When I was about 8 years old, I had an alter ego. A dog by the name of Uffie. I would spend a lot of time as Uffie, exploring my house and garden on all fours, lapping juice from a saucer. My mum indulged Uffie, to the point of buying me a collar, a lead and a water bowl for my bedroom floor. I became adept at travelling around on all fours, clambering over rocks on family walks and drinking from the occasional stream.
Then, one day, Uffie disappeared.
So what happened? Did I just grow up? Or did I supress Uffie, bowing to a societal norm that tells children if they don’t look like a dog, they probably aren’t one. In which case, maybe I am Otherkin.
Otherkin believe themselves to be ‘other than’ or ‘more than’ human. Although most accept that their current incarnation is human, their spirit is either entirely or partially non-human. The most common Otherkin are mythical creatures like elves and faeries, and animals (‘Therians’) such as wolves and cats.
This may sound fantastical, but Otherkin would argue that it’s simply a case of identity – in a similar way to gender – a feeling that you have been born in the wrong body.
Although uncertain of his true identity, Marcus is currently ‘flirting’ with the idea that he might be a star (as in, a celestial body). You may already be writing him off as a nutcase, but you would be wrong. Educated in psychology and sociology, he is now a very successful Information Management Consultant. He met me in the financial district of London wearing a smart suit.
“I have no right to sit here and say you are a woman, if you tell me you are a man,” he said to me. “Just as you have no right to sit there and tell me whether or not I am a walrus”.
He met my gaze. “I’m not a walrus by the way”.
For some, it’s not necessarily about being in the wrong body; it is more about expressing another part of yourself. For example, Shaft Uddin is the founder of a ‘Fabulus’ of Unicorns in London – a subculture of people who dress as unicorns and live by the mantra ‘spread the sparkle’.
Shaft is not strictly Otherkin, and would probably be referred to as a ‘furry’ within the community; rather than believing he is unicorn spirit in human form, he sees the unicorn as his ‘power animal’, in the same way a Native American has a Totem animal, and a Druid, a spirit animal.
“Some people have mythical power animals”, he told me, “like mermaids. I have always been attracted to those people. If I had to write a dating profile it would say ‘seeks pixies, faery’s and feline traits’”.
Perhaps I should introduce him to Karen Kay, the organiser of the now very popular 3 Wishes Faery Fest which pulled in over 1000 attendees this year. Karen is a prominent figure in the British Faery subculture and the producer of the internationally successful Fae Magazine.
I met her at the Labyrinth Faery Ball in Glastonbury.
“My whole life has been completely taken over by faeries”, she told me. “Faery people are quite shy and reclusive, so to get them to come to an event was difficult at first. But when they did come, there was a communal feeling of coming home; a sense of belonging and reconnecting with your family”.
“So, are you personally a faery?”
“Well, I feel like a hybrid of human, faery and mermaid. So I call myself a MerFae, but I am dwelling in a human body at the moment”.
I like the idea of being a faery, or a mermaid, perhaps even a unicorn. But I wonder why it is that the Otherkin community is full of fabulous mythical creatures, beautiful and fierce. And yet there are no slugs. Why aren’t there any slugs?
I posed this question to Marcus.
He thought for a while. “Well, I think there wouldn’t be a strong cognitive recognition of being a slug. The memory would be so simplistic, too weak. It wouldn’t influence your being”.
He continued, “I do struggle a little when people say they are Japanese anime, or people who say ‘I am Optimus Prime’ – not ‘I identify with him’ (who wouldn’t), but ‘I am Optimus Prime’. I find that difficult”.
“Have you considered how a psychologist would interpret the Otherkin phenomenon?”
“Yes, just look up magical thinking. It’s when instead of finding the logical cause for the effect you are experiencing, you embroider it so that everything has a significance. But it’s irrelevant really; if something has significance for you, it doesn’t matter whether or not it was a co-incidence”.
Marcus helped me to understand that lurking beneath what may seem like an Americanised ‘fad’, is a far deeper, far more considered community of people who are asking really interesting Cartesian questions about identity, and what it means to be human.
Kim, who shares her body with the spirit of a wolf called Luna, also helped me in this realisation. I met her for lunch in her local town of Chichester.
Kim ‘awakened’ – the Otherkin term for realising your true identity – when she was 15 years old.
“Everything just clicked into place,” she told me. “All of the feelings and weirdness, and the phantom limb sensations – all of it made perfect sense”.
She smiled patiently. “A lot of Otherkin get the same sensations as people who have had an amputation, but in our animal parts, that we don’t have in this body. Like, teeth. I would really feel like I had sharper, longer teeth, and the ears and the claws and things like that. Ears and tails are very common in the community”.
Kim feels that she and Luna, are two parts of one soul. “When I was younger”, she explained, “there was more of a divide between us. My friends would notice, I would speak in a different voice and say things out of character. But now we are much more balanced”.
“Do you know what Luna’s body looks like?”
“Oh yeah”, she said confidently, “When I dream and meditate I am often in my wolf body. It’s very intense”.
I picture Bran from Game of Thrones.
Like Marcus, Kim was far from the ‘crazy’ I had expected. She was a friendly, intelligent and spiritual woman, completely open and comfortable with her realised identity. I trusted her enough to let her in on my secret.
“You know, I used to pretend I was a dog when I was a kid. I had a lead and everything”.
“I did exactly the same thing!” She smiled and raised her eyebrows.
I knew what she is thinking – perhaps it was time for Uffie to make his comeback? I’m just not sure my mum would be as supportive this time round…