I am not a werewolf. I am a therianthrope, an animal person, someone who identifies as a wolf. But I’m not a werewolf.
What is the distinction? After all, plenty of therians also like using were(insert animal here) as a descriptor for themselves. And most therianthropes experience shapeshifts, albeit nonphysical ones, which makes a connection to lycanthropic lore and legend.
However, the idea of a werewolf is a person who turns into a wolf – sometimes. Particularly in popular culture, the change is involuntary, triggered by the light of the full moon. It is something that is out of the control of the hapless werewolf, who must succumb to the raging beast inside. Even in calmer stories, the person is still only a wolf part of the time.
One point that is made frequently about therianthropy is that a therian is the animal all the time, whether spiritually, psychologically, etc. Obviously, this isn’t on a physical level. But when a therian shifts, they are not becoming anything they were not already. The animal was always there; the shift is in the balance of perception and behavior between what is categorized as “human” and what is labelled “animal”. When the shift is done, the therian doesn’t just put away the animal in a box somewhere; it”s not a persona to be donned and removed at will.
A lot of therians concentrate on the lycanthropic and other shapeshifter lore, and yet often miss the experience of simply being the animal. Some think they have to go feral at the full moon, and have the most aggressive shifts, and bloodlust, and have the urge to go and hunt down a deer or whatever, in order to be considered legitimate.
And yet, that often blocks us from understanding what it is to be the animal. If you’re so busy trying to be a werewolf, then where does being just a wolf come in?
For me, at least, therianthropy isn’t about how often I shift, or how intense the shifting is. It’s not about whether I physically resemble a wolf, or if I crave venison, though my body is lean-muscled and I walk digitigrade, and I do love the taste of deer meat. It’s about being a wolf, and recognizing that I am a wolf, and integrating that into my life at all times. It’s more important, to me, to read books about wolves and wolf behavior, than it is to read books about werewolves, though those have their place, too. The archetype of the werewolf doesn’t really resonate with me, particularly since I began accepting my therianthropy and, consequently, experienced far fewer shifts. I am not a person who turns into a wolf. I am a person who is also a wolf.
I am a wolf in human flesh. When I think of myself, yes, I do think of the body I have, and the human identity. But I also think of myself as wolf, so much that sometimes I expect to look down at my hands and see white paws ending in short, stubby claws worn down by miles of walking. I accept that I have a very particular way of viewing the world that combines human socialization and lupine instinct. There are things that I identify as being a product of being a wolf – certain social behaviors, preference for rural areas, reliance on instincts. But these alone do not make me a wolf; they are only possible symptoms. And the more I accept them as they are, the more easily they weave into the rest of who I am.
I’ve never really determined whether my therianthropy is just psychological conditioning, a neurobiological quirk, an internalization of a totemic bond, a past/alternate life; in a way, I accept all of these as truth at once. In the end it doesn’t matter to me. Inside, I am a wolf – but I am not a werewolf.