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NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Otherkin and the Pagan Community
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Author: Lupa [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: October 22nd. 2006
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One of my favorite things about the pagan community is how diverse it is, and how much overlap there is with other subcultures. Back in December when my essay "I Am a Pagan Reject"  came out here in Witchvox, I got a ton of replies from people who agreed with me that diversity is healthy. I'll admit, of course, that we do get our share of fruit loops and flakes, but in my opinion that's a better alternative than screening potential pagans for acceptability based on a narrow set of standards.
One subculture that shares quite a bit of overlap with pagans are Otherkin. For those who don't know, Otherkin are people who, in some way, shape or form, identify as other than human. The Other may refer to an earthly animal, such as a wolf, bear or deer, a "mythical" being such as elves, dragons, or fey, or those who identify as vampires (though some vampires do not associate themselves with the Otherkin descriptor, which is another essay in and of itself) .
Now, pagans as a whole tend to be pretty tolerant. There's a marvelously low rate of racism and homophobia, though recent WV essays have detailed why some consider paganism to be intolerant towards men, some pagans still have issues accepting transgendered people, and there always seems to be unfortunate usage of pagan symbolism, such as certain white power groups appropriating Norse and Germanic symbolism for their own hateful agendas. But these are exceptions to the rule, in my experience. Pagan gatherings have a wide variety of people, from hippies to goths to rednecks to yuppies and many other groups and independent operators. It would seem that anything goes as long as no one gets hurt, and everybody's there to have a good time and be in a safe space, regardless of background.
Still, I've seen a number of threads on pagan-based listserves and online communities where a poster will mention being Otherkin, and almost immediately get dogpiled by a bunch of people ridiculing hir. Nobody asks "Well, why do you feel that way?" Rather, it's a sure flamefest. And it's not even limited to group venues. When I posted "The Reincarnation Theory of Otherkin"  here back in December, while most of the feedback was good, I did get one email from a rather disgruntled and sarcastic individual. I will say that this tends to be relatively rare, as most pagans I've met who are not Otherkin themselves are accepting at best, indifferent at worst. In addition, it seems that most of the negativity comes from the internet, not in-person meetings. People are a lot more aggressive to others online than in person.
This isn't to say we should accept anything and everything "just because". If someone walks up to you and says that s/he is the Highest Priest/ess of all and that all pagans ought to bow down and worship hir, you'd better be asking just what s/he's high *on*. And, for that matter, if someone says you have to have sex with hir to advance, or that initiation rites for pubertal children should be sexual in nature, run very quickly in the other direction. Most of us are used to weeding out the people who give us reason to be wary, and for some a person who believes s/he was an elf in a past life may be reason to look askance indeed!
However, what Otherkin believe is really no crazier than anything else metaphysical or magical in nature, once you get down to the nitty-gritty, and it doesn't involve anything meant to hurt others. I'd like to discuss some of the reasons why people may identify as Otherkin, and how they overlap with common pagan beliefs.
--Reincarnation: This is the most popular theory of Otherkin origin, though not universal. Most pagans believe in reincarnation in one form or another. Theories as to who/what can reincarnate vary; some people say that only humans go from one life to the next. However, others extend that to all animals, or all living beings, or even all spirits on all levels of existence. And, on a side note, most pagans do believe in Otherworldly spirits, such as faeries, dragons, and such--there are tons of books and articles about how to work with them, and their statues are popular altar adornments. Now, if any spirit can theoretically inhabit a physical body, why is it so hard to imagine that perhaps a dragon or an elf was born into the body of a human? (See "The Reincarnation Theory of Otherkin" for reasons why this might occur) . We believe, for the most part, in reincarnation, and in spirits, so is it really all that hard to put the two together?
--Psychological: There are a couple of manners in which psychology may be used to surmise the “cause” of Otherkin. If we explore Timothy Leary’s eight-circuit model of consciousness by way of Robert Anton Wilson’s “Prometheus Rising”, we find that the first and second circuits, the most primitive parts of our minds, are very animalistic in nature. Those who identify as animals in particular are of interest here. Our third circuit, the time-binding semantic circuit, is very human, and drives us to label and categorize things.  What’s to say that our third circuits can’t label and personify our first two circuits as an animal within us? On a different note, Jungian psychology has become an important part of modern paganism. We spend more time examining our beliefs not just from a spiritual viewpoint but also an analytical one. We explore the archetypes behind the beliefs, and sometimes seek to emulate their manifestations in the forms of gods and spirits as a way of worship or to create magic—hence the practice of invocation. What’s to say, though, that an invocation can’t be made permanent? If we have access to the entire collective unconscious (also known as, or at least similar to, the Akashic Record) , the sum total of the non-conscious mind-matter of all humans—or living beings—what’s to say we can’t connect with some portion of that on a daily basis and make it a part of our being? This brings us to the….
--Energetic: The energetic model of magic and spirit has gained popularity in recent years. Energy, in this model, is the force that creates magic—we shape and direct it to create a nonphysical means to our end. Our entire beings, in fact, are composed of energy at varying vibrational rates—or so the theory goes. However, Taylor Ellwood, in his forthcoming book “Inner Alchemy” (Immanion Press, Nov. 2006) , explains that every person possesses a unique energy signature, that everyone’s energy is different. Rather than being a fixed thing, he argues that not only is it mutable, but that we can willfully change it. It’s not an easy process, but he gives enough examples and backup for his claims that it’s quite possible. He further talks about how, with this principle of energetic fluidity, that we can alter the resonance of our energy signature to resemble the energy identified as “elven” or “draconic” on a permanent basis. This can be done through invoking the energy and then melding it with your own energy.  It is not a process done quickly, however, as it changes you on a very fundamental level. Just as you can’t make or break a habit overnight, so can you not drastically alter your energy signature in an instant, with the exception of massively traumatic events. (Incidentally, that trauma that occurs in hardcore initiatory rituals or shamanic death-rebirth rites not only suddenly shifts us psychologically, but also energetically.)
--Personal Mythological: I was first introduced to the concept of personal mythology through a bit of writing by CUSM on the Barbelith forums.  While what he talks about are the more extreme versions—people who believe they are destined to save the world—the concept of personal mythology can be more tempered. CUSM describes personal mythology as integral to some people’s magical selves—the aesthetic principle that helps us to slip out of “regular” consciousness/reality and, through make-believe and suspension of disbelief, into altered states of consciousness/reality. Many pagans are familiar with the subtle changes that occur when we don a specific robe, or cast the circle to create the “world between worlds”. However, what if that personal mythology entails identifying as something nonhuman—not just in ritual, but all the time? After all, many of us seek to live the magic 24/7, even if we are not constantly in rituals. But for many it is beneficial to bring the wonder and joy of magical ritual to our everyday lives, to blur the lines between mundane and magical. If it benefits someone personally and magically to identify as something other than human, and they're not interfering in the lives of others, where’s the harm in that?
While some Otherkin argue that one cannot *become* Otherkin, as no one has satisfactorily explained without a doubt what makes one Otherkin, and given that not all Otherkin come from the same origin, I’d say that the issue of born vs. made is still open to debate. It’s like the debate within the GLBT community—while many say you are born the way you are, there are enough people—me included—who have identified in a number of manners throughout our lives, and who have been genuine every time (ie, my time as a lesbian was no less real than my present pansexual identity) .
I explain my own situation through several of these theories. I find that being Wolf (which is something I’ve identified as in some form since I was about 2 or 3) not only helps me understand the workings of the first and second circuits referenced above by allowing me lupine symbolism to work with, but it also meshes quite nicely with the various forms of animal magic I’ve been studying and practicing for a decade. It is a part of my personal mythology, and it shapes the way I do my rituals and why I do them that way. I’m not a slave to it; it simply *is* who I am. However, if I wanted to bring another influence to myself, I could alter my energy over time. I don't personally believe that I was a wolf in a past life; the sensations and memories of being a wolf that I have had I tend to chalk up to gifts from the totemic Wolf, or things I have gleaned from the Collective Unconscious.
Admittedly, not all Otherkin present themselves in an entirely believable manner as far as most people are concerned. There are a lot of newcomers who haven't exactly been thorough in their self-searching before "coming out of the 'kin closet". So, just like pagans, Otherkin get a lot of newcomers with loud-n-proud growing pains. But as I have said before, this is no reason to discount them entirely. Give them a few years to grow up, and quit worrying about what the neighbors think. As far as those who just end up being permanent nuts and flakes, well, paganism has those, too. No room to criticize here. That’s normal for any group.
However, it is stressed over and over again in the community that if you believe yourself to be Otherkin, you need to search your self numerous times, question why you believe this or not, and not accept anything immediately—especially if it comes from anyone besides you. Most Otherkin who have been Awakened (aware of being ‘kin) have gone through the belief-doubt-belief cycle a number of times. Like pagans, we don’t accept something just because we think it sounds good—we research the subject. Rather than just looking through books, we look within ourselves as many pagans do, and, like pagans, we compare our experiences to those of others.
With that being said, the concept of Otherkin can still be a tough one to accept, even for pagans. However, as both communities grow, I believe it’s important to continue to foster the tolerance and acceptance that have made both communities dear to my heart. While not all Otherkin are pagan, a substantial number are, and as some of us come out of the 'kin closet to our non-Otherkin pagan friends, it's my hope that the pagan community will react with the same openness that welcomes other subcultures with ease. My goal with this article is to explain to non-Otherkin readers some of the ways that being Otherkin meshes with certain common beliefs and practices among pagans, as well as to give a basic introduction to those who may not be familiar with the Otherkin subculture.
 Lupa, "I Am a Pagan Reject", http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=&c=words&id=10551
 Lupa, “The Reincarnation Theory of Otherkin”. http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a= and c=words and id=10338 Accessed 30 July, 2006, last modified 4 December, 2005.
 Wilson, Robert Anton, “Prometheus Rising”. New Falcon, 1992.
 Ellwood, Taylor, “Inner Alchemy”. Immanion Press, November 2006.
 CUSM, “Obsessions, Personal Mythologies, and Warriors of Armeggedon”.
http://www.barbelith.com/topic/13935, accessed 30 July, 2006, last modified 10 August 2003.
Copyright: Copyright Lupa, 2006. Give credit where it's due, y'all.
Location: Portland, Oregon
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Bio: Lupa is the author of the forthcoming "A Field Guide to Otherkin" (Immanion Press, 2007) . Her first book, "Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic" sparked a writing frenzy that has yet to abate, mixed with a desire to expose people to new ideas and ways of working magic. She lives in Seattle with her husband and fellow author Taylor Ellwood, Sun Ce the cat, Tatzelwurm the lizard, and too many books and art supplies.
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