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?