keep the community strong. It’s that connection, the connection of being different, that brings us together as a community.[Top]
So many people cling to the need to label themselves and to identify what’s inside of them. Yet we each claim a unique individuality that cannot help but label us. Words, by their very nature, define us. That’s what words do, it is their purpose. So claiming to be something, however simple, is still a label. And every human society on Earth labels things. Even the Native Americans had names for the things around them. Is it possible that animals label things? I have no idea. But I would assume a bear would have a way of recognizing a specific tree or a den site. Or that a shark could remember a specific rock outcropping and give it a name. Or that an eagle could identify the best place to catch fish. But who knows?
And what is wrong with labels? In my opinion, nothing so long as they’re kept simple. Since everyone is different, we each need to have our own uniqueness that sets us apart from everyone else. This is where labels come from; the desire to be set apart from the rest of society. Granted, getting too specific with naming what you are will get confusing to others (not to mention yourself!), but having general labels is good in that it helps to clearly define who you are. At first glance, people can gather the basic knowledge as to what you are and therefore better understand you. At least to some general degree that is. Obviously it takes time to truly get to know someone, but getting basic information is a good place to start in talking to other people.
And everyone needs a sense of self or a name for what they are so that they can try to better understand it and themselves. Do animals give themselves names to show uniqueness? I have no idea. But as humans, our society has thrived on giving names to everything. So why should therians or Otherkin be any different?
Does my wolf side thrive on identity? Of course not but then neither does my human side. I know what and who I am and I’m comfortable with the different labels I’ve collected over the years. But the wolf in me recognizes a unique physical appearance and also connects with a specific name for itself which are different than my human side’s physical appearance and name. Does my wolf side care if it’s original home was Alaska or Tennessee? Of course not. But the human side of me realizes that knowing where the wolf came from is important in better understanding it. Does it define me? Partly. It gives me names to explain myself to others and to get a better handle on what’s inside of me. Sure, I could just call myself a wolf therian, but there is so much more to learn and I would feel like I had cheated myself if I stopped trying to learn anything else.
Each of us has the capacity to better understand ourselves through words. For some people it might be enough to just have a general label for themselves, something that just barely scratches the surface. But I need to know more to better understand who and what I am inside. It makes it easier when talking to other people, but labeling yourself is more to better understand who and what youare.
I wouldn’t be satisfied with just being of a Caucasian background, so I’ve researched my family history to better understand where I came from. Why should it be any different for my therianthropy? I know that I am a wolf, yet I seek to better understand that aspect of myself by trying to discover where the wolf came from, what it looks like, what subspecies it might be, what types of shifting I experience, why I’m different from other therians and so on. It’s all in an effort to clarify for myself what I am.
Learning one term for yourself only gets the ball rolling. It opens the door to learning things about yourself that no one else can tell you or teach you. We are constantly changing beings, always learning new things. Would you stop trying to learn from books after reading one specific fact? I doubt it. I would hope that after learning something new, you would seek to verify it in other places and would not be satisfied until other sources claimed the same facts.
Humans crave knowledge and with knowledge comes a large vocabulary. In labeling yourself, you’re only adding to the vast knowledge of what makes up you as an individual.
So my advice to people seeking to label themselves; keep it simple and stay true to yourself. It doesn’t matter if other people accept the names you use for yourself or not. What matters is what you know about yourself.[Top]