Recently, I woke up with the nostalgic urge to write about my awakening as a forest spirit. It’s been a long time, and I’m disappointed that so much has probably been lost in buried Tumblr posts and Skype conversations. I will try to make this as accurate as possible, but also want to state that some of my memories have gotten fogged up over time.
Things started happening around 2011, maybe earlier. I would have been 13/14 in 2011.
It started with running, I think. We were visiting family up North and I was sitting in the backseat of the car, looking out at the beautiful landscape and I just wanted to run. Run and run and run over hills and valleys and forests. But I didn’t want to run on two legs, it had to be four. The desire for quadrupedal movement is something that has stuck with me to this day- I can only imagine how perfect and graceful it must feel.
“I want to run” soon turned into… more. Things got confusing. I’m lucky enough that my childhood home borders a patch of woods, and I spent many hours wandering around in them. I felt drawn to them, to forests in general; my bedroom window overlooked a portion of the woods and in quiet hours I would sometimes sit and stare out at them. Sometimes I still do. It feels weird to say that I felt “called” but, I felt called out into that wilderness. Like there was some magic there that I couldn’t see.
This was a time of inspiration, too. I was beginning to explore otherkin and therian spaces more, because I found the concepts interesting. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with my lack of belief in the spiritual, especially since I was learning more about nature- and animism-based paths. I was also becoming increasingly amazed by the nature and shinto themes found in anime.
Maybe this whole thing was just some teenage ennui, but after nearly 10 years, when I’m still capable of getting “shifts” with the changing of the seasons? It’s unlikely. Or maybe it doesn’t even matter, because this identity is mine and its importance to me is all I care about.
So- It didn’t take too long for me to consider that I may be feeling other-than-human, as I was already familiar with the otherkin and therian communities. But there were two issues.
1. I had not yet grasped the idea that one can be both human and nonhuman, nor had I had much exposure to nonhuman identities outside of the ones I mentioned above.
2. I did not believe in the metaphysical.
These two things made my questioning slower and more tedious than it probably would have been otherwise. I could not explain what I was feeling, and the information that was available to me didn’t click either. I enjoyed and related to the human experience too much to resonate with otherkin/therian narratives. And how did I feel, out in those woods? Mundane. I did not have (obvious) shifts, phantom/astral limbs, or past life memories- and not all otherkin do! But, I felt that if I could at least experience one of those things, then it would point me in the right direction. No luck. Nothing about my psychology really felt inhuman either, aside from the longing. I understand now that my alterhuman identities in general are heavily psychological, but I guess it just wasn’t something I could pick out back then.
My lack of faith in the metaphysical came into play when I was trying to decipher what "my nonhuman side" actually was. Forest spirit popped up on my radar numerous times, but how could I be something I didn’t believe in? During this period I was experimenting with my spirituality, delving into subjects like totemism, animism, spiritual meditation, and nature-based religion. Nothing really stuck the way I wanted it to. I came away with an appreciation for turkey vultures, but no hard evidence of spirits.
Why did the lack of belief in regards to nonhumanity matter to me so much back then? I honestly have no idea. It was just A Thing.
I was also dissatisfied with being a forest spirit because it was so vague. People were dragons and bears and I wanted a shape of my own, too. I combed through articles and books trying to find some mythological creature that clicked with my experiences, but my searches were all in vain. The huldra was something that I came back to a few times- I went through periods of thinking that I must be some bipedal creature, because I felt perfectly content walking on two legs. Nevermind the yearning to run on four. The logic behind me spending hours researching these subjects after I just said “how could I be something I didn’t believe in?” eludes me. I think different barriers affected me at varying intensities over the course of my awakening, and there were times when I just wanted a form whether I believed in it or not.
A cycle began: I would get “feelings” (usually during times of seasonal change) → I began to question my humanity → I would research obsessively for a few weeks → Nothing fit because I didn’t feel “otherkin enough” or because I couldn’t reconcile my agnosticism or because I couldn’t find the right species → It would give me a big, big headache → I would give up for the time being, feeling content with being 100% human; a period of dormancy that would last a few months → Rinse and repeat for ~4 years.
Those periods of dormancy were barriers in themselves. How could I be nonhuman if I didn't always feel that way?
Regardless, feelings hit like a truck at times. I looked outside and felt something missing, from either myself or from the forest, but had no idea what that thing was. I felt like there might as well have been two of me, living different lives. I felt like there was something I had to be doing. Something gnawing at my insides, wanting to be known. I wrote poetry, I called myself "species-neutral", I made an "otherkin-themed" playlist even though I was human, you guys.
In desperation for an answer, I began doing some logical parkour. I continuously diverged from the things that made me feel nonhuman in the first place. I took a different approach and began to focus on my day-to-day behavior, how I held myself, etc. and came to the conclusion that I could be a bird therian. Earthly animals actually existed, so it would “make more sense” for me to be one of them, after all. Being a bird didn’t fit quite right- I did have a yearning to fly, but it didn't really match up to how avian-people described their identities on sites like Birds of a Feather. Well, maybe I was just a species that preferred living on the ground, like a pheasant! That didn’t last very long. It's funny to look back on, especially considering that I do have an avian-adjacent identity now.
Still, I toyed with spirit-things. The idea of having a home range but being free to travel far beyond it. The idea of being able to move unseen by most humans. It was comforting. It wouldn't leave me alone.
At another point, I attempted to solve the “I can’t relate to otherkin” issue with plurality. Maybe I was median, with one human facet and one nonhuman facet? That idea eventually fizzled out as well. I went back to calling myself a "wannabe forest spirit".
2015 was when things really changed, when I finally got a concrete answer. I was introduced to the term "otherhearted" - a deep identification with something, deeper than usual affiliations. Finally, something clicked. Existence didn't matter. I could stop worrying about whether or not I was spirit-kin, because I was spirit-hearted.
In 2017, I discovered alterhumanity and Alt-H, and fully accepted the notion that I could identify as human and non-human. Alt-H’s February Question of the Month was: “What is your relationship to humanity? Do you identify with any part of being human? Do you feel like you’re a blend of ‘other’ and human, or fully not human inside? Are you human but alterhuman in some other way?”
To which I wrote:
“Originally, I planned to start this post off by stating that I was human as opposed to anything else. However, this month’s question made me realize something important: I don’t have to identify as either fully human or fully not. Being a “blend” of human and other, or being both simultaneously/adjacently, describes how I experience my otherhearted-ness pretty well.”
Shortly after, I would shuck the otherhearted label altogether, as the “identify with” vs. “identify as” dichotomy no longer fit. I had grown to respect forest spirit for what it was: vague in form and origin. Still, embracing that I was other in some way, and that I was a forest spirit in some way as opposed to another creature, really put me on the right path back then.
The spirit-feelings are quieter nowadays, though there are still times where they jump out at me; this past fall I had periods of yearning that hit harder than they had in a few years. The magic in the woods, the being-called, the green at dusk, I find them nostalgic. I wanted to document this period of my life largely because of the missteps I took, they're interesting and maybe someone will be able to learn from them, but also because those years will always hold a special place in my heart.