Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why I Like Otherkin

“The satyr as well as the idyllic shepherd of our more recent times are both the epitomes of a longing directed toward the primordial and natural, but with what a firm, fearless grip the Greek held onto his man from the woods, and how timidly and weakly modern man toys with the flattering image of a delicate and gentle flute-playing shepherd! Nature on which no knowledge had yet worked, in which the walls of culture had still not been thrown up—that’s what the Greek saw in his satyr, and so he did not yet mistake him for an ape. Quite the contrary: the satyr was the primordial image of man, the expression of his highest and strongest emotions, as an inspired reveller, enraptured by the approach of the god, as a sympathetic companion, in whom the suffering of the god was repeated, as a messenger bringing wisdom from the deepest heart of nature, as a perceptible image of the sexual omnipotence of nature, which the Greek was accustomed to observing with reverent astonishment. The satyr was something sublime and divine: that’s how he must have seemed, especially to the painfully broken gaze of the Dionysian man, who would have been insulted by our well-groomed fictitious shepherd. His eye lingered with sublime satisfaction on the exposed, vigorous, and magnificent script of nature; here the illusion of culture was wiped away by the primordial image of man; here the real man revealed himself, the bearded satyr, who cried out with joy to his god. In comparison with him, the man of culture was reduced to a misleading caricature. Schiller was also right about the start of tragic art: the chorus is a living wall against the pounding reality, because it—the satyr chorus—presents existence more genuinely, more truly, and more completely than does the civilized person, who generally considers himself the only reality. The sphere of poetry does not lie beyond this world as a fantastic impossibility of a poet’s brain; it wants to be exactly the opposite, the unadorned expression of the truth, and it must therefore simply cast off the false costume of that alleged truth of the man of culture. The contrast between this real truth of nature and the cultural lie which behaves as if it is the only reality is similar to the contrast between the eternal core of things, the thing-in-itself, and the total world of appearances. And just as tragedy, with its metaphysical consolation, draws attention to the eternal life of that existential core in the continuing destruction of appearances, so the symbolism of the satyr chorus already expresses metaphorically that primordial relationship between the thing-in-itself and appearance. That idyllic shepherd of modern man is only a counterfeit, the totality of cultural illusions which he counts as nature. The Dionysian Greek wants truth and nature in their highest power—he sees himself magically changed into the satyr.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy.

Now take these thoughts and apply them to Otherkin. Simply because Gnosis might be odd, and you might understand things a bit literally when you're young, does not mean that you're destined to always do so.

Furthermore, discouraging people from creating a type of “Thereomorphic Shamanism” – and that is what the Otherkin community, with their many Atavistic expressions, may eventually become – seems to me to be a very disastrous thing to do.

The lunar realm of No-Time, where ideas shift in the dreamlike trance of Gnosis, is a pain in the ass to get out of. When I spent my horribly lengthy stint there, I looked more crazy than anything else. People would tell me that I was ungrounded, etc. They never actually managed to indentify the goddamn problem - I was stuck in Luna - but they always had helpful hints about what Qabalists would do. Especially if you're not around someone with an idea of what happens in ecstatic moments of trance. And most of these experiences are ecstatic, which is why they become so powerful to the individual that does it.

... Then again, Nietzsche eventually claimed to be Dionysos reborn in his later “Mad Letters.” But hey – madness is a part of some realms. What someone may be telling you, when they claim to be an Otherkin, is that they've found a type of aesthetic battery: a place where their microcosm has aligned with a set of primordial, poetic, and fictitious (but useful) ideas which power their trance and experiences. Rather than discouraging them from the experiences and writing about them, it seems to me to be better to encourage them to read Nietzsche (whose fanbase is never short of a few Ubermenchii), or look into Wolf cults in the ancient world (and there were plenty, motherfuckers), & etc.

I'm sure plenty are already doing it. That said, the path of trying to integrate Gnosis and understand why specific spiritual experiences are meaningful is a lengthy road – and not one easily taken, especially when you're subjected to the speculative eyes of the public and to their derision.

I don't claim to be an Otherkin, but I'm sure a few of them will mutate or evolve into something... Very interesting.

EDIT: People are always harping on Gnosis and delusion. The EGO is just so powerful that there can't POSSIBLY highly emotional moments where a spiritual charge intrudes, and something resonates massively and you can't let go of it. Clearly that could only happen in the trained Magickal Elite, or some shit. It's not like everyone's seen a fucking play that made them laugh or cry, or been at church when a topic near to their heart evoked a spiritual moment, right?

I'm expected to tag along and applaud when serious spiritual work is harped on, and enmeshing in the godhead, and a ton of theories are expanded upon - but when approached by some kid who has no idea what's going on, I'm also expected to remind him that he's likely mired in delusions.

Of course he is! He's a fucking kid! What the fuck do you expect? We're lucky he doesn't think he's fucking Blade and try hunting Psi-vamps "on the astral"! (And some of those crazy fuckers do! ... Try to, that is.)

I'm also expected to sit around and agree when someone mature talks about how delusional they were, and how grown up they are now, and then tells other people to keep their mouths shut. Yes, your crazy is your own business. But jesus, name one person that hasn't done something spiritually crazy. That person? He's probably an armchair magician.

I always thought we were supposed to supply mechanisms for use: to actually make use of crazy gnosis (create art with it!), to actually supply details on how to meaningfully integrate spiritual experiences (try being less literal! It may help!), and to supply protective tactics and suggestions for evaluating what one has done. How about testing spirits with elemental pentacles?

None the less, most of what I see is routine poo-pooing and mindless chatter about delusion. Delusion is a constant, a part of life. Either offer how to actually overcome it (from personal experience, as the suggestion goes), or stop complaining.


Lance Michael Foster said...

I am Bear, from my clan, and even partially and involuntarily transformed in public once during a powwow, when my right hand became a bearpaw, claws and hair even. Seen by a crowd too. It's ok if people don't believe it. I couldn't believe it myself, and it was only that once, many years ago.

Also, in regards to satyr/Pan & co., are you aware of the Findhorn folks, specifically ROC who is said to have talked to Pan?
Pan asked ROC did he think he was the Devil, and the exchange was very interesting.

Harold Roth said...

Last night I was reading about a Kabbalistic group that has been accused of being a cult (rightly, it turns out, IMO). One of the tests for being a cult that was applied to the group--a series of questions, not Isaac Bonewits'--could apply to any number of ordinary religious organizations. And it has often occurred to me that many religious experiences could, if seen from a different perspective, come off as derangement--and to "skeptics," they DO come off that way. So yeah, a lot of this is a matter of perspective. However, if some Kabbalah group insists you must give them 10% of your income, be careful.

Must be a good time of year for Otherkin, because I have been contacted by several lately. I was thinking last night about how much energy is coiled into the earth at this time of year so it can help plants and animals make it through winter. Maybe that is powering some of this--strong Earth makes us more aware of our animal selves, IMO.

Lance Michael Foster said...

I think you are right on every count, Harold. ANYthing to do with money and people asking for it puts my red flags up, as well as groupthink/cultish vibes, which is why I am not a joiner. In fact, I am "too Catholic" for pagans (ejected from a druid group) and "too pagan" for Catholics (ejected from a couple of churches), so I am not in either "camp." I don't like groupthink or groups. Individuals and freewill only.

Religio is about binding, about ties, certainly in one sense, something needed for a community or group to continue as a group and get the strength/benefits of a group, but also liable to the negative side of baboon-troop hierarchy/behavior.

I don't know much about Otherkin. I am an old guy and so am not into the swim of all this. I do know my clan stories say we once were Bears who became human beings, who learned to become human and over time became so. I also know a lot of weird stuff I have personally experienced like the paw incident is why I started looking at magic and European paganism to try and understand some of these things in a different way. But I ain't no joiner :-)

Lance Michael Foster said...

PS. Not only wolf cults, but bear cults and others, like here in NoAm, buffalo doctors, bearwalks, and others. The Bear skull circles in some of the European caves indicate some of the oldest spiritual/religious evidence there is, as well as some of the figures in paintings and small sculptures (the lion-man, etc.) That's some old old stuff, perhaps therianthropic shamanism is as old as human thought, and archaeologically seems more fundamental (at least in terms of physical evidence) than any other magical route. Hunting magic and entheogens...and if you are hungry, cold, in pain, desperately seeking food, that's basis for trance. I know, from experience.

Ananael Qaa said...

Furthermore, discouraging people from creating a type of “Thereomorphic Shamanism” – and that is what the Otherkin community, with their many Atavistic expressions, may eventually become – seems to me to be a very disastrous thing to do.

I'd agree with that, especially since "Thereomorphic Shamanism" is not a new thing. When looking at the shamanic practices of various cultures the presence of spirit animals is almost universal. It seems to me those Otherkin who are approaching their practices that way represent the latest incarnation of this style of magick, which may date all the way back to the dawn of our species.

There's some silliness in the Otherkin community as well, of course, but show me a community that's 100% serious and I'll probably just find them boring as hell.

Satyr Magos said...

"Yes, your crazy is your own business. But jesus, name one person that hasn't done something spiritually crazy. That person? He's probably an armchair magician."

Hell yes.

Thanks for posting.

Jack Faust said...

@Lance: Off topic question real quick: do you know much about the Navajo "Frenzy Way" in witchery, or where I could read more on the subject?

Lance Michael Foster said...

Clyde Kluckhohn's work is the standard on the subject. If there is more you are looking for, you would probably have to access his original fieldwork.

The idea of a witch in indigenous cultures is not the same exactly as it is in mainstream western culture. All kinds of practitioners are lumped together as witches in western mainstream, mainly due to the opposition to Christianity and Judaism. But in indigenous cultures (North American and Yoruba), witchery is plain old bad, antisocial, evil, hostile and often nonhuman.

Silko's "Ceremony" is a good read, and it covers the southwestern American Indian ideas on it all pretty well.

Harold Roth said...

Kluckhohn's book has an appendix on Frenzy witchcraft. It involves datura, among other plants, and is focused on getting women and gambling luck. The plant pollen is put in the person's food. A couple of informants specifically say it doesn't involve were-animals. That's a good book, btw. I read it a year or so ago because of the references to datura use. As Lance says, "witchcraft" is in very bad odor with these folks.

Jack Faust said...

@Lance: Hehe. Thanks for the info. Worry not; I am just interested in basic knowledge. The word "frenzy" and associations with altering moods simply caught me eye, but there was next to no info for me to come across in a brief google hunt.

I need to ask my wife if Taino ideas of witchcraft were different from continental native cultures...

I have some questions about the event involving your right hand if you don't mind. Were you in an altered state? Had you been dancing previously, or been drawn into trance at the time? I've only been to one Pow-Pow during the course of my life. I think it was a Crow pow-pow, but I was a teen and mostly fascinated by the dances, so that's all I can recall. But I'm wondering how powerful the altered states of consciousness that are induced at such festivals are... At a certain point, in my trance experiences, you can start to hallucinate - quite easily - physiological sensations. It seems a short step from that to actually seeing the change. And I imagine that those acclimated to the trance might easily pick up on it and see it, too.

But if you weren't in an altered state, I have absolutely no idea how it could have happened.

Thanks for the link! I especially liked Mr. Nobb's explanation for how spirits choose to reveal themselves, and the imagery they choose.

@Harold: Many thanks for the book reference. I'll look into getting a copy when I'm not broke. LOL. 'Tis the season!

And yeah; most spiritual ideas look batshit insane to anyone who hasn't directly experienced the meaningful aspects of the practices or beliefs.

@Ananael: Totally. Agree 100%.

Lance Michael Foster said...

I have a post on Yoruba witchcraft at:

It's pow-Wow, not pow-pow (that's the sound a gun makes :-) )

Although I am no stranger to powwows I am not a regular dancer and was wearing regular clothes, not a powwow outfit of feathers etc. I had started dancing in an honoring song, where everyone dances, white, Indian, powwow regalia, street-clothes etc. But when that song ended and most streetclothes people went back to the bleachers, I stayed, as I was really enjoying myself. Now I was the only one in streetclothes, and I am of paler skin, so I was getting harsh glances from the onlookers and dancers, and comments about "that white man should get out of there." I didn't care. I felt "right" and it was my ancestors' ancient home, my tribe, not most of these others, who though they looked darker, were from other tribes from other territories. So I kept at it.

I don't think I was in an altered state, but how can one be sure... in any case everything appeared exactly the same around me. The only thing that changed was my hand, which I felt inspired to flatten and curve, but it then began to appear to become dark, which I thought was just delusion, but when it became hairy and my fingers became claws, I thought for sure it was delusional...except the dancers began to stare at my hand and moved away. The people in the bleachers shifted their faces away, and some covered them with coats. My friend sitting there, she only stared in shock.

Yes, it could have been hallucination on my part in an altered state, but somehow it was "communicated" to others...or it really happened. I felt on the edge of something more happen, but the song ended, and I left the dance area and collected my friend.

Some other strange things happened that night with the nearby river, but that is another story.

Jack Faust said...

My phone's autocorrect feature will be the death of me. *sigh* Sorry, I did mean Pow-Wow.

Scylla said...

Faust, I know I've previously mentioned my experiences with "Skin-Changers" out here - I do not know if I have mentioned them to -you-, though. That experience expanded in unexpected ways during the initial TWOTM work. I may have to resort to posting it on FB to ensure it's not "overshared".

Frenzied revelers can change form. Don't ask me how it works, but it works - I still have not picked apart the mechanism, nor have I thoroughly debunked my own experiences. And if they take the form of a predator it is generally frowned upon as meaning they chase down and kill people. That would likely explain the reaction to Mr. Foster's transformation.

thehornedgate said...

A bit of background on what informs my perspective, before I begin: I have identified as otherkin for 10 years, participated in the otherkin community for much of that time, have a bachelors in psychology, spent nearly 3 years as a mental health worker in a treatment center for adolescents, and have started digging into ceremonial magic over the past year.

I very much appreciate this article. I had a passionate discussion with some Buddhist friends earlier in the year where I bemoaned that otherkin, and the otherkin identity, has so much potential as a paradigm and spiritual path, but often people seem to stop at the identity-discovery process, or they lose themselves in escapism and living in what may-or-may-not be past life memories.

It has been my thought (and many of my fellow otherkin would vehemently disagree with me here, but nonetheless) that animalistic identity is a modern Western manifestation of the totemic experience, because our culture lacks context for the experience. Oh, we have a concept of totems - as external, archetypal spirits that influence and guide us. That's very different from the concept of a personal totem that is internal as well as external, very much like the actual animal rather than an archetype, and deeply influences our mentality, energy, and instincts - and into which we might spiritually and mentally shapeshift. This latter approach to totems might be seen in the Norse fylgia and in some Russian tribes, and it is this experiential reality that animal-type otherkin ("therianthropes") describe.

With no adequate context to explain our very vivid, powerful, and meaningful experiences, we looked to stories of berserkergang, to legends of werewolves and Central American cat-people, to the rich history of shapeshifter stories in myriad cultures - and we explored our animality in that context. Over time, a subculture grew around this shared experience, with its own lingo, dogma, and cultural norms.

thehornedgate said...


The mythic-identified otherkin - I think in some ways this is truly living myth. Myth in Western culture is treated as dead and gone, relegated to classic literature. We make modern myths in film and fiction but our culture reminds us repeatedly to separate fiction from reality, it is not real, disengage, disengage - we do not have living myth. Even in the Pagan community where we deliberately engage with myths, emphasis is placed on the ancient lore as the ultimate resource, and making new myths - or revitalizing the old myths in new, relevant, growing ways - is not readily accepted.

We lack personal, vital, immersive modern myths. Otherkin are creating personal myths, they are internalizing myth, they are engaging with these stories and bringing them to life. Otherkin are living myth. And there is always the danger of falling into delusion and dysfunction when you do that - but there are those of us who've learned to walk the tightrope.

The vital part of living myth is making meaning, interacting deeply with symbols, taking on archetypes and seeing how they fit.

This quote is particularly pertinent, I think: “Symbolic consciousness… participates in the subjective process of fantasy while at the same time maintaining awareness of the process as an objective, autonomous factor. In other words, it lives in a myth while knowing it as a myth; it experiences the fantasy process neither as ‘reality’ nor ‘illusion,’ but rather as meaning.” From Living Myth: Personal Meaning as a Way of Life, by D. Stephenson Bond.

I choose to judge gnosis, interpretations of gnosis, and identity by their usefulness. If it has meaning, if it adds meaning to one's life and existence, if it's not significantly impairing your ability to function - if, particularly, it is positively impacting your ability to function - then what's the matter with it? Why not identify that way?

Which is a very long way of saying... I agree with your post, and appreciate it so much, and wish more non-otherkin and skeptics-of-otherkin would take a similar approach. Because this is more valuable and useful than nay-saying or negating.