Wolves and Dogs and Therianthropy

Part of my personal mythology involves identifying myself as a wolf therian–basically, I believe that on some nonphysical level of myself, I am more wolf than human. This is something that goes wayyyyyy back to a very young age; therianthropy is just the general framework that I’ve been using to explore and explain it in the past several years. I’ve been evolving into more a personal mythology framework the past couple of years–but not completely disavowing “therianthropy” as a concept. I’m currently explaining it (in my case) as a part of the metaphorical story (that is also true–more on that in a minute) I tell about myself, rather than trying to take the (relatively) literalist perspective of “There’s something wrong with my neurobiology, and that of every other therian, that causes a fundamental miswiring related to identity/senses/etc.”, or the other popular opinion, “I was a wolf in a past life/my soul is that of a wolf”.

Let me make something very clear: I believe that metaphor and mythology are not “just made up”. They come from a complex interplay of the mind and the environment, to include what I believe to be autonomous beings. The modern Western conception of myth/metaphor is that it’s “all in the head’, with no bearing on the real world. I believe these are as much a part of the fabric of reality as physics, and other more materialistic things. I choose to believe that metaphor/myth have autonomous existences independent of the human mind, but that there is interdependence as well. This is a case of both/and instead of either/or. I make this choice A) because I have experienced things that prove to me as an individual that this is true in my subjective reality, and B) because my spiritual path functions much better when I believe this is true.

So. Back to the topic at hand.

As I said, myself-as-wolf is a significant part of my personal mythology. It explains to me a number of traits that “human” doesn’t quite fit–or, at least, that “wolf” fits better. Taylor brought up to me a few weeks ago the concept of myself-as-dog, however. I have a lot more experience working with dogs than I do with wolves, and being a somewhat domesticated critter myself, “dog” may be something to explore in more depth.

What is a dog? One way of looking at it is essentially a domesticated wolf. That’s a very simplistic explanation, but it’s a starting point. A dog is what happens when wolves interact over a long period of time with humans, becoming interdependent. If I am a wolf in human form, interacting within a human paradigm for a lifetime, wouldn’t that create some kind of change in the self-as-wolf? After all, I can’t say that I am only wolf, and while I can guess at how close I am to the experience of being wolf, it’s all conjecture in the end. No on can prove that my experiences when I am in a more wolfish mindset are anything more than my mind’s approximation of what I might assume to be “wolf” things.

Dogs, though, are more of a known quantity. Again, I can’t get inside the head of a dog, but I can observe doggish behavior more often and have a better idea of what a dog is. And from a purely analytical viewpoint, I can compare the outsider’s perspective on wolves and dogs to see where the similarities and differences are.

So working with Dog energy may be an interesting way to get a better handle on myself-as-wolf, filtered through myself-as-human. It’s not a complete parallel, since that part of myself still identifies as wolf rather than dog. However, dogs are the closest things to wolves I have access to on a regular basis. It can’t hurt to at least explore the connections.

Totemically, I may also try working with the totems of different breeds of domestic dog. I’ve always had a particular fondness for more primitive, wolfish breeds–I had German shepherds growing up, and also like malemutes, huskies, and other such breeds. I’m still undecided about what I think about wolf hybrids; I haven’t had much experience with them, and I’ve heard lots of both good and bad testimonies to their temperaments and safety. Still, I’d much rather be around a German shepherd than a Bichon Frise.

I don’t think that I’ll ever give up embracing “wolf” as the primary theme in my life, though the work with “dog” may bring some interesting perspectives. “Wolf” is too deeply ingrained in my fundamental self, and there are certain things that I know will always fit “wolf” better than “dog”. However, I’ve also been embracing the concept of feralness again, the idea of a once-wild being (or lineage of beings) that has been brought into captivity, and then released to the wild again. Your average dog is not feral, but has the capacity to be. It may be that I can find some parallel patterns in my own life as I find once again the part of myself that was born wild, was made captive, and is only now finding itself free again. Given that this part of me is very closely tied to myself-as-wolf, this work with wolf and dog and related concepts may be valuable indeed.

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Current-surfing

Okay, okay–I know I’ve been damned quiet lately. I’ve actually been taking a temporary hiatus from “active” shamanic work (e.g., journeying) the past several weeks. Between returning to school, and a few other significant shakeups in my life that have required me to adjust my equilibrium, I’ve taken a break from active shamanizing. The spirits haven’t been particularly upset about this; considering it’s my belief that they’ve had their hands (paws? wings?) in on at least some of the changes, it’s not surprising that they’ve been patient while I’ve gotten my bearings. Shamanism is still on my mind, though, and once the time is right I have a whole slew of things I want to do. I was pretty active for an entire year, so a break isn’t such a bad idea anyway.

One thing I have been thinking about is my approach to magic. Many pagans think of magic as only something you do through a specific ritualized process, whether it’s a simple spell, or pulling out the stops for a high ceremonial explosion. Either way, it’s an action in which to some extent you step out of your everyday process of doing things, and do something you normally wouldn’t do–how many of us, for example, routinely stitch together little poppets of herbs, or utter intonations in various languages while walking down the street? (I fully expect some smartass answers to that particular question.)

While I do very much enjoy the process and art of ritual, I’ve found that the older I get, the less ritual work I do. However, I’m still working a good bit of magic. Let me see how I can explain this best–it’s hard to find words for something that more makes sense to me in visual images in my head, and quasi-tactile sensations. A metaphor that I use for explaining reality is currents. Basically, a movement/energy/recurring pattern of a particular, unique type. All currents weave together into what we know as reality. A decision may change the current one is in, even if only slightly.

Magic, for me, has become a process of trying to live my life with the greatest possible awareness of the current I am in, and the currents that intersect it to create possibilities. What ritual work has done is trained me to recognize these currents, to the point where I don’t need a full ritual to be able to work with them. Instead, it’s a process of “tasting” (if you’ll forgive the inaccurate sensory comparison) the currents to see which one will work best for my purposes. I then act–in my everyday life, not in a ritual format–according to what my observations tell me. It’s worked quite well–in fact, I’m often getting better results for less effort this way.

See, what I’m doing is instead of dictating how I think reality must be, regardless of what the extenuating circumstances are, I am getting a sense of the extenuating circumstances, and then acting based on the information I have. Instead of trying to bend reality to my will, I am learning to harmonize myself with it. This allows me to take into account not only my own needs, but the needs of other beings/intelligences/etc. that are potentially affected by my choices. That is the information that the currents carry; they are interconnection.

How does this come into play with shamanism? Well, for one thing, magic is not the primary focus of my practice. It’s still important, but the single most important element is the relationships that I am developing with the spirits. Apart from the everyday current-surfing I do, the ritual work that I do is dependent upon healthy relationships with the totems and other beings I work with. It’s not that I couldn’t do other forms of magic; if I wanted to, I could pull out some good old Chaos magic and work from a purely psychological perspective. However, because I have a specific aim with therioshamanism, it best behooves me to stick to the spiritual model of magic and to focus on the relationships with the spirits.

See, that’s the thing about shamanism. Core shamans have this tendency to elevate the techniques above all else–open most books on core shamanism, and you get a bunch of how-tos. You might get a few techniques for how to meet your power animal, and maybe a few other guides, but there’s precious little material on how to actually develop relationships with these beings–and why it’s so important. In my experience (such as it is), the techniques come out of the relationships with the spirits, not the other way around. If I work with a particular totem, for example, I want to get an idea of how s/he best operates. I don’t want to just come in with a bunch of preconceived notions and hope s/he’ll agree. (A well-rounded magician of any stripe has a wide array of techniques in hir arsenal to begin with, and this is one reason why–what if your one-trick pony doesn’t work?)

Current-surfing allows me to get a sense of when it would be a good idea to work ritual magic, take a journey, etc. It also helps me to keep tabs on the spirits I work with, since my relationship to them includes aligning my own current to theirs. (Hmmm–this sounds a little like an RSS feed 😉 ) I then already have a good idea of what sort of context I’ll be working ritual in, as well as what I perceive to be the best way to focus said ritual. I also find that I don’t do rituals for things that simply require me to make everyday decisions in a conscious manner.

Less effort, better results. Works for me.