While therioshamanism isn’t “therian religion” or “therian magic”, my conception of myself as a therianthrope is a part of my spirituality. Therianthropy, for those who aren’t aware, describes people who identify in some (generally nonphysical) manner as a nonhuman animal. Some claim it’s a neurobiological/psychological disorder, that there’s something in the hardware that is wired “wrong”. Others see themselves as products of reincarnation, having had previous lives as nonhuman animals that inform who they are in this life.
And there are theories beyond that, though those are two of the most common ones. At this point, this is the multi-layered way I understand my therianthropy:
Psychologically: There are parts of my brain (I’d imagine the mammalian/reptile bits, the instinctual parts) that resonate more with “wolf” than “human”. I work with these parts best if I allow myself to personify them as lupine in nature. Also, on a “software” rather than “hardware” note, I had an early spiritual experience when I was a very young child with Wolf the totem, which really imprinted on my psyche; subsequent conditioning strengthened the identification with “me-as-wolf”.
Spiritually: As I said, Wolf the totem came to me when I was young, and has been a strong influence on my life ever since then. While I don’t think totemism = therianthropy, and not all therians have or even believe in totems, for me personally there is a link between the external Wolf totem and the internal me-as-wolf. (I’ll talk more about this in a bit.)
Metaphorically/mythologically: I’m a strong believer in the human need for mythology to be a complete person, along with more rational studies. Mythology speaks of metaphorical realities that are no less real than the physical one we primarily are used to. Just because something isn’t real on a literal level doesn’t make it all imaginary. So part of my personal mythology is that on a spiritual-metaphorical level I am lupine, while on a literal-physical level I’m human. Most people simply consider the latter to be more “real” and therefore more important.
So basically, the concept of therianthropy, and on a wider scale that of Otherkin, is a framework to help me understand the parts of myself that “human” doesn’t quite cover. While I consider the possibility that it may all just be in my head, I do know that I live a perfectly functional life even with this unorthodox belief about myself, and that on certain levels of my being it makes total and complete sense.
One thing that the therian community is quick to disclaimer is the idea that therianthropy isn’t totemism (as I mentioned earlier). This is because the community has dealt with a lot of people coming in and talking about having totems, and then asking if they were therians or not because of it. So the hard and fast line that’s been drawn is that therian = internal (you are the animal) and totem = external (the animal is your companion/guide/etc.). Seems pretty clear-cut, right?
Well, maybe, maybe not. This is all entirely based on my own experience, so have a grain or two of salt. One thing that I have noticed is that whenever I work with a totem for the first time, especially with regards to invoking the totem into myself, the totem leaves a piece of hir own energy within me, and takes a piece of my energy with hir in exchange. This acts as a sort of “homing signal” which makes subsequent invocations and even evocations with those totems easier. I’m not the only person to notice this, either; my husband, Taylor, has also noted it (I think it was in Inner Alchemy that he did so).
So thinking back to the first time I encountered Wolf the totem, as well as became aware of something in me that was lupine…I was a very young child at the time. Wolf made hirself known to me through what I can best explain as a “spiritual overlay” involving our German shepherd dog–the dog looked very Wolf-ish in that moment, and Wolf took that opportunity to make first contact, so to speak. After that point, I felt the part of myself inside me that was lupine in nature, though I didn’t, of course, recognize it for what it was. I just knew wolves were suddenly really, really cool, and a few years later decided that I should have been one instead of human. Of course, this didn’t go away, as “favorite animals” usually do after a certain point, but stuck with me to the present day.
What I’m wondering is if my therianthropy is a result of the cultivation of an early energy exchange with Wolf, and that since it happened at such a young age it became a formative part of myself. I can’t say this explains therianthropy for everyone; I’ve never heard of the exact same experience with anyone else, though I’d heard of experiences that are similar in certain ways (maybe a different age, perhaps, or another way of becoming aware at an early age).
And if that’s the case, I wonder if I can develop other theriosides through cultivating the internal connections I have with other totems, to the point where the identity as those animals becomes inherent instead of as a temporary identification through invocation. I’ve already theorized in Shifting, Shamanism and Therianthropy that shifting is a form of invocation in which the most nonhuman-animal part of the self is invoked. And “shamanic shifts” with other totems can be every bit as intense as a “therian” shift, at least for me. Plus, an experiment I did with myself a few years ago in which I divided myself temporarily into four personae to get to know different aspects of myself better resulted in a split not only in the “human” identity but also the “animal” identity, leading me to believe that the psyche is a lot more fluid than most people assume.
While I have plenty of other things on my plate right now, it’s something I’m going to continue chewing on, so to speak. After all, it took me a quarter of a century to get to where I am with Wolf, and the two cases of people I know who “became” Otherkin through magic were not just “Hey, let’s burn a candle and turn into a (insert being here)”. But it’s something I’m going to continue working with as a potential explanation for at least my own therianthropy.
And it raises some questions. Does the fact that I can point to a potential outside influence that “made” me wolf mean that I’m not a “real” therianthrope? Must the internal and external realities always be split into a dichotomy, or can it be more of a continuum? If I were to attempt to strengthen my internal bond with a totem besides Wolf, would there be marked differences in the quality of the connection? Would there be something that always made that connection different than the one to Wolf?
And, in the end, does it really even matter, as long as I’m satisfied with my relationship to the entities I work with, and to myself?