By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Magpie Hrafnsdottir, a young woman from Chicago, has extra ribs, right where wings would be, and sometimes she can feel those phantom wings ache. Something else is missing; Magpie has always believed she has a secret twin. "I could feel her," she says. "At age five, I angrily asked my mother where she was, demanded to see my twin sister."
In college, she discovered the Internet and found a community of people who had the same dreams of past lives in a magical realm populated by elves, pixies, and other mythological creatures. Magpie and her friends don't have all the answers, but they know one thing: They're not human.
They're Otherkin, and they're trying to get back Home.
Once, they believe, humans and elves and trolls and dragons may have lived together in relative harmony. The elves don't know if some disaster shattered their connection to their spiritual Home world, leaving their souls stranded here in normal bodies, or whether it was simply inbreeding that dissolved the elven genome into the greater human soup. But like so many other marginal subcultures, the Otherkin have found a place on the Internet, where they swap stories, make friends, and build communities.
As kids, many say, they felt out of place in this world, even insisting to their parents that they were adopted. By their late teens, most Otherkin were involved in paganism, fantasy fiction, the Internet, or past-life regression. Once they "awakened" to their true nature, the next step was to hit listservs, chat rooms, and Web sites, looking for the others. Magpie, for one, runs the Otherkin Resource Center at www.otherwonders.com/otherkin.
"I was still showing my ID in liquor stores at the age of 32."
Others found their way to the fold through New Age-style trancework, dreams, and even role-playing games. Think Tolkien, not Keebler; regal nature spirits, not hunchbacked shoemakers. Arhuaine, a 34-year-old British elf, claims to heal more quickly and age more slowly than humans. "I was still showing my ID in liquor stores at the age of 32," she says, "and following major surgery, even my doctors were amazed at the speed of my recovery and the fact that I needed no painkillers."
Some elves claim to be allergic to iron and other products of encroaching modernity, while one breed of Otherkindragons in human bodiesinsist that having no allergies is a sign of Otherness. Those who have only average allergies needn't worry: You may still be a gnome or something.
More important are the psychic differences between humans and Otherkin. A number of Otherkin claim that they are especially empathetic toward others, and toward the ebb and flow of the natural world.
Of course, once upon a time, another species was widely believed to have this kind of connectedness: human beings. Before industrialization and urbanization, people depended on their feelings and intuition rather than on shrinks and Oprah. The people lived in tune with nature thanks to a largely agricultural existence, until the Enlightenment and its attendantscalculus, petroleum and animal vivisectionturned the universe into clockwork, work into wage slavery, and the family into a demographic market segment. Elves are now what people once were, before we all got office jobs, health insurance, and credit card debt, before life became like running across a flaming rope bridge. Thanks to modern society, we're all Frankenstein's monster. None of us fit.
The Otherkin are making a Romantic appeal for a better world and a better life. Rialian.com, the premier Otherkin Web site, features essays like "A Call to Arts," which draws upon the authority of Nostradamus, the Bible, Pink Floyd, and Queen to argue the modern world is out of balance. "There has also been a long time where reason and science and logic have overshadowed the spiritual, the mysterious," the essay reads. "One of the things we can teach is that not everything makes perfect sense; sometimes illogical is OK."
Online elves plunder modern pop culture for their premodern worldview. One role-playing game in particular, Changeling: The Dreaming, by White Wolf Game Studio, sent shock waves through the online Otherkin community in the 1990s. Changeling is a game about normal people who suddenly realize they are faeries with the power and need to bring magic back to a cold, soulless world. Malcolm-Rannirl, the administrator of www.otherkin.net, explains that the game did "a reasonable job of drawing together various mythological components," but that it also led to a fair number of "wannabes" deciding they were elves when they were really just human geeks.
Rich Dansky, a human being who worked on the game, ran into Otherkin through a listserv called darkfae-l. The game "had just come out and there was apparently a rampaging debate on the list over how the folks at White Wolf had gotten so much of their existence right," Dansky says. "Finally, one of the list members came to the obvious conclusion that we'd gotten it right because we ourselves were in fact changelings." Dansky denies having any pixie genes.
Anti-modern sentiment isn't unique to the Otherkin, of course. The 1999 Battle of Seattle saw the anti-technology anarchists of the Black Bloc emerge from the fog-shrouded forests of Oregon to do battle with globalism and the World Trade Organization. The Bloc's tactic of throwing rocks through Starbucks' windows to fight world capitalism has more in common with the sympathetic magic of a voodoo doll than it does with shutting down the means of production.