Each person has an immortal soul. It has been interpreted and conceptualized in many different ways, but a consistent factor in the history of spirituality has been its diversity of form. In contrast to the modern, western concept of the soul, ancient traditions have had sophisticated soul cosmologies that describe the various aspects of the human soul – in the unique, philosophical and often esoteric ways they have conceived of it.
A consistent aspect of the human soul in ancient traditions is the idea of an animalistic or magical form – one that exists as a part of as well as separately from the totality of one’s spiritual body. This has often been called a familiar or fetch, but has also been associated with animal spirits, totems, tulpas, sprites, sidhe, fylgias, akhu, personal genii or daimones. These numinous beings are often considered to be at once an enduring companion of the human soul and a broad class of nature spirits that exist out in the world.
This primal form of one’s soul is called a soulshape. Soulshaping – much like the term shapeshifting, refers to the spiritual technique of changing one’s spiritual form into that of an animal or magical beast. This is done for the purposes of meditation, scrying, dreamwork and all sorts of other spiritual practices. For most people, their soulshape is well-defined, and most often takes the form of an anthropic beast – though it can also take the form of a feral, common animal as well as a dire, monstrous creature.
The animalistic or magical forms of soulshapes are, unsurprisingly, connected to the animal messengers of particular gods or goddesses, so the often historical, personal and idiosyncratic ways we understand our devotional relationships to the gods strongly influence our soulshapes. For many soulshapers, their soulshape is granted to them by a particular deity or deities – whether or not the origin is fully understood.
These ideas are echoed in certain indigenous traditions – where animal spirits or totems are sometimes granted by spirit guides or living teachers. A witches familiar can also be associated with initiation in some coven traditions. For these reasons and more, it can therefore be a long process to understand one’s soulshape, and how one understands its form can change a lot along one’s journey.
For those who have a strong relationship to their soulshape, it can be expressed creatively in the form of a fursona. This is not required, however, and it’s more the case that fursonas are related to soulshapes than the other way around. Much of the fantastical ideas in furry culture are clear echoes of ancient fables and folk traditions – in the west and in many other places around the world. Plenty of soulshapers interact with other spiritual furries, at it were, but aren’t active in the broader part of the furry community as a whole.
It is important to mention that cultivating one’s soulshape is not the same as the philosophy of otherkin. Soulshapers always maintain a healthy relationship to their humanity, and they maintain a flexible attitude about the nature of their soulshape. There is always the possibility of one’s soulshape to change over time, and many people can take on additional soulshapes in different situations or periods of their lives. However persistent one’s soulshape is, unlike otherkin, soulshapers do not treat their spiritual practice as a unique form of identity, because they recognize that soulshapes are available to anyone with the inclination and drive to explore their own natures.
Soulshaping is a way to philosophically, spiritually and creatively balance many of the things that are valuable about both spiritual shapeshifting, paganism and furry culture without becoming trapped in the unhealthy attitudes of otherkin philosophy. It connects to lots of similar ideas throughout the cultures and histories of the world – in a manner that is modest, neutral and straightforward.