Let it be known that I am by no means intending to personally offend anyone by my opinion on this matter, as I know that as of late, it has become a bit of a controversial issue.
Let me begin by both defining and laying out the history of “Otherkin:” This concept, now familiar among Youtube and Tumblr communities alike, probably began in a modern sense in the 1970s when a group of individuals known as “The Silver Elves” came (at least publicly) about. Obviously, these individuals identified as a sort of being known as “Elves” (albeit, after researching this microculture, it appears that they have appropriated the term and have a rather new definition attached to it. They do not align with the concept of elves from either Norse mythology or Scandinavian legend) rather than regular humans. Either way, a community of those who identified as nonhuman, or more than human, in relation to mythology sprang up. It wasn’t until the 90s, however, that a member known as Torin of Elfinkind Digest specified “Otherkin” could be used as an umbrella term for those identifying as elves as well as other mythological beings. Over time, “Otherkin” has been used to describe anyone identifying metaphysically or nonphysically as nonhuman. It then can be narrowed down to include those who identify on a nonphysical level as Earthly animals who currently do or have existed. Those who identify as such were traditionally known as “weres,” as in, “weretiger” or “werewolf.” This led to confusion, however, because some individuals identified as the cryptid known as “werewolf” and others as just normal wolves. To avoid confusion, most of those to identify specifically as actual animals began describing themselves as “therianthropes” which roughly translates into “part man, part beast.” This term is usually shortened to “therian.” Those to identify as otherkin are also further classified as “spiritual” or “psychological” to indicate the reasoning behind their identity. Spiritual reasons can include things such as reincarnation and spiritual guides, whereas psychological reasons can include things like imprintation and neurology. There are also many more classifications not worthy of mentioning here.
Needless to say, many people have been offended by the concept of otherkin or simply find it culturally unusual enough to find amusement in the ridicule of such individuals.
Either way, the irony comes into play (both for those identifying as otherkin, and those ridiculing or criticizing who are) when one realises just how normal the concept of otherkin truly is. In other words, it’s a very human concept, and not only because it clearly has to be (any concept we create will be a human concept, because we are all human) but because it embraces what it actually means to be human. To clarify, let us look at some characteristics that make us Homo sapiens stand out from other members of our kingdom Animalia.
- Spirituality and religion: It is well-known amongst us that we are the only animals capable of forming the concept of religion.
- Imagination: This ties into the “religion” aspect. Our capacity for imagining also gave us an advantage over other human species, who lacked vivid imagination or imagination entirely.
- Art: Music, theatrics, body modification, paintings, etc. This, too, ties into the “imagination” aspect, and, the spirituality concept as well.
- Lack of instinct. We are animals that learn by example…and we don’t particularly have a choice, either. While we do, of course, have reflexes and common sense, we do not have instinct (a behaviour all members of a species has, without being taught, and retains this behaviour. Such as, a specific bird species building a specific kind of nest, even if it has been isolated from other members of its species since birth). Most of what we know to be natural has actually been taught to us.
Otherkinity is a prime example of what it means to be human: Spirituality, imagination, and the observation of other species applied to oneself are all inherently human. It may not be culturally normal in modern-day 1st world countries, but concepts much like it have existed since prehistory and similar concepts still thrive in many tribal cultures. This makes it ironic for those claiming it to be outlandish and new, and also for those identifying as nonhuman. Because identifying as a species other than your own, especially for spiritual reasons, is certainly a very human thing to do. Only the complexity of our human brains could allow for such an identity. Though other species can experience imprintation on different species, as well. I’m not saying this invalidates arguments “against” otherkin identities or the identity itself, but merely an amusing realisation.
The majority of those to harshly criticize otherkin typically find more fault in those identifying as mythological beings, rather than therians, who identify as animals. I, however, find otherkinity to be more logical than therianthropy, in some sense.
Humans created dragons, elves, mermaids, fae, centaurs, etc. While some individuals may truly believe in the physical existence of such beings, I will write this from a secular perspective, and consider them solely beings of myth. As such, they are man-made. We defined these beings to be a certain way, and, no doubt, using human characteristics to do so. Imagine the concept of an”evil demon.” This nonhuman entity, for example purposes, is defined as being malevolent and prohibited, and fond of the night. A normal human being could easily fit that criteria, and thus, consider itself, rightfully, an “evil demon.” Therefore, it makes sense to associate with these symbols of human characteristics. Maybe a dragon does have a physical existence, but this existence can only take a human form. Of course, this causes one to question what it inherently means to be a dragon. Even though certain things otherkin can experience, such as supernumerary limbs create a new reason for the separate identity of nonhuman, rather than just a type of human, which many mythological beings can be used to represent.
Therianthropy is a different story. Other animals are known to exist. We can observe them for what they really are, and how they really exist and interact. We may have labeled these animals with words such as “bear” or “baissista,” but we did not create or define them how we chose. Regardless of cultural symbolism, animals will act their nature even if they are uplifted from their natural habitat and placed elsewhere, or occurred in an area with relatively different cultures (and therefore observable by a different culture that might apply a new symbolism to the animal.) For example, in Shoshone mythology, the wolf is associated with creation, yet in Norse mythology, wolves are often associated with battle and chaos. But regardless of these cultural symbolisms, a wolf is still just a canid that has a basic family unit, hunts in groups, howls for communication, etc. So, why identify as something that you have physical, observable evidence that you truly aren’t? We can see that wolves are outside of our own species. Elves and other mythological beings, on the other hand, are our own creation, and we can apply them to ourselves (culturally variable) as we please. This, of course, is assuming the therian in question does not identify as such for spiritual purposes, because this incorporates culture, or our man-made concepts, rather than natural reality. This really interests me in the psychology behind a therian or otherkin identity that is not spiritual in nature.
I have personally seen that for many individuals, therianthropy is misplaced primalism. One may have the urge to hunt, to run and play, to dwell outside, disregard cultural norms, roll in dirt, etc. and because of our domesticated society’s disdain on anything wild, these feelings are considered altogether inhuman. This causes individuals with primal urges to feel that there must be something different about them, and causes them to identify as nonhuman. Yet in reality, these urges are entirely normal for humans to experience. We are still animals, despite civilization. And some humans still are wild. It is only because of domesticated society have we associated primalism with being completely other than human, which is a saddening realisation. Therianthropy, in this case, is mere confusion and isolation. Feeling so out-of-place in a domesticated society that you no longer identify with your own species, but with another…one you know you can never truly be. Of course this is not always the case, and there are many other factors in a therian identity, but I have seen this to apply to quite a few people.
In conclusion, I find both the criticism and the identity of “otherkin” to be somewhat ironic. Otherkin, when associating with myth, seems quite romantic, while therianthropy, on the other hand, can be rather lonely and a sign of how out of touch our species is with nature. Albeit there are many factors in an identity to consider, and I am by no means placing these identities or the criticisms of them in a box.