Table of Contents
Otherkin is a collective noun for an assortment of people who have come to the somewhat unorthodox, and possibly quite bizarre, conclusion that they identify themselves as being something other than human. It is also the label used by a number of communities both on and off line. (The distinction between the two is not always drawn and can lead to some confusion).
There are a number of ways people reach this conclusion, and a number of possible explanations for it. On the face of it, it is a remarkably difficult conclusion to reach, not only is the evidence scant at best, but to define yourself as not human requires defining what human means – an exercise which philosophers for millennia have failed to complete.
The following is a brief overview of some of the possible explanations.
1 – Appeal to biology
There are a very few people who claim a biological difference from humans. On the face of it this should be the easiest to prove – the biological requirements for species are fairly well defined. Life is rarely that simple and the existence of a subspecies that can occasionally interbreed with humans is at least somewhat plausible. Those that claim this tend to posit an initial technical, magical or deity intervention for the initial pairing. Thus the most frequent (if such a term can be used for such a small sample) such claims are for some form of elves (generally Tuatha de Danaan or Sidhe – for which there is some support in ancient texts), angels (for which there is some biblical support) or oriental dragons (such as the royal line of Japan claims).
To date, the variations encountered (including those unsupported claims made that were not utterly impossible) have been explainable variations and mutations of homo sapiens and unprovable without extensive DNA testing. (For which, if anyone ever volunteers an appropriate lab, there are a number of volunteers).
Those claiming such tend to expect even less belief from the general populace.
2 – Appeal to spirit
By far the most common explanation from those who fit the definition (even if they don’t claim this specific label) is that whilst their physical forms may be human, their essence, soul or equivalent term is not.
Of those, the majority make their claim based on reincarnation – what they have been in a previous incarnation so strongly affects their current incarnation that they still identify with it. Obviously this requires a belief in reincarnation, and in the transmigration of souls. Both are reasonably common in a number of religions and spiritual beliefs across the world.
The less frequent explanations are “nature of soul” (where one is created as a specific entity, but failed to incarnate as such – sometimes including the “ooops! missed!” theory of incarnation), and “walk-in” (where the original spirit inhabiting a body vacated it for one reason or another – frequently near-death or severe trauma – and a separate entity took over).
Obviously this is a lot harder to prove, especially as the evidence for reincarnation itself is rather sparse (some are documented to varying degrees of veracity, such as the Dali Lama and a number of cultural mythologies). It is also more open to both intentional and unintentional abuse (see below).
People in this category sometimes (but by no means always) show signs of maladaption. The two main symptoms appear to be:
- Problems not dissimilar to trans-gender issues – discomfort with the physical form not because of gender but because of species. This seems to be more common amongst younger people. (Many of the psychological arguments for and against transgender apply here, though for the most part the biological ones do not).
- Phantom limbs – much as an amputee often gets sensation from the missing limb, so do some who claim species that have appendages that humans do not (wings and tails being the main ones). The conventional explanation for amputees is misfiring nerves and obviously this is implausible in this case. That such problems are psychosomatic seems possible, however some do have physically observable side effects that have to be handled (such as back muscle problems from ‘supporting’ wings).
3 – Appeal to psychology
Another explanation posited is that of using the concept of other species as a tool for self exploration. Thus one is not a member of that species, but takes on the traits of that species to learn from it. This could take the form of (at least the westernised distortion of) Totemic belief, or of Jungian Archetypes.
For the most part those using such techniques deliberately know what it is they are doing and do not claim the label. However, there are many people who have not been introduced to the concepts (or have inaccurate information if they have) and if they should find themselves in the position of having a Totem (if such can happen outside the appropriate culture) they may well mistake the effects as them being that creature rather than having an association with that archetype.
4 – Escapism and mental aberration
The vast majority of people on encountering the concept (and a fair proportion of those who subscribe to it) will favour this explanation – it’s certainly the easiest one. Anyone who has actually claimed a label that fits under the ‘otherkin’ category has seriously considered this option (or should have).
The most frequent accusation is that all otherkin are lost in fantasy, they’ve played one too many D&D games and gone over the edge. Personal study seems to indicate this is actually one of the least frequent explanations. Most roleplayers know they are roleplaying, even if they are also otherkin, and roleplaying can be a very useful tool in self exploration.
Escapism from what is seen as an increasingly hostile and unpleasant culture (especially in the United States) is somewhat more plausible and more common. The irony there is that modern society is becoming increasingly magical – in what other era could you speak instantaneously with someone a thousand miles away with a simple ten digit incantation, see images from the past or distant present or rain fiery death from the skies from half a world away? The potential for being one step further than a mythological SCA is certainly there however.
Not being “like them” is a much more common cause, whether “them” is classmates, family, coworkers or everyone you meet. For some it’s perhaps real – otherkin really *are* different. However the relationship is not reciprocal – being different does not make one otherkin. The alienation that many teenagers go through, both as part of normal human development and the social aberration that many high-schools seem to be, can easily have people looking for an explanation. For some it’s that they are the only goth in a conservative area, others have less obvious affiliation, but take a deep interest in dragons and extrapolate.
The other side of that particular coin is looking around you and seeing the many terrible things that humanity is capable of and deciding that you are not like that and thus cannot possibly be human. (ref “behaviours – differentiation by repudiation”).
There are also those for whom it is simply wish fulfillment – is being an elf not so much better than being Joe Smith who flips burgers at McDonalds?
5 – All of the above
Whilst the above explanations are presented as distinct categories, people do not necessarily fall into only one of them. There are those who claim physical differences, and past lives. There are those who are both in therapy for mental health problems and otherkin (and which is cause and which effect is debatable).
In the end, without further evidence, it comes down to a matter of personal belief. As personal beliefs go, it’s relatively harmless.
[The original version of this page is depreciated, but if you really want to read it, or the comments left on it, it can be found h ere]