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You are here: Wild Ideas > Temple > Library >

Werewolves and Witches
and Archetypes, Oh My!

By Lynna Landstreet/Lynx Canadensis.
Posted to the AHWw mailing list on Sun, Aug 15, 1999.

Ripwolf <ripwolf@werewolf.com> 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.

I 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 better.

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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