What are "Otherkin" and "Therians"?
Put simply, if one identifies as an Otherkin or a Therian, they feel that in some way, they do not identify as human. Yes, an otherkin/therian is human. 100% biologically human. Being otherkin has nothing to do with biology. This identity is purely on a non-physical level.
Otherkin: Someone who identifies partially or wholly, spiritually, psychologically, or neurologically as a non-human creature on a non-physical level. Common identities are those of dragons, elves, fae folk, etc.
Therianthrope: Someone who identifies partially or wholly, spiritually, psychologically, or neurologically as a non-human, terrestrial animal (living or extinct) on a non-physical level. Common identities are those of wolves, big cats, and a plethora of other mammals, avians, reptiles, and even dinosaurs. (Therianthropes are a subgrouping of Otherkin.)
A Brief History
The otherkin community dates back to around 1972. Primarily, those within these small circles, held elven identities and communicated via pen and paper mailing lists. It wasn't until the 1990s when other creature identities joined in via email. Coincidentally, in 1993, a group of people started a newsgroup called, alt.horror.werewolves. From what we can gather, this is the first instance of Therianthropy being talked about on a more public scale, and that they had no connection with the otherkin community until a few years later. Today, both communities have a solid presence on social media and other platforms, such as forum sites and Discord servers. Whether the individuals wish to disclose this information publicly, is up to them.
Common Topics of Discussion
When talking with an otherkin or a therian, or with a mixed group, there are some words and phrases that may sound rather confusing unless explained. Among these, are the words, “kintype,” “theriotype,” and a group of phenomena called, “shifting.” If an otherkin/therian talks about their “kintype” or their “theriotype,” they are referring to what they identify as. Examples: “My kintype is a dragon.” “My theriotypes are grey wolf and eagle.”
It should be noted that neither an otherkin nor therian can change their biology. Their DNA will forever be that of a human, CRISPR Chimera breakthroughs notwithstanding. Should the term “shift” be used in general talk, it is most likely referring to one of the many types of sensations that are commonly felt by those who identify as otherkin or therian. These include:
Phantom Shifting: The sensation of having limbs (ears, tails, wings, etc) that are not physically there. These types of shifts can occur occasionally, never, or have a constant presence.
- Mental Shifting: Where the mental state of the individual becomes more fitting to the kintype. This could result in posture changes, as well as uttering some non-human noises (growls, mews, roars, etc). Some otherkin have stated that their mental shifts are constant and vary in intensity, while others have said they have never experienced one, or they happen on occasion.
- Astral Shifting: These shifts are similar to phantom shifts, yet only occur on the astral plane. Many mix these two phenomena while explaining them.
- Dream Shifting: The individual will have a shift into their kintype during a dream. Dream shifts are treated with skepticism, because dreams are compilations of past memories that the subconscious has stored.
- Sensory Shifting: When the senses are perceived to be heightened to match that of the kintype. An example would be: Someone who identifies as canine could have a heightened sense of smell. However, this type of shifting is heavily debated, due to the fact that human senses are limited to what is biologically possible.
- Cameo Shifting: Shifts that occur that are not of your kintype. These can be very confusing and often times persistent. Example: A feline therian having the phantom shift of large wings.
- Berserker Shifting: Another highly debated form of shifting, berserker shifts can be likened to the transformation of mythological werewolves. While having a berserker shift, the individual will lose all control of themselves.
- Physical Shifting: This form of shifting has been determined to be impossible. A human being cannot willingly or unwillingly change their biological structure. This is not to say that it is not wished by most otherkin and therians.
Apart from the various “shifts” that one can experience, there is also the talk of how one categorizes their identity. As laid out in the definition of the two terms, one usually believes that they are either a “psychological” otherkin/therian or a “spiritual” otherkin/therian. Both of these categories are not mutually exclusive, as there are those who believe that they have both a psychological and spiritual component to their identity. In order to fully understand what separates the two explanations, a brief definition of each is required.
Psychological Otherkin: Psychological otherkin believe that identity stems from psychological or neurological phenomena. However, since there are no current scientific studies that cover non-human identification at this time, the basis for a psychological otherkin is seen through the individual’s personal beliefs. These beliefs could come from a variety of variables including:
This non-human identity is directly ingrained into their psyche. This could mean that the individual has had these feelings and experiences from birth. Whether these experiences and feelings were realized during childhood, adolescence, or even as an adult, varies from individual to individual.
Others even take a more simple approach, and explain that they do not know why they identify this way, and it is one of the realms of abnormal psychology that has not been thoroughly investigated and researched.
Spiritual Otherkin: Spiritual otherkin believe that the explanation for their non-human identity comes from their spiritual beliefs. It should be noted that otherkin is not a religion or a set of religious beliefs, but rather an integral part of one’s identity. Some spiritual otherkin use reincarnation and past lives to explain why they identify this way, but reincarnation and past lives are believed by both otherkin, therians, and non-kin alike.
What Otherkin Isn't and Common Misconceptions
This is by far one of the most difficult sections to explain. One of the underlying “rules” of the otherkin and therian communities is that “No one can tell you what you are/identify as.” This is a very personal identity and can only be discovered by the individual. Now, this is not to say that someone cannot ask questions, ask to be questioned by others, or inquire about what someone else has experienced. In fact, questions and sharing experiences is highly encouraged, all the while keeping an open mind and understanding that one can only help point you in the right direction and not directly say, “You are X” or “You identify as Y.” This section is not to discourage anyone who is questioning a non-human identity. It is, however, to outline some of the more recent and incorrect ways that the definitions have been interpreted, as well as other common misconceptions about otherkin and therians.
As the otherkin and therian communities have had set definitions since their inceptions, this is not to say that the definitions have stood the test of time. As with every type of identity phenomena, individuals have warped the meanings to fit their own definitions. Here is a small listing of common misinterpretations and misconceptions:
- “Otherkin is something that is chosen.” Like with any other identity disorder, it is not inherently chosen. One either fits the definition or not. Some believe that their otherkin identity stems from coping with past trauma. They did not choose to cope this way, it merely happened. Should someone choose to use a non-human identity as a coping mechanism, they are referred to as "copinglinks" and are not considered otherkin.
- “A very strong connection to or liking something a great deal.” These are two of the most common that are seen amongst newer and younger otherkin today. The novelty and idea of identifying as something non-human looks appealing and it is relatively easy to establish a connection or an obsession with one or more animals/non-human creatures. However, as stated before, otherkin and therians do not choose their identities. They painstakingly unpackage all the data and feelings from years of questioning and introspection. There are those who dislike their kintype or theriotype so strongly, that they want nothing to do with it, and do not like talking about it.
- “A kintype is something separate from you.” This is false because how can your core identity be separate from you? Your identity is an integral part of you. There are other categories for this type of phenomena, and would moreso fall under the category of plural systems, headmates, tulpae, or even those diagnosed with DID.
"A kintype is the same as a "Spirit Animal/Guide" or a "Totem Animal." To distinguish the extremely different nature of these three, often times similar sounding ideas, they must be defined, then compared to the definition of a kintype.
- Spirit Animal: A separate, spiritual entity that may be non-human. Commonly known to guide one through life and spiritual matters.
- Totem Animal: A non-human creature commonly chosen to represent a group of people and their see of ideals. Totem animals are not seen as an integral part of one's core identity.
- Comparison to a Kintype: A kintype is neither separate nor chosen. Therefore, "Spirit Animals/Guides" and "Totem Animals" are not viewed as kintypes.
- “Identifying as Otherkin is a mental illness.” This particular misconception is enough to discourage anyone questioning this type of identity or even those who have identified this way for multiple years. The conclusion that any type of different identity is a mental illness is not only highly incorrect, but also rather rude and condescending. Many otherkin/therians do feel what is referred to as “species dysphoria”. Dysphoria is the displeasure or disassociation that can follow with not seeing what you are feeling. It mainly describes the displeasure with the physical body not aligning with the perceived identity.
Sources and More Information
- Definition: Okami, Naia, “Terminology & Lexicon,” May 3, 2016
- History: Scribner, O. “A Directory of Otherkin Writings and Other Works, Organized by Topic, v. 0.6,” The Art and Writing of O. Scribner. 8 September, 2012. <http://orion.kitsune.net/nonfic.html>
- Ashenfall, “A Guide to Shifting,” April 28, 2017
- Viserion Grey, “Introductory Guide to Psychological Otherkinity,” May 8, 2016
- Viserion Grey, “Introductory Guide to Spiritual Otherkinity,” May 8, 2016
- “What a Kintype Isn’t,” Author wishes to remain anonymous as well as where the source is taken from. Permission to use was directly from author.