“You shall be known by other men
For your great works of voice and pen
Yet inspiration has a cost
For with me know your soul is lost
I’ll take your passion and your skill
I’ll take your young life quicker still.”
by Brenna Gwyn adapted from Heather Alexander
Sylvere ap Leanan is your everyday friendly neighborhood mother of two who went to university in Kansas city, well if by everyday you include that she is a self described Vampire and Leanan Sidhe. You might think that is enough to set her totally apart, but she actually blends into the background pretty well when she wants too.
When she doesn’t want to blend in or sit in the background her actions tend to make a pretty big impact. Many might know that she owns the longest running on line forum “Real Vampires” has organized meet ups like Gathering Dusk, appeared on TV in a documentary called “American Vampires”, and wrote a segment in the book Vampires In Their Own Words. These are just some of her many accomplishments.
I asked her to sit down with me, however, not to talk about Vampirism, but to talk about a community that remains shadowed even within our own community. The Otherkin.
GYP: How long have you been in the otherkin community?
Sylvere Ap Leanan: I was reading Usenet groups in the mid-1990s whenever I could borrow a friend’s computer, but I didn’t have reliable access to an Internet-capable computer until 1997, so I consider that year my “official” start date.
GYP: Do you describe yourself as Otherkin or Therian?
Sylvere: I usually describe myself as a psychic vampire first. If pressed for more detail, I explain that I identify as Leanan Sidhe, which is type of Otherkin that shares many traits in common with vampires. If I start out by telling people I’m Leanan Sidhe, I get a lot of blank looks. More people are familiar with the concept of a psychic vampire than are familiar with Leanan Sidhe.
GYP: I Bet you do get a lot of blank looks when you speak about the Leanan Sidhe. You said they share common traits with the Vampire, could you go into a little more detail about that? I am sure those reading will be fascinated.
Sylvere: In folklore, the Leanan Sidhe is the dark muse. She inspires poets, musicians and other artists and then drains their vitality as they create, either by drinking their blood or by using the innate magic of the Fae. Those Otherkin who identify as Leanan Sidhe feed in much the same way as a psychic or hybrid vampire. When we don’t, we also experience the same detrimental effects on our health as people who identify as vampires suffer when they aren’t able to feed.
GYP: That is a concept I have not really spent much time in study on, thank you for telling me more about it.
GYP: So what is the primary difference between a Therianthrope and an Otherkin?
Sylvere: I’m not a Therianthrope, so I won’t pretend I know everything there is to know about being Therian. However, based on what I’ve learned from my interaction with Therians over the years, the main differences are that Therians always have some type of animal spirit or consciousness that correlates with a natural animal, while Otherkin nearly always identify with a mythic entity. Elves, Satyrs, various types of Fae, and Starseed are common among Otherkin.
In addition, many Therians experience a “shift” between their animal consciousness and their human selves. Otherkin usually don’t. There are exceptions in both groups, of course, but I’m speaking in broader generalities right now, for the sake of simplicity. If I tried to cover every possible permutation of Therians and Otherkin we’d be here until next week and I’d probably *still* miss something. Therianthropy and the Otherkin experience are related phenomena, but there are enough differences for each to deserve its own categorization.
GYP: So is that kind of like the differences between Otaku-kin and Otherkin?
Sylvere: An Otaku-kin is someone who believes he or she is the reincarnation of a fictional character or who has the spirit of one residing in his or her body. Otaku-kin started out being limited to anime characters but I’ve seen the description extended to other fictional characters, such as Tolkien elves and, most recently, Na’avi from the movie Avatar.
GYP: So Otaku-kin basically believe any fictional or made up creature can have some kind of a spirit that inhabits them or that they are once was? I admit I find that pretty confusing.
Sylvere: Otaku and Furries are to Otherkin what role-players and lifestylers are to vampires. There’s a bit of overlap, but many Otherkin see Otaku as delusional and Furries as role-players who have taken the game too far. For many Otherkin, this is part of their spiritual experience, so Otaku and Furries rub them the wrong way.
GYP: Can people be both vampire and Otherkin, or Therian?
Sylvere: Yes. Some who identify as both vampire and Otherkin feel they were vampires in past lives and have carried those traits into their current incarnations. Others feel they are vampires because they are Otherkin and the human body was never meant to house their non-human spirits. Either they “leak” energy because the human body doesn’t mesh well with the Other soul or the Other soul burns through energy at a faster rate than the human body is able to replenish it. Vampirism becomes a means of replacing what is lost. I don’t know anyone who identifies as both vampire and therian, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did.
GYP: In the Vampire community there are covens, Clans, Houses and groups…what are the otherkin equivalent?
Sylvere: Some Otherkin join pagan covens or form their own and others, like the Elenari and the Silver Elves, band into loosely organized tribes based on ‘Kin type. However, the drive for organization and hierarchy that is often seen in the vampire community is much less prevalent among Otherkin. When Otherkin form groups, decisions are often made by consensus or by taking a vote. If a vampire House were compared to a fraternal order like the Freemasons, then an Otherkin tribe would be more like a commune or a Burning Man camp.
GYP: Are there tensions between the Vampire and Otherkin community?
Sylvere: In the early days of both communities there was some tension because a lot of Otherkin viewed vampires as dangerous, unnatural leeches. However, those days are past and the two groups either ignore each other or else they get along just fine.
GYP: With the newer generation coming forward, like the Crimson Moon Pack that was featured in the news recently, coming forward in the media, are there concerns developing?
Sylvere: I don’t know about the Therian community, but I haven’t noticed any concerns among Otherkin. In part, it’s because Otherkin are even less organized than vampires. What one group of Otherkin does has very little effect on the rest.
GYP: In the VC, there is a lot of talk about dealing with their vampire issues, what do Otherkin have to deal with?
Sylvere: The Awakening for Otherkin is very similar to Awakening for vampires. In fact, the term Awakening was adopted by the Otherkin community quite awhile before the vampire community embraced it. For many Otherkin, there’s a feeling of being disconnected from humanity. It can be difficult to reconcile thought processes and ethical standards that seem alien to the rest of the world or mental processes and ethics that are common among humans but which, to an Otherkin mind, run the gamut from utter nonsense to downright offensive.
In quite a few cases, Otherkin experience the same sort of disconnect with their human bodies. Sensations of phantom appendages, such as wings, are fairly common, though the disconnect may be as simple as a feeling that the body is just *wrong* without being able to pinpoint exactly why.
GYP: Is there an Otherkin spirituality?
Sylvere: As much as there’s a vampire spirituality. The Otherkin experience has a spiritual component, but it isn’t a religion. Otherkin can be pagan, Buddhist or follow any other spiritual path.
GYP: Can one be made into an Otherkin?
Sylvere: No, for the most part, either you were Other-than-human in a previous incarnation or you weren’t. There have been a few instances of a walk-in by a non-human spirit into a human body, but those cases are exceptionally rare.
GYP: What is a “Walk in” exactly and do you believe that they can happen?
Sylvere:According to New Age philosophy, a walk-in is a spirit that takes up residence in a living body when the original spirit departs. This may happen as the result of trauma, such as a near-death experience, or because the original spirit has reached a phase in which it has learned all it can on this plane of existence and no longer needs a physical body. The change may be temporary or permanent, depending on the circumstances of the switch.
In the Otherkin community, walk-ins work a little differently – the Other soul takes up residence in the human body and then shares it with the human spirit. This creates a situation similar to dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities). I’ve interacted with a couple of Otherkin who claimed to be “hosts” to more than one Other soul. I don’t have an opinion on whether or not walk-ins are legitimate. I won’t say it can’t happen, but the jury is still out.
GYP: Therians are often associated with nature is the same true with Otherkin or are both misconceptions?
Sylvere: Yes, Otherkin typically feel a connection with nature, although the strength of that connection varies from one individual to another. In some cases, Otherkin have serious issues with technology and other human-made devices to the point that living in a city is unthinkable for them. Others don’t have a problem as long as they can go hiking or camping on a regular basis. I’ve encountered a few Otherkin who periodically needed to get away from anything man-made and draw energy from the natural world in much the same way vampires need to feed. When those individuals were unable to recharge, they reported experiencing physical and emotional effects that mirror those of a starving vampire. However, many Otherkin do just fine in cities as long as they are able to keep a garden or some houseplants.
GYP: Well I want to thank you for your time, knowledge and experience. You certainly have given me and our readers a good deal to consider. Do you have any resources, or books you might recommend for our readers who have further questions?
Sylvere: For those who want to learn more about Otherkin, the most reliable resources currently available are “A Field Guide to Otherkin” by Lupa, Otherkin.net, Elenari.net, Rialian’s Realm (www.rialian.com) and the various writings of The Silver Elves.