The Magic of Shapeshifting – Rosalyn Greene

The Magic of Shapeshifting
Rosalyn Greene
Weiser Books, 2000
258 pages

This is going to be a looong review. Where do I start with this book? I have a complicated relationship with it; I first bought it in 2002, back when I was in a “belief” stage of my belief-doubt-belief cycle about being a therianthrope. I didn’t have much exposure to the therian-specific community, though I’d had off and on contact with the Otherkin community through which I met a number of therians. Since then, I’ve read it several more times, and I’ve finally, five years later, gotten around to reviewing it. I’ll admit that each time I’ve read it my opinion of it has gone down, largely because each time I have a better understanding of therianthropy, both from my own perspective and from the therian community at large. Same thing goes for magic, which plays an integral role in The Magic of Shapeshifting.

One of my biggest complaints is that the author (or three authors, writing under one name, according to one rumor) accepts historical accounts of lycanthropy as completely, literally true. This is what she bases a lot of her proof that “shifters: (including physical shifters) have existed for millenia, well known to the populace but only recently suppressed. She relies particularly on questionable sources such as Montague Summers, and she takes no critical eye to any of her material, which irritates me to no end.

She also bases most of her magic on a mixture of spiritism/Theosophy and a smattering of Asian concepts of energy work, and assumes that the subjective biases of these systems are universal. Her approach is rather dogmatic, as if there’s only one way to skin a werewolf. And she doesn’t cite any sources for the practical aspects of her work, which is a shame as it could have been strengthened by showing that other people have gotten similar results, though not necessarily using the techniques she utilizes for the same end. While she uses footnote citations for historical information, I was left wondering where she got her inspirations for the more hands-on material, and what sources she learned to acquire the building blocks for her magical work.

I think what I dislike the most, though, about this work are all the huge assumptions and broad stereotypes she applies to therianthropes in general, many of which are inaccurate, and none of which are backed up with anything other than anecdotal information from other, often unidentified, people that we’re supposed to expect are telling the truth. Given the gullibility of the author in accepting whatever Mr. Summers wrote without question, I have to wonder how much critical consideration went into whatever her informants told her, or if she ever questioned her own experiences to any degree. While belief in yourself is healthy, never questioning yourself isn’t–if she did ever look at the possibility that not everything in this book was literally true, she doesn’t show any evidence of having done so.

Some of the inaccuracies are blindingly obvious when viewed by anyone with more than a passing involvement in the therian community. This includes her assertion that most therians go through a “phase” as a fox shifter before “maturing” into another species; that all therians have totem animals that are the same species as their therioside; the claim that a number of terms she throws around are “commonly” used in the therian community (what she calls the “shifter community”, but it’s the same thing), when in actuality I’ve never heard most of them anywhere except from her book; that therians have an aversion to turquoise; and her overemphasis on the existence of organized therian “packs”. In fact, there’s a lot of information just on the community itself that could seriously mislead readers who aren’t familiar with the actual community.

Additionally, she seems to have some weird ideas about physical animals. Some of it is strange esoteric biases, such as the idea that black animals attract evil spirits, or that the color of an animal’s fur or eyes determines its magical prowess and even personality. Last I checked, this didn’t hold true for humans, and I haven’t found in my decade-plus experience with animal magic that it does for nonhuman animals, either. She also has some blatant biological mistakes in there, such as the “fact” that foxes have retractable claws (they don’t).

Her information on shifting isn’t universally bad; I found her descriptions of some of the features of mental shifting to be accurate to my own experience. And there are some exercises in there that could actually be useful for gaining control of one’s ability to shift, or to improve one’s relationship with the part of the self that is the therioside. Her methods for raising levels of “shifting energy” are simple psychological triggers that can be used by anyone in a ritual setting to help achieve the proper altered state of consciousness for invocation (of another entity or a part of the self)–not that this is bad, just that it’s nothing new (but again it can be quite useful).

What this book really comes across as is someone in the furry community who has a serious grudge against the therian community. My reason for believing this is that she holds up the furry community as the best place for a “shifter” to go find other “shifters”, while her very scant opinions on the (online) therian community is that it’s full of cultists and other unsavory people. (There’s nothing wrong with furries, of course, but even many members of that community will quickly tell you that “furry” and “therian” are not the same thing, though there are some furs who are also therians–but they’re a minority.) Additionally, some of her biases, such as the proliferation of fox therians who turn into other types of therian later on actually more closely mirrors furries, in which there are a LOT of fox fursonas (though it’s common for people to create new fursonas as they get more involved in the community). She also emphasizes costuming (fursuits) in the book quite a bit as an aid for getting in touch with the animal, and even gives a diagram for the leg extensions used in quadsuits, or quadrepedal fursuits.

In short, this reads like a furry who has a personal vendetta against the therian community. Granted, not everybody gets along with everybody else in the community–but welcome to life. There’s nothing that says a therian can’t be a part of the furry fandom, but when a book on therianthropy (which it pretty obviously is despite the use of the word “shifter”) quite conspicuously eliminates almost any reference to the therian community except for a couple of sharp-toothed remarks, this strongly suggests personal rather than professional issues.

That being said, my wrapup of the book is this: If you read it, keep a shaker of salt very handy (you may need to refill it a couple of times). There are some magical/psychological techniques that some therianthropes may find useful for becoming more comfortable with shifting and gaining better internal balance. However, the bulk of the book is essentially drek. My suggestion would be to hit up some online therian sites and do your research there; the Werelibrary, the Marsh, and Absurdism are good starting places.

One pawprint out of five.

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11 Comments

  1. Solo said,

    October 20, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    OH BRAVO. Thank you for giving it the rating it deserves.

  2. Kitsula said,

    October 22, 2007 at 9:59 am

    2nding the Bravo!

    Never thought about the possible ‘furry bias’ in it before, but thinking about it again, it does make a bit of sense.

  3. Lost Dog Found said,

    October 22, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    Never read this book, but after this, I’m not going to. Thanks for the review.

  4. Spanky said,

    October 22, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    I second Lost Dog Found.

  5. Sarenth said,

    October 23, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    I understand where you are coming from in the beginning of your review, especially concerning each time you came back to it your opinion had “gone down” regarding it. Unfortunately, this is one of the very few books widely available for public consumption on therianthropy and shapeshifting, perhaps aside from Ted Andrews’ book(s), that I have found. The book, when I first picked it up, helped me to understand my particular spiritual situation in a way that my then-defunct-and-decimated therian community. When I put it down, did some self-discovery, growing, etc. and came back, I actually grew disgusted with it, having read one of her primary sources: Montague Summers.

    Good review, sorry for the long response.

  6. Alia said,

    October 24, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    can you help me? where i can get sources for legends or myths about werecats/werewolves?

  7. lupabitch said,

    October 24, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Sarenth–first, no apologies for long responses 🙂

    As far as I’m concerned, the best existing websites are still among the most accurate sources of information on therianthropy in specific (I’m biased about my own books, of course 😉 ). As to more general works on shapeshifting, information is primarily found through shamanic material.

    IMO, scattered but relatively accurate information is better than a bunch of bad information all collected into one place. I’m really hoping somebody from the therian community (or someone who isn’t therian, but who has a thorough understanding of it and uses good sources) will write a more solid work on the topic of therianthropy.

  8. lupabitch said,

    October 24, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Alia – start by going to Wikipedia and looking up related topics, such as lycanthropy, therianthropy, werewolf, etc. Also, I highly recommend Jamie Hall’s “Half Man, Half Beast” as a superb collection of shapeshifter myths.

  9. Affliction said,

    July 15, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Interesting how Shifting is such a disputed topic here, considering its a common and relatively easy thing to do anywhere except earth on this plane..
    I suppose Im what you would call a Therian, I’ve been trying to research ways of manifesting my true form on this plane, but to no avail. From my own personal experience with Shifting its naught but impossible to do here, Human bodies arent meant to shift, thats about all there is to it. My Mate tried it once and was in bed for a week because of it… However I do believe that anything may be possible with the right way of doing it, I believe it never hurts to try.. even though sometimes it does, if it doesnt kill you, it will only make you stronger! mentally stronger, at least 😉

  10. Korak said,

    September 11, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I enjoyed the book when I first read in 2002, but like you, my opinion of it went down as I learned more about the therian community through actual contact with therians at howls, etc. I was particularly incensed by Greene’s comments about wolf hybrids (that they are sociopathic animals with split souls, or some such derogatory nonsense), and since my uncle has lovingly raised wolf hybrids since 1990, I think I know them well enough to [i]assure[/I] everyone that Greene’s comment is totally untrue. I highly recommend a book called All the Loving Wolves by Michael Belshaw as an antidote to the kind of hysteria about hybrids Greene seems to believe.

  11. elvynwolf said,

    December 23, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Truthfully, I’ve enjoyed the book, but even I had my own points of goin “WTF?!” Granted, while it’s true that most reports of someone seeing a demon animal, the animal was black, I’ve been around black animals all my life and never have they been evil or prone to attracting evil. In fact, they’ve been some of the most loving companions I could have ever asked for.

    I didn’t buy the whole “Oh, you start out as a fox and then turn into something else” crap. Even my mate, when I read that one to him was like “What the hell ever! You are what you are! If you’re a wolf, you’re going to be a wolf, not start out as a fox and then turn into a wolf.”

    I do tend to think that old myths and legends about physical shifting has truth in it somewhere, but that’s an entirely ‘nother topic and a very lengthy one at that.

    I do recommend keeping the salt nearby, as it was illustrated earlier, but the information about the different types of shifts that were described I found to be quite handy and interesting.

    Overall, I would probably have to personally give the book at MOST 3 pawprints myself, but it’s sort of a stretch.


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