Why an elf?
An examination of the tendencies of Otherkin to associate themselves with mythological beings

"Otherkin", simplistically defined, is a person who is in some way other than human. Some have memories of being something "other" in a past life; some are conscious of "ghost" body parts, such as wings or horns, that humans don't have; some are genetic anomalies; and some just feel like general misfits in human society. I have yet to meet an Otherkin who is not currently human (or mostly human), but they all have a certain "otherness" quality about them.

I first encountered the concept of Otherkin during a websearch for elves. Why was I searching for elves? At the time I had been doing a little dabbling in roleplaying games and fantasy literature, but the underlying reason was that I had a scrawny young boy with pointed ears running around in my head. What was he, I wanted to know, this child who was almost but not quite human? "Pointed ears?" said my friends. "Well, he's an elf, of course."

I joined an Otherkin mailing list and pretty soon I was meeting people who proudly announced to me that they were not only elves, but dragons, weres, vampires, Sidhe, Furries, and a multitude of other mythological beings. Cool, I thought, I guess I'm an elf too - not just because of little Tocosar, but because I was a social misfit in much the same direction as many of the self-proclaimed elves I met.

But wait, said my logical side (which turned out to be Tocosar), what is an elf exactly? I've heard of Santa's elves, wee folk such as the shoemaker's elves, a wide assortment of elves from Dungeons and Dragons, but where was the connection? My Otherkin elf friends and I had as many fundamental differences as similarities. If the term "elf" was a blanket term, what were the qualifying factors?

I began to pay close attention to other people's past-life stories and self-descriptions. And I discovered that not only were people using the same labels dramatically different from one another, but sometimes the definition of the label was stretched considerably to fit the person's identity. For instance, tradition has it that vampires are relatively immortal walking corpses who drink the blood of living humans . Of all the vampires I have met, not one was the least bit undead. However, they had traits, such as being drawn to the shadows and struggling with predatory instincts, that had helped them conclude that whatever dissimilarities they had with the vampires of legend, the label "vampire" still fit them.

I also learned that there are types or categories of vampire, such as the energy vampire. My understanding is limited, but I have heard that some of these follow the strict moral guideline of only consuming unwanted energy, such as excess magic and other people's intense grief, anger, or other negative emotions. It is interesting to note that some angels I have met do the same task on an ethereal level.

Some labels are the result of an obvious conclusion. If someone felt large and reptilian, well, she is a dragon. Relates strongly to foxes, lions, or other ordinary animals? A Furry. If a person has a powerful sex drive and goatlike features, he is a satyr; if he is more humanoid, he is a passionate elf.

It is possible that some beings of myth originated from Otherkin memories. An ancient storyteller describing dragons or pixies may have just been recounting past-life recollections. This may be especially relevant to certain groups, such as satyrs, a large percentage of whom seem to follow the Greek myths fairly tightly.

Unfortunately, the connection between an Otherkin and his label is not always so cut and dry. Two of my friends once informed me they were demons. Growing up Catholic, I felt I was reasonably familiar with what a demon was - a malicious spirit. I have even seen two of them, repulsive balls of hate energy. My friends are not in the least repulsive, so I must admit I showed considerable skepticism.

"Oh, not that kind," they assured me. "We're just 9-foot-tall, dark-skinned people with batlike wings."

Suffice it to say that they and I still disagree on the definition of "demon".

Studying the evolution of Christian mythology, things get a little clearer. Christians historically feared that which they didn't understand and considered it "evil" or "Satan-spawn". My thesaurus even lists "elf" as a synonym for "demon". Funny, I don't feel like Satan-spawn... but am I really an elf?

Let's look at Tocosar first. His physical body, when he had one, was humanoid with only superficial differences from humans, including pointed ears. Not exactly Homo sapiens, but a relatively close relation. However, he is logical, intellectual, skeptical, cynical, and scientifically-minded, a far cry from the stereotypical passionate, free-spirited (never mind breathtakingly manic-depressive) elves (see Article of Days for more info).

Gynn, on the other hand, matches the aforementioned personality type very well. Her only problem is she can't commit to a form. She's human now, but in the past she's been a wide variety of beings. Some of her past forms have been pretty straightforward, like the winged cat person. But some utterly defy simple labeling... what do you call a one-legged, winged, iridescent being with a crested, salamander-like head?

What it boils down to, I suppose, is that every individual settles on his or her own labels, or lack thereof. There will still be misunderstandings and preconceived notions, still people saying, "You're not a vampire; you don't shrivel in the sunlight!" or "You have to be a pixie... you just look like a pixie!" Some people take the option of inventing (or remembering) a unique term for themselves, or of adopting terms used by people who are (or were) the same race as them.

I haven't quite committed to calling myself an elf, but it's as good a label as any. It's ambiguous enough to suffice for now, and I can always change my mind later.

This article was originally published in Kinships.