A phantom shift is the sensation of possessing a body part that you do not actually have, i.e. a tail, wings, ears atop your head, etc. The terminology comes from the psychosomatic phenomena experienced by victims of amputation who have actually lost a limb. And because their brain is still so certain that the limb should be there that it still reacts as if it’s there, even feeling sensations like pain or itching, which can drive the person experiencing it a bit crazy because there is no way to alleviate the pain or itch in a limb that you no longer possess. This translates into Therianthropy in that while we are all physically human, there’s a part of our brains that is aware that some part of us is not. That part of our brain is searching for the “missing parts” it expects to find when taking stock of our bodies.
Normally, this would be where I’d talk about a poignant moment in my own relationship with the type of shift I’m discussing. However, the truth is that I’ve had a partial phantom shift as long as I can remember. My tail has been present since I was at least five – I don’t remember much before that but I have to assume that it’s simply always been there. My ears as well have been present since I was very young. Therefore it’s hard for me to define a specific moment when I realized that I was having a phantom shift. Instead, though, I very clearly remember the first time I realized that what I experienced wasn’t normal.
I was sitting sideways in my mom’s chair, watching her do… something I don’t remember. For some reason, folding clothes is coming to mind. I shifted again, trying to find a comfy position, and my mom asked me why I was fidgeting so much. I complained that I kept sitting on my tail and couldn’t get comfortable. My mom thought at first that I meant my tailbone. She said something along the lines of that’s what I was supposed to be sitting on. I made a face at her and shifted again, saying, “No, my TAIL. It’s all squashed.”
She stopped what she was doing, looked at me, and told me to stop pretending to be an animal. I was, I think, about 12 years old at the time, and that discussion was one we’d already had many, many times. I constantly wish that she could’ve understood… I still wish she could. But that isn’t a topic for this blog. My point is that I’ve been having phantom shifts for most of my life, if not all my life.
Turning for a moment from the scientific and going to the spiritual. Spiritually, I hold to the belief that phantom shifts are caused by our natural astral form. The astral realm is something that most people have probably heard of – it’s a realm of non-physical that exists in and around all of us. Another way to think of it is a dimension that is slightly out of phase with our own, and we exist within it as an energy being that shares the space with the physical being that is on our natural plane. The astral realm can be manipulated, and a person with a strong mind can control the appearance and form of their energy half for the most part. However, for most people, your astral energy form defaults to your “true form.” In the case of therianthropes, this is usually their animal type. When people astral project, they are disconnecting their energy self from their physical self and transferring their consciousness into the energy form. While they are projecting, they can do all sorts of things because their bodies now behave as energy, rather than a physical form. Shape shifting is possible, and fairly easy. Travel becomes a matter of thought. Flight is a matter of perception. Not to say that this other world is not dangerous – like any world, it has its predators, its prey, its monsters, and it’s heroes. But most people never venture deep enough into the world to encounter these beings or even other people, and their interaction with the astral realm remains nothing more than phantom sensation and the occasional feeling of someone “walking over your grave,” which I believe can be caused by someone or something passing through you in the astral realm.
All of this culminates in the fact that a therian may look human in the physical, but in the astral they very well are not. And this gives you exactly what you need to tap into in order to induce a phantom shift.
As I mentioned earlier, my tail and ears are pretty much a constant. I know enough about human and animal anatomy that I’ve been able to rectify their placement upon my human body in a way that’s mostly comfortable. However when I have an unexpected full phantom shift, it will completely catch me off guard. I wrote in the first blog in this series about an annoyingly timed phantom shift that took over my body as I was driving, making the common human act of maneuvering a car very difficult. Shifts like that don’t happen very often, but usually when they do it’s in response to something I’ve done or am going to do. That particular one was an eye-opener that I needed to write this blog series. Most of the time, full phantom shifts are something I have prepared for and initiated on purpose. Which brings me to the next section.
The scientific part of phantom shifting has to do with fooling your brain into believing that a part that isn’t there actually IS there. So the easiest way to trigger a partial or total phantom shift is to put yourself into a meditative state and carefully focus on the body part you wish to feel. For most, the tail comes the most easily. However, before even getting there, you might be wondering how to put yourself into a meditative state.
A simple way of doing this is to sit somewhere in a comfortable position, upright if possible (with the knowledge that if you are still training yourself to meditate, you very likely will fall asleep during this process the first few times – your body isn’t used to being THIS relaxed without being asleep, and it will attempt to return to what it feels is the natural state that accompanies this level of reaction), with pillows around you in case you do doze off and tip over while working on this exercise. Do your best to minimize outside noise and distractions. In time, you will likely reach a point where you can put yourself into the meditative state easily and comfortably no matter what is going on around you. I’ve heard of people using this to calm their minds immediately before taking an exam in college, or while on the way to a family gathering that they know will be stressful. Meditation has quite a few applications that have nothing to do with therianthropy, but in this case, we’re focusing on the topical application of the meditative state.
Once you are in your quiet, comfortable place, close your eyes. Now, there are many different ways of taking the next step into the meditative state. I’ll outline two that I have had success with in the past, both for myself and others.
The first method is physical relaxation. You focus on each body part in turn, starting at your feet or toes. Flex the muscles slightly, and then relax them. Move on to your calf. Tense the muscle, and then relax it. Slowly move up your body to your thighs, your abdomen, your chest, your arms, your hands, your neck, and finally your head. It IS possible to be completely relaxed and still remain upright, though it may take some work to find your personal center of gravity so you don’t tip over. Don’t be frustrated if this doesn’t work the first time. However, if successful, you should be sitting comfortably, and yet feel as relaxed as if you are hovering in that space between asleep and awake that most of us enter just before our alarms go off in the morning. You may feel as if you are floating – this is normal. Don’t worry – you won’t fall any further than your body tipping over, and that’s why there are pillows and cushions around you in case that happens. You also may feel a slight sensation of spinning in one direction or another. This is your inner ear trying to compensate for the fact that you are in a state of consciousness you don’t usually enter unless you are lying down to sleep – therefore your brain might think you’re laying down and try to compensate for it, resulting in the spinning sensation because you are physically sitting up.
The second way of entering the meditative state, I call “light cleansing.” You enter your comfortable position and close your eyes as normal, then envision the space surrounding your body filled with a color of light that you don’t particularly like. I tend to use pink for this. So in my own mind, I imagine me sitting comfortably, surrounded by pink, soft glowing light. Now, begin to take deep breaths through your nose. Imagine this light is entering your body with each breath. Envision the colored light moving down through your body until it reaches your feet. See it swirl through the inside of your feet, and then exhale just as slowly. When you exhale, the light has now become your favorite color – in my case, a mid-range blue. It will exit your body and float within the other colored light that still surrounds you.
You repeat this, over and over with each breath, breathing in one color, using it to cleanse another part of your body, moving up your body in a similar pattern to the physical relaxation sequence. Your feet, then your legs, then your trunk, then arms, then neck, and finally your head. When you exhale the last bit of light, the aura around you should have completely changed color to your favorite color, and you are now relaxed and in a meditative state. The same physical sensations may occur once you have reached the state – part of the trick of a meditative state is to remain calm and relaxed despite the odd physical sensations that might get through from your body. You are now in the perfect state to begin attempting to trigger a phantom shift.
I’m going to describe how to trigger a partial shift, but by expanding the method to the rest of your body, you can trigger anything up to and including a total phantom shift. However, I DO recommend that if you enter this with the decision to trigger a full phantom shift, then make sure you are in a physical position that your animal form will find comfortable – otherwise you have the chance of breaking your meditative state because of phantom pain and (in extreme cases) possibly becoming “stuck” for a time with the effects of the phantom shift. That can be quite annoying and in some cases even painful and horribly inconvenient, so I don’t recommend doing anything that might cause it to happen.
Now, you are ready to begin your phantom shift trigger. I may talk later about using vague phantom shifts to help you find your theriotype, however right now we’re going under the assumption that you at least have some clear idea who the beast that lurks in your soul is. I’ll continue to use myself as an example – I am going to describe triggering a phantom shift of my dire wolf’s fur.
I start with a mental picture of my dire wolf self – built from my knowledge of paleontology, as well as of biology and modern wolves, I know what I look like. Most therianthropes know exactly what they look like to a point, so this should not be difficult. Now focus in on the part that you wish to shift (even when doing a full body shift, it’s easiest to do it one part at a time until you become experienced at this). In my case, I am focusing on my thick, insulating fur. I see it ripple in a breeze. I imagine the differences between the dire wolf self I see in my mind, and my physical body. I imagine the feeling of my hair blowing in a breeze, and I ‘sync’ that image and feeling with the dire wolf’s fur blowing in a breeze. Then I start focusing on other parts of my body – usually my neck or back. And I imagine the fur covering my body, visualizing it spreading across my skin like one of those time lapse films of grass growing or something. I’m not sure how long this takes, as once I’m in the meditative state, I lose all track of time. I’ve done these and been certain that I was locked away for hours and it’s only been about fifteen minutes. Contrariwise, I’ve thought I was only gone for a few minutes and it’s been as long as three hours. So it’s important to clear a block of time in your schedule before attempting meditation of any kind for that very reason. However, after some time, you should be able to feel the phantom part as if it’s part of your physical form.
Ending a meditation is as careful as beginning one. If you have triggered a phantom shift that has ‘changed’ the base shape of your physical form – such as legs or head – then you need to reverse the process and disconnect from the phantom shift before ending the meditation. You don’t have to reverse it completely – just reverse it to the point that your human physical parts feel stronger than the animal parts. I feel wolf legs overlaying my legs a lot of the time, but that’s a phantom overlay, and not a phantom shift. Phantom shifts can cause cramps in muscles as your body tries to mimic the “proper” pose of whatever part you have shifted. Keep in mind that most animals have digigrade legs – meaning they walk on their toes and the part of their leg that some people believe to be a backwards bending knee, is actually their heel. When a dog sits, it’s sitting flat footed, and when it stands, the paw is actually the tip of the toes. You can probably tell that a human foot cannot stretch that far. Likewise, your shin bones cannot shrink to compensate for the larger foot bones and give you proper digigrade proportions, but if your mind is strong enough, you might get muscle cramps and be seriously uncomfortable until you are able to reverse it enough to get your human “form” back.
I don’t warn of these things abstractly – I’ve experienced them. The shift I talked about before that happened while I was driving was a full phantom shift – and the body of a wolf is not designed to fit in the pose of a human being that’s driving a car. I was cramped and in pain. I’ve also woken up from having shifted in a dream, and it’s taken me a good hour of stretching and focusing to regain the feel for my human body. Ironically, the more you know about animal and human anatomy, the worse this problem is. When I was a child and didn’t realize that crawling on my hands and knees didn’t mean I was properly imitating the posture of a dog. I’d have phantom shifts and the parts of the body that didn’t line up just didn’t matter. But as I grew older and learned more, I remember the day when I actually broke down in tears when I realized that my body just cannot stand or move like a canine. I was inconsolable, and because of the “pretending to be an animal” discussions, I couldn’t even get comfort from my mother for it. It was not a fun day for me, and I really remember it to this day.
The whole point being that you essentially reverse what you did to get into the shift and the meditative state in order to get out of it. When you open your eyes, you should feel as if you’ve just taken a bit of a nap. You might have a lot of energy, be awake and alert, and ready for whatever comes next in your day. Some people use meditations like this to draw energy from their astral selves into their physical bodies so they don’t need caffeine to get through their days. Though, also, the first few times you do this, there’s a possibility you’ll come out of it exhausted. Especially if you’ve never shifted before, never connected to the astral realm before – it can be an energy drain on your body. Another reason that your schedule should be cleared when you choose to do this, because until you’ve done it, you don’t know what your body is going to need to recover from the experience.
And this concludes the second post of this series, on phantom shifts. My next post will be on mental and perception shifts, which can be considered the same thing, and we’ll see how to cope with moments when your animal mind comes to the forefront and you all but lose access to human thought. It can be a frightening and potentially dangerous thing, but it’s still part of the shifting experience, and has merits all in its own right.
Until the next post!