Robertson—The Beast Within

The Beast Within, Anthrozoomorphic Identity and Alternative Spirituality in the Online Therianthropy Movement

by Venetia Laura Delano Robertson

[Robertson, Venetia Laura Delano. 2013. “The Beast Within: Anthrozoomorphic Identity and Alternative Spirituality in the Online Therianthropy Movement.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 16 (3): 7–30.]

Points

  • Therians (along with Real Vampires and Otherkin) are part of the postmodern project of re-enchanting the West
  • The Internet provides a perfect space for this re-enchantment, as it affords all of the necessary elements of what Christopher Partridge calls popular occulture—”a melting pot of Paganism, Esotericism, Jungian psychology, folk medicine, modern superstitions, and paranormal theories” (8).
  • Also, “the hypermediacy of cyberspace promotes the appropriation of spiritual concepts into“open-source” belief systems, such as Neopaganism, that advocate creativity and individualism” (9).
  • “Therians believe they have non-human (hence super-human) souls, unique metaphysical properties and abilities (animal-human auras, shape-shifting capabilities, memories of past lives), and are immersed in the language of magic; hence, constructing a Therian identity is indicative of new modes of self-sacralization” (11).
  • breaks down the “tenets” of therianthropy: internally based experience; awakenings; and shifting (mental, phantom, and physical).
  • “Though it is not religious in the traditional sense, Therianthropy is an eclectic ontological position system that draws upon myth, magic, and both main- stream and subcultural media to reify a self that is other-than-human” (24).

Abstract

This paper will introduce a little-known online phenomenon: the socio-spiritual Therianthropy movement. Therianthropes are individuals who identify as part human and part non-human animal in a biological, mental, and metaphysical capacity. Therianthropes have, in essence, an anthrozoomorphic identity that draws upon the spiritual and supernatural associations of the animal kingdom. I discuss Therianthropes as animal-human “shape-shifters” to highlight the sacred and liminal identity these individuals have formulated through their engagement with “popular occulture.” Therianthropy, as both a web-based community and an identity, exemplifies the postmodern bent of new spiritual directions in the re-enchanted West. KEYWORDS: Therianthropy, animal, shape-shifting, identity, popular occulture”

Annotation Summary for: Robertson – The Beast Within, Anthrozoomorphic Identity and Alternative Spirituality in the Online Therianthropy Movement

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “INTRODUCTION”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I will explore the development of such new and decidedly unconventional identities within the alternative spiritual zeitgeist of the postmodern West.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Christopher Partridge has investigated two complementary phenomena:the mainstreammedia’s current interest in a miscellany of spiritual, mys-tical, and magical concepts, and the sublimation of these concepts intonew syncretic modes of belief. Partridge calls the ensuing milieu “popularocculture”—a melting pot of Paganism, Esotericism, Jungian psychology,folk medicine, modern superstitions, and paranormal theories.4 ”

Page 2, Highlight (Yellow): Content: ” “popularocculture””

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Operating in this de-traditionalized environment, post- modern spirituality has turned to the self as the ultimate arbiter of truth.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This “epistemological individualism”6 or “self-spirituality”7 indicates that today’s eclectic belief systems are rejecting meta-narratives in favor of per- sonal narratives and meta-empiricism.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Douglas Cowan elaborates, remarking that the hypermediacy of cyberspace promotes the appropriation of spiri- tual concepts into“open-source” belief systems, suchas Neopaganism, that advocate creativity and individualism.11”

Page 3, Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““open-source” belief systems, ”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Therianthropes synthesize myriad themes from works of fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, role-playing games, comics, and miscellaneous magical ideas in popu- lar culture to create an ontology that expresses their animal-human— “anthrozoomorphic”—nature. The Internet plays a vital role in this process by commingling mass culture with “geek culture” and offering subcultural capital such as anime, cult films, and computer or video games to create a zone where occulture can and does flourish.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I concur with Joseph Laycock and Danielle Kirby that while these ontological groups may not constitute a religion in the tradi- tional sense, they provide significant metaphysical, spiritual, and existen- tial frameworks from which supernatural identities are developed.17”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “These communities represent the direction of the re-enchantment of the”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “West as theorized by Partridge, Hume, and McPhillips, utilizing and syn- thesizing popular culture and the occult to reify non-human identities.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Therians believe they have non-human (hence super- human) souls, unique metaphysical properties and abilities (animal- human auras, shape-shifting capabilities, memories of past lives), and are immersed in the language of magic; hence, constructing a Therian iden- tity is indicative of new modes of self-sacralization.”

Page 5, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “ANTHROZOOMORPHIC IDENTITIES IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The glorification of animals, anthropomorphic animals, and therio- morphic beasts in popular culture has impacted the postmodern con- struction of human identity.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “If postmodern society is driven by personal enjoyment and consumer choice as Bauman suggests, it is no wonder that increasing numbers of peopleare adopting unconventional identities and alternative lifestyles.”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “THE MODERN THERIANTHROPY MOVEMENT”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “THE TENETS OF THERIANTHROPY Etiologies: The Origins of Being Animal”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Being “internally based”rather than externally influenced means that having an animal totem,spirit guide or walk-in, or being possessed, are not considered the samecondition as being a Therianthrope.57”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Scribner’s insightful comics are used in this article as representations of the com- munity’s discourse froman emic perspective.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““Awakening” and Finding a Theriotype”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““Awakening.”63 This term, also used in Otherkin, Vampire, and New Age circles, is redolent of Eastern and eso- teric notions of heightened awareness that suggest an (often sudden) ini- tiation into a higher level of reality.64”

Page 12, Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““Awakening.”63”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Certainly, the “lone wolf” or misunderstood beast stereotypes propa- gated in popular culture may resonate with the complexities of spiritual seeking and identity construction in the modern world. It is also easy to understand the appeal of powerful predators over the meeker members of the animal kingdom.”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Shifting: The Metaphysics of Becoming Animal”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “SELF-SACRALIZATION AND THE THERIAN AS A “WALKER BETWEEN WORLDS””

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The “Other” was once understood to be the unknowable yet all-knowing Divine; yet in the self-sacralizing tradition of the New Age, a Higher Self has become the “other.”79 In true postmodern style, Therians construct this sense of sacred self through bricolage, syncretizing a range of spiritual practices with metaphysical ideas featured in movies, video games, and other forms of popular culture that glamorize animals, animal magic, and animal- human shape-shifting.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “CONCLUSIONS”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The Therianthropy movement exemplifies the innovation of spiri- tual individuals in the postmodern age. Therianthropes, in their per- sonal myth-making and unorthodox selfhoods, are dynamic examples of popular occulture and re-enchantment in motion.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Though it is not religious in the traditional sense, Therianthropy is an eclectic ontolog- ical position system that draws upon myth, magic, and both main- stream and subcultural media to reify a self that is other-than-human.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Therianthropy is just one example of the way alternative identities reflect the spiritual individualism of the postmodern West.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Exercises in re-enchantment already mentioned are the Otherkin and the modern Vampire movement, but as Kirby and Laycock have commented, these groups exist on a spectrum that includes communities of indigo chil- dren, “multiple systems,” and “fiction kin,” among other fantastic ontol- ogies.86”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The plethora of source material resulting fromthe symbiotic influence of mainstreammedia and magical, religious, and esoteric beliefs means that new spiritual identities may be developing all the time.”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As for the development of the Therian as a sacred paradigm, perhaps we should heed the words of NewAge author Michele Jamal, who shares an insight more correct than she may realize, “The awakening of the shape-shifter archetype in our present time is a symbolic marker for the emerging spiritual realization that consciousness and situations are malleable and can be shifted. As collectively social structures are transposing fromone formto another, individuals are shift- ing through a myriad of identities, reaching for an integrated, multiface- ted self.”90 Jamal, incidentally, succinctly summarizes the relationship between the occultic milieu, self-reflexive identity projects, and the Ther- ianthropy movement, and in doing so encompasses the cognitive shift currently galvanizing the re-enchantment of the postmodern West.”

Page 20, Underline (Red): Content: “Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1991), 5.”

Page 21, Underline (Red): Content: “Émile Durkheim, [1912] The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Karen E. Fields (New York: The Free Press,

Sherry Turkle, “Looking Toward Cyberspace: Beyond Grounded Sociology,”Contemporary Sociology 28, no. 6 (1999): 647.”

Page 21, Underline (Red): Content: ” Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity, 189–96.”

Page 21, Underline (Red): Content: “Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Piscataway, N.J.: Transaction, 1997), 95.”

Page 24, Underline (Red): Content: “Science Channel, “Ten Ways to Meet a Monster: Werewolf Transformation,” at , accessed 29 June 2012; Animal Planet, “Weird, True and Freaky: Humani- mals,” season 1, episode 4 (2008).”

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