Therianthropy is the magical art of human to animal transformations, more commonly known as shapeshifting. It is an ancient shamanic art, richly steeped within many cultures and beliefs. Greek Mythology has many cases of gods and goddesses using shapeshifting as a way to punish their victims. Athena’s revenge on Medusa is one that stands out in the crowd. There’s even folklore of the Booger Dog, a foul smelling shapeshifter also referred to as a hellhound, a myth brought to the Ozarks from our Scots-Irish ancestors.
When I became interested in shapeshifting as a practice, I not only wanted to experience this ancient magic, I wanted to know of my Germanic and Celtic ancestors’ roots and the folklore to this beautiful art as well.
I’ve read the tales from the Germanic and Irish witches, detailing their relationships with the fetch, their animal familiars on which they rode to their sabbaths. The witches fed and cared for the animals in payment for flight. Lore told that anyone placing eyes upon the witches’ fetch knew well of their fate and the looming call of death that was soon to be upon them.
The Germans spoke of doppelgängers, a look alike type of shifter, and Celtic witches warnings of P’uca, a type of fae that could shapeshift into terrifyingly horrible forms at will.
In the old German fairy tale The Frog’s Bridegroom by Gustau Jungbauer, there’s a man named Hansi who marries a frog only to find out later that his bride was truly a beautiful woman, who had shapeshifted into her frog form. That had to seriously improve that grooms day!
In the movie The Witch, they show us a witch who transforms into a hare, reaping havoc on a woodland family. In Europe, it was common for folk to believe in goddesses and gods that associated with the hare. This practice that celebrated old heathen beliefs and traditions, managed to survive even after Christianity’s rise.
Legend tells of the Germanic goddess Eostre, a deity that could give witches aid in achieving this art. It was said that when a hunter would shoot a hare, he would go to retrieve his catch, only to find instead that the hare had transformed into a woman’s dead body. In the 1600s a witch named Isobel Gowdie admitted in court to her shapeshifting abilities. She stated that she was capable of shifting into a hare and would do so to join other witches, and gave the exact incantation for her shapeshifting rites.
My interest then shifted to the ancestors of my land. Researching this brought me some interesting information that I’ve incorporated into my own practice. Being in northern Wisconsin, I knew that I would find Native Americans as the wise ones, the true shaman and shapeshifters of the land.
Indeed, I found the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, the Sauk Fox tribes, Ho Chunk, and the Potawatomi tribes. I learned of their Effigy mounds that where discovered in the shape of animals, found as burial sites for the early Wisconsin inhabitants. They used sweat lodges before they shifted, which they felt aided dreaming and healing, and used pine and birch for the fires to enhance dream states.
They smoked tobacco in their rituals, feeling this a symbol of honesty, and a sign of their request to the animal spirits they wished to contact.
So with all this folklore in tow, I started my own practice. I made a bracelet of rowan berries and laborite. Rowan berries are an excellent protector, giving the aid of control over the spirits. Laborite is a stone of the soul worker. It assists the witch through the changes that occur during this practice, protects one’s aura, and offers strength and perseverance.
I burn dandelion leaves to call to the wild ones, and I drink a dandelion mead.
I make an ointment of popular buds, and the ground up bones of the animals I desire to shift with. As the Celtic witches, and the Native American shaman, I too use the animals feathers, skin, and bones in my dress, and workings. I carry a mojo bag with the rune Algiz, linked to the Elk, and I use this to connect with animal spirits and for protection. I have a bonfire, using the same birch and pine logs, while chanting, drumming, and dancing myself into other magical realms.
I feed the animals of the woods I want to work with, for there is always a price to be paid. That being said, know there are risks for practicing this art, some who travel this crooked path come back whole, enlightened, with a fire in their head. Some aren’t that lucky, unable to return, either being lost or forgetting their true form. So study well, take precautions, and protect yourself if this is a practice you want to incorporate into your magical workings.
In conclusion, I leave you with this song, a magical little tune from pagan artist Sharon Knight, telling of the fates of those who practice these kind of arts. Fire in the Head, enjoy! )0(