Author’s note: This is an excerpt from the current draft of my book, A Field Guide to Otherkin. It’s still a work in progress, but it is scheduled for publication in the first half of 2007. I’ve already contracted it through Immanion Press, who published my first book, Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic (May 2006).
This particular excerpt is from the chapter on theories of how Otherkin ‘come to be’. I’ve covered reincarnation, which seems to be one of the most common theories. However, the chapter also includes theories involving genetic/inheritance, walking in, multiplicity, psychology (personality aspecting, neurobiology), energy resonance, and magic (totemism, possession, etc.) None of these is presented as any more ‘correct’ than any other, but more as food for thought, possibilities to consider. That’s the point of the Field Guide, in fact’not to tell people what Otherkin definitively are, without a doubt, and you’re wrong if you disagree, but instead to present examples of what we say we are, why we believe it, and how to explore further if you feel the same way.
This section doesn’t rely nearly as much on testimony from my survey respondents as some others, and so should not be taken as an across-the-board example of what the entire book is about. I chose it primarily because it’s one of the more complete pieces and it’s one that I’m particularly fond of.
So enjoy, and if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment. Also, if you’re interested, I am still accepting surveys through early November (tentative).
14 August, 2006
Personal Mythology, Imagination and Metaphor
Most people think that Elfin is a place that exists outside of the elfin, in the same way that Ireland exists. And while there is some truth to this it is equally true to say that Elfin lives and breathes within the elfin. Elfin is a state of being. Not merely a place nor a consciousness (although it is both of these). To enter Elfin one must be able to ‘shift their assemblage point’, to alter their consciousness at will, to melt the synaptic pathways and create new neural templates imprinted with the reality of Elfin. (1)
As I discussed in the first chapter, the suspension of disbelief inherent to play is also that which is found in rituals worldwide and throughout time. Mythology is not merely some made-up stories that people told before science explained how the Cosmos really works. Rather, if we follow the paths laid by Jung, Campbell, and others, we find the symbols that are not limited to our psychology, but have a life of their very own. And, in the words of Campbell, ‘One is linked to one’s adult role, that is to say, by being identified with a myth’participating actually, physically, oneself, in a manifestation of mythological forms, these being visibly supplied by the roles and patterns of the rite, and the rite, in extension, supporting the form of the society’.(2) In this passage he is referring to everyday rites of passage, costumery and other items associated with modern manifestations of ancient archetypes. He explains that everything from the black robes worn by judges to the military uniform of a soldier’in fact, any trappings that belong to a particular profession or social role’invoke that role and its associated mythos and symbolism.
With the advent of science as the primary tool for explaining the whys and hows of the physical world, mythology became mere stories, removed from the ‘real’ world by the veil of the five senses in ordinary consciousness. Once we found out that the sun was a huge burning ball of gas millions of miles away, we supposedly no longer needed the myths of Apollo, Amaterasu, and other solar deities to explain anything beyond ancient cultural storytelling. The moon, as well, was no longer a huntress, or a rabbit, or an incestuous lover with his sister’s fingerprints on his back, just a huge lump of cold rock with not a bit of life on its surface. Even Robert Graves, in the foreword of his revision of The Greek Myths, explained away the joy of the Bacchanalia:
The evidence…suggests that Satyrs (goat-totem tribesmen), Centaurs (horse-totem tribesmen), and their Maenad women folk, used these brews [wine and ivy ale] to wash down…amanita muscaria [a mushroom] which induces hallucinations, senseless rioting, prophetic sight, erotic energy, and remarkable muscular strength…followed by complete inertia, a phenomenon that would account for the story of how Lycurgus, armed only with an ox-goad, routed Dionysus’ drunken army of Maenads and Satyrs after its victorious return from India. (3)
Does this then mean that all those who claim to be satyrs, centaurs, and, indeed, any mythological being that can be ‘explained away’ in such a manner are then automatically delusional? Not necessarily. Perhaps all the evidence we have points away from literal satyrs, centaurs and their ilk ever having physically inhabited this plane of existence. That doesn’t exclude their potential lives on other planes.
The Collective Unconscious of C.G. Jung, is a good starting place. It is theorized that in this place, which is not physical but exists nonetheless, we have access to all concepts of reality, our own and those of others. Many do not consider this to be an actual place, as it can’t be attained through physical means. However, the imagination and dreams are the vehicles by which we are able to travel to these alternate realities.
Belief is also an active tool for accessing realities rather than just an emotional pacifier. As Jung, Campbell and others have stressed, mythology exists on many levels. Most of us are familiar with the words on paper, or the pixels on the television or computer screen, that convey the stories told for millennia in many tongues and with many names. However, the power behind those myths is in the reactions that we have to them and the effects they have on our world-as well as our ability to capture that power and use it to create our own reality. Campbell argues that while yes, we are to an extent influenced by our responses to external stimuli, we do create our interpretation of our environment, both physically and otherwise.(4) This supports the idea that ‘reality’ is not just an objective environment to which we automatically react, but something that we have an active hand in shaping.
This idea is reflected in the mind-bending works of Robert Anton Wilson who, inspired by Leonard Orr, touts the saying ‘Whatever the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves’. (5) The background to this idea is based off of the division of the mind into the Thinker, which comes up with ideas, and the Prover, whose sole purpose is to hunt down whatever evidence there is to support the Thinker’s claims. This works for everyone, even people who hold opposing viewpoints from each other-the Prover is so good at what it does, and the Universe is so obliging in its offerings of proof for everything. This is why we end up with so much contradictory evidence for just about every argument you can think of. The end result is that there is no objective reality except for a close call arrived at by the thinking and proving of multitudes who end up, more or less, in the same ball park, albeit with disagreements in the details.
So let us assume that reality is much more flexible than our own tunnel vision generally supposes, and that we have an active hand in creating our reality, as well as access to numerous, if not infinite, versions of reality created by ourselves and by others. The theme of accessing these realities via magic and ritual runs through Taylor Ellwood’s works, hearkening back to Campbell’s assertion that ritual is the key to the altered states of consciousness that lead us to corresponding altered states of reality. ‘Consider, for instance, that many magicians believe in other planes or universes of existence. Obviously, these universes don’t exist in our universe, but to access them we manipulate space/time, and though we may not physically go to these other planes of existence (as far as we know), we nonetheless interact with them, because of the warping of space/time’.(6) Ellwood, however, in later works applies this concept microcosmically as well as macrocosmically:
Nothing in Inner Alchemy occurs solely on any one level. The major theme of this book is interconnectedness. A lot of my work on the energetic level has happened as a result of work I’ve done on the physiological and even genetic level, with the goal being to shape the body even as my energy is shaped. By learning to work with your DNA and also apply your understanding of DNA to a level beyond just the physical existence of it you can do a lot of inner alchemy. In turn you can achieve an appreciation of not just your own genetic heritage, but how that heritage interacts with everything else. You can fine tune that heritage as well, making changes in your body that allow you to maximize your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual potentials. You just need to be open to the idea that the body can be controlled on a variety of levels despite what western science and medical health would have you believe.(7)
And here we have a new way of seeing the old alchemical maxim, ‘As above, so below’. For if we can access the emotional, spiritual, and mental personal universe through the physical vehicle of our flesh, what is to say we can’t also access the macrocosmic universe as well, using ritual as a way to expand our awareness beyond the limitations of our own physical reality and into the reality of every other living being that exists?
What, you may be wondering, does all this reality-bending have to do with Otherkin?
If we accept the theory that reality is more than just what our own five physical senses can access, and that reality is more subjective than is often assumed, and that we can access reality beyond our own limitations, then we have the possibility of being connected to any reality we wish, in conjunction with the physical reality that we are native to. For, with ritual as the vehicle for access these different realities, we exist in more than one reality simultaneously. The shaman who travels out of hir body to retrieve the soul of an ill patient may be physically existent on the reality of everyday life and the rest of humanity; however, hir consciousness travels through an entirely different plane of existence. The two come together dependent upon the success of the journey-if the soul is brought back, the patient recovers, whereas if the soul is lost, the patient will die.
The effect that this acting out of ritual-the ‘make believe’ discussed in the first chapter-ultimately has is to change our everyday lives. Rites of passage found worldwide serve not only to induct the initiate into a particular level of mundane society, but they also trigger changes on the psychological and spiritual levels. This cannot be done entirely within physical reality. Rather, the suspension of disbelief that allows us to access other realities must be achieved, or the ritual doesn’t work. The other realities must be made imminent in this one, with permanent effects.
Perhaps for some Otherkin, the very acknowledgement of being Other and bringing that into everyday life is an ongoing ritual. It may not be acknowledged as such; however, it is an action that allows the person to access a reality other than the physical, human one on a permanent basis. This is particularly noteworthy, given that in a lot of modern postindustrial cultures there are no formal rites of passage outside of certain religions-and they are much tamer than those of Paleolithic cultures, in which initiates were often terrified half to death, physically mutilated in some way, or otherwise drastically shaken up to change them in a desired manner for good.
This doesn’t mean that we should assume that all identification as Other should be taken purely metaphorically. However, it is one level of possibility that shouldn’t be ignored. Nicholas Graham, author of The Four Powers, wrote an essay in his blog that captures the idea of the Collective Unconscious-part of that which is attained by all forms of ritual, formal or informal-flowing into our own ‘solid’ reality. He makes the point that it is entirely possible that because of the lack of a cohesive cultural mythology in many postindustrial societies, that the archetypes and motifs of mythology are making themselves known via certain people who are able to channel them on a day to day basis. This reflects the observation that anything in our psyche-collective as well as personal-which is repressed for too long will eventually find its own means of expression, whether we like it or not. Graham goes on to mention that it is quite possible that those Otherkin who have fallen into pure delusion have lost their connection to the archetypes they were initially channeling, perhaps unable to sustain such a long term shift in ‘normal’ reality. He concludes with this thought:
The most important factor to remember when examining the possibility of delusive behavior in Otherkin is that humans, by their very natures, desire personal mythology. From time immemorial, humans have sought ways of more fully interacting with the spirits and energized archetypes with whom they interacted. Often, this is done by self-mythologizing or, in other words, living out a personalized version of the mythology of an archetype. Jung suggested (also in An Answer to Job) that this is a natural process in the lives of most people. He went on to suggest that it forms the foundation of the almost universal (culturally, not individually) belief in fate or destiny; as we live in a manner congruent with the chosen archetype (god, goddess, spirit), not only do our psychic lives change in accordance but so too do our material lives through the efforts of these spirits and gods. I cannot overstress the importance of this factor in the psycho-spiritual study of Otherkin. (8)
While the idea of accessing alternate realities is ancient, there is a specific modern manifestation of it known as Soulbonding.
Soulbonding appears to be a hybridation of imagination and the belief in alternate/parallel realities. It has been theorized that fiction is nothing less than a channeling of an existing alternate reality. Taylor Ellwood, for example, mentions this in Space/Time Magic:
[W]hen a writer writes about a fantasy world, sie is either creating that world in alternate reality, or, more likely, tapping into that alternate reality-It’s my thought that writing, being a very intuitive practice (when done creatively) leads people to tap into other realities, other versions of the self’ Some writers also note that characters seem to be alive and have their own personalities, which consequently affect their writing. Perhaps this is because they have actually connected with an alternate self, and are transcribing that self’s experiences into writing that we consider fantasy or SF [science fiction]. In contacting this self, the author becomes a medium for a polyphony of other characters, transcribing the voices of many into the reality of the word. (9)
First defined by writer Amanda Flowers, Soulbonding most often occurs between a writer and a character sie is writing about, though that character may not necessarily be of hir own creation.(10) Soulbonders consciously allow their Soulbonds (characters)-whether they believe them to be independent entities or not-to interact with them and become a part of them on a daily basis; in some cases, in the same way a multiples, the original soul of the body may front less than the Soulbond.(11) Whether the Soulbonds originate with the Soulbonder or not, there is often a created environment in which all parties involved interact, often known as a Soulscape.(12) This manner of being/becoming Otherkin is of particular interest when discussing mediakin, found in Chapter (number TBA).
While personal mythology and alternate realities do not necessarily represent the experiences of all Otherkin, they are intriguing possibilities, particularly for those who don’t necessarily believe in literal reincarnation, but who don’t believe that reality is singular.
- (1)Silver Elves, The Magical Elven Love Letters, p. 187-188
- (2)Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, p. 117
- (3)Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths, p. 8
- (4)Campbell, Primitive Mythology, p. 76.
- (5)Wilson, Robert Anton. Prometheus Rising, p. 25. (This book, I might add, is one that I recommend as a must-read for anyone reading this book.)
- (6)Ellwood, Taylor. Space/Time Magic, p. 30.
- (7)Ellwood, Taylor. Inner Alchemy (forthcoming), p. TBA
- (8)Graham, Nicholas. http://fraterachdae.livejournal.com/237357.html accessed 13 August, 2006.
- (9)Ellwood, Space/Time Magic, p. 94-95
- (10)Wainwright, Corin. Soulbonding FAQ accessed 12 May 2006
- (11)Wainwright, personal communication, 14 May 2006
- (12)Wainwright, , accessed 12 May 2006
Any unattributed quotes have been drawn from surveys received for the book; details available.