Of Daemons & Therianthropy

The first three books on my 2009 100 New Books In One Year reading list were the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials TrilogyThe Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife,The Amber Spyglass. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t watch the recent movie adaptation of the first book in the series until I’d finished reading it, and I managed to keep that promise to myself (despite getting the movie while I was still four chapters from the end of the book, I still held out). But as I’ve been reading this excellent series, I’ve been struck time and time again by the way a daemon, the animal spirit that embodies the soul of a person in the heroine’s original universe, is very much reminicent of therianthropy.

By my personal definition of Therianthropy, my soul is not human. My soul is a dire wolf. I make it a point that pretty much everyone who knows the real me knows about this relatively soon after I deem them “safe” to tell. When it comes to Pullman’s daemons, the situation is much the same – your soul is embodied by an animal. Allbeit a talking, conscious animal that, while you are young, changes shape constantly, not settling on a shape until you go through puberty and become an adult. I was struck by the similarities that this phenomenon bears to my own therianthropic journey.

If I had a daemon, what would it be? Well, first and foremost, it would be male. A person’s daemon is almost always the opposite gender from them. When I was young, I can easily see my daemon assuming many different shapes, as varied as bird and dog, snail and snake, fox and dinosaur. The shape changes are chosen by the daemon itself, and it can change whenever and to whatever it wants. When a daemon in the book series sees another daemon or an animal who’s shape it wants to try, it does so without any fanfare at all. Pantalaimon, the heroine’s daemon in the books, has favorite shapes such as an ermine, a moth, a mouse, a wildcat, and a polecat, but also assumes forms such as a leopard, a tern (after seeing another daemon in the shape of a tern for the first time), and even a dragon, showing that they do not have to SEE the creature they are mimicing in order to be that creature. Also, no matter how long they’ve had that form, they behave exactly as that animal would. If your daemon spent a lot of time as a cat when you were young and settled as a dog when you grew up, you would not have a dog that acted like a cat. Whatever they are, they are wholly and completely.

How does this tie in with Therianthropy? Well, in my personal experience, when a therian is first searching for the reality of the creature that is their soul, their innermost part, they do a lot of experimentation. Some people believe wolf is them, at the beginning, and believe it whole-heartedly. However, when they “mature” as a therian, they may realize that their true self is actually an eagle, or a dolphin, and some shared characteristic between wolf and their final true form was what helped them along their path to discover what they truly were. Is this not unlike the path of a daemon? When a daemon’s person is a child, the daemon experiments with many different shapes, changing with the child’s emotions and their own, changing with their curiosity, with their expansion of knowledge, until one day, finally, the true, final form of the daemon is reached when when the two of them, the daemon and the human, the soul and the body, reach maturity.

In my own personal therianthropic journey, I’ve gone from a very unspecific, generic “canine” feeling, and cycled through things as varied as Rabbit and Utahraptor, before, as my therianthropic maturity settled, realizing that I truly was a dire wolf. And finally, when I matured, my daemon settled into it’s final form – the dire wolf. Though honestly, sometimes I wonder if my daemon would actually be a dire wolf, or if it would be the grey fox that I see as my spirit guide. My spirit guide has also gone through similar changes to my therianthropic side over my maturity, but has finally settled as a grey fox. So either one really works.

So tonight, as I start reading the final book of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, maybe my questions will be answered, and maybe I will continue to see more of the connections between daemons and therianthropy. But one thing is for sure: The His Dark Materials Trilogy, by Philip Pullman, are wonderful books for therians and non-therians alike. I highly recommend them.

© Tygerwolfe – 2009