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What is Therianthropy?

A Primer
By Faolchu

{Viewing a piece of comic art} “The thing that makes it very, very special is its realistic depiction of its figures... When the characters reached the magazine, they were exaggerated; as always happens...”

“Characters in comics are often attributed special powers... invisibility, x-ray vision... things of that sort... It’s an exaggeration of the truth. Maybe it’s based on something as simple as instinct.”

Elijah Price; Samuel L. Jackson’s character, from the movie “Unbreakable”

Well, no sites containing therian essays is complete without a discourse on how the site’s author sees the nature of therianthropy itself, so I’ll start with this one and get it out of the way. Here goes my two cents.

.. Fair warning though, there’s a process of understanding here, and it’s rather in-depth... follow it at your own risk...

You may be wondering what the above two movie quotes have to do with it? If you haven’t figured it out already, don’t worry. We’ll get to the explanation of that later, but first thing first. Since I don’t know who is reading this, I’m going to assume you know little or nothing about it, and go from there...

To begin with, a therianthrope is one who, for whatever reason, see themselves as being an animal in some way. Of course, as humans {i.e. homo-sapiens} we’re all animals; but a therian sees a connection within themselves to an animal beyond just being human- A colloquial term to make the picture clearer for you, the reader, would be someone like.... a werewolf, for example.

However, this is not the “all” of it. A therianthrope is not always a “werewolf.” In fact, they are not even always a predatory animal...

Let’s begin with that, shall we? In fact, read through each section as it is presented, please don’t “skim” through a section- even if you think you know what’s there... you just might miss something...


Now before you go pulling out the silver bullets, this doesn’t imply that a therian thinks that they’re anything other than human, or capable of physically changing into something else. DNA tests would readily prove one to be false, and I know of no one who has ever seen a person physically turn into anything else without the use of substances that possess hallucinogenic properties. Having never taken hallucinogens myself, I have never physically seen it at all, short of movies.

Nor is it the same as having an “animal totem” (That’s a long topic unto itself, and have gone into the differences between totems and therianthropy in another essay).

It could also be said that many attributes expressed within the concept of therianthropy can be comparable to what is known as clinical lycanthropy; however there are major differences worth noting:

-The therian rarely, if ever, loses control of their actions. If so, it is more likely from severe emotional response than the therian “blacking out”.

-They also do not hear “voices” encouraging them to perform dangerous or illegal actions. There is no “satan” or any other “entity” talking to them in their mind that gave (or cursed) them with any forms or abilities.

-Therianthropes are also rather lucid about their experiences, and in most cases are completely aware of their surroundings. They also maintain control over their actions; and again, they do not believe that they have actually changed form into an animal, unlike the clinical lycanthrope.

Most cases of clinical lycanthropy have expressed, in varying degree, those symptoms that the therianthrope does not seem to possess.

If this is actually some form of the psychological version of lycanthropy, it is an exceedingly “functional” one (functional, in this case, being a term in psychology that indicates that the “afflicted” individual is fully capable of working and existing in normal society, with little or no difficulty). In fact, many therianthropes I am aware of are quite stable and sane, holding good jobs and supporting families.

Another thing I would like to address is the “mythological” or “historical”, and with a little overlap, the “movie” lycanthrope:

-There are no rituals performed, or skins worn, or salves applied, or deals made with “otherworldly” creatures to make the therian what they are. If there were, then they are most likely _not_ a therianthrope. Therianthropes are generally believed to be born, not made. Many have “felt it” all their lives, and some have “discovered” it later, but they didn’t do anything special to achieve it.

-Nothing bit or cursed the therianthrope. If something (or someone) did bite them at some point in their life, or cast some kind of “evil eye” upon them, I can assure you it probably has nothing to do with their being a therianthrope. Again, the general thought is therianthropes are born, not made...

-The full moon has no real effect on them in general. Some have reported feeling a little more “inclined” to indulge their natures, but just as many, if not more, have reported no particular inclinations during any phase of the moon, full or not.

-Though to support the popular myth, silver bullets will, in fact, kill a therianthrope. Then again, lead bullets will do it too, as well as knives, stakes in the heart, fatal car crashes, and anything else that will kill a human. Want to know why? Because they are human! We’ve already covered that though...

I would also like to point out at this time that therianthropy does not have a religious “affiliation”, though the individual therian may explain it through their faith. There are Christian and Pagan therianthropes alike, and while I’m not actively aware of the truth of the following statement, it is entirely possible that there are therianthropes represented in every faith around the world- The point of that statement is to illustrate that it is a personal facet of the therian’s life, and not to be confused with a form of belief system. While it can be a very “spiritual” experience for some, and the therianthrope may incorporate it into their religious beliefs or practices, it is not expected or required of them to do so.


Before we get to the “meat” of it, let’s consider the semantics of therianthropy. This will be necessary, as there are a number of common terms that will be used in its explanation.

Basically, therianthropy is a meshing together of the Greek words for “beast” and “human”, in much the manner that lycanthropy is broken down to be “wolf” and “man.” Thus, the Therianthrope is a “human” who is also an “animal.” Often the terms “therian” or “Were” (as in the above mentioned “were”wolf) are used as shortened forms for ease of communication.

The terminology that is applied to identify that “animal” quotient by the majority of the therian community is their “phenotype”. This term is used by scientists to describe observable “external” attributes of an individual (like eye or hair color, for example). The therian community however, uses this terminology to describe the attributes of their “internal” animal (yes, there is a “community” of these individuals- mostly found online- as we are rather rare for the most part, and not necessarily located near each other). As to why this term was chosen, it predates my finding this community, so I personally am not entirely sure, but it suits the purposes well enough in that it can be readily understood...

Lastly, there are “shifts.” A shift (short for shapeshifting) is what a therian experiences when that animal part of themselves is closer to the surface within them; whether they consciously evoke that feeling within themselves, or it rises unbidden. There are many ways in which these shifts occur, and are perceived by, the individual therians that have them. Most notable examples are:

“Dream” shifts- which obviously occur when the therian is asleep- they see and experience the dream as their “phenotype” animal.

“Mental” shifts- In which the therian takes on the mindset of their “phenotype” animal. Individuals in this state are more “feral” and inclined to act in ways that would be generally associated with their animal side.

“Phantom” shifts- where the therian “feels” appendages not normally existent on their human bodies. It is called a phantom shift for the same reason a person receives “phantom sensations” from an amputated limb. The appendage (wings, tail, muzzle, etc.) does not actually exist, but they imagine feeling sensations or movement from them anyway.

“Spirit” or “Astral” shifts- for those who believe in, or work within, the “spirit world” or the “astral plane” there are those therians that shift on that level. This is very comparable to a “shamanic” shape-shifting experience for the purposes of understanding how this one works.

Then of course there’s the highly vaunted “Physical” shift. This one is the version that made Lon Chaney Jr. (among many other talented actors and actresses) so famous in the movies. This is, as would be expected, highly debated in the therian community, and is considered a “hot-button” topic. There are those who believe it possible, and there are those that don’t, with very strong emotions on both ends of the debate, as well as every possibility in between. Of course, until there is conclusive proof one way or the other, the debate will have to continue... I mention this one only as a footnote, not to be considered an actual “shift” experienced by therians- until proof otherwise is presented.

Those are the most commonly accepted forms of shifts.

I find it important to note here, that not all therians experience “shifts.” A few feel some sort of constant nature of both “human” and “beast”, with only minor fluxuations in their personality (the term generally associated with these individuals is contherianthropes- where “con”, I believe, is a shortened form for “consistent”). If that is the case, then I most likely fit into this category...

There are a few other kinds of (debatable) shifts and a number of other terms we could explore, but these will suffice for the purposes of this essay.

Okay, you know what a therian isn’t, and you know some of the more important terms...

Here’s the part I guess you’ve been waiting for...


Therianthropy, and its nature, is seen in many different ways by those that profess they are therianthropes. In fact, it has been said that if you ask ten therians about it; you’d get thirty (or more) answers... all of them ranging from genetics to metaphysics, theology to psychology, and every mix and match in between.

However, it has seemed to me that if there is any _one_ thing that therians have in common, and generally agree upon (if nothing else), it's the internal "impulses", if not necessarily the external actions (we choose how we interpret or react to those impulses) that have a prevalent correlation between us. For the purposes of this essay, let us call these “impulses” instinctual responses, or just instinct.

It is conceivable that these instincts are possibly a product of our psychological development, or of some kind of physiological hard-wiring in our brains (be it as intricate as some kind of genetic “throwback” or as simple as some form of variation in our neurochemical makeup), or perhaps even it is a product of something ingrained in our very souls. Many of these theories are postulated; but again, until evidence one way or the other presents itself, the source of these instincts will remain a mystery. However, the origins of these instincts, for the purposes of this essay, are not important. All that is required is the acknowledgment of their existence to begin with... (Remember the disclaimer above- for the record, I use the term "instincts" loosely, as there is no better term that I am aware of for what I'm likening the "impressions" of my therian nature as I understand them, to) .

If I am correct in that the "therian condition" is represented most strongly, or is at least most recognizable (in any measurable expression) by this instinctual makeup, then what determines what type of animal the individual perceives their “animal side” to be, may be nothing more than our attempting to explain, or identify with, our (somewhat different from the norm) instincts. That is not to say that the animal a person feels connected to isn’t accurate, nor does this invalidate the concept of therianthropy itself; just that part of the “picture” is filled in by the perceptions of the individual experiencing these phenomena, and not just the instincts involved.

This is the basis for the quotes at the beginning of this essay. In history, legend, and myth, these shapeshifters and werecreatures existed all over the globe, in almost every culture. Could it be that what the basis of all this boils down to, is how a culture interpreted these people with different “instincts”? Over time and re-telling, could they have become exaggerated to the point that they actually physically changed shape in those stories?

While for some, this concept may be difficult or undesirable to grasp, one must ask themselves the following; Why, then, in the context of historical and mythological shapeshifters, did they differ in the types of “werecreatures” based on their respective regions and cultures?

If what I’m proposing is the case, then the form the “werecreature” took was based not just on those instincts, but also on the things they could liken it to with their limited, localized knowledge. For example, weretigers were prevalent in India, wererats and werefoxes in Japan, and weresharks in Hawaii; each of these examples would then be a product of this “identification”. There were no (or very few) werewolves where these variations held dominance. Hawaii didn’t have any wolves, and its natives had no idea of what one was. How could one identify with a wolf if you don’t even know they exist? In India, the few wolves that exist there are much smaller than the European varieties, and the tiger was considered to be a much more threatening individual...

The above examples are based on someone who had these “predatory” instincts within them to the point that they seemed different from what is considered “normal” parameters. Depending on the location, they may have been considered “shamans” or “medicine men” in their respective cultures, or like the Norse culture’s berserkers (bear shirts) and the lesser known ulfhedinn (wolf coats) as specialized warriors (as an aside, both of these types were reputed to channel aspects of the animal to which was their namesake, though I find it somewhat interesting to note that between the two, the berserkers were most often said to take on the strength and ferocity of the bear- though not necessarily the form; while a number of tales- the Volsung Saga for example- state that the “wolf coats” actually had a talent for shape shifting). However, in other cultures, shapeshifters were considered monsters. So from the sacred, to the battlefield, to vilification, “were-creatures” have touched the fabric of many cultures...

Though predatory instincts would tend to stand out more prevalently for obvious reasons, and so were more easily identified as “different”; that didn’t exclude some cultures from finding other instincts and traits that stood out as “different from the norm” that were of a gentler nature.

In Ireland there were the selkies; a more descriptive term if you don’t know what they are would be “seal-people”. Tales of “swanmaids” existed in a number of European cultures (particularly in Germany and Russia). These, and other, gentle “shapeshifters” also existed; but the tales didn’t reach the epic proportions of the more dangerous ones, nor were they recognized in the same “category” even though there is relatively little difference in the tales surrounding them as far as the “mechanics” of the process is concerned.

So again, be they vilified, considered defenders and heroes, or not believed in at all, they are a part of almost every culture, and have existed in one form or another in almost every time period in history (even today!). Now, as any mythologist or historian will tell you, that hardly creates a basis for making it a fact. However, they will also be inclined to tell you that those stories and reports wouldn’t be there, nor be so persistent, if there wasn’t a kernel of some sort of truth within it.

Perhaps then that is what therianthropy is- the fact behind the fiction.