I’ve noticed several patterns that people becoming aware of their difference from others, or the existence of magic, seem to go through. Not everyone goes through all of them, but almost everyone I know has gone through some of them. Thus I think it useful to outline the patterns so hopefully at few less people have to learn things the hard way.
(For a related perspective on neo-pagans rather than otherkin, see Thoughts about Pagans by RavenBlack ).
I am going to go over the main variations I have observed. This will not cover every possibility, but should provide a baseline for comparison.
Symptoms: Fighting the “powers of darkness,” healing the world, killing off major deities, global thermomagical war.
This is one of the most common amongst newly magically aware people. The realisation that you can affect the world around you and exposure to non-physical reality seem to induce an “I can do anything” reaction. This can be very seductive, especially if the rest of your life is less then pleasant.
Some instances of this that I have seen recently are fairly dramatic: fighting off entire legions of angels (or fallen angels or chuthuloid entities from beyond the veil), being the avatar (incarnation) of a god, killing off major deities in astral battles and multigenerational witch-wars involving mystical explanations for real world deaths, combat by hurricane and the usual magic wars. (No, I am not going to tell you which of those was my personal hubris).
Falling into this one is easy, some of the most intelligent people I know have done so to some degree. It is also the one most prone to cult-like abuse. Small groups can both reinforce and escalate the perspective and the unscrupulous can manipulate others into all sorts of things before the questioning sets in.
It does have a valid basis in it’s milder forms however. Pushing the boundaries of your beliefs and abilities is perfectly normal exploration when becoming aware of magic. The same applies any other major shift in your perceptions of reality, as evidenced by the major shifts in personality undergone by many new college students. Managing to keep perspective and conscious intent is the important, and sometimes most difficult, part.
The End of the World is Nigh
Symptoms: The “big change” is coming.
“A great change” has been coming for millennia. It seems to be a very common phenomena, especially amongst the newly aware. 2012 is a favoured date in otherkin mythologies thanks to Shadowrun and it’s portrayal of magic returning and people shifting to physically non-human forms. It also crops up amongst almost every magically active subculture and a good number of religions when in their early stages.
I’ve yet to see “a great change” except within people. As far as I can tell, it’s part of a growing awareness – once you become aware of future possibilities that you weren’t before, things seem to become a lot more significant and you react to things more strongly. Sometimes it is just a matter of being aware of changes you were not aware of before. Often there really are some very drastic changes ahead. The mistake comes in interpreting a sense of impending personal change as being of similar proportion for everyone else too.
By analogy, if you have always lived by a lake, where the water rises maybe a foot or two after a particularly heavy rain, and then you visit an ocean where the tide may change the water level up to fifteen feet in the space of six hours. It would be fairly natural to watch the water rising, worry, panic and then run off screaming “flood!!”, even though it’s perfectly normal and all that water will go away as the tide ebbs.
Differentiation by repudiation
Symptoms: Vehemently putting down the group you were recently associated with.
This one is all too common in the otherkin scene, especially amongst the newly aware. It’s main symptom is “human-bashing,” decrying humans as evil destructive hateful people. It also manifests in the pagan community (generally as “Christian bashing”) and many other areas where a change of allegiance occurs. (For an illustration of the flaws in this approach, see On Dragons and Hate, it’s been gone over enough times for me not to repeat it again).
Why this happens is less obvious it seems, as many people fail to understand it. The main impetus behind the vehemence seems to be a need to confirm ones new affiliation, be it species, religion or football team, by distancing oneself from the old one. Then it becomes a relatively short step from “I am not like that” through “That path is bad for me” to “That path is bad”. Putting down the previous group is perceived to raise ones status in the new group. It doesn’t, but that seems to be the perception.
On it’s milder levels, this seems to be a perfectly normal part of major changes in mental and emotional investment. The need to reassure oneself that the change is the right one and the previous association no longer applies. The progression from “not right for me” to “not right” is the unfortunate one.
Symptoms: “It’s not arrogance, I simply know better because I’m a …”
Having Awesome Cosmic Power(™), pointed ears, or a reproductive organ the size of a small frigate, does not make one better than anyone else. Especially if it’s self evident you don’t. All it does is indicate to those who have already been through this stage that you’re insecure about your identity. (There’s no shame in that, it’s just not polite to tell everyone).
Symptoms: “We are open-minded, go away you perverts.”
One of the things that seems to be fairly common in many subcultures is the “we are open minded, but you are a nut” syndrome. Whilst this is valid in some cases (not many subcultures are tolerant of murderers for example), it often manifests in strange ways. Within the otherkin scene one sees such things as vampires claiming that elves don’t exist, and vice-versa. In other places, you see homosexuals claiming that bisexuals just refuse to admit they are gay, bdsm folks claiming poly folk are disturbed and other strangeness.
This is one where each person has to learn where to draw their own lines (and accept that sometimes reasonable people will draw their lines somewhere different).
Abdication of thought
This is a particularly detrimental problem. The usual visible effect is a statement that goes something to the effect of: “because I’m an elf, anything is possible, therefore I must accept everything as possible and not analyse other people’s claims” (or the same thing in third person, ie. “you must accept…”).
The problem with this should be obvious, but apparently is not. It leads one to not questioning anything, which results in one not actually understanding much of anything and believing things like the moon being made of green cheese.
Unfortunately there is no clear place to draw the line between what is valid and what is not, especially in an area where there is as yet little demonstrable evidence for what many people believe. Developing your own sense of truth is difficult but possible. (see http://www.kheperu.org/articles/tolerance.html for a good introduction). The important part is not to stop thinking, not to stop asking questions.
This is one I see every so often in blatant ways, and much more frequently in subtle ways. The use of a belief system as a crutch to avoid dealing with yourself and your life, rather than as a support for doing so. The distinction can be subtle sometimes, but it is essential.
The more obvious forms of this generally approximate to “I can’t help being an asshole, it’s because I’m a Foo”. Occasionally this is accurate, there are some phenotypes that have ingrained behaviour patterns that just do not work well with certain other groups. That doesn’t mean you cannot adjust your behaviour to within acceptable range, or remove yourself from those situations where your deep rooted tendencies will cause problems.
The important part here is self evaluation, being honest with yourself, and looking for the mundane reasons before assigning supernatural ones. It may be that people avoid you because you are a Troll. It’s equally possible that it’s actually because you haven’t bathed in a week. That weariness due to psychic attack could be due to drinking too much last night, or not eating the right foods.
That dull aching pain in your lower back may be an old battle wound, but it’s always better to ask your doctor first before just assuming it’s a past life thing, kidney stones tend to have the same feeling. It never hurts to look into that which is commonplace and explainable first, that way when the real unexplainable issues arrive, they’re not only easier to focus on and pin-point, but others around you aren’t referring to you as the Boy Who Cried Magic.
Resonance is not attraction
Symptom: Ooo! Something like me! Must fuck it.
This is one I see over and over in the otherkin scene, and it’s one that really is not obvious to most people until they have experience.
There is a certain pull between folks of the same phenotype (at least there is with elves, and I’ve seen similar behaviour patterns in other types so it extrapolates at least somewhat). Whether it is phermones, energetic resonance, some sort of species sensitivity, or something else entirely, it is a noticeable effect. There is an attraction, an desire to get closer to the “person like me”.
Especially if you haven’t encountered another of your type before, this can be quite unexpected, and very easy to mistake for physical or sexual attraction. Even more so with (at least some) elves as they tend to by highly sensual and tactile. If you throw in the sense of excitement of finally meeting others of your type, it can compound the sensory illusion.
That is not to say that attraction is never there, but it is certainly easy to mistake the species resonance with attraction.
There is apparently a known phenomenon called genetic sexual attraction that’s observed in adoptees on meeting their blood relatives. The similarities are strong and possible causes have actually been investigated.
Attraction is not Resonance
Symptom: Ooo! Want to fuck it, must be something like me!
This is a collary to the above, just because one is attracted to someone, does not mean they are whatever you are, no matter how much you may want them to be. People are incredibly able to convince themselves they are something they are not, because it’s what the person they are attracted to or emotionally attached to want them to be, which makes this one particularly dangerous.
That can work both ways, convincing yourself that you must have dragon in you because your flame-of-the-week is a dragon, is equally unhealthy.
This life is not that life
Symptom: Insisting on carrying over interests, relationships or causes from previous incarnations, even though everyone or everything involved has changed.
This I already wrote up as a rant.
Thanks to Raven, Aine, and Tessa for their contributions to this that have been incorporated.