An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Identity in the Therian Communityby Timothy Grivell, Helen Clegg, Elizabeth C. Roxburgh



Sociology and Political Science / Anthropology


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Identity: An International Journal of

Theory and Research

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An Interpretative Phenomenological

Analysis of Identity in the Therian


Timothy Grivell a , Helen Clegg a & Elizabeth C. Roxburgh a a The University of Northampton

Published online: 13 May 2014.

To cite this article: Timothy Grivell , Helen Clegg & Elizabeth C. Roxburgh (2014) An Interpretative

Phenomenological Analysis of Identity in the Therian Community, Identity: An International Journal of

Theory and Research, 14:2, 113-135, DOI: 10.1080/15283488.2014.891999

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An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Identity in the Therian Community

Timothy Grivell, Helen Clegg, and Elizabeth C. Roxburgh

The University of Northampton

Therianthropy is the belief that one is part nonhuman animal. Opinions vary in the academic literature as to whether it is a mental illness or a spiritual belief. Although believed to be rare in the Western world, the development of a Western online community of therians who largely have not come to the attention of the academic community suggests that it is not well understood. In this study, five therians were interviewed about how the adoption of the term therian impacts their identity. Using interpretative phenomenological analysis, three themes emerged: (a) a journey of self-discovery, (b) transpeciesism, and (c) the therian shadow. The personal discovery and acceptance of therianthropy appears to be a gradual development process. Strong parallels were made to transgenderism. A desire for public acceptance was expressed by the respondents.

Therianthropy is traditionally defined as the belief that one has or can transform into an animal (Keck, Pope, Hudson, McElroy, & Kulick, 1988). Such a belief has ancient origins and is represented in archaeological artifacts, for example, ivory figurines with felid and human traits (Conard, 2003) and rock art depicting images such as vultures with human legs (LewisWilliams, 2002, 2004), which are dated as early as 31,000 to 33,000 years ago. In more recent human history, the earliest written reports of human-beast transformation can be seen in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and as early as 2,500 years ago there were superstitions about people transforming into wolves (Herodotus, 2008). Since then therianthropy has emerged in many myths, legends, and folklore across the world and explanations have varied, including scientific, religious, and supernatural ones.

In the psychiatric literature the term lycanthropy, the belief that one can transform into a wolf, is often used instead of therianthropy, although wolves are certainly not the only animals described in the literature. Some see lycanthropy as being distinct from therianthropy since lycanthropy is the belief in actual physical transformation or in enacting behaviors indicative of such beliefs (Garlipp, 2007) whereas therians do not believe in physical transformation (Lupa, 2007). Nonetheless, Keck et al. (1988), whose criteria for lycanthropy are commonly used in the psychiatric literature, did not make this distinction.

There has also been some confusion surrounding the distinction between therians and furries.

Furries are individuals who are interested in anthropomorphic animals, such as cartoon animals, and who will sometimes dress up and role-play such animals (Gerbasi et al., 2008) whereas

Address correspondence to Helen Clegg, Division of Psychology, The University of Northampton, Park Campus,

Boughton Green Road, Northampton NN2 7AL, United Kingdom. E-mail:

Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 14:113–135, 2014

Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

ISSN: 1528-3488 print=1532-706X online

DOI: 10.1080/15283488.2014.891999

D ow nl oa de d by [T he

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K ha n U niv ers ity ] a t 1 6:0 2 1 6 O cto be r 2 01 4 theriotypes are usually natural animals (Lupa, 2007). Gerbasi et al. investigated characteristics of furries and found four typologies based on whether or not participants considered themselves less than 100% human and would like to no longer be human. Those who answered either question in the affirmative could fall within the definition of therian.

Today, in the Western world, research investigating therianthropy has tended to be divided into two perspectives: that of psychiatry which positions therians as mentally ill and that of anthropology and archaeology which explains therian beliefs and experiences as spiritual phenomena. In psychiatry, therianthropy=lycanthropy has been associated with psychosis, and there have been suggestions that it is a form of hypochondria, a delusional misidentification, or a type of depressive disorder, or that it involves depersonalization (Coll, O’Sullivan, &