What is therianthropy? This label covers a broad range of experiences, definitions vary from individual to individual; this one isn’t the end of all. Most explanations of therianthropy are very caught in jargon or justifications of a spiritual nature. I don’t find they work well at explaining what this is all about for people who aren’t familiar with such concepts already, or for those of us who are skeptical individuals, so I’ve written my own introduction to the subject to accommodate most audiences.
Therianthropy is a constant state of being, a way of experiencing and perceiving the world that leads a person to identify as an animal; thus a therianthrope (or therian for short) is a person who, while acknowledging their human body, feels and thinks they are a non-human animal in a non-physical way.
The term comes from the Greek therion, meaning beast, and anthropos standing for human being, man. While the word is similar to “lycanthropy“, therianthropy is not a mental illness and does not refer to any sort of mythological creature either. Therianthropy relates to one’s sense of self, one’s identity. Each individual entertains their own theories on why they are what they are, ranging from spiritual explanations (souls, reincarnations, past lives) to scientific takes on the subject (psychology, atypical neurobiology, and such as). Therefore, being a therianthrope can be described in different ways depending on who you ask: having the soul of an animal, or being an animal mind in a human body, or feeling body dysmorphia/dysphoria regarding their biological species, and such as. These aren’t mutually exclusive. The animal a therian identifies as is their theriotype.
Many therians experience supernumerary phantom limbs, where they feel body parts that do not exist in reality. As an example, a bird therian may feel wings in their back or as their physical arms, or a dog therian may feel canine ears and a tail, or a muzzle over their face. Some therians experience these phantom limbs constantly, while others may have more fleeting sensations depending on their mood or environmental triggers. Not all therianthropes experience phantom limbs, and some people might experience phantom sensations that are unrelated to their animal identity, therefore they are not always a reliable clue that someone is a therian or has a certain theriotype.
Therianthropy is not the same as totemism, where one has a spiritual guide or mental archetype from which they may draw on animal attributes. In totemism, the animal is a symbolical or external entity distinct from the person, while therians feel they are the animal themselves. As such we can note that therians can have totems too and those often are unrelated to what animal they identify as; it is possible for a therian to mistake a personal animal spirit with their actual theriotype. Therianthropy is not a religion or spirituality, in the sense that stopping to believe in one’s animal identity doesn’t make the experience of said animality disappear. You cannot choose to be a therian, much like with other core components of someone’s individuality (such as sexual orientation).
Therianthropes are also not to be confused with furries. As a rule, furry fans are interested in anthropomorphic animals in art, role-play, costuming and other media, and may use animal characters to represent themselves and interact in the furry fandom. Therianthropes, on the other hand, believe they are the animal literally (in a non-physical way). It should be noted though that there can be some overlap between the two: some furries may feel an emotional connection with an animal to the point of identification, and some therians may participate in the furry fandom. A therian may also first identify as furry if they are unaware of the existence of the therian community.
Although the concept of being animal inside is not new regarding the history of humanity, the therian subculture is rather recent. In the early 90’s was created a Usenet newsgroup for discussing werewolves in myth, fiction and movies: alt.horror.werewolves, also known as AHWw. At some point someone there asked if anyone had ever identified as a werewolf, and soon emerged the concept of therianthropy, detracting the community from its original purpose. After a few years though the place got abusively trolled and its carcass abandoned. Nowadays a myriad of different websites and forums for therianthropes can be found through the web, each with their own beliefs and definitions.
Because the therian subculture grew from a werewolves fans group and later became populated by folk with animistic beliefs, a lot of therian sites have stayed both very spiritual and wolf-centric. A lot of definitions of therianthropy start as “therianthropy is the belief that…” even though many therians are not spiritual or have other explanations for their animal identity. We can also remember that in their early days therians called themselves “weres”, which was the short for werewolf or any sort of werecreature. Theriotypes were called “weresides” or “phenotypes”. For some times, were, therian, animal-person and similar terms were used interchangeably to mean the same thing. “Were” eventually fell out of use, helped by the fact the furry fandom used it for other purposes, which led to much confusion. The previous terminology can still be found in older essays and websites.
Another element remnant of the werewolf folklore as well as shamanistic beliefs is the concept of “shifting”. Obviously animal-people do not believe they can physically turn into an animal. However while some individuals experience their animality in an unchanging, steady way, a lot of therianthropes may feel more or less intensely animal at times, and refer as “shift” to any change in animality they experience. With time a terminology appeared to categorize people in how they experience the animal, and shifts in how they affect the individual (the usefulness of some those labels can be debatable). Because this detailed jargon is not necessary to understand the concept of therianthropy, I won’t develop the topic further.
Now that I’m over with the classical explanations, I must stress that I’m not an active part of the therian community anymore. To me the meat of being an animal-person revolves around concrete experiences and not debating over theories.
I am an animal-person. I am a clouded leopard, a common raven, and a human all at once. Identity is made up of many aspects, mental representations and other concepts, and one of them is gender identity and one of them is my animal identity instead of a purely human one. This is another of my specificities, like I am masculine and French. I can’t say I was “born” this way; you aren’t who you are now from birth, there are a lot of educational/social factors involved. Maybe I have an atypical brain and it was likely from that start that I’d grow into that sort of atypical individual, who knows. I didn’t wake up one day thinking “ah! I really am nonhuman“. There was no “Awakening” with a capital A from some traumatic event, no romanticized sort of call brought by mighty animal guides. The realization of my animal nature was pretty ordinary and drama-free. For most of us that’s just the sort of thing that becomes clear someday, because it would show in our daily life and we end up understanding in which ways we differ from other people.
Being an animal in a human world is not something that makes me better than everyone else. It does not give me excuses to act poorly, because I am a mature individual and it’s not okay to piss on wheel trims or snarl at people. Therianthropy isn’t about faith or delusion. If I stop believing I’m an animal, if I don’t want to be one, it does not go away. I cannot suppress the feeling that my body should be like this and this, that I should be able to see my spots, touch my feathers and feline ears. I am stuck with the urge to lick my shoulder or hiss or sniff people and things. I cannot help the inside of me from clenching when I see other big cats or corvids because I’m like them and yet I’m not. I can’t say “this can’t be”, because it sticks to me; something I can’t touch but that’s very much real and here.
That’s what being an animal-person is about: living as someone both human and animal – and trying to find balance and happiness in this. Sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes it’s beautiful, other times it’s pretty mundane. So is life.
Anyway I’m rambling; if you’re interested in what it’s like to be a clouded leopard/raven person and other musings, I have a lot of writings in the Croaks section. If you think you may be a therian and are looking for insights, you might want to first check my older essays under Echoes; those are records of common sense and personal experience that might be useful to you. Or maybe not. There are many other websites out there. Just keep a critical mind.