I’m going to deviate a bit from the shamanic end of things and delve into some other thoughts–specifically thoughts sparked by reading Green Hermeticism by Wilson, Bamford and Townley. Published last year, it’s a marvelous work on hermeticism and alchemy with a strong ecological focus. I’ll have a review up hopefully by the end of the week over at Pagan Book Reviews.
The part that really got my gears going was in Bamford’s chapter, “Quilting Green Hermeticism”, specifically the section “Perception and Imagination”. It’s an examination of a way of perception that differs dramatically from most folks’ everyday perception. Found throughout various spiritualities and magical traditions, it is the application of the idea that all things are connected to the point that true perception involved not just observing and analyzing something, but instead breaking down our barriers and experiencing it, experiencing what it is to be it, identifying ourselves with it to fully know it. Bamford cites Paracelsus’ example of the Scammonea herb. Instead of only knowing facts and figures about Scammonea, Paracelsus says, “When you overhear from the Scammonea the knowledge it possesses, that knowledge will be in you just as it is within the Scammonea and you will have acquired the experience as well the as knowledge”. (p. 148)
This perspective also echoes the concept of the holographic universe, in which every individual thing contains a reflection of the All, the entirety of Existence (including beyond what we are aware of). It breaks down the habit of dichotomy and duality, and instead embraces the union of opposites. Rather than perceiving based on either/or, we perceive both/and. Green Hermeticism espouses a viewpoint that is based on the understanding that the entire Universe is alive and aware. Rather than looking at a bunch of individual components that are all separate from each other, we are encouraged to start by looking at the One Universe, and then move outward from there. However, Bamford puts this perspective much more eloquently than I can:
Hermetic thinking…works through paradox and metaphor (and patience) which essentially overturn the laws of logic in that they demand the ability to hold two contrary realities simultaneously in the heart/mind as a unity…Whereas ordinary thinking and science begin with a multiplicity of parts and somehow hope to move from the details of the many to some kind of wholeness or unity, Hermeticism begins with the unity or wholeness of opposites and seeks to realize their reality in the experience of the world. (p. 136, bold emphasis mine)
So what has this to do with therianthropy and Otherkin? A good deal. Back when I was writing A Field Guide to Otherkin, my editor (and husband) Taylor questioned the role of the concept of Otherkin (including therianthropy for simplicity’s sake). Specifically, he wanted to know what purpose the concept has beyond identity. That’s a damned good question, given that a significant number of Otherkin seem to be so concerned with remembering every single detail of their (assumed) past lives as a (insert nonhuman being here) that they never seem to think outside the identity box (Rialian has dubbed such people “identitykin”). While they are far from being the majority of Otherkin, identitykin are still pretty common.
And Taylor is far from being the only person who has raised the question of what good is being Otherkin besides having a nifty identity. How does being Otherkin benefit a person, other than perhaps explaining some questions about themselves? What does it do besides apply a label? That’s something I’ve really been focusing on since Taylor brought the query up to me well over a year ago. It’s not that I didn’t have purpose besides identity for my therianthropy, but I’d never really thought about it.
Reading the above ideas in Green Hermeticism helped me to take some vague ideas that have been floating around in my head ever since, and put them into something resembling a coherent idea. So here, for your reading pleasure, is the initial result. Please keep in mind that I only speak for myself; not all Otherkin work with magic and esotericism. Additionally, many Otherkin are leery of putting the concept of Otherkin into anything but literal, attempted objective terms; metaphor, subjectivity, and minority perceptions are often eschewed for fear of “invalidating” the concept of Otherkin in the eyes of others. (Never mind that what someone else thinks should have no bearing on the personal validity of one’s own experiences; if you’re trying too hard to please others, you’re probably distracted from more important things.)
The statement “I am a wolf therianthrope” boils down to this: while I am in a human body, raised by humans with human conditioning in human civilization, there is a significant part of me that says, sincerely, “I am a wolf”. It’s been there almost as long as I can remember, and no amount of denying it made it go away, so I simply integrated it, using the concept of therianthropy as a framework to understand it better. In doing so, I have opened myself to the possibility that I am more than what is apparent, and that the boundaries of identity are more fluid than commonly assumed.
However, I want to take this idea further. Let’s assume that the hermetic perception is correct, and that it is possible to not only know about, but to experience anything in this Universe–animal, vegetable, or mineral, as the alchemical trinity is composed. Let’s also assume that experiencing anything will allow the perceiver to fully understand that thing in a way that simply knowing about it cannot.
Having already experienced numerous times what it is (or what I perceive) to be a wolf as well as a human (the latter of which may be considered my starting point and home base), and, through invocation, having experienced (to a lesser, more temporary, degree) what it is to be various other animals, as well as deities and other spirits, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that I could extend that ability to experience toward literally anything. Since “wolf” is what I understand best through therianthropy (the idea that I am wolf as well as human), could I not take the lessons and dynamics learned through balancing wolf and human to begin to integrate other things into “I am”? Does being Otherkin give one a potential head start on union with the All, in that it requires a person to accept that s/he is not only human, but not-human as well?
If this is true, then it stands to reason that for some people, the concept of “Otherkin” can be taken far beyond mere identity. Of course, that gets into the argument of “Well, what if people start ‘becoming’ Otherkin, or adding new Otherkin selves like new clothes?” From a “normal” perception, that is a concern. However, it’s a perception that is based on division and boundaries, rather than unity and exploration of the unity through multifaceted experience. In order to make this exercise work, being able to adopt the latter, hermetic perception is necessary. Otherwise it’s kind of like looking at a 3-D movie through sunglasses instead of 3-D glasses with their red and blue lenses–right idea, wrong filter, and you miss out on the important parts.
This will also prompt more thought on labels, and our adherence to them. We use labels as convenient ways to communicate, and they have their place. However, we sometimes cling to them too tightly and don’t stop to think what those labels really stand for. Additionally, there’s that aforementioned tendency to want to try to put the concept of Otherkin (which is already highly questioned by skeptics) into as literal a format as possible to try to maxmize its legitimacy in the eyes of everybody, ‘kin and non-’kin alike. To look at it through a perception that has been degraded for centuries as outmoded, crazy, and dangerous just makes people more insecure about it overall. Yet I believe if we are to truly understand and utilize the potential of “Otherkin” as a concept–and as, to be honest, a practice–then we have to be willing to go outside of our comfortable pigeonholes. There is a time and place, true, to argue legitimacy and literalism. However, I am speaking from a current headspace of transcendence and alternative manners of thought and understanding that flow beneath the surface of commonly accepted consensus reality. We already believe that we are Other than what our genes (and society) dictate we are, which challenges consensus reality enough as it is. There’s value in challenging it further, and this is just one potential way of doing so.
I am far from being an expert on hermeticism, so if there are any flaws in my logic on that account (or any other) feel free to constructively critique. (Same goes for anything else you may feel like commenting on.) This is a very rough draft of an idea, the first time I’ve been able to find anything even approaching the right words. I feel humbled by the eloquence of Bamford and his co-authors, who have expressed their ideas on green hermeticism most excellently. Still, this is a good start, and something I will continue to chew on, especially as the “Everything Is Connected” is a significant part of my cosmology. It may not be “pure” shamanism, per se, but it’s integral to what I’m personally working with.