Last night I got into a somewhat heated discussion on otherkin, vegetarianism, and animal rights on the ADF IRC chat. A couple of members who believe they are otherkin brought up a publication and I asked them a couple things about being otherkin which kind of started it all. You see, when I first heard of otherkin several years ago, I thought to myself, "huh. That's interesting. I wonder if that's why I'm so drawn to cats?" I never really thought much more about it though. Last night's discussion kind of forced me to think about otherkin again and articulate my thoughts about my own relationship with the animal kingdom.
Animal rights and vegetarianism can be very divisive issues as last night proved. There are scientific sides to the arguments, but when push comes to shove, a lot of what a person believes is based on UPG and their own concept of animism. And that is fine. I know I can't push someone to see the world as I do anymore than they can push me. Some of you who know me better understand that I think animals and humans are no better or worse than the other. We are equal. I believe that we have different talents and purposes, but that we aren't somehow better. As I thought about it last night, I realized that the Druidic concept of "a gift for a gift" is very much a part of my understanding of the natural world.
Don't misunderstand me. I understand that animals can be cruel to each other. Cats torture small prey and monkeys wage wars on each other. Etc etc etc. What we call "human nature" may very well be "animal nature." I think humans are capable of forming symbiotic relationships with animals and here is where the trouble begins. I have no problems with people who raise animals on farms or who hunt. Our ancestors seemed to understand the spiritual side of this as well. I'm generalizing my studies, but there are plenty of people who thanked their kill or left offerings to guardians of the hunt or livestock. Brighid, a guardian of domesticated animals, could be thanked for the milk. She is a protector of dairy giving creatures - maybe even one of them in some forms. (That is my own UPG.) I don't find deity to be limited to the human form. If anything, I get the impression that the Gods are real forces and we gave them avatars or they chose visages that we would feel more at ease around.
Back to reciprocity. We give cats and dogs shelter and food and they keep our homes free of vermin, help us hunt, drive our sleds, entertain us, etc. We both give each other love. I feel that, today, while we may have that symbiotic, "gift for a gift" relationship with our pets, we've lost it with the greater wild kingdom. Instead of giving our cattle a comfortable home in exchange for milk and meat, a majority of them live in horrible conditions and are beaten. We rape our forests in the name of profit. We plant a tree here and there but is that enough? Perhaps the forests, especially the rain forests, have given us enough and our gift back needs to be rest and lots of it while we learn to better recycle what we already have. (Desertification is a very real and growing problem right now. Mama Earth will be fine but what about the many humans displaced? What about the countless number of plants and animals killed in the process due to human greed?)
This brings me back to otherkin. I'm not convinced that I am one. There are days, it's true, when I suffer from "green guilt," but I am not about to forsake my humanity. There is plenty about it that I love - especially the arts. I do not know if nature spirits have their own art - they might! - but I am enamored with human art whether it is painting, sewing, dancing, or song. And while there are horrible, greedy people out there, I find that a majority of humans are kind-hearted and well-intentioned (if ignorant - but aren't we all that way in certain areas?).
I do not really think that I am a cat stuck in a human body. I am more inclined to think that maybe I was a cat in a previous life (some would argue that makes me an otherkin) or that the cat is a symbol I am repeatedly drawn to, physically and spiritually - a symbol representing the lessons I need to learn in this life, my shadow, or, perhaps my animus (one of my spirit guides is a male lynx after all...)
I do not reject the animal in me anymore than I reject the human. If anything, I am trying to find a balance between my human and natural side. I can't escape my humanity - doing so would mean leaving behind the people and activities I adore. But I feel like it would be irresponsible of me to ignore my inner animal and, thus, my connection to all of nature. My inner animal is my empathy with other creatures - the drive of my vegetarianism and my desire to do less harm to Mama Earth and my brothers and sisters in the natural world. I want to be closer to them, to better understand my place in the cosmos - not as their master, but as their sibling.
I don't have an idealized vision of Eden where I'm lounging with the lion as fearlessly as the lamb. I know enough about the cruelty of nature having lived in such proximity to it for years. I'm under no illusions and am aware of the chaos and the destruction necessary for the renewal. Just as human siblings quarrel and don't see eye to eye, we compete and become annoyed with our nature kin. But we must learn to live with them and love them somehow because we are all connected. At the moment, I think our relationship is imbalanced and consisting of more "take" than "give."
Perhaps my connection with the cat (and now my growing connection with the fox) is more shamanic than anything else. I am inspired by them and seek spiritual union. There are lessons for me in these forms. The carnivorous cat has taught me to respect and value the hunter - no small feat for a vegetarian! What else can they teach me? And in the meantime, what can I do for them to return the favor?