Second Skin, Otherkin – trans-species magick in the age of the thing

Late Friday night in Central London, Charing Cross Road station – suited and skirted office people are staggering in the overhead passageways, thrown out of dive bars, drunk and groping, they fall where they are in pools of viscous fluid and fizzing vomit. Spectral figures feed off of them, swirling just above their heads, pulling out  multi-coloured  pulsing spheres of light and gorging. The spindly creatures throw back their faces and howl with pleasure before melting into the walls and down into the bass bins of Heaven nighclub under the arches. I’m at the bar and someone in neon fun fur (I swear to Goth) called Alistair Baphomet  –  who uses the third person and changes gender pronouns whenever referring to themselves –  is shouting in my ear and forcing my hand over the lumpy transdermal implants he has in her forehead. “I’ve had photophoric fish cells spliced with my eye cells” he says “they just injected them in, now I can voluntarily produce luciferin and luciferase, chemicals of light – I’m bio-luminescent”. And with this her eyes give off blue and red stars in time to the music – the crowds around us are seething and mutating in a techno-seidr. The bass tones assault my body and I feel myself dissolving…

In magick it is not unusual to “lose” the physical body as it gets subsumed into an unfolding ritual: things get blurred between self and other, limbs become liquid and the mind/body split collapses in on itself. The appeal of transgressing the boundary of our skin is a long standing one – whether that’s shape shifting shamanic shizzle, mind/less/full fucking, or the shock of the unexpected twist on a fairground ride. We want to jump out of our skins. We want to be comfortable in our skin. We want to get under the skin of others.

The uses of scarrification, piercing and marking of the flesh are pointers towards this dwelling on/in the skin and its cultural function(s) in our psychic and magickal lives. Charlotte Rodgers has explored this area more thoroughly than most in her book on blood ritual “The Bloody Sacrifice” – going into the skin and into the bloodstream itself to open up new spaces of presence and disclosure. Likewise the psychoanalyst Esther Bick in her discussion of “the second skin” suggests in the words of  Jorge Ulnik that skin has “the functions of boundary, support, integration and formation of the internal and external spaces” with the skin being the way in which the “primitive” parts of the personality are held together. This skin is both the physical corporeal flesh and also an introjected external object. Without this introjection happening, it is not possible for “the concept of a space within the self” to arise. Bick further argues that this “lack” of space in the self can lead to confusions around identity – we attack the primal skin and develop a “second skin”.  Ulnik describes this as the object being “replaced  by a pseudo-independence, by the inappropriate use of certain mental functions – or perhaps innate talents –  for the purpose of creating a substitute for the skin’s container function” (p.76 – Skin in Psychoanalysis).

While the office drones are being fed upon,  elsewhere at the same time, a group of people gather in the basement of a Bloomsbury bookshop and conjure up a series of entities, candles flicker, bodies sway and suddenly the “High Priest” (in every sense of the word high) starts shrieking in tongues. The spectral figures arrive as summoned, and form an inner circle with the magickal group looking on. The two circles spin in opposite directions and then merge into a psychedelic chaosphere which time-jumps through space to Venus.

Is ritual space a second skin? A way of opening out or re-establishing internal space by creating protective external space for the “primitive” experience? Here, I mean “primitive” in the bio-evolutionary sense; accessing the lizard brain, accessing the Neanderthal mind, accessing the pre-natal experience. Ritual and ritual space certainly allow an encounter with the ineffable which is then processed by its impact on one’s identity. We fall backwards in order to plunge into the future.Personally, I can recall a Papa Legba Voudon ritual I carried out which led to me speaking in tongues in French, even though my knowledge of French is rudimentary, and I certainly didn’t know the words I was saying which translated as: “Open the gates open the gates, the dead become living, the dead become living”. I came back from the ritual as a different person with Legba inside me, Legba interwoven with my sense of identity and what was there before dislodged, reconfigured and rebooted.

While Heaven throbs and the chaotes touch down on another planet,  an Otherkin forum on the internet buzzes and hums with rapid fire posts. A person who identifies as a Beautiful Demoiselle damsel fly discusses the difficulty of  keeping her wings hidden from non-otherkin. Another person empathises with this and talks about her fear of being attacked if her human-identified family find out she is a rattlesnake. A further thread on the same forum is a disturbing series of flames by a human-identified person threatening to track down a butterfly-identified person and sexually assault her in order to teach her a lesson and  ”make you human again”. The human troll is unaware that the butterfly is a boy. 

Are you a lol cat dreaming that it’s a bee, or a bee dreaming that it’s a lol cat?

The Otherkin are “people who identify themselves as non-human in all but outward form, contending that they are creatures traditionally associated with myth or legend.”  Otherkin then, have psychically abandoned the human body and the human form itself in order to occupy and embody a “post-human” space. In some respects this is a logical step, the culmination of the loosening and breaking of the links between biology and gender in transgender and feminist politics, culture and the body in the affirmation and celebration of hybridity in the politics of “race” and ethnicity,  the blurring of the differences between machine and non-machine in the cyborg –  and now species and identity in the Otherkin. Otherkin persons disrupt and radically question the assumption that identity is rooted in body-centric species-identification. Otherkin persons argue that they are “other than human” (http://www.otherkin.net/articles/what.html) so an interesting question to ask is “what is this ‘other’ that is other than human?”

Is this sense of “otherness” found in wings and tails perhaps? Many of the Otherkin bulletin boards contain stories and narratives of people struggling to accommodate their wings and tails in the human world. In a way that is remindful of some of the Disability Rights literature, some Otherkin argue that it is the human-focussed environment that impacts on them to create the category of Otherkin itself; the human-focussed environment needs to be redesigned so that those who feel they have wings and tails can use public transport, toilets or restaurants without feeling stigmatised. This form of “otherness” then is a social construction, discriminatory and oppressive.

Jessica Franken in her excellent human-animal hybrid literature review argues that “pleasure in transgression” is one of the appeals of intensifying the body’s kinship with other-than-human animals. In addition she asks what does it mean “to be on the cusp of creating beings that occupy the space between human and animal”. Magicians already know the answer to this question, many of us are already creating machinic entities; merging and working with systemic bio-intensities in our explorations of “place”, and Deleuzian information flows in our deterritorialized shapeshifting and in our rituals; we embody the Otherkin otherness without even realising, or perhaps without even trying.

Later that same night,  – while the awkward post coital ritual demands that I give Alistair Baphomet my phone number and he’s promising to call me (but she never does) – in a laboratory in University College London a couple of xentotransplanted stem cells start to reproduce in the bone marrow of a test subject. The theory of  hematopoietic chimerism is becoming reality. A frazzled PhD student looks up from a microscope, astonished – he picks up the phone and calls a professor, who calls a government advisor who calls someone in the military. The future is here….

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