I’ve been thinking a lot about myths and symbols lately.
There is a long-lasting, prevalent trend in the therianthropy community of making a significant distinction on the difference between one’s animal identity and one’s totem. The basic idea is that one should understand their kintype as it actually is: shy skittish foxes rather than archetypal sly tricksters, family-oriented lupines rather than stereotypical vicious lone wolves, and so on. Many argue that as animal folk, we are akin to the real, physical animal, not an archetypal version of that animal.
I feel that there is a certain value in that approach. It’s important to research the species you identify as: watch it move, learn of its behavior and habitat. Observe it in the wild or at a zoo. Volunteer with it at a rescue or wildlife rehabilitation center. Learn about what you feel you are; it may help you understand yourself better.
Yet I think this mindset has its drawbacks as well. It discourages exploration of the animal as archetype; it treats a more symbolic examination of one’s identity as invalid. There’s power in archetype, in symbol, in personal myth. It’s possible that learning about cultural interpretations of an animal can lead to a deeper understanding of that species. Obviously you shouldn’t rely on folklore, myth, and archetype as your only or even primary source of information on an animal, but it can enrich your comprehension.
One example of someone who has explored his animality both in its factual, literal form and in its mythic, spiritual form is Akhila, who maintains Thébaïde. He states clearly that for him, “being an animal is more than metaphorical” – and yet he also says that “There is Clouded Leopard with a capital C, and Raven from myths and tales. Sometimes we overlap, sometimes we don’t; sometimes I’m nothing like in the animal folklore. . . But other times like now I can talk about what clouded leopard and raven are and it is both experience and archetype.” He writes about being a liminal animal, and he writes about animal people folklore, and adding to the folklore of clouded leopard through his own experience. And it all seems to add to his understanding of himself and of clouded leopard and of raven.
Here, then, is my challenge to you: Explore your animality as myth and archetype. Read up on folklore, heraldic symbolism, and spiritual beliefs about that species. Think on what the animal means to you, symbolically. Try connecting with the totemic or spiritual component of the species if your beliefs and practices allow for that. If there isn’t any available folklore on your animal, write some true and meaningful lore of your own. How does the archetype compare to the flesh-and-blood creature?
Then write about what you experience and learn. Link to a page or blog post, or share in the comments. If you use Dreamwidth, consider joining Animal Quills and post your thoughts there. On LiveJournal, try Therian Thoughts or Animal Scribes. I’ll be doing this exercise as well. I’ve never seriously explored rough-legged hawk, or hawk in general, from a mythic perspective.
For the non-therian otherkin, I’m curious about how you approach your otherness. Methodically, with research into lore and others’ UPG? More ecstatically, through contact with spirits or other planes? By exploring memories? Observing your own feelings and behavior? Do you already work with your otherness through myth and archetype? How can you approach it from a different angle than you usually do?