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Home > Temple Questions > Spiritual Therianthropy

Aren't therians just imposing human qualities onto animals and then reading them back onto themselves - in other words, identifying with something that's basically just a projection rather than what the animal is really like?

That's a legitimate concern, and one that is discussed from time to time in therian communities. In a way it also ties in with the question of how one can know what it's like to be an animal.

Generally, anyone who is serious about therianthropy can be expected to look beyond simple stereotypes like "owls are wise"/"lions are brave"/"coyotes are clever"/etc. And in fact, people who don't are unlikely to meet with much respect in the therian community. But there are many subtler ways in which human qualities are projected onto non-human nature, not just by therians, but by humans in many other contexts - social Darwinism is a case in point. And there's no easy way out of it.

To a certain extent, our human perception of what an "owl" or a "lion" or a "coyote" is is always going to be a social construction - as is our perception of virtually everything else, including other humans and on some level, even ourselves.

From a postmodern perspective, everything we perceive is mediated through our own preconceptions and social conditioning, and our notion of what animals are no less than anything else. And I think it's essential to be aware of that - to know that our ideas of what animals are are always flawed, to be aware of the biases we bring with us when we look at them, and especially when we identify with them.

That's one of the reasons why I generally prefer to say that a given therian identifies as an owl or coyote or whatever, rather than is that creature, even though the latter phrasing is more common in the therian community. I know it's generally understood contextually that a statement like "I am an owl" is meant spiritually or mythopoetically rather than literally, but even so, I think it's important to avoid false certainties.

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