Cats

Let’s talk therianthropy + Otherkin and the roots of Furry Fandom

Therianthropy is the shifting of:

theríon = wild beast

into anthrōpos i.e human

For many fantasy fiction authors, therianthropy means raging werewolves, murderous human/beast hybrids (similar to Mr Hyde as shown above) or magical shape-shifting creatures, malformed humanoids, or transformations from frog into prince.

But the voluntary change from human to beast has been an exciting & enticing means of escape, exploration, and liberation for humans since the earliest stone age societies. Plus, it’s a great way for a fantasy author to connect to amazing otherworlds without having to enter phantasmagorical or fanciful rabbit-holes of delusion. In fact, therianthropy can (and is) performed by most of us (if not all… I’ll explain this in a moment) — and it’s a natural part of our shared human experience. So what precisely is it?

The word, at least in ancient Greek terms, meant to become a human beast or, interchangeably, to become a beastly human. But the word also implied a metamorphic transformation (i.e. a morphing) from one “state” to another. 

The earliest known depiction of a Siberian shaman, by the Dutch Nicolaes Witsen, 17th century

The earliest example of human transformation into bestial form comes to us from a cave painting created at least 13,000 years ago in a cave in south-western France (the Three Brothers). This special cave contains several engravings of human beasts, but perhaps the most famous is the so-called “Dancing Sorcerer” — which is a portrayal of a half-man + half-deer (it might be a bison or an antelope, the jury is still out). When you examine this ancient engraving (see below) it will remind you of what a neo-pagan shaman might do in tribal ceremonies: because we know that a shaman will adopt and dramatise the “guise” of a wild creature to commune with the spirit world, to communicate with demons, angels or deities, to treat disease, to go on a vision-seeking quest, or to undertake some other form of divination (predicting the future.)

Dancing Sorcerer

You will have seen, for example, images of a tribal “witch doctor” dressed in furs (and perhaps with a head adorned with antlers or wings) and this type of shaman is frequently enlisted by those tribes that hunt & follow a particular animal species (some tribes rely upon just one animal for their food, tools, clothing, etc. for example the Sámi people rely on reindeer, and the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains once relied upon bison.) If the tribe’s beast became scarce… there was a belief that “releasing” the souls of dead animals would also free the herds of living and breathing animals..so they might be hunted again. And that is why the shaman was generally seen “dressed up” as the favourite game animal of the tribe (bison, antelope or deer). More disturbing, though, the shaman might “dress up as” (and therefore take-on the aggressive role) of a fierce alpha predator (perhaps a wolf, a leopard, or a lion) — to claim supremacy over the hunted game (or, sometimes, conquest over a rival tribe.)

eagle head

In some cultures there’s a belief that “invisible stories” can only be seen when a person assumes an animal body. The shamans who see these invisible stories are frequently called “skin walkers” — they are the people with a supernatural ability to turn into any animal they wish, as long as they first use the skin of the chosen animal, worn in most cases over human skin. This is a perspective that will interest you as a writer of fantasy fiction and is an idea that shapes modern ideas around animal cos-play.

“If it were necessary to counter a dangerous dominant spirit, the shaman could take the form of a wolf or jaguar…”

Some animals, even in their earthly & physical forms, are seen as enlightened spirits: and this is especially true in the eagle’s case, and also the snake, the jaguar, the wolf, the cat, and the rat. So, for example, if a tribe asks their shaman to see beyond a mountain range and into a remote valley, the shaman might “take the shape” of an eagle (usually in an ecstatic trance, and frequently after taking a shed-load of mood-enhancing psychoactive substances and putting on a head-dress of feathers) so he’d be able to “fly” into the valley to see the hidden things for himself, and report back to the tribe. If it was necessary to infiltrate a small place, perhaps a warehouse or a grain barn owned by an enemy tribe, the shaman could take the form of a rat to climb into holes and search for treasure in confined spaces. If it were necessary to counter a dangerous dominant spirit, the shaman could take the form of a wolf or a jaguar to “fight” an invisible threat, because such animals are fearless even in the face of terrible danger. As a snake, the shaman could move between dimensions (because a snake swims in water, climbs trees, lives in the utter darkness of caves, wriggles across fire, and moves smoothly through deadly swamps, etc.) As a cat, a shaman might be able pass beyond the boundaries of unseen dimensions (because cats are believed to pass through walls) and “view” intangibles that are too subtle for the human eye.

Overthrow the Government

Often, the shapeshifting experience will occur at a festival (or a special ceremonial time of the year) and will be attended by fasting followed by feasting, vigils followed by parties, rapturous dancing, ceremonial singing, and (often) plenty of mayhem and crazy antics. It will involve the entire tribe and the tribe will witness the shapeshift as the magic “happens.” It is an important shared event because it strengthens and fosters faith in the shaman’s powers, and intensifies & enhances tribal traditions and doctrines.

Think abut using this type of ritualistic temporary therianthropy in your next fantasy tale, and please let me know if you’ve used a shaman in your project. Tweet me @neilmach

Otherkin

A few words about Otherkin and the roots of furry fandom


Some ancient cultures believe there is an animal counterpart to every human person. We often say things like: “don’t be such a greedy pig” or “he’s such a stubborn ass” or “she can be a real bitch” — so the concept is not as far-fetched as you might imagine. While an experienced shaman will acquire the spiritual attributes of various beasts (through ceremonies, dances, trances, and the use of psychoactive substances) — there is a suggestion that everyone (yes, everyone) might be able harness and “tap into” their animal counterpart. We find stories of humans descending from animals in many oral traditions (they often form an important part of tribal and clan histories) and even “modern” societies are distinguished (perhaps caricatured, though not always in a flattering way) by animal counterparts i.e. the bulldog represents the British, the bear represents the Russians, and so on ) — so it might be possible for each of us to transform into the animal of our clan. For example, indigenous North American traditions suggest that some tribes might have bears as ancestors (so tribe members would “tap into” their bear) and in Turkic mythology, some tribes claim wolf ancestry (so tribe members would “tap into” their wolf.) 

Wolf/Man Man/Wolf

The otherkin are these same types of people: they are a subculture that identifies as not wholly human because they access their animal inner-selves. Some otherkin believe their beast-identity is derived from reincarnation, while others claim direct ancestry (such as the Turkic peoples that I just mentioned), while others simply claim a metaphorical connection (hidden similarities) or enjoy the role-playing aspect of “becoming” their chosen animal because they feel a special affinity with it (for some, the sense of confinement and restraint when bound inside an animal entity is an exciting turn-on.)

If you ever compared yourself to the traits of your astrological zodiac sign (a lion, a ram, a crab, etc.) or you thought your Chinese Lunar Animal perfectly describes you (a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon etc) you will have (unknowingly) placed yourself in this group because you invoked an anthropomorphic avatar that you connected or sympathised with. Though, I ought to add that some Otherkin folk self-identify with entirely mythical creatures such as angels, demons, elves, fairies, extra-terrestrials, and even cartoon characters. 

Some members of Otherkin communities claim to shapeshift mentally and/or astrally into their chosen beast, and this suggests they experience a “sense of alternate being” whilst shifted into their chosen form: even though they haven’t actually changed physicality (they might wear a mask or a very simple costume, perhaps stick-on ears, for example).

This light role-playing version of the Otherkin phenomena is known as furry fandom. Catgirls and catboys are the most prolific identities in the furry fandom subculture, although we’ve seen bunny girls too (they are becoming promoted after an long absence) and foxfolk, dogfolk and wolf-folk are quite common sights on social networks.

This is yet another perspective on therianthropy (shapeshifting) that you might want to explore further in your fantasy writing. Let me know if you have any tips, advice, or suggestions…

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

Agree? Disagree? Ideas or comments? Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast

The Wrekin

Myth and Magic EP2 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 2 SHOW-NOTES

Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Two: 25m:26s
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I take a trip to Shrewsbury in the Welsh Marches via The Wrekin — the landscape that inspired Tolkien’s Middle Earth and there I talk about the Horned God and the origins of the Arthurian legends. I visit Eton… the “real” Hogwarts for my birthday and I discuss the life of Toni Morrison (RIP). Later I discover the magical power of True Names and study the three types of myth. My fabulous creature of the week is: the Swan Maiden. My wildflower of the week is: Chili Pepper

WHAT I’VE BEEN DOING THIS WEEK:

When I started this show I didn’t think about connections…. some connections between the talking points and topics have been obvious… some have been obscure … others have been – frankly – eerie or hair-raising.

For example, this weekend I traveled 160 miles from Staines to Shrewsbury pronounced Shroosbury (like the animal, the shrew) — a name that derives from the Old English word Scrobbesburh or “Scrub” (as in bush) and Burgh as in town. Shrewsbury is the county town of Shropshire … also known in England (officially) as SALOP. No, I’m not kidding. Anyway, Shrewsbury is largely an unspoilt medieval town with timber framed houses and a red sandstone castle built by Roger the Great de Montgomery, the first Earl of Shrewsbury in 1070. The castle was rebuilt in 1643.

I went to Shrewsbury to compete in the Rocky Horror Marathon! You don’t need to know that, but it tells you a little more about who I am and what I do when I’m not writing novels! Anyway, before my trip I didn’t know that Tolkien had a connection with this area. I covered his “Black Country” in Episode One of the show. It is said that the Wrekin (pronounced REE-KIN ) was an inspiration for Middle Earth – the author lived near and liked to walk on this landmark. It’s a curious shaped hill that just sprouts from the earth without warning – like a grass covered Uluru / Ayers Rock . There is an Iron Age hill fort at the very top.

Stone Age man lived in this area around 2,000BC and they worshiped an unknown deity.

Though most scholars agree that the place known originally as Scrobbesbyrig was settled by Saxons in the 7th century.

Then it was in the Kingdom of Mercia (mentioned in Episode One of Myth & Magic). Shrewsbury became the county town of Shropshire around the beginning of the 11th century.

The town is situated near the River Severn about 9 miles from the Welsh border.

It’s claimed that King Arthur came from Shropshire, probably from near here. Academics believe Arthur was British warrior who, following the Roman withdrawal in the fifth century, defeated the invading Anglo-Saxons at the battle of Badon in 493AD. Excavations at the Dark Age capital of Powys, Wroxeter, about four miles east of Shrewsbury, have shown that in the fifth century the city may have been the most sophisticated in the realm. So Viroconium at Wroxeter was probably the “actual” Camelot and his crown jewels may have been hidden in Wenlock Priory, Much Wenlock. An Anglo-Saxon monastery was established here in AD680.

Horned God on the Gundestrup cauldron - 200BC photo credit Kern8

The Horned God on the Gundestrup cauldron – 200BC photo credit Kern8

Old Oswestry HILL FORT in the Welsh Marches (MARCHES means border lands) was built by “People of the Horn” who worshiped the “Horned God”. This was believed to be these peoples “Capital.” In traditional Wicca The Horned God is a dualistic god: bright and dark, night and day, summer and winter: in summer he’s the Oak King and in winter, he’s the Holly King. He has two horns (see above) to symbolize his dual nature. For Wiccans, the Horned God is the personification of the life force energy… (see also ZEE in Myth & Magic Episode One).

The Horned God leads the wild hunt . In this guise is he Herne the Hunter? And in the guise of the OAK KING and the HOLLY KING (there’s the dual face again) is he the mysterious Green Man?

I might return to the Horned God later and I will definitely be covering the green man in another show, as well as Herne the Hunter and the Oak King/Holly King. Look out for future episodes.

Back to Shrewsbury: The town appears in the Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters (pen name of Edith Pargeter). The novels take Shrewsbury Abbey as a settin. Charles Darwin was born in the town in 1809

Eton College gatehouse : Photo Credit @neilmach 2019 ©

Eton College gatehouse : Photo Credit @neilmach 2019 ©

LOCUS IN QUO : EATON

Just five minutes from my home is the grand medieval Norman castle of Windsor. This is where a real-life monarch resides. The Queen rules over her subjects from stone towers that have been lived-in for a thousand years. Around the castle is the Great Park and this contains some of the oldest broad-leaved woodlands in Europe. If you wanted to see a fairy ring, this is where to go. The habitat is private and untouched.

Five minutes from the castle, and over a footbridge, is Eton College founded in 1441.

For many years the College Chapel was a place of pilgrimage because it holds important religious relics, such as a part of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns as well as England’s Apocalypse manuscript. You might remember seeing pictures of Prince William and Prince Harry in their Eton school uniforms when they attended Eton: the schoolboys still wear striped trousers, long tailcoat, black waistcoat, white bow tie, stiff winged collars and a few boys still wear boaters (its an all-boys school by the way) I’ve never seen an Eton schoolboy wearing a top hat, but apparently this was a common sight just a few years ago.

Eton - Tea-towel seen by me in a shop window

Eton – Tea-towel seen by me in a shop window

The reason I mention Eton is that I think of this place as the “real” Hogwarts… isn’t it though? The boys go onto to become prime-ministers, bishops, kings, princes and maharajahs. They wear “costume” they belong to “houses” and they “board.” There’s lots of myth and magic to the place too: A recent study by the University of Reading claimed that the Montem Mound (a bump of earth where the Eaton boys regularly meet and chat) and was also the place of grand school initiation ceremonies for many years before the tradition was axed, is most likely a Saxon burial mound. Could that explain the slightly druidic nature of the initiation ceremony? Is the mound the source of the school’s power? [http://www.reading.ac.uk/news-archive/press-releases/pr728950.html]

The Eton school uniform - a sign seen by me in a shop window

The Eton school uniform – a sign seen by me in a shop window

MYTH AND MAGIC NEWS

RIP TONI MORRISON

Toni Morrison photo credit Zarateman

Toni Morrison photo credit Zarateman

There’s sad news that the Ohio born 88 YEAR OLD author of Song of Solomon (1977) TONI MORRISON has died.

In the late 1960s, TONI became the first black female editor in fiction at Random House in New York City.

She was was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993

Her father grew up in Cartersville, Georgia and, when a teenager, witnessed a lynching.

When Morrison was two years old, her family’s landlord set fire to their house, while they were home, because her parents could not pay the rent.

In 1949, TONI enrolled at the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C., seeking the company of fellow black intellectuals.While at the Howard she encountered racially segregated restaurants and buses for the first time.

She graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in English and went on to earn a Master of Arts from Cornell

Her first published novel: The Bluest Eye – about about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes – has been described as a mix of history, sociology, folklore, and nightmare.

In 1996, television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey selected Song of Solomon for her newly launched Book Club. He horror/drama Beloved (1987) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 and was made into a film with: Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Thandie Newton in 1998.

In 1981 she released “Tar Baby” [I touched on the Tar baby in the Episode One show notes] and in a 1995 interview she explained: “A tar pit was a holy place because tar was used to build things. Tar held together the Pyramids and Moses’ little boat […] for me a tar baby is a black woman who can hold things together.”

MAGIC WORD OF THE WEEK

TRUE NAME

A true name is a name of a thing or being that expresses, or is somehow identical to, its true nature. And there’s a notion that knowledge of a true name allows one to affect another person magically.

For example, in the German fairy-tale of Rumpelstiltskin: the girl victim can only free herself from the supernatural power by learning his true name.

A legend of Saint Olaf King of Norway recounts how a troll built a church for the saint at a fantastic speed and price, but the saint was able to free himself from debt by learning the troll’s name.(By the way, Skaldic poetry of 1014 suggests it was Olaf who pulled down London Bridge)

In the English ballad of “Earl Brand” the Earl (betrayed by Woden) elopes with his beloved and the hero can defeat all his enemies until the heroine pleads with him by name to spare her youngest brother, and that’s when he loses his magical power.

In North English folklore there’s the belief that a boggart (a household spirit of mischief) should never be named. When a boggart is given a true name, it cannot be reasoned with.

You will know that in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins uses a great deal of trickery to keep the dragon, Smaug, from learning his TRUE NAME.

In Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files a wizard or other magical being can gain power over anyone by knowing their TRUE NAME.

To protect yourself from magic, it’s best to stay safe and never reveal your TRUE NAME

Fantasy Writers Definitions: THIS WEEK: AETIOLOGICAL MYTH

Etiology is the study of the “cause” or “origin” of something.

Thus, an etiological myth, or origin myth is a myth that has arisen over time to explain the origins of some phenomena. Are fossils of dinosaurs “dragon bones”? Does a narwhal tusk explain the existence of unicorns? When it thundered, my mother would tell me that “God was pushing around his furniture upstairs.” Is that any different to the notion that thunder is caused by Zeus getting angry or Thor throwing his war hammer?

Linguistically, you have to be a bit careful of etymological reinterpretation for example, hamburgers aren’t “burgers” made from Ham. But are a foodstuff connected with Hamburg.

It’s said that there are Three Types of Myth :

* The aetiological myth – a “back story” that can be disproved by science or academic study

* The historical myth – accounts of an historical event that have been kept alive by what’s often called “folk memory.” But can be disproved by academic research. Most of the King Arthur tales can be put into this heading.

* The psychological myth – a divine force, coming from the outside, that can directly influence a person’s emotions. For example, the goddess, Aphrodite, is sometimes seen as the power of erotic love. Or the “Horned God” can protect a man’s masculinity.

Fabulous Creature of the Week: THIS WEEK SWAN MAIDEN

Swan Maidens on the Thames - photo credit @neilmach 2019 ©

My Swan Maidens on the Thames – picture taken last week – photo credit @neilmach 2019 ©

Wayland the Smith was a “weird and malicious craftsman” according to the famed folklorist, Jessie Weston.

He appears in Völundr’s poem from the Poetic Edda — a collection of Old Norse poems — the poem opens with a description of three swan-maidens … one morning Wayland Smith and his brothers find three women on the shore of the lake, who are spinning flax. Near them were swan garments, for they were Valkyries. Wayland and his brothers marry the women but they migrate (as swans) after nine years. It seems that the Swan Maidens were shapeshifters who could change from human form into swan form.

Therianthropy (shape shifting) has long existed in mythology, and is even depicted in ancient cave drawings

So it seems the SWAN MAIDENS are a folk memory of Migration and Settlement.

Tchaikovsky’s SWAN LAKE tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse – the tale most likely taken from a German folk story collected by Johann Karl August Musäu during the period: 1782 to 1786 (The Stolen Veil) Is Odette a SWAN MAIDEN?

Studies have claimed that the concept of the SWAN MAIDEN probably appeared during the Paleolithic period, in Pacific Asia, before spreading out through Europe and then across the world. The Maidens share characteristics with the “Crane Wife” (Japan) and even the half-woman selkies of Orcadian and Shetlandic legend – also shape-shifters who are trapped by man by having their (feathers) seal-skin taken from them.

The Elven princess Eärwen in The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien was referred to as a “swan maiden”

Alianora, a swan maiden, joins Holger on his adventures in the 1961 fantasy novel “Three Hearts and Three Lions” by Poul Anderson.

In the fantasy role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” (heavily influenced by Anderson’s novel) the Fabulous Creatures are known as Swanmays

Wildflower of the Week THIS WEEK : CHILI PEPPERS

My Chili Pepper - growing in my conservatory August 2019

My Chili Pepper – growing in my conservatory August 2019

My eldest daughter was kind enough to send me a Chili pepper plant for Father’s Day. (Father’s Day in the UK is on the third Sunday in June – it’s interesting that the day corresponds to the Sky Father’s Day i.e. the Midsummer solstice, don’t you think? (Sonora Smart Dodd, the daughter of an American Civil War veteran is responsible for the modern day annual celebration, but perhaps that discussion’s for another time). Back to my Chili – it’s growing well in my sunny conservatory (I have a picture above to prove it) and I’ve already got two nice fruits to eat.

Capsicum fruits have been a part of the human diet since 7,500 BC, and are one of the oldest cultivated crops.

When Christopher Columbus reached the Caribbean and the ship’s doctor encountered the Capsicum, he called the fruits “peppers” because the plants reminded the European of Black pepper (Piper nigrum) and they tasted hot and spicy. They are known as Uchu to the Incas.

The Pre-Columbian people had no monetary system but a handful of chilies (Rantii) would buy most things.

It is said the Columbus took some pepper seeds to the Hieronymite monks at The Royal Monastery of Santa María of Guadalupe in Spain so it’s assumed these were the first Europeans to discover the taste of spicy peppers and to cultivate them outside the “New World.”

In South Asia, it is believed that chili peppers have supernatural abilities, so they hang a few above the entrance to their homes to deter evil

Chili Peppers also guard against the EVIL EYE

Thanks to http://www.chileplanet.eu for the facts

CALL-OUTS

There are NO call-outs this week. But if you want me to mention you and your new fantasy fiction book or creative work (maybe it’s a poem or an artwork with a fantasy theme) why don’t you contact me at:
promoter at rawramp dot com

CRITERIA FOR A CALL-OUT on the MYTH & MAGIC
The Fantasy Writers Show

*You must be a fantasy fiction writer, novelist, poet or artist
*You must have an active twitter account
*You must follow @neilmach on twitter
*You must subscribe to my podcast
*You should have a new book or artwork to talk about

INTERVIEW: If you want to come onto the show to talk about your book or anything else to do with MYTH & MAGIC especially writing or creating for it, please contact me via
TWITTER: @neilmach
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/author.neilmach/

Moondog and the Reed Leopard - click here

Moondog and the Reed Leopard – click here

SOUNDCLIP Credits Episode 2

Walking on leaves : imagiatv
High Chant : adharca
swan maidens : straget
Hunting Horn : Countrychap999
Church Bell: Ravishekhar
Detuned piano chord: RutgerMuller
Thunder: mikaelfernstrom