Otherkin

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The Elven Star, a symbol of otherkin. Source
Otherkin are those who believe that their physical forms do not define or fully encompass their mental states, personality, psychology, or spiritual nature.

First appearing in use on the Internet on April 18, 1990, the word was coined when a member of The Elfinkind Digest, Torin, "got tired of typing elf/dragon/orc/etc.-kin and just used otherkin" as shorthand.[1]

Contents

Otherkin beliefs

Otherkin feel they have a sympathetic connection, affinity, or some other form of relation with another animal or being. Traditionally these have been mythological in nature, beginning with fairy and fey folk, elves, and a few other European mythological archetypes. Later, associations with other creatures became common, including unicorns, gryphons, dragons, angelics, and demons; as well as "non-living" types such as golems and other inorganics. In time, some people also began to describe concepts for beings which were derived from mythological archetypes, though having unique qualities; fully undefinable or one-of-a-kind kin types appeared as well.

With the unusual nature of the basic otherkin premises, there has been skepticism directed at it along with the proposal that many people adopt the otherkin identity to justify social difficulties - the outcast syndrome - or because they have a delusion and are in denial about their biological humanity. The idea that otherkin believe they are physically non-human in a spectacular way - such as actually being biological dragons - is seen as a pervasive misunderstanding by otherkin themselves, who point out the spiritual and psychological focus of the concept. Some community members believe this confusion arises from those unfamiliar with the concept or having only a sketchy or distorted awareness; comparing it to psychiatric cases such as lycanthropy and dissociative identity disorder, and concluding that in order for someone to state that they identify as an elf or gryphon, they must be experiencing a form of hallucination or delusion.

Contrary to stereotypes which have been perpetuated, most who identify as otherkin are fully aware of their biology and human existence. Many otherkin do have particular spiritual and metaphysical beliefs, and as part of those beliefs have discussed elements of a proposed spiritual reality which is not to be confused with the material world. Even if a given person believes, for instance, that on a spiritual plane they may have wings, it is uncommon that they are making a claim about such things that is scientific in nature, or that they exist in what most people might consider the real world.

Despite these points, some dislike the otherkin concept on the grounds that they feel it is abused by individuals who wish to present themselves as special and unique without merit, and that making unverifiable spiritual claims is one way to achieve this. Over time, otherkin has proven to be appealing to a number of people for this reason, and those within the community can be rigorous about screening out 'me too' and 'fluffbunny' adopters of the otherkin moniker. Some otherkin themselves do not consider the Internet Kin community to have much or any validity, saying that it is easy and tempting for a person to claim almost anything within the realm of online anonymity.

Within the loosely defined otherkin community, online or off, there is no consensus as to just what makes a person otherkin. A variety of phenomena have been observed and theorized about which many feel create some sort of affinity between a person and something else. In this light, some see otherkin as related to concepts such as Totemism, which have appeared in human culture since ancient times. There has also been some debate over how potential factors such as clinical lycanthropy may account for a percentage of the experiences otherkin believe they have had. While many, and some conjecture most, otherkin follow a paradigm of spiritual reincarnation in some form to help explain their state of being, not all otherkin share this, and may view themselves in other spiritual, philosophical, or psychological frameworks. Even among those who believe in reincarnation, there are a wide variety of interpretations.

Another viewpoint is that the term otherkin largely denotes a social network and should not, or can not, be used as a description for individual spiritual beliefs or to describe an particular theory or explanation for phenomenon. Many people use the otherkin community to find discussion for a variety of subjects and to compare subjective experiences without considering themselves to be otherkin in a descriptive sense.

History of the community

Although there are spiritual parallels with shamanism and totemism, the modern otherkin subculture appears to trace its roots back to the counterculture of the 1960s. Hippies and flower children, in particular, were heavily influenced by the fantasy works of J.R.R. Tolkien.[2]

One example of this influence was the rock band Tyrannosaurus Rex, whose drummer took the name Steve Peregrin Took, after a hobbit character from The Lord of the Rings. The short-lived magazine Gandalf's Garden, named after another Tolkien character, described the group's singer-songwriter Marc Bolan as "of elfin descent".[3] Bolan was also frequently referred to as "the Bopping Elf".[4]

Another musician of the time who used similar fantasy imagery was Donovan. In the cover notes to his 1966 LP "Sunshine Superman", he wrote "starring mr. plod in action with a daughter of the evil land of mordor."[5] In the cover notes to his 1967 LP "A Gift from a Flower to a Garden", he wrote "We shall fill their days with fairies and elves and pussys and paints, with laughter and song and the gentle influence of Mother Nature."[6]

And in the underground publication International Times, better known as IT, John Peel advised readers to "go to the children's playground in Kensington Gardens and stare at the elves on the trees there".[7]

The 1970s saw a group calling themselves the Elf Queen's Daughters base themselves in the South Bay area of San Francisco, California.[8] The Elf Queen's Daughters were also linked with Seattle, Washington.[9] They published a newsletter and focused on "bringing together female elves in celebration of ritual and magic and understanding of Fae", according to the Faeid website.[10] In actuality the Elf Queen's Daughters were composed of both male and female elves, although they were Goddess oriented and they referred to all their members as sister.[11] One quote from an anonymous founder of the group indicates similar ecologically-based pagan beliefs to those common in the modern otherkin movement — "the image of the Earth being a woman with trees for her hair, rivers for her veins flowing through. That was one of the first to use the image of earth as a physical Goddess."[12]

According to the Silver Elves, the Elf Queen's Daughters had "given up the path to elfin" around 1977. However, in 2004 they wrote that they had recently encountered one of them, Loriel Lyndoreyn.[13] Another former member, Aeona Silversong, became a priestess in the Church of All Worlds in 1993, while continuing to identify as an elf.[14][12] Furthermore, Circle Network News published an article on the seven-pointed elven star citing the group as late as 1986. The Silver Elves suggest that the Elf Queen's Daughters were adept with magic and the use of the Ouija board.[15]

The Silver Elves are one of the more prominent groups in the modern subculture, mainly because of the Magical Elven Love Letters which they have regularly published for over twenty years. In their published compilation of these letters, they write that at the time they began to write them in 1979, "it had been nearly two years since the Elf Queen's Daughters had forsaken the dharma of the magic letters". This would indicate that the letters of the Silver Elves are a direct descendant of the newsletters released by the Elf Queen's Daughters; furthermore, the Silver Elves themselves profess to have been awakened as elves by that group.

Until the Internet became accessible, the letters were sent out by post and further distributed by their recipients, as well as being printed in various newsletters and magazines. Contact details for the Silver Elves were also listed in pagan books, such as Margot Adler's "Drawing Down The Moon" in 1979 and Laurie Cabot's "Power of the Witch" in 1989.[16][17]

In 1990, R'ykandar Korra'ti founded the Elfinkind Digest, an e-mail-based mailing list for "elves and interested observers".[1] At the time, her signature on Usenet was "Elfinkind Unite!" The next year, in 1991, she posted a subdued announcement to several newsgroups publicizing the Digest for the first time.[18] As of August 2013, more than 2700 digests have been posted, and this otherkin mailing list is generally acknowledged as the first one.[2]

While Korra'ti had expected to find only other elves through her mailing list, she in fact discovered people with "a large number of self-identifications."[19] This was one of the first indications that there were other species identifications out there besides those of elves. The term otherkin was itself coined in the Elfinkind Digest #16 as a result of this fact. [1] There was reportedly some talk of renaming the digest The Otherkind Digest, but this didn't happen. This dichotomy also persists to this day in the name of one of the more popular otherkin mailing lists, elven-realities.

On 6 February 1995, the Elven Nation Manifesto was posted to Usenet.[20] This document was interesting in several ways: firstly, although it included a real name and a postal address, as well as a partial email address, it was posted through the anonymous remailer at anon.penet.fi. Secondly, several of the common themes in the modern otherkin movement are visible in it, such as the concept that elves have something significant to contribute to the world, and mention of the "Veil to the Otherworld", or the invisible boundary between the real world and the magical world of faerie.

Since it was posted to eleven newsgroups, it also violated Usenet's crossposting etiquette, which was far more strictly observed at the time than it is today. On Usenet itself, the document was universally panned and considered to be either a troll or an attempt to frame an innocent party. However, enough people contacted the original author of the Elven Nation post in good faith for a mailing list to spin off from it.[21] At least one person considered it to have played a part in their awakening.[22]

The community first hit the headlines in 2001 when the Village Voice published an article on it. Entitled "Elven Like Me", it drew gentle comparisons with the antiglobalisation movement, and suggested that otherkin were antimodernist.[23]

Otherkin in the media

The otherkin phenomenon has experienced less exposure in general media than subculture venues such as furry fandom, although it has been noted with increasing frequency in Neo-Pagan culture due to crossover of shamanistic and spiritual elements that has brought otherkin to the attention of contemporary pagans.

To date, there has been little formal study or publication of culture and theory relating to otherkin. One of the first reference volumes to deal with the otherkin culture specifically, A Field Guide to Otherkin, by Lupa, was released in April 2007. The book contains the results of surveys distributed throughout the otherkin and therianthropy communities by the author and volunteers.

Otherkin and therianthropy

Otherkin bears no small resemblance to therianthropy, and some people consider them the same thing and use the terms interchangeably. Of these, some might feel there is insufficient difference between the concepts to present them separately, while others might be outsiders who are not familiar with the nuances or history of the ideas and communities surrounding them. However, in tradition to date, otherkin has come to be associated with people who experience an affinity with an animal, creature, or being which might ordinarily be considered mythological, or sometimes entirely unique/alien. In contrast, therianthropy is heavily connected to the affinity for existing, real-world animals which have been observed to live today in nature or to have lived in the past. Typically, someone who identifies with fairies, elves, dragons, gryphons, unicorns, or even angelic or demonic beings might be seen as otherkin. While one who identifies with wolves, foxes, bears, cats big and small, or otters might be seen as a therianthrope. This is not a hard line, however, and you may find animal otherkin and draconic therians, among others.

In some cases, a specific person might consider themselves - if they use a formal term or subculture association at all - a member of either community in spite of their species/entity connection. For example, someone who feels they are a part of the general otherkin community socially might use the term therianthropy to describe the mechanics of their own nature.

Otherkin and furry

Furry fans appear to be generally aware of otherkin and therianthropy. The practices and viewpoints of many furry lifestylers have some similarity to these ideas; because of this, some lifestylers associate with one or both terms. Likewise, while furry fandom in general might not have been formed to explore spiritual connections with animals and other creatures, many otherkin and therianthropes find the content and subject matter of furry appealing because of their own interests. In the opposite direction, many furry fans discover the otherkin community through the fandom and begin to take part in it as well.

A noticeable number of people within the otherkin community are also furry fans in some capacity and frequently attend events such as furry conventions in addition to otherkin-specific social events. The philosophy and spirituality tracks at some conventions have hosted otherkin and therian speakers. Panels and discussions on mythology have also attracted otherkin to participate. Otherkin who are artists have used furry conventions to display their work, and those with an interest in make-up and costuming have attended for masquerade contests and dances.

Some otherkin feel that the furry fandom is a more relaxed atmosphere in which to explore ideas of animal and human relations and hybrids, seeing the fandom's lack of core spiritual doctrines as neutral ground. Due to this, some people decide to leave the general otherkin and therian communities in favor of furry. Furry events are sometimes popular as a meeting place with otherkin who are geographically isolated from kin-specific events.

Controversy within furry fandom

Opinions vary as to whether or not their association with the fandom is positive, negative, or irrelevant. Some people find the association of furry with things beyond its base definition of the appreciation of anthropomorphic animals in art and fiction to be inappropriate, ridiculous, or uncomfortable. Because of this, otherkin and therian connections or intermingling with the fandom have taken on a pejorative tint for such people. Much as furry lifestylers are sometimes disliked, otherkin might be made to feel unwelcome or derided by some furry fans.

A large degree of fandom awareness has been spread not only by contact with otherkin within the fandom, but by the adoption of otherkin as another topic with which to portray elements of Furry in humorous or negative light by websites such as Something Awful and Crush! Yiff! Destroy!. Due to such framing, otherkin has for some people become a generic term to identify furries who feel there is something more to their animal avatar than role-playing. Some also point out that a good deal of otherkin awareness has been spread by sardonic humor, which often singles out individuals with the most outrageous behavior or controversial opinions. As a result there appear to be inaccuracies in the knowledge of many furry fans and nonfurs relating to more moderate members of the otherkin community.

In response, others have said in spite of this confusion, there are those who identify as otherkin while putting forth dubious claims and questionable behavior. Because of the effect of visibility from the crowd, it is often the most over-the-top examples that are seen by outsiders, and thus tend to be associated with the entire fandom, not unlike many of the other problems with publicity that furry fandom has endured over time.

Outside otherkin

Otherkin is a label to describe personal beliefs, experiences, and traits that occur in a variety of combinations depending on the individual. As there is no consensus on what qualifies as otherkin, not everyone who shares similar beliefs feels the term is appropriate or useful for themselves.

Some who might otherwise describe themselves as otherkin downplay or conceal the affiliation. Citing outbreaks of controversy, individuals have confessed reluctance to reveal the extent of their beliefs for fear of losing status or being ostracized by a particular community, to avoid employment difficulties, or relieve pressure from friends and family.

Otakukin

Otakukin (a portmanteau of the terms Otaku and Otherkin) is a term used to refer to those who, like otherkin, believe that their physical forms do not define or fully encompass their mental states, personality, psychology, or spiritual nature, but, unlike most otherkin, view such attributes within an anime-, video game- or manga-centric context. It is often interpreted within anime fandom circles as a term for describing those who have human bodies and the souls of anime or manga characters, and is often severely derided as being to the extreme of "otakudom" (a term for the general Western anime fandom).

The term otakukin was coined by Kinjou Ten, a member of the otherkin community, on his website Temple of the Ota-kin.[24] The terms mediakin[25] and fictionkin[26] also refer to otherkin whose identities reference fictional sources, and are used somewhat more commonly today as a generic term with no connection to japanese media.

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Otherkin Timeline by Orion Sandstorrm
  2. Tolkien and radical ecology in the sixties - Mailing list marxism@lists.econ.utah.edu (accessed April 21 2004).
  3. Tyrannosaurus Rex - Gandalf's Garden (July 1968)
  4. "From Darling Of The Underground To Dandy In The Underworld" - A Brief Bolan Biography, The Official Marc Bolan Fan Club (accessed May 8 2005)
  5. Sunshine Superman - Donovan's Non-Poetic Writings (1966)
  6. A Gift from a Flower to a Garden - Donovan's Non-Poetic Writings (1967)
  7. Obituary: John Peel - Daily Telegraph (27 October 2004)
  8. Silver Elves (2001). The Gainesville Letters. In The Magical Elven Love Letters, vol. 1, pp. 9. Silver Elves Publications; no ISBN. See The New Eald of the Silver Elves for revised publication information.
  9. The Druid Miscellany, pp. 2 - A reformed Druid anthology (August 1 1996)
  10. The Elf Queen's Daughters - Are you a faeid? (accessed May 4 2005)
  11. Comment by the Silver Elves.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Aeona Silversong Interview - The Electronic Foghorn (June 15 1993)
  13. magic connects us - magical elven love letters (accessed May 21 2004).
  14. CAW Clergy - CAWeb (accessed February 23 2004).
  15. The Way of the Necromancer - The Elven Tree of Life (March 15 2012).
  16. Adler, Margot, Drawing Down The Moon: Druids, Goddess-worshippers and other pagans in America today, ISBN 0670283428, Viking Press (1979)
  17. Cabot, Laurie, Power of the Witch, ISBN 0385297866, Delacorte Press (1989).
  18. Small mail-based digest - Usenet (September 26 1991).
  19. Elfinkind Digest - Elven Realities (December 23 1996).
  20. The Elven Nation Manifesto.....everyone must read this! - Usenet (February 6 1995).
  21. Excerpts from the Elven Nation mailing list - Elven Realities (accessed May 4 2005).
  22. Willow - Awakenings (October 9 1999).
  23. Elven Like Me - Village Voice (14 February 2001)
  24. Temple of the Ota-kin by Kinjou Ten
  25. Some thoughts on Mediakin by Lupa
  26. Fictionkin

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