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Non-Fluffy Pagans
my other soul is a kobold 
29th-Dec-2011 12:32 am
spiderweb (avatarfish)
A while back I started posting on the controversial subjects board (mostly politics and religion) of a hobby site. Something to do when LJ was down, but I've become strangely fond of the place. It's majority atheist, with a healthy dollop of Christians and a couple of Jewish members. There are other Pagans, but they rarely post unless someone posts a "so, is anyone Pagan?" post. The only other active Pagan, besides myself, is a 17-year-old boy going through one mother of a fluffy phase.

My dealings with him started when he posted a thread about how his (quite conservative) Christian family members didn't accept his Paganism, and got mad at him when he insulted their religion and forced him to go to church. I responded the way I think most people here would, with a bit of a whack upside the head and a "their house, keep your head down until you're out of there, and consider it a good time to visit the library and learn as much as you can-- and for fuck's sake stop insulting their religion if you ever expect them to respect yours". To my surprise, he seemed to listen to my criticism, and over the last few months has come to view me as, basically, that helpful old lady who knows shit and who will give him advice. Most of my advice has been finding various resources to point him at and say "go read that". He takes to being told to do homework about as well as I'd expect from a fluffy teenager, but some of what I say clearly does manage to lodge in his brain.

I don't ever laugh at him or tell him he's full of shit, even when he is, because he looks up to me, trusts me at least somewhat, and I want to encourage him to learn to think critically and analyze his UPG without saying "no! what you're doing is wrong!" and scaring him off. But damn, does he come up with some doozies. He mixes pantheons like a frat boy mixes drinks, his patron god is a Japanese thunder demon who (coincidentally! I'm sure!) was in a video game, and now he's decided that he's Otherkin. To wit, that he's a reincarnated kobold in a human body. (Which are also coincidentally in video games! Detecting a pattern here?)

I'm officially out of my depth. I'm not much for the woo to begin with, I don't have the first idea how to answer this confession other than "you no take candle!" or "you just want to be special, hopefully you'll grow out of it", and that'd be a violation of his trust. He seems to take pointed questions reasonably well if he thinks they're well-meaning, but I just don't know what the hell to ask him, or what to point him at to stop the slide into "I like this, so therefore it's my soul". He's got a repressive home environment, has been bullied, is fantasy-prone, and I think it's important that he has someone who will neither rubber-stamp every stray fantasy he has nor make a joke of him. What would you do with this if you were in my position?
29th-Dec-2011 04:20 pm (UTC)
I would recommend resources on Germanic or Gaulish fair folk/folk lore. If he's picked up "Kobold" from a video game, what he thinks it means will depend greatly on which video game since there are a wide variety of representations (the word's meant everything from small rat-like miners to mischievous dogs to cruel dwarf-like smiths, and that's just in the games I've played). Finding the origins as a helpful house-sprite or tricksy miner might give him the context to work with it. I'd probably recommend to him that he look for primary sources, seek out references in literature and song, see what he can discover about "his" history. Taking it seriously, while pointing him to the wide world of research and pantheon.

Then I'd suggest that he take what he learns and find a practical use for it. If he feels drawn to Earth, Mining and Smithcraft, he should find a place where he can take welding lessons, learn about wood working or learn basic auto maintenance. If he has limited space, he could take up jewelry making using wire or a similar hobby. If he feels drawn to house-sprites he could take up gourmet cooking, sweep weekly, scrub the floor mindfully, iron, take care of the yard or plant an herb garden to use in his cooking (any of which might make relations with his parents less strained too). If he thinks he's an annoying dog-like creature, maybe he can learn about dog training, pack dynamics and how to give dogs comfortable, stable lives. Whatever the origin of his identity or ties or self, in my faith the important thing is the application. What do we do with what we believe? How do we make the things we do every day sacred? How do we leverage our identities into becoming better people to the people around us, better citizens of the world? I wouldn't tell him that part, though: I'd recommend one of the practical applications of his new-found self-identity.
29th-Dec-2011 05:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, yes, yes! This is pretty much exactly what I was going to reply with. Especially this part:

Whatever the origin of his identity or ties or self, in my faith the important thing is the application. What do we do with what we believe? How do we make the things we do every day sacred? How do we leverage our identities into becoming better people to the people around us, better citizens of the world?

I very much agree. To me, no matter what sort of belief you're talking about, the most important thing is not the belief itself (or where you came across the ideas) but where you go with it. The same basic belief system can inspire one person to devote themselves to improving their lives and the world around them, another to retreat into fantasy, and another to actively persecute or mistreat people they regard as "the enemy". This is true regardless of whether you're talking about relatively new and fringey beliefs or long-established religious and political orthodoxies.

So yes, definitely - encourage him to research, reflect, and try to understand what the particular mythic images he's feeling drawn to mean and why he's feeling pulled toward them. If they are just passing infatuations that he gravitated to because he perceived them as "cool", they won't stand up to that sort of analysis, and he'll eventually move on to something more substantive. But if they are things he's genuinely feeling pulled to on a deeper level, he can begin to understand some of the reasons why and find ways to incorporate those reasons into his spiritual path.
30th-Dec-2011 08:18 am (UTC)
Thank you for this, and I completely agree on the "where you go with it", that's how I view it as well.

I suspect it's more passing infatuation, since he seems to pick up infatuations easily and often-- the Otherkin mentions are new, and I'd wonder if he just recently became confident enough to share this if it weren't for his tendency to blurt out whatever he's thinking to the board at large (which always makes me wince, as many of the regulars have stopped needling him but passers-by from the bigger boards aren't nearly as kind). But either way, I think asking the right questions will, hopefully, lead him to cultivate a habit of critical thinking. That alone will serve him well no matter where he chooses to go in his spiritual life.
30th-Dec-2011 08:26 am (UTC)
Fantastic comment, thank you so much! I love the practical application of this, especially since I'm just not qualified to deal with the more mystical "is this reincarnation or something else" aspects of this, like you I'm more interested in what people *do* with religion than in the "what is the ultimate nature of gods" kinds of questions that seem to be the main preoccupation of people on that board.

It's also a good check-in on what I've been doing so far with the rest of his interests. His main interest is the Japanese thunder demon Raijin, and I pointed him to resources on Shinto, suggested he learn more about the Japanese as a whole, and find ways to engage with the storms part of it with storm science, if he's inclined, and offerings during storms. I think whether or not he does any of the reading (and I don't think that's where his head is at yet), the general tenor of what I've said has stuck-- that religion involves learning and spiritual work, that the best way to know anything from another culture is to know the culture it's from, and to figure out what he can *do* with his inclinations on a more concrete level. I do know he's reading some basic comparative mythology (like "Everything Mythology"), and I think that's a step in the right direction.
29th-Dec-2011 04:47 pm (UTC)
I was a 17-year-old about 8 years ago, and I still remember pretty well what it felt like. I, too, was rather fantasy prone, and being a total Star Wars nerd I was about an inch away from declaring myself a Jedi at least once a week. I was in the death throes of my Christianity but clinging desperately to it because, well, that's what my family was and expected of me, and it was all I knew, but looking back I was obviously looking for a way out.

My point is, now I'm 25, I have no delusions or desires to become a Jedi and am able to see the difference between things I like and spiritual things. So he will probably grow out of it as he grows up and matures.

However, I second sylvanstargazer's advice to try to get him to actually put his beliefs and thoughts into actions. That is one thing, I know, that pulled me out of the fluffy stage into the serious practicing Pagan stage early on. It's easy to be fluffy if you just talk about it, but when you actually start acting on the talk... things tend to fall apart, in my experience.
29th-Dec-2011 04:58 pm (UTC)

I had my fluffy stages and my stages of incompetence, I think the most important thing I've gained by my pagan mentors is that they never talked down to me and let me fuck up and realize my own mistakes. I agreed with sylvanstargazer about him researching about the origin of kobolds and their mythology. I also agree with the idea of him getting active with his beliefs, I think what really got me more grounded as a pagan was finding my druid grove. Interacting with them allowed me to both have role models and learn a lot about my primary pantheon and find a strong tie with Dagda.

Edited at 2011-12-29 05:00 pm (UTC)
29th-Dec-2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
Nothing. I would say nothing and lead by example. The shallow crave the shallow, the deep crave the deep. If he is the latter, merely pointing to the pool will eventually be sufficient.
29th-Dec-2011 06:31 pm (UTC)
I have no advice - just a story
A long long time ago I was part of an on-line group. There was a young man much like your friend. Hardline family, fragile self image he convinced himself he was an "otherkind". It was his security. Nothing anyone said could change his position. Some people gave him a very hard time about it. He eventually joined the armed services still convinced. Time went on and we saw less of him. Just before the site folded we heard from him again. His life wasn't perfect yet but he had found an identity that wasn't "otherkind".

Personally I'd ignore the alternate personality. It's not something I'd want to get mixed up in not knowing what kind of a defense it might be. The human personality is a delicate thing.
But your support of his interest in things pagan should give him some support. Eventually, hopefully, he will find himself.
30th-Dec-2011 12:01 am (UTC)
I second focusing on what this means to him, what he thinks it should mean, and maybe slip in a question or two about how much he thinks his past should control what the future holds.

All key points for him to consider about any aspect of his possible background.

Might also be a good time to talk about keeping a journal, to record thoughts and hunches, as well as records for any energy work he does. So he can go back and reflect on what happened after each, to work out what works best for him, and what the clues for success are.

No need to pass judgement pro or con, let him work it out and support him the way you are. Be a sounding board, and suggest good resources. The rest is his journey.
30th-Dec-2011 08:29 am (UTC)
I like this comment, and I really like the journal suggestion and will definitely pass it on. Thank you!
30th-Dec-2011 12:04 am (UTC)
Well, first, the value of the "go read that" style of advice is very much underrated. I wish I had someone giving me reading lists when I was first starting out. (I eventually got a huge reading list about three years in, when I hooked up with ADF.)

As for the Otherkin thing, there might be an Everybody Wins solution here. You could always talk to him about archetypes and how they're used throughout cultures. Emphasize the bit about symbols and characters modelling patterns of behavior that we want to bring into our own lives. Kids love Superman because he's strong and brave and always does the right thing. They love the kid from Pokemon (the fellow with the baseball cap, can't remember his name) because he's smart and resourceful and he's always looking out for his friends. So, maybe ask him what it is about Kobolds that interests him, and help him deconstruct why he feels that way and what kind of change or growth he's trying to catalyze within himself.

Also, a little make-believe isn't necessarily a bad thing. I used to do Mind's Eye Theater LARP, and I made this Werewolf character that I played for a few years. I intended only to make this angsty, brooding bad-ass of a guy, but over the years I ended up using the character to unpack a lot of internal stuff that I was dealing with. And when the character got killed, it felt cathartic- like I didn't need him anymore. Getting back to the archetype thing- when we're trying to figure out what kinds of personality or patterns of behavior we want to adopt, sometimes the only way we can know if something fits is to try it on for a while.

Obviously, the danger is that this will develop into an unhealthy pathology. This is especially cogent given his home situation and the complex soup of hormones sloshing around in his body right now. Given the physical and psychological distance there's only so much you can do. Be there for him, but set clear boundaries (at least for yourself). When it gets to a point where you're unable or unqualified to help him, recommend some resources that will let him seek out the help he needs. (If you don't know already, you might want to try to get an idea of where he lives, in case you start to fear for his safety and you need to get authorities involved.)

Good luck! For what it's worth, you're a Good Egg for doing as much as you've done so far.
30th-Dec-2011 05:16 am (UTC)
They love the kid from Pokemon (the fellow with the baseball cap, can't remember his name)

Ash. I remember it because it's the same name as Bruce Campbell's character in The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, etc., which conjures up some hilarious crossover possibilities in my mind.
30th-Dec-2011 08:55 am (UTC)
I agree about reading lists. Based on my own experiences, I think a lot of that kind of advice is something that can sit in the background until someone's ready for it. "Do homework" isn't a particularly attractive thing to a kid in his position right now, but I think at some point, it will be memorable. At the very least, he's getting "hmm, some people go at this by doing a lot of reading and a lot of practical activity" as a data point. I know I had a lot of internal stuff to work through before a lot of the good advice I've read here and from friends was actually useful to me, I've had a lot of "ah, now I understand what that person meant when..." moments just in the last few years. I'm trying to model that, and maybe cut out some of the years of floundering and getting in with a bad group I had because I didn't have anyone reliable who I could gut-check my thoughts with. I'm trying to go off "what do I wish someone had said to me when *I* was 17", with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

I'm not as worried that it'll develop into unhealthy pathology, I don't think he's that invested in it at this point. He's seeking, and one thing I'm trying hard to do is to say that seeking is a perfectly fine thing to do and that he doesn't need to know exactly what label best fits him and exactly who his gods are and exactly what he needs to do spiritually at seventeen. It's okay to explore and question and try on labels and concepts, and nobody expects him to have it all sorted by now. The one thing I don't want to do is scare him off and have him end up in an online community where people will encourage the fantasy-proneness in a way that actually *is* damaging. I think he's fine as long as he doesn't fall in with people like that-- and while I get the impression that his parents are quite conservative Christians, they do let him play video games and talk about them online, and they're not suspicious of his possessions, so I think as long as he doesn't keep provoking them (and he's stopped that, thankfully) he'll probably be fine.

I really appreciate the advice, especially what you said about your LARPing experience. I don't know much about kids, and the desire to be a supernatural creature has never been something I've experienced, so when he said "kobold" and not "animal", I was at a loss.
30th-Dec-2011 02:42 am (UTC)
If the otherkin identity is deep-seated in his psyche, you won't get rid of it. If it's just a metaphor, he'll move on once he realizes that on his own. In short, he'll either grow into it or grow out of it, just as some people find science fiction fandom and learn what they need and move on, while others discover science fiction fandom and find they are home.

I love the idea of asking him to find ways to express this identity in some practical way. Not everyone works with their hands--if the suggestions made above don't work for him, he could do things like clean up local parks or join an adopt-a-highway group. But really, you don't have to come up with his answers, since it sounds like you're doing just fine by helping him find the right questions.
30th-Dec-2011 08:35 am (UTC)
Looking for the right questions was the main reason for my post, I have no experience with the whole otherkin concept and didn't really have a good grip on what might be helpful things to ask. I definitely don't want to give him answers, I just want to be a Useful Question Generator to help him learn to figure out how to analyze his own experiences, and someone who can suggest good resources. I honestly expected, when he unveiled "I'm Otherkin" on the board, that he was going to say he had an animal soul. I was mentally collating therianthropy links that I'd seen and (from my complete outsider's standpoint) thought sounded pretty good. The kobold thing I was not at all prepared for, and didn't know what to do with.
30th-Dec-2011 08:11 pm (UTC)
The others have given you great advice from pagan standpoints, so I'm going to go at this from an Otherkin standpoint (that is, I identified as Otherkin around 15-16, and have been moving out of that identity over the last year or two).

As far as claiming an Otherkin identity goes, be neutral - don't encourage him in that thinking, and don't discourage him, either. Suggest that he visit Otherkin.net and explore it and the other sites it links. Encourage him to join a mailing list or two, especially ones that cater to Otherkin newbies and/or kobolds. Ask him how he plans to recognize fluffy sites/listservs.

There's a good chance that he'll grow out of this self-identity sooner or later, as he no longer needs whatever he currently gets out of it. There's a chance he may not, if he finds that it continues to fulfill a need in him. Let him know that identity changes over time, and that for some people, that will extend to such identities as sexual orientation, gender orientation and presentation, religion, etc.
4th-Jan-2012 12:28 am (UTC)
I know I'd love to tell him to quit with the chopping of fantasy video game icons into fine powder and snorting it to achieve a fluffy high of personal ego boosting. But that might be detrimental. In this case I'd almost work the angle of trying to get him to expand on these things. Questions like, 'what is a kobold?,' 'what culture(s) does it come from?,' 'what does it really mean to these cultures?,' might pull some of the flash out of his pan. Game developers often dress up most of their critters in gaudiness anyway so when you look at the picture of the thunder demon from the perspective of a peasant rice farmer in 600AD it might have less drama than the vibrating controller, a points score, and a voice shouting "Finish HIM!"
I agree that he just wants to feel special and better than other people like many of us did at 17. Might want to relate that we've all known people who thought they had the soul of an eagle, but we all kiss pavement when we try to jump off ledges.
6th-Jan-2012 03:13 am (UTC)
Kobold at least is a very unusual kin type. I've got to give him that.
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