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Hologram of a human combined with a picture of a tiger at the MIT Museum

Therianthropy, derived from the Greek therion (Θηριον, meaning "beast,") and anthrōpos (ανθρωπος, meaning "human,") refers to beings that are partly human and partly animal, and in this sense is synonymous with the fandom's term furry. It has often been used to describe mythological creatures and deities, and has recently taken on a specialized meaning. Sometimes shortened to "therian," it is today used to describe members of a spiritually oriented subculture.


One way the term therianthropy has been used, as early as 1901, is in reference to transformation folklore of Asia and Europe.[1] Therianthropy was also used to describe spiritual belief in animal transformation in 1915[2] and one source[3] raises the possibility the term may have been used in the 16th century in criminal trials of suspected werewolves.

Scholarly use of the term

In folklore, mythology and anthropology, therianthropy can be used to describe a character that shares some traits of humans and some of non-human animals.

One familiar form of therianthropy is lycanthropy (from the Greek words lykos ("wolf") and anthropos ("man")), the technical term for the transformation from man to animal form. Although the precise definition of lycanthropy specifically refers only to the change into wolf form (as with a werewolf), the term "lycanthropy" is often used incorrectly to refer to shapeshifting to any non-human animal form.


Ethnologist Ivar Lissner theorized that cave paintings of beings with human and nonhuman animal features were not physical representations of mythical shapeshifters, but were instead attempts to depict shamans in the process of acquiring the mental and spiritual attributes of various beasts.[4] Religious historian Mircea Eliade has observed that beliefs regarding animal identity and transformation into animals are widespread.[5]

Usage in art

Therianthropy can also refer to characters that share man and animal traits at the same time, for example with the animal-headed human forms of gods in Egyptian mythology (such as Ra, Sobek and others) as well as creatures like centaurs and mermaids.

Self-identified therianthropy

Therianthropy, besides its original use as a term to describe situations and creatures that occur in mythology and folklore, is also used for people who identify as nonhuman animals. Therians believe that they have an intrinsic, personal, and integral connection to an animal (or animals). Most believe that mental and emotional shifts can occur as a result; a controversial minority extend this to the physical world.

Therianthropy is sometimes viewed as a spiritual counterpart to furry fandom, which is concerned more with imagination than belief. Some furries view therianthropy as "taking it too far," while some therians view furries as frivolous and ignorant of the "true nature" of animals. However, relations are usually friendly, and therians can often be found at furry conventions and other social events. In fact, there is considerable overlap between the two groups.[6]

The "new-age" notion of "spiritual therianthropy" developed among the Usenet group alt.horror.werewolves (ca. 1992).[7] Some Usenet users began publicly asserting that they were part animal. It turned out that some were only joking, but others were apparently serious about the assertions, which were subject to ongoing discussion.[8] Such people initially called themselves "lycanthropes", but since the word more accurately describes wolf-people, the word "therianthropes" became more popular.

When people believe they change into an animal form (theriomorphosis), or possess supernatural non-human animal traits, the term clinical lycanthropy is often used. This classification is a form of mental illness, though many anthropologists would point out that the belief has extensive religious precedent in shamanic cultures. Likewise, people who call themselves shapechangers as a form of social identification are generally not considered ill by mental health professionals unless their beliefs interfere with the normal functioning of their lives. This can be a controversial issue, as the line between what the Western mind passes off as a strange or alternative belief and what is considered a mental illness is indistinct.


Terms referring to specific varieties of therianthropy are based on Greek words for specific animals combined with anthropos. A nearly endless number of types of therianthropy could thus be referred to by their own individual terms, though most of these would be neologisms. Rare alternate derivations based on Latin are considered nonstandard at best, incorrect at worst, because they both break precedent and mix a Latin prefix with a Greek suffix. Other than lycanthropy, cynanthropy and ailuranthropy are the best known varieties [9] Cynanthropy existed by at least 1901, when the term was applied to myths from China about humans turning into dogs, dogs becoming people, and sexual relations between humans and canines [10]. Ailuranthropy is the same, but with cats.


The most commonly known form of therianthropy is lycanthropy, from the Greek word lykos ("wolf"), the technical term for man-wolf (werewolf) transformations (Rose, 230). Although the precise definition of lycanthropy specifically refers only to werewolves, the term is often used to refer to the process of shapeshifting to any non-human animal form.


The Greeks also spoke of cynanthropy (Kynior, dog). Cynanthropy, sometimes spelled kynanthropy, is applied to shapeshifters who alternate between dog form and human form, or to beings that do not shapeshift but possess combined dog and human anatomical features (Hamel, 76). It is also used for real persons suffering from the delusion that they are dogs (Ashley, 37). The term existed by at least 1901, when it was applied to myths from China about humans turning into dogs, dogs becoming people, and sexual relations between humans and canines (De Groot, 184). After lycanthropy, cynanthropy is the best known term for a specific variety of therianthropy.

Anthropologist David Gordon White called Central Asia the "vortex of cynanthropy" because races of dog-men were habitually placed there by ancient writers. Hindu mythology puts races of "Dog Cookers" to the far north of India, the Chinese placed the "Dog Jung" and other human/canine barbarians to the extreme west, and European legends frequently put the dog men called Cynocephali in unmapped regions to the east. Some of these races were described as humans with dog heads, others as canine shapeshifters (White, 114-15).

The weredog or cynanthrope is also known in Timor. It is described as a human/canine shapeshifter who is also capable of transforming other people into animals against their wills. These transformations are usually into prey animals such as goats, so that the cynanthrope can devour them without discovery of the crime (Rose, 390).


Ailuranthropy refers to human/feline transformations (also known as werecats), or to other beings that combine feline and human characteristics (Greene, 229). Its root word is also used in ailurophobia, the most common term for a phobia of cats. Ailuros is also a Greek name for Bast.


Musoanthropy refers to human/mouse transformations, or to other beings that combine mice and human characteristics. Its root word in Greek is also used in musophobia, or phobia of mice. Musomania describes a fondness or interest in mice. [11]

Regional varieties

Therianthropy or various terms relating to subtypes can refer to any sort of werebeast or to transformation into any animal. In India & the Asian islands the tiger is the most common form, in North Europe the bear (see berserker), in Japan the fox, in Africa the leopard or hyena, sometimes also the lion, in South America the jaguar; but though there is a tendency for the most important carnivorous animal of the area to take the first place in stories and beliefs as to transformation, the less important beasts of prey and even harmless animals like the deer also figure among the were-animals. Another unusual case is the were-shark of Polynesia.

Modern subcultural use of the term

Beliefs and origins

In recent times, a subculture has developed that has adopted the word therianthropy to describe a sense of intense spiritual or psychological identification with a non-human animal. Members of this subculture typically refer to themselves as therianthropes or therians. The word were was also common at one point, in reference to shapeshifting creatures of legend such as werewolves, weretigers and the like, but is less common these days. One reason for the waning use of the term "were" is its growing use in the furry community to mean a more "bestial" style furry. This can be the cause of quite a few more misunderstandings between the therian and furry communities.

The Usenet group alt.horror.werewolves was founded in 1992, and in its earliest days the members discussed fictional shapeshifters. Some posters began to publicly claim that they considered themselves to be partially non-human animal. A number of these people were only joking, but enough people were serious about it that it became a trend. Others who professed the same beliefs soon joined the group. The earliest therians called themselves lycanthropes, but as that word more accurately describes wolf-people, therianthropes was chosen as a more inclusive term.

Those within this subculture who identify with a spiritual understanding of this phenomenon may believe that they have the spirit or soul, in whole or in part, of a non-human animal, and their beliefs often overlap to some extent with aspects of shamanism or totemism. Some also draw inspiration from stories of shapeshifting in Celtic, Norse and Native American myths, among others. The term spiritual therianthropy is often used to differentiate this definition of therianthropy from others. However, shamanism and totemism are not an intrinsic part of therianthropy. Some spiritual therianthropes may express a belief that they were an animal in a past life that was reincarnated as a human.

Those who prefer a psychological explanation may simply describe it as having a non-human animal side to their personality or nature, with some believing that it may be due to some sort of unusual neurophysiology, as is thought to be the case with syndromes like attention deficit disorder and autism. Others believe that their genes are partially non-human, but this explanation is unproven, scientifically implausible, and not favored by many. Most of those who support the explanation of atypical neuropsychology, however, do not appear to regard it as innately dysfunctional.

In either case, the identification with the non-human animal may be partial, as in those who regard themselves as having both human and non-human attributes, or complete, as in those who regard themselves as essentially non-human animals in human bodies. The terms species dysphoria and transspeciesism have occasionally been used to refer to the latter phenomenon, in parallel with the concepts of gender dysphoria and transsexuality.

Most therians identify with a single type of non-human animal, but there are some who identify with more than one — sometimes related animals, as in several different species of feline or canine, for example, but sometimes completely dissimilar animals. Those who identify with all members of one family — for instance, someone who claims to have characteristics of all felines — is called a cladotherianthrope. The species of non-human animal with which a particular therian identifies is sometimes referred to as that person's theriotype or phenotype. The term phenotype was originally more common but has fallen into disuse because it also refers to physical appearance.

The majority of therianthropes identify as feline or canine, often big cats and wolves[12], but there are also reptiles, avians, other mammals, and insects. Some skeptics argue that, because of the preponderance of large carnivores, most therians are only faking and are purposefully choosing impressive animals for ego-based purposes. There are also some individuals who identify with mythical species (e.g. dragons, elves, gryphons, centaurs and so forth), but they are usually categorized in the broader otherkin community rather than as therians.

Therianthropes may describe their nature as manifesting in terms of their cognitive processes, their outlook on life, their inner reactions and instincts, their senses, or through their physical body, though claims of actual physical variations from the norm tend to be regarded with skepticism both within and outside the subculture. The human and non-human aspects of the self may cooperate or conflict, leading to happiness or unhappy dysfunction, and may take much self-discovery to begin to understand or accept. Because this is a personal perception of self, the ways in which a person describes his or her self-identification as a therianthrope vary considerably.

A controversial aspect of therianthropy is the subject of shifting (a shortened word for shapeshifting), which generally refers to any manner by which a therianthrope's nature may become evidenced internally (to themselves) or externally to others. Few people within the subculture doubt that shifts of mental and emotional perception may occur; some therianthropes also claim to experience a physical change to their appearance, an event known as physical shifting (or P-shifting). Many in the therianthrope subculture doubt that physical changes actually occur; the overwhelming majority of those outside of the culture completely deny that any real physical shifting can occur.

Some of the rationally minded, skeptical therianthropes suggest that their therianthropy may be a mental or psychological condition, possibly with a spiritual or religious component. Advocates of this viewpoint can be found on the forums at (see below).


Therian subculture symbol

Therianthropy as a subculture does not have any central dogma or tenets, nor any recognized authority. Those who have been around for a long time are generally listened to, though less out of any perceived spiritual authority than simple acknowledgment of experience.[citation needed] The word greymuzzle is often used tongue-in-cheek to describe these people.

While there is no official offline social organization, there exists a community of therians with many diverse outlooks on the concept, including Christians, Pagans, and atheists. As could be expected, disagreements are frequent, and the many online forums and chat rooms of the community each have their own "atmosphere," ranging from total acceptance to scornful cynicism.[citation needed] There have been intermittent "real-world" gatherings, referred to as howls, but their purpose is primarily social.

Therianthropy and species dysphoria

Therianthropy is closely related to species dysphoria, a condition similar to gender dysphoria in which the person has the body of a human, but the identity of an animal. Many therians admit to having at least mild species dysphoria, and today, many therians believe that species dysphoria is simply another "symptom" of therianthropy.

Therianthropy vs. clinical lycanthropy

Spiritual therianthropy is not automatically the same as clinical lycanthropy, a mental illness in which an individual believes he or she belongs to or can change to another species. While some therianthropes believe they can take on the mindset of their "other side" in what is referred to as a mental shift, they believe that they retain control during these transformations and are no greater danger to themselves or others. The term contherianthropes is sometimes used for those who do not claim to mentally shift but believe they have human and non-human sides which are mixed up into a single unchanging whole.

Therianthropy and furry

Therianthropy should not be confused with the furry fandom, and mistaking them for one another can cause offense to many therians and furries alike, though some intermixing of the groups does occur. Therianthropes tend to be more focused on the sense of an animal within, an animal side to their nature, or spiritual concepts; by contrast, furries are more commonly focused on furry art and/or role-playing related to anthropomorphic non-humans. There is some overlap with those who identify themselves with each group or view the other positively, as well as those in each group who view the other negatively. For instance, some furries view therianthropy as "taking it too far," or may think of therians as being just plain weird. At the same time, many therians dislike furries because of their perceived lack of understanding of therianthropy itself, which can lead to confusion, or because they perceive the fandom as being primarily sexual.

Therians and shamanism

Therianthropy and shamanism have a great deal in common at the basic level. Many therians believe in Shamanic and mystic ideas. Many who practice shamanism hold an interest in therianthropy. Many therianthropes claim to have spirit guides, or totems. However, a therian's totem is not necessarily the same animal as their theriotype, and having or invoking a totem animal alone does not make a person a therian.


Therians are people who believe that they are, in whole or in part, a non-human animal. That is to say that part of their core being is a non-human animal, be it spiritually, mentally, et cetera. Unlike furry lifestylers, therians do not necessarily try to outwardly project their animalistic nature, nor do they choose their animal side. They consider themselves to be an animal within.


There are three categorized types of shifts acknowledged by the therian community:

  • Mental (M-Shift) - A change in psychological state, where a person thinks and behaves more like their theriotype animal.
  • Spiritual (S-Shift) - A change in spiritual state, often broken down by type (astral shifting, auric shifting, etc). The spiritual self, astral body, or aura change to resemble the theriotype animal.
  • Physical (P-Shift) - A change in physical state, physically changing to become more like, or entirely like, their theriotype animal. Controversial, and largely thought to be impossible by the therian community.

Other types of shifts have been categorized from these terms and can be found in the links as listed below.

Shifting, in general, means times when animalistic aspects become, dominant over human aspects of the person's personality or spiritual form. This may include, but not be limited to, feelings of "phantom limbs" or fur, keener senses, desires to bite or hunt, feelings of instincts not usual to humans, etc. This is distinct from invocation of a totem entity, or from any state induced by drugs or guided trances, as it is natural to the individual in question and can generally be easily called upon through simple concentration or will. Occasionally it is involuntary, but generally not to extremes (making it distinct, in the case of m-shifting, from psychological lycanthropy). M-shifting may be minor (animalistic aspects come to the forefront, but only in small ways, and the human persona remains dominant) or major (the therian can no longer speak, may have trouble walking upright, and can no longer behave in a human fashion).


P-shifting is the most controversial. As a general rule, it's more used as a term to discuss fictional transformations rather than literal ones; people claiming to p-shift in any way are usually met with aggressive skepticism and are often accused of being roleplayers. No concrete evidence has been offered of physical shapeshifting.

Some Therian groups view the "physical shift" as NOT being an actual change into an animal, but an intense physiological change, which may include heightened senses, increased strength, etc, depending on the animal in question.

Therian and furry (lifestyle)

Therians differ from the furry lifestyle in that they do not feel a need to costume themselves or pretend to be their animal--they feel they already are their animal, inside, and must cope with this rather than promoting it to the world. Furry lifestylers wish to become and behave like their animal, while therians believe they already are their animal. This is not to say someone cannot be both! There are a number of therians in the furry community (and of course, vice versa). Being therian is not a lifestyle choice, but being furry is--a therian can make that choice as well.

Therians also do not, in any way, choose their animal side. Most believe they are born with it. It may take a lot of introspection and soul-searching for some therians to come to terms with their animal nature. The therian nature is not based on stereotypes (such as a wolf howling at the moon, or a lion's courage), but instead reflects the living animal's behavior more closely.

Therian nature is distinct from aspects of shamanism or working with totem spirits. Therians do not acquire their animal traits from outside of themselves, via invocation of a spirit.

Usually, therians have one animal aspect, or theriotype (formerly referred to as the phenotype), but some have two or more. Generally, these people are referred to as Polyweres [alternate term: Pan-Therian], and can be a source of controversy, as single-aspect therians often cannot relate to how a multiple-animal therian could exist, especially in the context of having an animal soul. Many are therian-otherkin mixes, such as wolf/dragons or cat/vampires. In cases where a therian has two theriotypes (such as wolf and cougar) they do not manifest a hybrid or mixture of traits, but may shift to one or the other at various times--not simultaneously. A therian who manifests a hybrid theriotype (such as a wolf-cat hybrid, for example) is often considered to be more properly otherkin, rather than specifically therian.

See also


  1. De Groot, J.J.M.. 1901. The Religious System of China, volume 4, Brill. pp. 171.
  2. Brinkley, Frank; Kikuchi, Dairoku. 1915. A History of the Japanese People from the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji Era. The Encyclopædia Britannica Co.
  3. Ramsland, Katherine. 2005. The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation. Berkley Hardcover. ISBN: 042520765X.
  4. Steiger, B.. 1999. The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings. Visible Ink. ISBN 1-57859-078-7.
  5. Eliade, Mircea. 1965. Rites and Symbols of Initiation: the mysteries of birth and rebirth. Harper & Row.
  6. "Mixed-venue survey delineates furries, therians, otherkin" - Flayrah article written by GreenReaper, dated 23 Jan 2012.
  7. Bourgault Du Coudray, Chantal. 2006. The Curse of the Werewolf: Fantasy, Horror and the Beast Within. I. B. Tauris. ISBN: 1845111583.
  8. Cohen, D.. 1996. Werewolves. Penguin; New York. pp. 104. ISBN: 0-525-65207-8.
  9. Greene, R.. 2000. The Magic of Shapeshifting. Weiser; York Beach, ME. pp. 229. ISBN: 1-57863-171-8.
  10. De Groot, J.J.M.. 1901. The Religious System of China, volume 4, Brill. pp. 184.
  12. Species survey by the Werelist
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • OED (1933) Vol XI p 288
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica (1886) Vol XX p 367 (C.P.Teile)
  • Cohen, D. (1996) Werewolves. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0525652078
  • De Groot, J.J.M. (1901) The Religious System of China: Volume IV Leiden: Brill.
  • Greene, R. (2000) The Magic of Shapeshifting. York Beach, ME: Weiser. ISBN 1578631718
  • Steiger, B. (1999) The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings. Farmington Hills, MI: Visible Ink. ISBN 1578590787

External links