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Werewolves and Witches
and Archetypes, Oh My!
By Lynna Landstreet/Lynx Canadensis.
Posted to the AHWw
mailing list on Sun, Aug 15, 1999.
Ripwolf <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
>I wish I dared tell some one, even a friend,
that I was a were. I'd get funny
>looks and a padded cell.
think it depends to a large extent on how you explain it. I mean, if
you walk up to the average person and say "Hi! I'm a werewolf!",
or were-whatever-else, then yes, they're liable to think you're nuts.
However, if you say to a reasonably intelligent and open-minded person
"I'm involved in a spiritual path that deals with animal spirits
and shamanic techniques of spiritual shape-shifting," or something
to that effect, you're more likely to get "Oh really? That's interesting."
It's much the same as with saying "Hi! I'm a witch!" -- people
are likely to say "Oh yeah? Are you going to turn me into a toad?"
But if I say "I follow a nature-based religion that draws its inspiration
from pre-Christian paganism and folk magic," then things may go
Now, due to the amount of PR work that has been done over the past 30-40
years, I could also say "I'm a Wiccan", and then at least
a certain proportion of people will know what I mean without elaborate
explanations. Maybe some years down the road when you'll be able to
say "I'm a spiritual therianthrope" and get the same result.
But that takes time, and work -- on behalf of an entire community.
Both "witch" and "werewolf" are powerful archetypes
fromfolklore and popular culture. Both have a wide range of associations,
some of which are relevant to those of us who choose to associate ourselves
with those archetypes and some of which are not.
When we make the decision to call ourselves by those names, we are not
saying that everything that they evoke is true of us -- I don't
turn people into toads, boil babies in cauldrons to make flying ointment,
ride a broomstick, or worship the Christian devil. And you don't (as
far as I know!) physically turn into a big ravening monster at the full
of the moon, or eat children, or make deals with the devil to be able
to shapeshift, or any of that.
And yet there is enough in those archetypes that does resonate
with our experiences that I can say "I am a witch" and you
can say "I am a werewolf". And there is a sense of spiritual
power, and of connectedness with a historical and mythological narrative,
in adopting those names, which there wouldn't be if we simply devised
completely new words for ourselves. This is what draws us to identify
with them, and to use those names for ourselves.
But we have to be conscious, when we make that choice to identify with
an archetype as complex, evocative, and powerful as that of the witch
or the werewolf, that although we choose to identify ourselves with
it, it is much larger than we are; there is far more in those archetypes
than just us and our experiences. They have been in existence for literally
thousands of years, in many different cultures, and meant many different
things to many different people.
And we simply cannot, from our standpoint here in the late 20th century,
suddenly try and excise everything about those archetypes that we don't
identify with and say that from now on, being a witch can only
mean being a Wiccan, or being a werewolf can only mean being
a spiritual therianthrope, and that all the rest of it is wrong. Archetypes
don't work that way. Their natural tendency over time is to get bigger
and more complex, not smaller and simpler.
This is why I get irritated with Wiccans who want to run out and protest
movies like The Blair Witch Project or The Craft or whatever for "misrepresenting
us". They're not representing us at all, mis- or otherwise.
They are about other aspects of the witch archetype, and whether
we like it or not, those aspects exist. They are not a part of our practice
or our identity, but our practice and identity are not all there are
to being "a witch".
So to try to bring this back to the problem you're facing: I don't know
your friends, or the people you're close to, or what their view are
on alternative spirituality or altered states of consciousness in general,
let alone therianthropy in particular, but I do know that simply saying
"I'm a werewolf", like saying "I'm a witch", is
not enough. It doesn't give people enough information to form an accurate
picture of what you are trying to tell them. You are telling them that
you identify with a vast and complex archetype, but not with what part(s)
of it or why.
Before giving up hope that you might be able to make your friends understand
your were-self, try to think of ways that you could explain it to them
that would help them better understand where you're coming from. Rather
than leaving them to whatever folkloric or Hollywood images come to
mind when you say "werewolf" to them, start by explaining
what it is that you do and feel and experience, and then worry
about what name to put to it.
For example, you could say "I feel a very intense kinship with
wolves, and sometimes I feel that there's an aspect to my personality
or my soul that is very wolflike..." and move from there into telling
them about your shifting experiences, and from there into telling them
about discovering the AHWw/therianthrope community and realizing you
weren't the only one who'd had experiences like this, and then
perhaps to saying that, in the sense that the term in used in that community,
you identify spiritually as a werewolf. That way, you've given them
a context within which to place the term that assures that they will
understand what you actually mean by it.
And of course, if at any stage while you're explaining it to someone,
it seems like they're reacting negatively or perhaps disapproving of
the whole idea, you have the option of simply dropping it there and
not discussing it further with that person, without having to worry
about them running around saying "Get this chick, she thinks she's
a werewolf!" or whatever. You can watch their reaction as you go
along, and only tell them as much as they seem to be able to cope with.
Anyway, I hope this helps some...
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