A very good friend of mine and fellow feline fancier recently shared tales of contemporary humans who have 'transformed' themselves into animals. The three tales are of a 'Leopard Man', a 'Tiger Man' and a 'Lizard Man'. They all have undertaken extreme measures in order to make themselves as close to the totem animal as possible. Of the three, however, it is only the Leopard Man who truly resonated spirituality in my view. He is a loner who lives on an island near Scotland and who exists in harmony with nature. The other two, however extreme their 'makeovers' appear to have the taint of commercial benefit embedded in their transformations. To me, this would tend to detract from the quest of becoming 'one with the animal'. How on earth could an individual desiring to BECOME a Lizard or Tiger appear on talk shows and host human events regularly??? The two appear to be caught up with the idea of promoting themselves, of attaining a peculiar fame in the human world. The Leopard, on the other hand, is truly committed to his own vision. He has the courage and fortitude to do it alone, without reference to human society. Here are some videos that show the various transformations:
The Leopard Man! - Click here for the most popular videos
There is a part of me that admires the Leopard Man tremendously, while knowing that I never could have that degree of commitment towards any permanent alteration of myself. While I believe that felines represent the ultimate form in terms of Beauty and Grace, I know that I am NOT a cat, nor could any surgical or other physical alterations transform me into a cat. At the same time, I actually like being a human being. I would miss books, video games and, to be honest, being able to write, were I a feline... I leave films, art and music out of the list as a cat could enjoy all of those as much as any human!
Here are the sites of the Tiger and the Lizard:
When I first read the Nibelungenlied, I was particularly impressed by the quest of Sigmund and Siegfried who BECAME wolves and lived in the forest for nine years in that guise. There are all sorts of explanations for the old Northern practices of Berserker but with all the ancient tales of shapeshifting, I personally believe that the Berserkers BECAME bears in combat situations. I am not speaking here of an actual physical transformation as much as a spiritual one. Obviously, there were societies devoted to the practice of shapeshifting and although primarily warrior societies similar to some of the Native American animal warrior societies, their rites would have been centred on arts of spiritual transformation.
Do tatoos and whiskers or a split in your tongue constitute shapeshifting? Obviously not, as shapeshifting implies the ability to shift back into the original state of being. A man or woman without any physical alteration could become as much of a feline or lizard as the individuals shown here. The physical transformations are a declaration of commitment more than anything else. In the case of the Tiger and Lizard, they are a means by which these individuals can promote themselves as oddities to ordinary humans. I would not go so far as to claim that the Tiger and Lizard are not genuinely involved in some spiritual quest of their own, but the money-making aspects are troubling and would tend to detract from any TRUE and FUNDAMENTAL transformation of the psyche for the reasons I have given. Creatures such as a Tiger or a Lizard simply would not consider financial gain at all... To make a living...? It would not be part of the equation.
Perhaps I am being too harsh in my judgement where the Tiger and Lizard are concerned. Obviously they cannot BECOME the totem animal in every respect and a hard core of human sanity demands that they find a means by which their human lives can function while they pursue their dreams. Becoming part of a 'freak show' or circus always has been a solution for individuals who are 'different' from others in almost every culture and every period of history.
There is something else to consider here, though. Does part of the success of the 'transformation' depend on the witness of others? Must ordinary humans see these individuals in their otherness before the transformation can be considered successful or valid? Is there an element of public sacrifice in their actions?
Magic is a complex art and does not exist in vacuo. Perhaps part of the transformation rite is an act of public abjuration of the self as human. Perhaps with the tatoos and surgical alterations, the individual succeeds in making a fundamental sacrifice that allows him/her to BECOME the totem creature spiritually.
On the other side of the coin, however, are those children who have been raised by wild animals, such as wolves and without ANY physical alteration whatsoever, have succeeded in entering the psyche of the creatures who fostered them. This is accomplished quite naturally, with only the foster race to witness the transformation.
At the end of the day, in terms of shapeshifting, where does validation lie? Would any real Tiger accept the Tiger Man as one of their kind? Would any Lizard accept the Lizard Man? How would the Leopard Man fare if a real Leopard came to share his chosen habitat?
To me, that would be the ultimate test. Sigmund and Siedfried reputedly 'ran with the wolves' during their shapeshifting years. It would be interesting to witness an encounter between any or all of these contemporary shapechangers and the actual totem animal...