One recurring theme in the otherkin community (less so in the therian community) is that of Homesickness, a longing ache for one’s place-of-origin, for the world or time or culture that was once home. Ketrino refers to this as the Yearning and defines it as “a longing to be home; the place where you come from”, and has some interesting suggestions and thoughts on dealing with it.
Is homesickness the best descriptor of this phenomenon, though? In a CNN article, Professor Klapow says, “You’re not literally just missing your house. You’re missing what’s normal, what is routine, the larger sense of social space, because those are the things that help us survive.” He adds that “it’s normal and adaptive to feel homesick for some period of time. It’s just your emotions and mind telling you you’re out of your element.” But this view of homesickness (among others) assumes a temporary situation: being away from family at summer camp, or going to college in another state – much shorter-term than a whole lifetime in another world. All the suggested coping mechanisms and approaches for homesickness are geared towards adjustment and the knowledge that the situation is temporary, that “home” can be visited and contacted.
A different idea is that of third-culture kids (also called cross-culture kids or global nomads – the latter term coined because children raised in multiple cultures do eventually become adults). Kay Eakin described a “third-culture kid” as “someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than [their] own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture”. There are some fascinating statistics on the third-culture kid phenomenon that might be of interest to otherkin experiencing homesickness – I find the parallels intriguing. In this situation, the person is raised by parents of one culture, in the setting of another culture – possibly living in several different countries over the course of childhood and adolescence. This widens their exposure while also making it difficult for the third-culture person to identify with any one culture, sometimes leaving them uncertain of their identity and feeling like they never quite belong.
What I think particularly applies to otherkin who feel Home-sick, however, are the patterns and impact of culture shock. Dr. Lalervo Oberg defines culture shock as “an occupational disease of many people who have been suddenly transplanted abroad”. TeensHealth from Nemours describes it as “the confusing and nervous feelings a person may have after leaving a familiar culture to live in a new and different culture”.
Oberg describes a behavior set that people experiencing culture shock might fall into: “You become aggressive, you band together with your fellow countrymen and criticize the host country, its ways and its people. This criticism is not an objective appraisal but a derogatory one. Instead of trying to account for conditions as they are through an honest analysis of the actual conditions and the historical circumstances which have created them, you talk as if the difficulties you experience are more or less created by the people of the host country for your special discomfort.” The person experiencing culture shock may idealize their culture of origin, forgetting about or minimizing the negative aspects of it, and demonize or degrade the unfamiliar culture they’re in.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? Misanthropism runs rampant in much of the otherkin community, and people often idealize “Home”. I’m reminded of a joking description a friend gave of some elven otherkin he’s interacted with: “I’m in a city, I hate the noise and concrete, I miss Home, our world was perfect. I’m in the woods camping, I hate the bugs and dirt, I miss Home, our world was perfect.” Could this attitude be, in part, due to a kind of culture shock? It occurs to me that the misanthromorphism prevalent among many otherkin may also be a sort of ethnocentrism: “This world and culture is inferior to my world and culture. Their ways of doing things are inferior to my culture’s way of doing things. These people are less developed, less intelligent, less enlightened, less desirable, and/or more malicious than my people.”
I have never experienced the otherkin variety of Home-sickness; I feel like this world is my native location. But I am intimately familiar with homesickness in general. When I was thirteen, my family moved from Texas to Massachusetts, and four years later from Massachusetts to Ohio. I identified very strongly as a Texan and I identified Texas as my home, and I felt out of place and adrift in Massachusetts. The homesickness for all that was familiar and beloved (history, culture, land, climate, social norms, communication styles) was acute and painful at first, fading to a dull ache over time. Adapting to the climate and culture of New England took longer. Part of the problem was a sort of culture shock which, while milder than that of someone who moves internationally, was still distinct and disorienting.
Over the years, through time and distance, personal growth, and the evolution of my spirituality and identity, I realized that Texas could no longer be my home. It was, once; it’s my childhood home and I will always bear the imprint of that cultural upbringing. But I would not feel at home or at all comfortable living there again; the conservative social and political climate does not accept who I am now and treats the communities I’m involved poorly. The realization of this, partway through college while living in northeast Ohio, hit hard; it meant releasing part of a long-held identity and I mourned that loss (and still sometimes do), yet I still had that out-of-place feeling of someone who was not “home”, who was in an alien place that they’d only mostly adapted to.
But you can find home in unexpected places. Sometimes you find a place that’s close enough, or sings to different aspects of you, or echo enough of your once-home to fit. I found that in Colorado’s Front Range. The climate (and endless skies undiluted by humidity and unobscured by dense forests – the dusty cloudscapes – the dry heat), flora, and fauna had enough similarities, as did some of the aesthetics and amenities (certain stores and restaurants, certain brands of food, certain architecture). It spoke to me on another level, too: the border spaces between mountain cliffs and rolling prairie felt like home to the hawk in me, its natural habitat (rough-legged hawk nests in cliffs and hunts the open land). At the same time, it didn’t have the social and political aspects that Texas did; I felt welcome, culturally, with my lifestyle and identity and spirituality.
I learned a lot about dealing with homesickness in those years. First, that it was important to learn the social language of the region I’d moved to, in order to communicate effectively with other people. What I’d originally perceived as rudeness was actually just a different mode of communication – more direct, more blunt, but not intended as impolite. Second, that it was vital to adapt to the climate and setting. I eventually developed a tolerance to cold, but heavy coats were and are often necessary to deal with the weather; if I’d just attempted to continue living like I did in warmer Texas, short-sleeved shirts and shorts, I’d be miserable and probably get sick. Some adaptations and concessions to your environment are necessary. Other parts were difficult or nigh-impossible to adapt to (the lack of sunlight, for example) but even there, some workarounds could be found (sun lamps, vitamin D supplements, etc) to make it more bearable. Eventually I found things to love about my new environment, and things to appreciate about the culture, whereas initially I’d hated everything about it and derided the people who lived there as well. This is a classic pattern of culture shock and adjustment to a new culture. It’s easier to deal with (and you can even learn to enjoy your new home) if you learn about the unfamiliar culture, choose to adapt to the new environment, and learn to appreciate the differences.
Inevitably, the environment you’re in changes you. You become accustomed to certain aspects, certain colors and flavors and figures of speech, particular amenities and patterns of life. You adapt, and you learn, and you shift into something a bit better suited to that environment. Even if you fight it – the rigid clinging to your old life and old patterns turns into a charicature of things half-remembered, into something like yet stiffly unlike the way you were before you moved. And if you do go back home… it’s not quite the same anymore, you’re half a step out of sync and it’s not quite how you remembered it. It’s common to experience a reverse culture shock, and it’s characterized in part by an idealized view of home and an expectation of complete familiarity, that nothing will have changed while you’ve been away. This might be something to read up on if you’re one of those otherkin who expects to go Home eventually, perhaps after this life is done; idealizing your home may do you more harm than good (impeding your ability to adapt to this world and culture and environment, as well as making the reverse culture shock worse).
In reading up on homesickness and related conditions, I stumbled across a complex German word that might better fit the otherkin experience of Home-sickness: sehnsucht. It is like homesickness, yet not at the same time; there’s no adequate single-word translation (“longing”, “yearning”, “craving”, “intensely missing” are listed by a few sources as close but not quite right). Federal Councillor Christoph Blocher says in a speech about a sehnsucht-focused art display that it has to do with a “tender longing [that] goes hand in hand with the painful knowledge that the thing longed for will never quite be attained.” C.S. Lewis also described it as an “inconsolable longing” in the heart for “we know not what”; he called it “the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing” even in the midst of joy, often inspired by beauty. C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia chronicles, wrote a great deal about it, but perhaps one of the more relevant and poignant passages is from the point of view of his character Psyche in Till We Have Faces: “It almost hurt me . . . like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home . . . to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. The longing for home.”
Which of these concepts – homesickness, global nomads, culture shock, and sehnsucht – best apply to your experiences? What works best for you in trying to deal with your Home-sickness, if that’s something that you have struggled with? Have you found a place here and now that feels like home?
Works Cited and Further Reading:
- How to Deal with the Yearning – Aka, Coping with Homesickness, by Ketrino
- Going Home, on Otherkin.Net
- Overcoming Homesickness, at the University of Wisconsin EuClaire, written for college students who are away from home.
- Homesickness isn’t really about ‘home’, at CNN.
- What is a Third-Culture Kid?, on TCKID
- When Sehnsucht (desire) leads you up the garden path.
- Joy and Sehnsucht, focusing on C.S. Lewis’ writings on sehnsucht and deep experiences with the concept. Very Christian-centric article, but there are a lot of good, relevant passages in this article nonetheless.
- Culture Shock and The Problem Of Adjustment To New Cultural Environments, by Dr. Lalervo Oberg. This entire article is worth reading (even if some of it seems a little dated), and applies to quite a few past-life-focused otherkin I’ve spoken with.
- Study Abroad Handbook: Reverse Culture Shock
- Can You Survive Reverse Culture Shock?