When I was first introduced to the Otherkin community a few years ago, I admit that I was skeptical. I myself hold some extraordinary beliefs, so I try to be accepting of the diverse beliefs of others. However, there are some traditions that push the limits even for me. At the time, the notion of Otherkin seemed a little too far-fetched to accept without an entire salt lick, never mind a single grain.
Otherkin, as I was informed, are individuals who believe that they are somehow "other" than human. While they walk around in human bodies, that is not the nature of their souls. Some Otherkin believe in a genealogical difference that separates them from ordinary people while the vast majority take a reincarnational stance that hinges upon the different lives - and bodies - they have held in the past.
Otherkin are not to be confused with extraterrestrials. There are certain portions of the New Age movement which accept that "greys" and "Nordic type" aliens have visited Earth in the past and continue to visit in the present. Within this ufological worldview, many people accept that these aliens have either helped to genetically engineer humanity or have interbred with humans outright. These beliefs are typically explained within a scientific, or a pseudo-scientific paradigm.
Otherkin, on the other hand, approach the explanation of their nature from a distinctly magickal perspective. Rather than identifying with aliens and extraterrestrials, Otherkin identify themselves with creatures of magick and myth. As inherently magickal beings, the vast majority of Otherkin are also Pagan, as this religion, with its acceptance of magick, best accommodates their worldview.
Races and Diversity
The word "Otherkin" is really a blanket term that encompasses a vastly diverse collection of individuals. To even call the Otherkin a community sometimes seems a bit of a stretch, because frequently those who identify themselves as Otherkin have very little in common with one another beyond their inherent otherness. Among the various types of 'kin I have met and interacted with, there have been elves and faeries, dragons, dryads, cat-kin, wolf-kin, and some 'kin that have defied definition entirely.
Each different type of 'kin typically has their own subculture and often their own worldview. Frequently, there are many sub-groups within a general type, such as the elves, which include Listari and Elenari, to name but a few. Some Otherkin remember entire histories of their previous races. Others just feel their difference like a nagging itch on their soul.
Limits of Language
Almost across the board, the 'kin will acknowledge that the words they use to describe themselves are limited and often misleading. To say that one is a dragon is really to acknowledge that the qualities attributed to a mythological dragon come closest to embodying how that 'kin feels inside, while many differences remain. To put it another way, an Otherkin dragon has about as much in common with Tolkien's Smaug as a psi-vamp has with Lestat.
For those trying to understand why someone who obviously has two legs, two arms, and no wings or tail would describe themselves as a dragon, try approaching the concept in terms of an archetype or totem animal. Many Pagans have a particular god or goddess that they relate to strongly, and part of that relation usually includes having traits in common with those traditionally attributed to the deity. Totems, likewise, serve to express aspects those who follow them embody also in themselves. For the Otherkin, the archetype is just more immediate and personal and serves as an integral expression of their soul.
Despite how it may at first sound, an Otherkin dragon does not believe that they are a real, literal dragon in this body now. However, like a transgendered person, they feel somewhat cheated by their current form. There is an overwhelming sense that at one time he or she did indeed possess this longed-for form, and that body-memory is so real that it makes them uncomfortable in their current form.
Reality vs. Delusion
If all of this sounds like utter madness, don't worry. Even the Otherkin admit that their beliefs are far-fetched. A lot about this community would have been really hard for me to swallow had it not been for the 'kins' own acute awareness of how crazy they can sound, especially to outsiders. Almost all statements made by the Otherkin are prefaced with disclaimers like "I know this is going to sound strange, but ..." or, "I have no way of proving this, but I believe I'm a ..."
Most Otherkin also submit their beliefs and experiences to a rigorous amount of personal skepticism. They are very aware that there is a fine line between a belief in the fantastic and succumbing to fantasy. Articles on various Otherkin sites, as well as numerous presentations at Otherkin gathers address this issue, and most community leaders offer tips to help inexperienced 'kin separate reality from delusion.
Like all groups, they have their share of clearly delusional people, wannabees, and hangers-on, but over the years I have met a number of very articulate, intelligent, and credible people who also just happen to be Otherkin. These have included a youth counselor who was also an elf, an angel who worked on the New York police force, and a dragon who worked as a system administrator. The angel, appropriately enough, worked valiantly throughout September 11 and its aftermath.
Not Quite Human
Being Otherkin is not easy. Nor is it really a choice. While an Otherkin's nature is often accompanied with a predilection for magick and spirituality, "Otherkin" is neither a religion nor a spiritual path. It is simply a state of being.
Being Otherkin means never quite feeling comfortable in your own skin and never quite feeling like you belong in the reality around you. Imagine being born into a foreign world yet remembering all the rules of behavior that you had learned in your previous existence. Furthermore, imagine knowing at the core of your very soul that you were once something very different from what you are now, but being unable to really prove this to others - or even to yourself. That is the essence of Otherkin.
The legitimate Otherkin that I have met did not have an easy childhood or young adulthood. What they were was always there, but they did not always have an adequate explanation for it or even a word they could put to it. Many strove to repress their sense of something different about themselves and their reality, and quite a few reluctantly accepted their natures only after all other possibilities had been exhausted.
Even once acceptance has been achieved, their lives are not easy, especially because an awareness of magick and energy is a fundamental part of their being. In today's distinctly non-spiritual culture, this can make it very difficult to blend, let alone relate with "normal" people.
Many 'kin seek solace in Paganism, but that hardly means they are any better accepted or even understood. While many Pagans deal with magickal beings in their workings, this is typically in a spiritual context alone. I know a lot of Pagans who leave offerings in the garden for the faerie-spirits, but how many can accept that a faerie might be born in a human body and is in fact riding the subway in the seat next to them?
Seeing is Believing
I'll be honest. When I first started working with this fringe aspect of the Pagan community, I didn't really believe in Otherkin. I accepted their beliefs as they were presented to me, and I accepted that these beliefs were sincerely held by the people who explained them. I was able to rationalize the whole schema to myself in terms of archetypes and totems, and this is how I approached the whole subculture. But even though I reluctantly accepted that these people believed these things, I would never have admitted to another Pagan that I was traveling six hours to attend a weekend of lectures and seminars where most if not all of the speakers believed themselves to be elves, dragons, or fey.
Then I attended the event. What I felt and saw there, more than anything else, made a believer out of me.
Once you have seen them, and have known what you are looking at, there is no arguing that Otherkin wear their otherness outside as well as within. While a number of Otherkin sport fashions influenced by various subcultures, from punk to Goth to SCAdian, this "other" feel has nothing to do with their chosen style of clothes. If you lined the Otherkin up side by side with a group of mundanes, and everyone was wearing Abercrombie & Fitch, you would still be able to spot the 'kin.
Aside from the ineffable sense of otherness that always clings to them - and I can attest that this goes down to the level of their very energy - most Otherkin have distinctive physical quirks that present the most eloquent argument for their not-quite-human nature.
The elves might not look like Legolas, but in general they are all tall individuals, with thin, long limbs. They're frequently blond and have distinctive aquiline features. Some even have subtle yet noticeable points to their ears. Cat-kin exude feline sensuality and grace, and faeries are small, fine-boned people, with delicate features that can only be described as fey. After a short time among the Otherkin at the convention, I could pretty much identify the main types by sight, because their characteristics are that marked, even across the boundaries of gender, ethnicity and race.
It's very easy to play it safe like I did and respect the 'kin's right to believe while quietly assuring yourself that those beliefs are utter poppycock. It's even easy to accept that someone who just so happens to strongly resemble an elf from myth is very likely, once he gets into magick and mysticism, to adopt an elven archetype. Yet it's a little unnerving to consider that there really might be more to the 'kin than all that. At this point, I personally have to acknowledge that there are things about them that I cannot explain, and there are certainly things I have both seen and experienced which I cannot rationalize away.
If you're still finding all these notions of humans running around with non-human souls a bit hard to fathom, consider this: if you believe in a soul, you probably believe that the soul is immortal. However, if you just take a few moments to look around this world, you know that cities and cultures and even races of beings are not. In time, all physical things fade and die. Even this world, as long-lived as it may be when viewed from our scope of things, is finite and it will ultimately become a burnt-out cinder, consumed by the sun.
So where do all the souls go when there are no bodies to incarnate within? What will become of those spirits born into humanity when humanity is a distant dream?
Given that the soul is immortal, that time is infinite, and worlds are not, it only follows that each of us has been many different things. In a sense, perhaps we are all Otherkin, as we have undoubtedly lived as something else before, however remote this might be in our memory. The only thing that distinguishes them from us is the immediacy of the recollection. The foreign past still clings palpably to them, and they recall a form not quite as prosaic as the mortal flesh we all now wear.
There are so many things in this vast Universe that cannot be known, who is to say that somewhere, in some half-remembered reality, beings like dragons didn't own the skies? And what a wonder if they walk among us now, remembering an existence many people cannot even conceive.
For more information on the Otherkin, please refer to the following sites. Tell them Michelle sent you!
And if you are honestly interested in an open-minded (and paradigm-altering!) learning experience among the 'kin, consider attending Kinvention North. Details on this yearly gathering can be found at the following url: http://kinvention.otherkin.net/