Beyond the normal reaches of our society lies an endless array of others: some living, some dead; some known, some obscure. This is about the fringe of the fringe.
Otherkin were perhaps once best known as “those people online who think they’re dragons”; now they’re best known as “those people on Tumblr who think they’re anime characters”; but in truth, the origins and history of Otherkin date back much further than most might expect.
A quick definition of terms. Otherkin, or “kin”, are a subculture that identify as nonhuman. This is commonly a spiritual, “I was this in my past life”, identification, but some Otherkin believe their identity is psychological in nature. Otherkin traditionally identify with fictional creatures, such as elves, dragons or fae. A closely related concept is therianthropy; therians instead identify with animals that, whether currently living or extinct, exist. A relatively new addition to the nomenclature are “fictionkin”¹, who identify with fictional characters; unlike Otherkin or therians, many fictionkin identify with beings that, while fictional, are generally human.
Otherkin and therians claim to experience their identity in different ways: via memories, and via “shifts” – commonly mental shifts in behavior, sensory shifts in perception, or “phantom shifts”, where they feel their identity reassert its body via phantom, ie mental, limbs. It is important to note that Otherkin and therians do not claim to physically change, and so-called “p-shifters” are usually a laughingstock in the kin community.
Though today it’s seen as a youth subculture, Otherkin trace their origin to the burgeoning pagan & new age movements of the 1970s. An invaluable timeline by Orion Scribner places the first group that we would today call “Otherkin” in at least 1975, when a group called the Elf Queen’s Daughters placed their first public ad in a pagan quarterly. The term itself dates to 1990, invented as a catch-all for the many non-elven identities Otherkin now possessed; therianthropy found a name and a home on Usenet circa 1994.
But all that can wait. Today, we’re zeroing in one specific facet of the Otherkin community: a elfkin subculture with an involved mythology that flourished briefly, but brightly.
The Elenari started on now-lost mailing lists in the late 90s; in 2000, a newly-created site called the Elenari Nexus became the community’s home.
But what are the Elenari? They’re a group of like-minded elves who, together, weaved a cooperative mythology from their purported memories of a multi-world elven people. In short, space elves.
But the Elenari mythos extend beyond this simple concept, defining subraces, planets, and other sapient species, including dragons, unicorns, “Wendigos” (sigh), and even humans.
The planet Sel’ar had villages built amid trees and a tribal makeup; its colony Aelveron was cosmopolitan, with sentient trees, sea elves and advanced crystalline technology. Both were among the worlds destroyed by “the Corruption”; more on them later.
Other Elenari worlds are said to still be inhabited. Indeed, the Elenari didn’t believe themselves to be just spiritual in nature, but related to ancient Elenari refugee bloodlines on Earth; that after these original Elenari died, their souls reincarnated in human, or even human-Elenari hybrid, bloodlines. They imagined not a purely spiritual realm, but one intertwined with reality.
Thus the guide to identifying if you’re an Elenari leans into the physical more than you’d expect. Elenari are sensitive to metals; Elenari eyes change colors; and of course, Elenari “feel different”.
Elenari also follow a philosophy called Des’tai, a kind of path to harmony – a Tao of space elvia, a comparison a longer essay on the concept makes explicit.
Sometimes it’s hard for people to believe in Des’tai, especially if they’ve mostly been in Nes’tai for a very long time. “The world just doesn’t work that way,” they protest. “It’s a struggle to survive, and only the strongest will win.” To these people I can only say this: It’s a matter of faith, at first. The more you begin to trust in Des’tai, the more examples of it you will see. It’s a rolling snowball, and eventually you will wonder why you never saw it before.
Elenari magic took the form of a “flow”; whether bending or working with it. Our Earth’s magic, apparently, is different enough to make it safe from the Elenari’s enemies.
The Elenari claim to have suffered a cataclysm at the hands of the Corruption, a eldritch entity so alien to our reality that it literally unmakes and, well, corrupts it. The Corruption destroyed and essentially hijacked a number of species – who came to be known as Vor’jen…maybe?
But what defines Elenari are their “memories”, and their knowledge is often phrased as a puzzle. Some remember a certain caste as existing; others do not. Vor’jen could be the term for all species hijacked by the Corruption, or one specific race of felines. Did the pastoral world of Elphame, sung into existence by a Dragon god, fall to the Vor’jen or not? An essay on the Dai’ari race – nocturnal elves who dwelled in deep forests or underground – says they were once only known from one fragmentary “memory”. Even the very names of the Elenari and their tribes are said to be mere placeholders, drawn from Tolkein’s elvish; their own names are a subject of disagreement.
One person’s history of the Elenari uncomfortably dubs black-robed mages “blackies”. Another personal history by a “lightworker” describes past lives on Earth; a essay on the nomadic Kalthilas ponders if they became the Celts. A wiki defines nearly a hundred terms. At one point, someone tried to reconstruct the Elenari language; the Elenari Nexus hosts essays on the “Elven Star”, member arts & crafts, and thoughts on “awakening”.
At one point, the Elenari had a relatively thriving Livejournal community; once a user worried about the vor’jen appearing to them, but they were reassured:
At this time, the Vor’jen cannot come here. They cannot pass through the magnetic field of the Earth. The UnLife can “influence” the weak-minded here, but it cannot physically manifest, also due to the magnetic field.
This is one of the reasons why we chose this place. It was “safe”.
Are there, today, Otherkin mythos this detailed? In some forgotten part of Tumblr, or on some rare isolated message board, are people constructing their own realities? Or have they been subsumed by a more casually-paced and open modern subculture? Otherkin once had an almost religious bent to it, and it’s probably for the best that it vanished. Is the modern equivalent of the Elenari the kin call blogs that pockmark Tumblr, filled with the question: “does anyone else remember THIS Undertale AU? This specific version of events that I claim to have lived?”
In one sense, it’s fascinating to just explore the dated aesthetics of these sites, the Geocities-y design (several pages on Elenari use color combinations that are unreadable without highlighting), the webrings, the 2003-2004 “I voted” buttons (“Make Real Magic”/”Vote!”) – the reminder of the weirder, more personal web of old:
The Elenari Nexus’ last regular update came in August 2004 (“Retired the 9/11 memorial page”); a single update followed in late 2007 (“Yes, it’s been ages…college has sucked up all my time”). The site remains up, but with many deadlinks – either actually down, or rendered inaccessible by URL changes.The Livejournal’s activity trickled off soon after, with the last real post, a call for memories of Aelveron, coming in the last week of 2009. The Elenari never quite made the leap to Tumblr; but some did, though they too are years gone.
Yet those that crossed over warn of how the Elenari’s mythology of recovered “memories” grew to absorb some who didn’t want to take part; how it found connections that weren’t there, and more than anything, prompted a disconnection from the world now:
One of the issues we sadly came across with the peer-checked Gnosis is that some folks have a bit of issues that result in forming unhealthy mindsets in the now
One notable difference that a few of us folk of the “otherworld known by some as Elenari”…is that we are not convinced of the amazingly linked realities in their mythos.
Memory work is fine…but just do not let it eat who you are NOW.
The Elenari came and went, unnoticed by most; they went off into the west with equal anonymity. We can’t know what happened. But for a time they constructed a tower of communal mythmaking – or, in their view, remembrance – that reached for the sky, only to collapse under its own weight.
Next time: Channeling the stars
¹ Though fictionkin date back to “Otakukin” sites in 2001, they have antecedents among Hobbitkin who largely grouped themselves with other Otherkin.