Therianthropy’s Rarer, Fuzzier Shifts

Yes, here’s yet another dive into therianthropy/Otherkin history.

Therianthropes and Otherkin claim to experience “shifts”, episodes where their purported non-human true identity asserts itself. Commonly reported types of shifts include the mental shift, a change in behavior resembling the animal’s mindset; the sensory shift, where their perception mimics the animal’s; and the phantom shift, where a therian feels the animal’s body as phantom limbs. Other types include dream shifts (guess) and cameo shifts, where therians/Otherkin experience a new identity temporarily. Contherianthropes believe they’re always halfway between human and animal, and suntherianthropes are similar, but do experience variances in the human-animal ratio.

One type of shift that’s widely regarded as impossible by therians is the physical shift. P-shifters, as they’re called, are a subject of mockery and scorn in the community, especially when they try to start a cult.

But once upon a time, a wider world of shifters existed, buoyed by, if not acceptance, a casual flirtation with p-shifting as a hypothetical. This culture likely died out with the switch from Usenet to forums, and with the rise of “grilling”, extensive questioning meant to gatekeep therian communities from…I don’t know, silly people? Kids? Whoever they felt wasn’t taking it seriously enough?

I will be drawing principally from the Shifters.Org definitions, which hail from 2001 but were first created in 1999, and an expanded encyclopedia of the same on Therianthropy.org circa 2006.

ASTRAL SHIFT: You astrally leave your body and become that of another form, either by shifting the appearance of the spirit, or entering the body of another being on this plane (this too is included in the Walk-In section, and overlaps with that of the shapestealer definition below).
AURAL SHIFT: The aura (if you can see them) takes on the shape of the animal/wereside. In addition AS, the person can take on some characteristics of that animal, mentally, but not a total mental shift.

These two are a bit of a cheat: both are still part of therianthropy, and more serious lists of shifts list them neutrally. But they show off early therianthropy’s links to other branches of new age culture. Not only was astral projection part of therian culture, but so were walk-ins, the classic New Age concept of enigmatic astral spirits with nothing better to do than step into your body & attempt to unfuck your life. Auras, too, make an appearance.

Bilocation Shift: In this shift, the “spirit body” of the were in question leaves the “physical form” and reforms itself outside of the human body.  The “new form” the spirit takes is a physical form (ass opposed to the Relocation Shift)

Here we reach the casual flirtation with p-shifting (and with the parapsychological). A modern, more serious therianthropy site describes bilocation shifts more cautiously:

“Bi-location Shifting is when the body supposedly makes a carbon copy of the animal inside the body and travels the lands…not likely.”

But in the therian culture of the late 90s – early 00s, the idea that perhaps someone’s theriotype could physically assert itself was at least entertained.

Therian Nation dates the bilocation shift to a Usenet discussion from 1993 where one member reported a out-of-body experience.

And yes, it says “ass opposed”. You may laugh now.

The relocation shift, meanwhile, is a bilocation shift, but the theriotype emerges from the body as a spiritual entity instead of a physical one; it’s helpfully noted that “the shifter can be both awake or completely oblivious to what is occurring during this shift”.

Shadow Shift: This usually takes place when there is little available light, a sort of mass hallucination if you will, but whatever the case, the object being focused upon, appears to be something else. Unlike the PS, this type of shifting is “looks only,” you wouldn’t gain any extra senses, or characteristics from this… it is, in fact, very similar to just putting on a fursuit (but without the suit).

https://web.archive.org/web/20010424145805/http://www.were.net/WAG/You might think this sounds like pareidolia. A contemporary satire agrees:

“Shadows will sometimes play on a therians features giving them an intimidating and animalistic looking figure. I’ve noticed this occurs more or less in dim and dark rooms, with not very much light. A bright and full moon, insomnia, and/or a bottle of Jack Daniel can also aid in creating a shadow shift.”

(I recommend that piece highly for its early-00s internet edgy humor, by the way.)

But shadow shifting is a nice entryway to the kingpin of the fuzzy end of therianthropy: the p-shifter.

PHYSICAL SHIFTING: The stuff dreams are made of… This shift alone, for those who believe, is a goal for the majority of “Weres” want to experience. This is indeed going from form A to form B with the body as the artistic media. A shift in body, many weres feel with the PS, they can become what they truly are on the inside, now reflecting on the outside.
Also termed the “Holy Grail” of  Awereness.

 

The physical shift is sometimes called the “Holy Grail of Shifting.” But much like the Holy Grail, the actual idea has never come to fruition. Many Therians do not believe the physical shift exists. Of the countless many that have claimed the ability, none have given proof. Anyone that claims the ability to PS shouldn’t be taken seriously until tangible and irrefutable proof is given.

Our satirical friend notes that it’s strangely the “biggest, loudest, and most annoying a$$holes” in the community who are blessed with p-shifting; truly mysterious. But while older sources are willing to entertain it as at least a hypothetical, modern sources are not:

“Widely belived to be impossible, to the point of the concept being considered complete nonsense both by psychological and spiritual therians/otherkin…In no way, shape, or form will you be able to physically shape shift…I personally find that these communities are dangerous especially for younger individuals…If this idea of physically shifting spreads, we will become even less acknowledged and respected…”

I said most of what I had to say about p-shifting in my post on the Therian Temple; so let’s explore the other fuzzy parts of early therianthropy.

SHAPESTEALERS: Also known as ‘Skinwalkers’ and ‘FleshDancers,’ this is a type of shifting feared the world over.

An enigmatic force out to steal people’s shapes, I can’t find a single reference to this not taken word-for-word from the Shifting FAQ. But the idea of an “enemy” out to destroy a tiny subculture of people identifying as nonhuman persisted, up to AWTOK, a bizarre conspiracy theory about a group hunting down Otherkin…but that’s a story for another time.

SHIFTER’S DISEASE

A moment of skepticism, Shifter’s Disease refers to newbie therians attributing everything to shifts.

What’s the ultimate point here? Nothing, except to note the evolution of a subculture from its origin as a bunch of posts on a Usenet for werewolf movies, to a collection of personal websites, to forums and finally to the endless array of personal, yet faceless, Tumblr blogs and Amino boards that form it today; to flashback to a time where some therians could entertain the idea that they could change their shadows, their soul, and even their very bodies, and who’s to say otherwise? After all, people found images of Mary in their toast, and the nascent paranormal web didn’t yet aspire to the extremes of science or outright comedy it does today. And now let’s bilocate my theriotype outta here.

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The Therian Temple or, how not to start a werewolf religion

I READ ON ANOTHER THERIAN* WEBSITE THAT YOUR TEMPLE IS AN EVIL CULT. IS THIS TRUE?

People are often afraid and, in turn, hateful of, things they do not Understand.
This often leads them to say uninformed or ignorant things about people who do not share their own viewpoint.
To some people, any group which deals with Magic or the Metaphysical is a “cult”.
To some people, anything unfamiliar is “evil”.
Decide for yourself.

In my post on the Elenari, I discussed how a community of self-proclaimed “space elves” fell down a deep hole of unverified personal gnosis, weaving a tower of memoryscapes that eventually collapsed under its own weight, leaving nothing like it outside certain insular communities.

Therianthropes, people who identify as existent animals in a spiritual or mental sense, never quite had to worry about that. You don’t really need to parse complicated “memories” of where you came from when you’re just an animal. You’re a wolf. You remember being a wolf. Doing wolf things.

But that hasn’t stopped individuals from trying to give therianthropy a more strict, even religious skew, and while the Therian Temple wasn’t the first, they may be the most infamous.

The origins of the Therian Temple are in message board posts trying to sway new members; alas, most of the contemporaneous reaction is lost to the internet’s ceaseless march of site death, though threads like this one capture the general hostility with which they were met (also, random Islamophobia and the r-slur, because 2006). What we can know is that the Therian Temple began in 2006 and was gone by 2010; therianthropy & Otherkin historian House of Chimeras says only a “handful” of members ever joined, if even that, and contemporary accounts confirm that. So why, then, was the Therian Temple controversial?

First of all, the attempt to impose religion, codes, and even a Bible on an individualistic community that already faced false accusations of being a cult or religion.

Said Bible was written by the Temple’s founder and “high priestess”.

Said Bible also cost $30.

More on that later.

The beliefs of the Temple drew notice for a very strange reason. The Temple’s website was redesigned between 2006 and 2007, and the later is more graphical – and more defensive about one of the group’s key tenets:

1. DO NOT PARTAKE IN CANNIBALISTIC ACTIVITY.
As part-Human and part-Animal, we are not to eat the flesh of either kin.
We must maintain a plant-based diet.

Amid guidelines to respect the Earth, avoid prison, and avoid “deadening” activities, the Therian Temple forbids its members from eating animal meat – on the basis of cannibalism.

To say this is controversial is an understatement. Any therian can be a vegan or vegetarian, but there’s something bizarre about urging people who identify as carnivorous animals to not eat other animals, not for environmental or ethical reasons, but for “cannibalism”. Is a wolf eating a deer a cannibal? In what sense do they share close kinship?

A member of GaiaOnline raises objections; elsewhere, one claims the Therian Bible was written “hundreds of years ago”

Obviously sensitive to criticism (or of potential loss of dues-paying members), the 2007 version of the Therian Temple tries to explain their reasoning:

WHY DO YOU FOLLOW A VEGAN DIET? WHAT IF MY ANIMAL SIDE IS CARNIVOROUS, SHOULDN’T I BE AS WELL?
Therians, having Human physiology, cannot digest raw meat as an Animal does,
so therefore there is no way to follow the diet of one’s Animal side, without facing serious health risks.
The plant based diet is one element to help attain the healthiest physical condition
of your Human body that is ideal for Ritual Magic.
In short, we believe the best physical condition
for the most effective ritual magic is attained by a plant based diet.
This does not mean that you may never eat meat, but that it is “most effective”
to abstain from it during times when one is practicing ritual magic.
No one is “excommunicated” from this Temple over diet issues.

This is obvious backpedaling, trying to find a reason that doesn’t also call a predator eating prey a cannibal. A similar tone is taken by the Temple’s FAQ, which keeps flailing at explaining how a group called a Temple is “not a religion”. But it does tie into another controversial element of the Therian Temple: magic.

While many therians are pagan, the two are not synonymous, and there’s no tradition of “therian magic”. But the Therian Temple melded the two, and “Therian Magic” is a centerpiece of the Therian Bible. The six-ranked membership structure required demonstration of “real-world application of therian magic” to reach the advanced ranks, and even more to be entitled to perform therian services, such as weddings, funerals, baptisms (?) and last rites (?), though the site helpfully says you can’t do a therian circumcision. All for a low, low cost of $150 for members and $350 for non-members.

That there’s no such thing as a therian version of any of those rituals goes without saying, though at least by 2007 the Therian Bible became a free download – though a $30 donation was still required for basic membership, and to earn that sweet wedding discount. A version of the Bible with two extra appendices was offered, in case anyone still wanted to give the Therian Temple even more money.

Another sore subject in the therianthrope community is p-shifting, the idea that some people can physically shift into their animal form. To say that this has never happened is a waste of words; while the Temple didn’t outright advance p-shifting as an actual thing, it did promote a more muted variant, where some people reportedly gained enhanced strength or senses without a full transformation.

Still impossible, though.

On the left: the theta-delta symbol for therianthropy.
On the right: the Therian Temple’s theriogram (buyable as a lapel pin, 2 for $1 deal for members!)

The Therian Temple stormed into a community claiming to have all the answers, if you pay a small fee; crafting its own symbols and traditions and foisting them on a hostile audience, all while acting like it was absurd to call a self-proclaimed Temple hawking a literal Bible a “religion”.

But what exactly was in their $30 Therian Bible? We can never know. Unless someone uploaded it online. And unless you can read it now. And unless I read it.

I read it.

Shout out to beginning your book by reminding people to read it from beginning to end, so as to stop people who read books sideways, or middle to front, as they do.

The first pages just repeat the “codes” & “truths” of the site, but with added commentary; the third therian truth, that therians are born, not made (don’t you hear how special you are, reader?) , gains a note that those who aren’t born therians (we know how special you are, you can trust us) can study therianthropy their whole life and die human (but you won’t, not if you give us your money, move up the ranks, and we’ll tell you the truth); it also calls out humans who “get scratched by a Wolf” to become a wolf, you know, as people so commonly do. Sadly, the Bible doesn’t try to defend its rule on cannibalism.

The exclusive bits, the guide to “therian magic”, starts with the extreme basics of basics. “Master” humanity by interacting with people; figure out what your theriotype is first, as if anyone who didn’t already identify with an animal dropped $30 on a Therian Bible. Those who don’t live in an area with abundant nature are commanded to move, lest they “face extinction”; therians are also advised to not tell humans about their nature, as “Humans cannot understand the Knowledge”.

The “mental shift”, a common occurrence in therian communities where people say they temporarily take on the instincts and mindset of their theriotype, the most commonly reported type of “shift” in therianthropy, is described as dangerous, high-level therian magic (only we can truly teach you, not them, $150 please for a therian baptism).

All therian magic so described is a basic part of therianthropy, turned into a ritual that amounts to little more than positive thinking. Call on your theriotype to take your problems away (wolves are famed for their CBT training); p-shifting is that, plus an extra step where you briefly pretend to run around like your theriotype to become them (that’s why four-year olds pretending to be cats are always turning into half-felines).

What the Therian Bible lacked was an editor; humans who try to be therians are “watsing their time”, we’re helpfully informed that “as therians, we ate still human in physical form”, and warned to be physically strong and not intoxicated before we “attemt the M-shift”. The book as a whole runs 24 pages, many of them cribbed word-for-word from the website; with little information on what exactly the book was, many ordered it out of blind curiosity – and got a booklet in the mail. A booklet whose tone verges on insulting.

Acknowledgements are given to Anton LaVey, vampires, and nature, and then this paltry tome  ends with a note that it’s all property of the authors, who now make music about nationalism using a Nazi symbol on the cover, so take that as you will.

As for the Therian Temple itself, it’s long since vanished, the occasional resurfacing of its Bible the only sign it ever existed. While it’s easy to dismiss them for their obvious ridiculousness, we’d be better off if we didn’t. Because everything was in place for the Therian Temple to bilk vulnerable people out of their money & evolve into a full cult, and the fact that they didn’t gain any followers is not a sign that it could never happen, but a happy fluke. Any tightly-bound subculture could birth a Therian Temple, and unfortunately they won’t all be so incompetent.

Living on the Fringe: Space Elves and the Origin of Otherkin

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.

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