Robertson—The Law of the Jungle

The Law of the Jungle: Self and Community in the Online Therianthropy Movement

by Venetia Laura Delano Robertson

[Robertson, Venetia Laura Delano. 2012. “The Law of the Jungle: Self and Community in the Online Therianthropy Movement.” Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 14 (2).]


  • Therianthropy exists as part of a larger occultic miliieu – which “encompasses superstition, folklore, the New Age, popular culture, conspiracy theories, and Jungian theory, to name only a few ingredients in this spiritual melting pot” (259).
  • Describes in detail the beginnings of AHWW
  • Includes a discussion of grilling—“the process of interrogating and challenging new members to ensure that they sub- scribe to the accepted view of Therianthropy and will therefore be serious contributors to the community” (269).
  • Frames Therianthropy as liminal in nature
  • Doesn’t seem to think an anthropology of Therians would be possible


The Therianthropy community is comprised of individuals who profess an other-than-human identity, in particular an animal identity. Existing almost solely online, this socio-spiritual identity group experiences tensions between the individual and personal gnosis, and the community and communal consensus, when it comes to evincing the epistemologies, that is, knowledges and ways of knowing concerning Therianthropy. By examining how themes of authority, belonging, and both group and self-acceptance are played out in the discourse and activity of this movement, implicit modes of initiation and rites of passage can be envisaged. These modes are vital for the success of this movement, as they continuously solidify a sense of group and individual identity through the clear designation of an in- and out- group. Yet, the Therianthrope is held up as a liminal figure, an other than human being who resides in a sacred, interstitial state. This is the essence of what is thought to separate Therianthropes from other humans, and what makes this identity group a challenge to traditional conceptions of initiation and rites of passage. Keywords: animal-human; identity; online community; other-than-human; Therianthropy.”

Annotation Summary for: Robertson – The Law of the Jungle

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The Law of the Jungle: Self and Community in the Online Therianthropy Movement Venetia Laura Delano Robertson1”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This article approaches the theme of initiation and rites of passage by investigating how these boundary-making and identity-constructing measures are employed and enforced by members of the online The- rianthropy movement, a Web-based community for people who describe themselves as “Therianthropes.””

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “scenarios, in which power and knowledge are formulated through the virtual medium of computer-mediated communica- tion, comprise the external factors that construct Therian identity and a sense of initiation in this purportedly non-initiatory system. They will be explored in this paper by looking at the themes of epistemology, authority, and belonging in the discourse of educa- tional Therianthropy websites and the active regulation of commu- nity forums.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Although there have been manyefforts to define what Therianthropy is from a pedagogical stand-point, it is commonly insisted that Therianthropy is “an integral and personal experience,”6 a statement that advocates epistemolog-ical individualism”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “internal rite of passage will be looked at through the experience of “Awaken- ing” and self-defining, and it will be argued that these experiences, which embrace liminality as an expressive mode and not a phase, indicate a need to rethink the traditional understanding of rites of passage in the construction of the spiritual self.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Positioning Therianthropy: The Occultic Milieu and Open Source Traditions”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Therianthropy and groups of its kind can be seen to exist in an “occultic milieu” which, as Christopher Partridge notes, encompasses superstition, folklore, the New Age, popular culture, conspiracy theories, and Jungian theory, to name only a few ingredi- ents in this spiritual melting pot.11”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the anonymity of cyberspace lends itself to concerns of authenticity and accountability, yet also offers the ben- efits of safety, privacy, and a creative space for identity play, which can be essential factors in engaging in magical practice and spiritual exploration.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Léon van Gulik has astutely argued that occultic systems, whether traditional or eclectic, are unable to avoid tensions between individual/experience, and community/collectivity when it comes to sanctioning meaning.17”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the Therianthropy movement is one of the many socio-spiritual groups that regard themselves as non-initiatory, anti- nomian, and non-dogmatic, eschewing the formality, rituals, and ranks native to certain strands of Pagan or esoteric religion.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “By looking at both external and internal ways that Therians sanction meaning, we see how rites of initiation can be inferred. Here, initiation is used to mean a sense of belonging, the imparting and strengthening of a communal and personal identity, and a process of othering, whereby an insider/outsider boundary is erected. Classic definitions of initiation rites, particularly Victor Turner’s notion of the liminal, will be explored to demonstrate how Therianthropy as an online, other-than-human identity movement challenges and expands these interpretations.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The Online Therianthropy Movement: The Formative Period”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “By 1995, AHWW had developed a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document that was circulated on the board regularly. It out- lined the position of Therianthropy thusly:”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “All humans are animals, but very few these days can look into them- selves and find the animal remnants. We who believe in Spiritual The- rianthropy feel those animal remnants very strongly. We exist in the human world, but long to seek connections with the animal one. It contacts us through totems, through dreams, through our very souls. We cannot completely leave the human world, nor completely enter the animal one. We are in-between, half animal and half human in psyche…mental, or spiritual, shapechangers. We seek to balance the two halves of our nature, so that someday we can teach the rest of humanity how to balance its drive to conquer with the reality that it needs nature to survive.27”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The FAQ became not unlike a canonical text, detailing the brief his-tory of the Therianthropy movement as it existed on AHWW, andproviding a lexicon of terms and concepts that had been developed there.”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “From the outset, Therians have been engaged in a process of “norming,” aiming to create epistemic cohesion by solidifying a setof knowledges pertaining to Therianthropy.”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Both actively and discursively, influ-ential members of the community police these boundaries and a sense of initiation into this elite identity group is hence implicated. ”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The Law of the Jungle: Epistemology, Authority, and Belonging in the Current Therianthropy Movement”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the collective image of the movement, as perceived by those withinand outside of it, is constructed by the assertions of a few, repeated by many. The conformity of opinion amongst Therians may, therefore, be illusory, or alternately, this illusion may actually reinforce confor-mity as per the psychological effects of desirability bias.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “educational websites and forums contribute both social and epistemic solidarity to the Therianthropy movement.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Educational Websites and the Discursive Sanctioning of Meaning”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “influenced heavily by occultic sources, etiological theories about The-rianthropy traverse concepts related to past lives, astral planes, the existence of mythical races, shamanism, and Paganism. ”

Page 13, Underline (Magenta): Content: ““unverified personal gnosis,”39”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Community Forums and the Active Making of Boundaries”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Grilling is the process of interrogating and challenging new members to ensure that they sub- scribe to the accepted view of Therianthropy and will therefore be serious contributors to the community.”

Page 14, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “Grilling”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This community has been specifically started because of the problems with “posers” in other, more opened communities. This community will not cater to those who do not have serious, realistic takes on Therian-thropy, and should any of those users choose to post here, they will have to abide by these restraints, or they will be grilled until well done, and/or removed.40 ”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “even on many-to-many communi-cation platforms like forums, which seemingly embody a democraticor horizontal power dynamic, authority can be centralized and epis-temology and identity circumscribed. ”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Awakening and Introspection: Turning Inwards”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The term “awakening,” used by Therians to describe their realiza- tion of their animal-human identity, has obvious esoteric connota-”

Page 16, Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““awakening,””

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “tions and is not unique to this group.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” There are also useful comparisons to be made with the Pagan notion of “coming home”50 in that this moment is not one of conversion, but one of acknowledging what was always there; The-rians, like witches and other magical personae, are born, not made. ”

Page 17, Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““coming home”50”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In a classic reading of van Gennep’s ini- tiation methodology, this experience may signify the final stage of the ritual, wherein the individual emerges with a new identity. But, Turner’s reappraisal of the liminal period as “not just a phase in a rite, but a creative ‘space,’”55 begs a reconsideration of where and when true transition occurs. For many Therians, acknowledging and inte- grating an animal-human persona is an ongoing experience.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Liminality: The Therian as Betwixt and Between”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Turner’s explanation of liminal personae, those who dwell on the threshold, is a definition that befits many awak-ened Therians, particularly those who see their identity as one that constantly evolves or exists, paradoxically, in a constant state of transition. This experiential quality of Therian subjectivity, quite dif-ferent from typical notions of static and unified identity native to the Western intellectual tradition, has been a seminal factor in uniting individuals within the community. ”

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Some Conclusions”

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Like many forms of Paganism today, Therianthropy rep-resents a loosely affiliated identity-based group, and though there isan overarching mythology (theriotypes, awakening, shifts and the like), it is open source and optional. In accordance with this eclec-ticism, there is an emphasis on epistemological individualism and unverified personal gnosis. ”

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Rites of passage in Therianthropy are not really ceremonial or performative, and least of all are they physical; rather, they are implicit. Hence, this paper has looked to the underlying purpose”

Page 22, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “and meaning of these rites, namely, the community focus on norm- ing and performing, and the personal focus on self-reification.”

Page 22, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “While a deep anthropological study of this group would involve observing or participating in discussion forums, and conducting interviews with the participants, these modes of research are not always convenient nor ethically viable. Neither, for that matter, is it straightforward in this field of scholarship to rely fully upon any Internet-based primary sources, which are ephem- eral, often unreliable, and whose authorship and copyright is con- testable, if even perceptible. As an outsider, this researcher is likely to be missing some of the nuances of the emic discourse; implicit as the structures of this group are.”

Page 23, Underline (Red): Content: “Cowan, Douglas E. Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Page 23, Underline (Red): Content: “Kirby, Danielle. Fantasy and Belief: Exploring the Relationship between Fiction, Media andAlternative Religion. Durham: Acumen Publishing, 2013.”

Page 24, Underline (Red): Content: “Laycock, Joseph. Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2009. ——. “‘We Are Spirits of Another Sort’: Ontological Rebellion and Religious Dimen- sions of the Otherkin Community,” Nova Religio 15, no. 3 (2012): 65–90.”

Page 25, Underline (Red): Content: “Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2008.”

Page 25, Underline (Red): Content: “Van Gennep, Arnold. The Rites of Passage. London: Routledge, 2004 (1909).”

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