A little over a year ago, I posted A Totemic Perspective on Spiritual Therianthropy, and a bit before that, A Mythological Perspective on Therianthropy. A few months later, I kicked around some ideas on therianthropy, Otherkin, identity, and hermeticism, among other things. These were some of the first written manifestations of thoughts and understandings I’ve been testing out to one degree or another for the past few years.
So I’ve finally come to a conclusion from all this testing of ideas. My therianthropy–the structure on which I examine why it is that I feel that on some (nonphysical) level I am wolf in nature–is directly related to and caused by totemism. It’s something that was given to me by Wolf, my primary totem, who has been with me my entire life. It is still something that permeates my being at all times, not something I can simply take off and put back on at will, and not something that is separate from me. I am wolf on some level, as I am also human on other levels (the physical included).
This isn’t something that’s easy to say. There are a lot of kneejerk reactions to mentioning therianthropy and totemism in the same sentence. There’s been a good deal of effort put towards making the differences between therianthropy and totemism very clear, particularly because there has been a lot of confusion (especially among newbies to the concept of therianthropy). What commonly happens is you’ll get someone who has recently (or not) discovered hir totem, whether s/he knows what it is or not, and because s/he feels a strong draw towards this animal, s/he assumes s/he IS the animal. Additionally, while most of the furries I know know the difference, there also seems to be some confusion among totemism, therianthropy, and the fursona. Often newbies will leap to conclusions without having done much research or self-searching and introspection, and try to speak as authoritatively as someone who’s actually done the work over time. Granted, this happens with newbies in any group–but I digress.
This results in a tendency to try to keep the lines between totemism and therianthropy as sharply delineated as possible. Unfortunately, this can occasionally mean situations in which the combination of the two in any way is discouraged, particularly if the nice, safe lines get blurred. I’ll freely admit that I avoided exploring this possibility for a while specifically because I’d seen so much negative press about it, and wanted to make sure I was “doing things right”. However, as my need for external validation diminished, and my ability to validate my own beliefs and experiences became stronger, I said “Fuck that noise” and decided to explore it anyway. I’m glad that it did, because it’s been the most fertile exploration related to my therianthropy I’ve ever had.
However, I didn’t come to this conclusion quickly or lightly. As I mentioned, I’ve been working with these ideas for the past few years, and have been working them out in writing (one of my best forms of processing) for over a year. Some of the material on personal mythology in A Field Guide to Otherkin, which came out in 2007, was a precursor to some of the ideas woven in to my current theory. But it wasn’t until I started developing my therioshamanic practice that I really reached a greater understanding.
While I’ve been an actively practicing totemist since the mid-1990s, and have had Wolf as a presence for my entire life (and became aware of it at a very young age), my relationships with the totems deepened significantly after I started practicing shamanism. Shamanism, by necessity, is built on relationships with the spirits. It isn’t about techniques, or shiny objects. First and foremost, it is communication with spirits and travelling to their realms (or in a few cultures, mediumship). The techniques and trappings stem from and support that communication and those relationships.
As I got to know Wolf better, s/he began telling me more about myself-as-wolf, as s/he felt I was ready for it. S/he told me the significance of our first meeting, when I first remembered realizing there was something wolfish in me–and that it never stopped being there, ever, no matter how much I sometimes tried to get rid of it. Most of the details are private, but I can definitely say that that which is wolf in me, was a direct gift from hir, and is part of the ongoing relationship that’s developed over this lifetime. It’s something that I did question a number of times, just to be sure I wasn’t making it up. S/he confirmed each time.
So, what of my personal experience is therianthropy, and what is totemism?
Therianthropy: I am wolf on some (nonphysical) level. This is not a wolf spirit carried within me, or any other being independent of me. It is not me carrying Wolf hirself in me, though I see what is wolf in me as having originated with hir. This is me. I don’t believe reincarnation factors in. The part of me that is wolf is something that, as far as I understand, is part of this life.
Totemism: Wolf is a totem, an archetypal being who embodies all that is to be known about wolves. Specifically I work with Timber (Gray) Wolf, who protects all the subspecies of that species. Wolf is an external being who gave me a piece of hirself that was integrated into who I am from the beginning. Just having a totem does not make me a therianthrope; it is the specific part of myself that Wolf gave me that is important. None of my other totems have given me something like that, and therefore I am not, for example, a fox therian, or a badger therian.
So, yes, I can definitely say that at this point the best way to explain my own therianthropy, myself-as-wolf, is through my relationship with Wolf the totem. I am wolf in and of myself, but it is something that was given to me by Wolf. I’m still going to continue exploring and working to better understand myself in parts and in whole, but this is the closest I’ve come to an explanation of myself-as-wolf.
Shamanically speaking, this gives me even more understanding as to how my therianthropy can be incorporated into my shamanic practice. It explains more of why Wolf has been around the whole time, and it also offers up some intriguing possibilities for forging stronger, potentially permanent connections with other totems. I’ve often wondered if, assuming they were willing, other totems could give me (or other people) similar pieces of themselves. Though it also may be something that is not easily given, or given at all. We shall see.
One final thing I want to make absolutely clear–this is something that is unique to my experience. While I know a very small number of people (count on one hand) with similar experiences, the vast majority of therianthropes who also practice totemism don’t (to my knowledge, anyway) have the same relationship with their totems that I do with Wolf, in that their therianthropy isn’t directly related. I do think it’s possible that this happens more often than I realize, but the thing I want to emphasize is that I came to this conclusion after nearly three decades of being aware, on some level, that there was something about me wolfish, after over a decade of active totemic work, and after a few years specifically spent on exploring the connection between my personal therianthropy, and my personal rel,ationships with my totems, including the intensity of shamanic practice. While I don’t want to discourage people from considering a similar possibility for themselves, I also want to make sure it’s understood that it’s not to be considered lightly–but then again, when is any of this to be decided through hasty processes?
Wow, just as you write, I’m along a road of my Path (whatever it is) rediscovering that which makes me, me.
I’ve been trying to go back to particular bits of who I was 10+ years ago in accepting me as a mover of energy, rather than a this or that kind of Pagan. I’ve also been trying to figure out why I’m not that interested anymore in learning about other modes of magic. I have what I have and I’m content with that, and it’s taken me nearly 20 years to get here. I’m also trying to figure out why I feel the need to continue to shoe horn myself into someone else’s definition of what being Pagan is.
Much to think about, as ever. It is nice to see someone come to a good conclusion!
I’ve pretty much come to believe that the origin of my therianthropy is best explained in a totemic paradigm as well. Which only adds more confusion for me considering that the totem that has overall been strongest in my life is Grey Wolf but therian-wise I’m Dire Wolf. *shakes head* When I first stepped into the therian community I called myself “wolfish” because of the mixed messages I recieved when exploring if I was a wolf. If I wasn’t specifically looking at a grey wolf the answer to “am I a wolf” would be yes, but if I was looking at a grey wolf it would be no. Confused the hell out of me, so I gave up and just left it at saying I was wolfish.
It’s been years since I discoverd Dire Wolf, and I’m still kinda reeling from the revalation that I’m not part of Grey Wolf’s brood like I thought but was kinda adopted by him/her instead. I’m over the anger and I’m *mostly* over the hurt, but I’m still confused as all heck. The totem paradigm seems the most right as far as an origin story goes, but how/why did Dire Wolf claim me so early on when it would be many years for me to even consider him or realize such wolves existed? I spent a decade obsessed with grey wolves to the point of traveling a thousand miles to work with them. Why not a connection to Grey Wolf then? I sure as heck wouldn’t have chosen to be an extinct beast, that’s for sure. During my anger phase, I snarled at both Grey and Dire demanding an explanation, telling them that I felt it was pretty damn pointless to be a fossil. To make matters worse, it seems that Dire Wolf feels like he laid claim part of my being during a *human* past life and I’m *really* uncomfortable with past life theories. And I’m rambling….
I know it is wrongheaded, but I envy grey wolf therians and still wish my discoveries hadn’t led me to the conclusion they did. But I am glad that you have come to some good understandings about your own origins as a therian.
Very interesting. I really wish I knew you better, because I personally feel that you are a trailblazer I can relate to (as is Taylor). I hope at some point in the future we’ll all have time to get to know each other better. I like how honest you are with yourselves, even to the point of risking your reputations.
I hope you don’t mind if I leave this here. You’re my second awardee. 🙂
I guess you’ve got images disabled. Find it here:
firehauke–Let me know if you need to bounce some ideas off me!
Paleo–I’m really curious to see how you eventually resolve that conflict. That’s a really weird situation to be in, not something I’ve really seen before.
Sheta–Awww, thank you 🙂 I appreciate the high compliment!!!
“This results in a tendency to try to keep the lines between totemism and therianthropy as sharply delineated as possible. Unfortunately, this can occasionally mean situations in which the combination of the two in any way is discouraged, particularly if the nice, safe lines get blurred.”
Agreed. Up until about August this year I wouldn’t let myself really explore the connections between my therianthropy and my totemism. I was so caught up in validating (although for myself and not much for others) my theriotypes for myself–figuring out what animals they are–that I separated my therianthropy greatly from my totemism. Unfortunately, it came at the cost of basically causing me to put up walls around myself in general when it came to animal guides and totems, and considering I was fairly new in experience to consciously working totemically, it resulted in a major decline in my ability to work with guides/totems. What really turned it around for me was realizing that I didn’t have to have that separation, that I didn’t have to live up to therian community standards of keeping therianthropy and totemism in separate neat little boxes within myself, and especially the impact of experiencing for the first time having an animal guide the same type of animal as one of my theriotypes (Mongoose).
I can’t say that my therianthropy originated from a totemic influence or cause, yet there are animalistic aspects to me which I feel were in part if not more so caused by animal guides in my life. During middle school at some point Crow essentially gave me phantom black wings that were symbolic of his guardianship and protection of me—though they eventually turned white, around the time that I believe he was starting to step out of my life as being my totem and guardian. The canine guide I have had come and go for years may have some relation to my fragmented canine aspects that aren’t therianthropic. I also have avian aspects which I still haven’t been able to place as therianthropic, totemic, or something else (or even what type of bird they are of, though I have a vague sense of general bird type), and there’s thus some possibility that maybe there’s a totemic influence related to me having them, just one I haven’t been able to place or figure out yet.
Anyway, it was interesting to read this about your therianthropy and it’s nice to see another person describing another form of link or relation between one’s therianthropy and totemism.
Sonne–Thank you for sharing your own thoughts! It’s nice to hear that maybe I’m not quite so off-kilter as I worried 😉 I’m hoping that maybe this’ll help folks who have been afraid to talk about such possibilities to be a bit more comfortable exploring it openly.