Furry Mythology

One day, a fox and a cat were walking through a field. The cat seemed unusually distracted, however, despite the fox’s animated conversation. While the fox surely noticed, she did her best to try and draw the cat out through sheer ebullience. It had worked in the past, why not now?

 

“What’s bothering you?” the fox asked, relenting.

 

“Oh, it’s nothing,” said the cat.

 

“Come on, if it was nothing, you wouldn’t be such a sourpuss, now, would you?” the fox joked.

 

The cat was unamused. “It’s…really nothing. I can’t say. It’s a secret.”

 

“That’s three things. Is it nothing, can you not say, or is it a secret?”

 

The cat blushed in his ears, “It’s a secret.”

 

“Can you tell me?” asked the fox.

 

“No, then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore!” frumped the cat.

 

The fox and the cat walked on in silence for a bit. The secret was clearly bothering the cat, but the fox couldn’t think of how to help.

 

“I know,” said the fox, brightening up. “You can tell your secret to my tail. Not even I know what my tail thinks. You can get it off your chest, and no one need actually learn your secret.

 

The cat thought for a moment, and then nodded, “Okay, but put your paws over your ears!”

 

The fox put her paws over her ears and stood still, admiring the scenery, while the cat put his muzzle in the dense fur of the fox’s tail and whispered his secret, weaving it through the fur. The fox heard nothing but the rustle of pawpads in fur, the cat felt immensely better getting whatever it was off his chest that he needed to, and the tail, to this day, has never let slip the cat’s secret. That is why it is said that a good way to feel better is to weave your secrets through a fox’s tail: they will surely be kept safe with not even the fox knowing them.


The idea of considering furry from a mythological standpoint springs from a few discussions over the last month or so with a friend (who has written for [a][s] before) about the ways in which we consider the bigger-picture topics of the fandom. Drilling down deep into the realm of data is certainly a worthy exercise, as all of those details help fill out the picture we carry in our heads, but just as worthy is exploring that overview we carry along with us as a whole.

The contiguous furry subculture has relatively little in the way of its own mythology. This is almost certainly an aspect of a subculture, rather than something specifically furry, but no less worth investigating for that – after all, we, as furries, are the ones who have to live with a relatively sparse mythology. What exactly are the ramifications of that?

I know that there has been a lot of discussion recently, here on [a][s] and elsewhere, about what exactly makes a furry, what the fandom is, and so on. Better minds than mine have tackled this question, and so I defer to them in all cases. However, for the purpose of this article, I’m going to talk strictly about what I’ve called “the contiguous fandom” in the past. That is, I’m going to talk about self-identified furries – those who call themselves members of our subculture and participate with that in mind. While I feel that several of our articles might have wider reach without that consideration, I also feel that the idea of limitations on one’s one work are a good way to keep that work from getting out of hand. To use a bit of jargon from work, I’d really like to avoid scope creep. With that in mind, let’s consider the question of mythology and membership.

Anthropomorphism and mythology are deeply entwined. So deeply entwined that I had to stop and think for a few minutes on how to even start that sentence: “is anthropomorphism subordinate to mythology, or is it the other way around?” One need only do the briefest of investigations into most any culture’s mythos in order to come across some instance of anthropomorphized animals. Similarly, one need only do a bit of research to find some bit of mythology surrounding just about any animal one comes across. Some of these are specific, some referenced only vaguely, but the large majority of them surround archetypes embodied by those species.

Furry, as a whole, does not have much in the way of myths. There is likely a very good reason to this, which I’ll get to in a bit, but first I think it’s worth disentangling ‘myth’ and ‘archetype’. A myth is a story bearing social weight. It’s not a story that’s important to society per se, though sometimes it is also that, but it is one of the components that add cohesion to society. Knot is an example of a modern myth which greatly exemplifies this concept. Unlike an epic, which often includes concepts of redemption and rebirth, myths usually surround one literary conflict and do not always resolve that conflict. In Knot, the conflict is the princess’s sadness – or, more broadly, the concept of depression – which, while not destroyed utterly as it might be in an epic, is at least resolved with some sort of moral; here: not bottling up your sadness. Myths are often the vehicles for lessons, in that way.

Archetypes, however, are more like the characters within myths. It’s not to say that, for instance, Coyote is an archetype, but rather that Coyote embodies the Trickster archetype. The very idea of someone clever, resourceful, not always successful but never daunted by failures – that is the archetype, Coyote is the actor, and the myths in which he plays a part are the vehicles for the lessons they mean to teach. Metamyths build on top of this as a plot element, but often include several of the same aspects as myths themselves (Snowcrash and The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson touch on this, and Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell is a good example).

Furry has its own set of archetypes. Some of these are an artifact of what I’d call the A-Z divide. That is, while we broadly describe our subculture in terms of anthropomorphism, it often plays out more like zoomorphism. That is, rather than necessarily giving animals human traits, we take our regular human interacts and mix in animal traits – mostly desirable ones – that lead to a coherent story. We tell our tales of human life, except with animals, or in rarer cases, involve species as a mechanic: fennecs who hear all, the canid sense of smell, and so on.

Apart from those, however, we have come up with a few different sources for our own archetypes. One that might actually have its roots in the early days of the furry fandom is the idea of “The Sexy Anubis”, though finding the actual original source material must be left as an exercise for the reader. Although there are surely those who have found Anubis, or at least the figure thereof, if not the god himself, attractive, just as surely as there have been other modern re-tellings of his role (American Gods by Neil Gaiman being an obvious example), our subculture seems to have taken this and ran with it, creating a figure that features widely in erotic art and comics. This extends beyond Anubis, of course, on to Renamon, Krystal, and so on; as well as beyond sexuality, as is evidenced by some species which wind up in tribal situations more often than others (otters and wolves, I’m looking at you).

This leads me to the next source, which is that of re-purposing appropriation. I’ve talked about appropriation more in depth before, but it plays a specific role at times when creating an archetype to be used by the community at large. Some of this shows in the ways in which we select our mythical creatures as characters: Lunostophiles, with whom I had the original conversation, is a Cheshire cat, and brings up that there are rather a lot of those, as well as gryphons, dragons, and centaurs, but not as many minotaurs, sea monsters, or mandrake roots. Much of this is due to how poorly these would fit in with the rest of the culture that we’ve built up: one usually without humans, whether or not they have the heads of bulls, one that takes place on land, and one requiring mobility.

Finally, there the archetypes based in part on fact, whether or not it has been proved. The ideas of lone wolves or strict pack hierarchy among wolves have been disputed by science, yet still play a firm role within our subculture. Although I’ve yet to run into any lemmings within furry, I would not be surprised if similar attitudes surrounded them based on popular knowledge, or even widely available fictional resources, such as the Redwall series.

In the end, perhaps this is one thing that keeps us a subculture, subservient to other cultures’ mythos, instead of something higher. Taken this way, the lack of canon becomes less defining. There are other subcultures that lack a canon, such as gay culture in America in the 70s and 80s, yet which retain visible archetypes. However, it may simply be a subculture thing to lack myths. I’ve bookended this article in my own poor attempt at a myth that might be found within furry, but it’s really sort of a stab in the dark, not based on any existing archetypes.

How about you, dear readers? What archetypes do you see within furry? What myths are there, whether or not they exist yet? Share, share!


One day, the fox was walking along the edge of the meadow, but kept getting scared and anxious. On one side of her was the meadow, but she felt open and exposed there, too easily seen. On the other side was the forest, which, while cooler than the sunny meadow, was also fraught with shadows and, as she imagined, many lurking things.

 

The fox hadn’t always been this anxious, but ever since word had spread that the cat had felt so much better after weaving his secrets in her tail, so too had the wolf, the rat, and the dragon, each pulling her aside to have her put her paws over her ears and unburden themselves of their secrets. The fox was proud of her role and did her best to keep the secrets safe.

 

The longer she walked, the more she bushed her tail out to try and make sure that the secrets were well-hidden.

 

Eventually, the fox met up with her brother and they both continued along the path. The fox’s brother, noticing his sister’s tail all fluffed up, asked, “Did you get shocked by lightening? Your tail is all puffed up!”

 

The existence of a secret is half of its betrayal, and so the fox thought quickly, before shrugging broadly, “Oh, I just brushed it, and that always leaves it feeling so matted down, so I figured I’d let it air out some in the shade sometimes, and in the sun sometimes. It feels good!”

 

The fox’s brother gave her an odd look, but she did have a point – he had just brushed his tail and it did feel rather stuffy. He bristled his fur out as well and walked with his sister between sun and shade.

 

Besides,” he thought, ”This will help keep safe all of the secrets I have in my tail from my sister who can never know.” For he too held the confidence of many, but was always careful to keep it secure. This is why a fox’s tail will puff out when they feel anxious or threatened.

About Makyo

Makyo spends her time as a frumpy arctic fox, usually, but she's all over the map. She's been around furry since about 2000 under a variety of names. She writes, programs, and screws around with music.

Before posting a comment, please read our Code of Conduct

9 thoughts on “Furry Mythology

  1. IMHO the furry culture already has some central myths. But they are not easy to deal with and tackling them often leads to messy, controversial results.
    Perhaps the best furry myth I have seen is this comic by Keovi and Kyell Gold:
    http://e621.net/post/show/441106
    A myth like this will never be accepted by old guard furries who see furry as a fandom centered around comics and cartoons, nor it will be accepted by the cynical types who are quick to point out that many people in the community are not nearly as attractive, well adjusted and reasonable as the people portrayed in the comic. But those judgements are about the phylosophy of the story, not about the nature of the story.
    In my opinion it’s undeniable fact that that comic tells a furry myth, because it fits the criteria perfectly as it describes a fundamental human experience which is unique to the furry culture, and yet it doesn’t fully resolve the initial conflict even though it takes a clear ethical stance (I wouldn’t call it a “moral”) which most contemporary furries would agree upon.
    I have never read Kyell Gold’s novels but judging from the summaries I think they fall very close to the definition of furry myths as well. The deal only with one very specific kind of self-discovery, but nevertheless self-discovery and self-acceptance through identification with an anthropomorphic animal are central concepts of the furry culture. Too many people dismiss Kyell’s novels as mere gay romance without acknowledging this link to the broader furry experience – just like many people dismiss Bernard Doove’s chakat novels without acknowledging that they express another central theme of furry culture, that is strictly personal world-building unrestrained by any cultural or artistic obligation.
    I’ll also point out this very clever journal about “rule 34” type pictures and their role in the furry culture:
    http://www.furaffinity.net/journal/2110703/
    To me the biggest impediment to the existence of a well recognized furry mythology is self consciousness. It takes guts and extreme faith into one’s own feelings to write novels like the chakat novels or to imagine Calvin and Hobbes growing up as lovers. Many people would be outraged at the mere idea that these works are expressions of something worthwhile. And yet they clearly are, since many people are deeply enamored with chakats and there are many instances of deeply insightful and heartfelt “rule 34” fiction (I’ll mention the pony fan fiction “Romance Reports” as one of the best examples).
    I don’t think animal fables, as charming and modern as they can be, can be considered furry myths. They are still fables first and foremost and they’d get immediately classified as ordinary fables by most people. If anything I think too many furry artists fall back on traditional archetypes because they aren’t willing to take seriously the archetypes that the fandom itself has introduced.
    For example there’s this odd commonplace that all anthro foxes are sluts. A story about an anthro fox who passively lives with the stereotype but then realize it doesn’t fit him or her and tries to shrug it off could be a furry myth (if told in a proper simplified fashion). A story about a clever fox on the other hand… well, it can be many things, it can be a good furry story, but it certainly cannot be a furry *myth*.

  2. I think that was a very interesting article, and a lovely tale about the fox.

    However, I’m not sure that I entirely agree with your point that furry is lacking in mythology. I think perhaps it might be due to what exactly we mean by the word ‘myth’. The two generally accepted definitions of the word are either 1) A widely held but untrue belief, or 2) a fictional story about our history.

    One of the reasons we don’t typically see much mythology in human subcultures, is because the concept of a subculture is a recent phenomenon in human history. For a subculture to evolve and become distinct from the mainstream culture, we need to identify and communicate with other members of that group. And until the last hundred years or so of human evolution, time and distance have proven too great a barrier to overcome. Modern subcultures are so new on the evolutionary tree that they simply haven’t had the time to develop their own distinct mythology.

    The furry subculture may be unique in some respects in that there is a lot of crossover with mainstream mythology, where anthropomorphism and zoomorphism are common themes. We may lack a central canon to our fandom, but we have a rich history of myths and legends to inherit from our ancestors.

    There are, perhaps, a lot of interesting parallels between cultural evolution and genetic evolution. The mainstream culture/genepool tends to carry a lot of momentum that resists change, and branches on the evolutionary tree seldom occur without an outside force to separate the population. Throughout the majority of our history, that separation has largely been geographic, a separation that is fading away in the modern world.

  3. Both Scale (in response to this post) and JM (in several previous articles) have referred to an old guard or fandom centered group as if they are somehow not true furries or as if there are no current furries whose interests are centered around comics and cartoons.

    It seems to me that one of the problems in making generalizations about furries is that there is so much diversity. Personally I see the diversity as a very good thing, and think that perhaps it is the desire to generalize (which also I think links to binary desires of either-or) that is the problem.

    I don’t understand what seems to be the desire by some to elevate certain members as true furries (whether it be fursuiters, those who see it “as an expression of identity,” those who are interested anthropomorphic comics, or whatever sub-group a particular person belongs to).

    Despite a common interest in anthropomorphism, furries are a varied group. This is a source of richness and creativity.

    As much as I like myths and folklore, they are often filled with stereotypes under the guise of archetypes. Many people find archetypes and stereotypes comforting because one can put others into simple categories and not have to think overly much about them, but such simplifications do a disservice to people. Such simplifications ignore real richness and complexity.

    1. Hi Keito

      I couldn’t agree with you more that it’s difficult to make any generalizations about furry and about furries. For any common trait you might like to choose, there are always plenty of exceptions. Our diversity is one of the great thing about furry, and also one the things that makes it such a slippery concept and so difficult to explore in words here on [a][s].

      For the record, I don’t think that the ‘old guard’ furries, which I’ve referred to as the first wave, are not true furries or any less welcome in our community than anyone else. I’m sorry if I’ve given that impression—it is not my opinion, not by a long way.

      I do think that furry culture has changed over the last 15/20 years, broadly away from a fandom for anthropomorphic art, and towards furry as an expression of identity. And when I write about furry-as-identity, it may not be relevant to furs who are fans, first and foremost.

      There are, of course, still loads of fans of anthropomorphics, be them longtime furs from the first wave or newer members of the community. These works of art are very important to our community, and I also write about them from time to time. Similarly, these articles are less relevant to furs who are primarily engaged with identity-play.

      Like you, I see variety, richness, and diversity. Furry is a club where the only criteria for membership is self-identification. There is no right or wrong, no better or worse, way to be a fur.

    2. I didn’t mean to exclude anybody with that comment, I was expressing my annoyance with groups which are too defensive to the point of denying common achievements.

      As I see it is myths don’t need to be absolutely universal in order to be effective, but they need to be universally acknowledged. Not everybody in ancient Greece was a heoric warrior but everybody agreed that the Odyssey was a shared myth and a credit to thir culture. Nowadays not all comic book fans read or even like Batman comics but they all agree that Batman is a shared myth and a milestone of sequential art. Can you imagine a comic book fan denying that Batman is an important character, or arguing that superhero comics as are irrelevant to the comic book scene and not even true comics? Because that’s what I see happening all the time in the furry community. And in my experience some groups are more prone to this than others, even though it’s a tendency found in all groups to some extent.

      Having no universally acknowledged myths is a big problem because myths are one of the first things people look for when trying to understand a culture. I think it’s one of the main reasons why we have so much difficulty explaining furry to people who don’t know it: we have no samples to put forward saying “here, this is a good overview of what we like and what you can expect from us”, furries with different interests would show completely different samples. Saying that furry is a generic interest in anthro animals may be enough for us but it’s not enough for others because it doesn’t give any clue on the original ways we use anthros. That would be the important information. It’s like saying comics are about drawing with attached words. Technically it’s true but you’d certainly want to show some good examples along with that answer.

  4. Just to be clear, Makyo, my previous post was not meant to be an attack on your article–I very much enjoyed your discussion. I am just of the mind that -universal- furry myths are likely to be uncommon to non-existent and that this is not really a bad thing.

    There are certain experiences that may be common to large sub-sets, but still not be universal. As an example, I know I am not the only one who encountered furry on the internet and experienced the wondrous sensation of realizing I was not alone in my interests. For many furries in my generation this comes close to being a universal experience, but it is far from universal in furry as a whole. Prior to the internet many furries may have felt alone and never connected, but some did through zines, cons, and in other ways. They too may have felt the a sense of wonder at discovering they were not alone, but the internet was not what connected them. Other, younger, furries may have been aware of furry their whole life, and this may be more common in the future, and so they will not share that experience that bonds me with many in my generation.

    There is something wonderful about that shared experience and bond, but I would rather have no universal myths than have them at the expense excluding some (e.g., old guard) from the fandom because they have different experiences.

    We may represent different waves of the fandom but we are part of the same ocean.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *