Fluffy Bunnies?

A new trend within the Pagan and Wiccan communities - especially on the Internet - is to bash so-called "fluffy bunnies", typically in the most rude and offensive terms possible.

"Fluffy bunnies" are usually defined as those who fit one of the following criteria:
- they persist in believing inaccurate information about Wicca;
- they focus on the "light" side of Wicca to the exclusion of the "dark" side;
- they push their beliefs on others and/or claim persecution constantly;
- they practice in an ostentatious, pretentious manner (such as calling oneself "Lord"/ "Lady" or wearing eighteen pentacles at once), usually because they are into Wicca for the shock value.

Some of the main Anti-Fluffy-Bunny sites are: Why Wiccans Suck (link is down currently), The Obsidian Mirror, A Wiccan Fatwa, or the Fluffy Bunny essay on Wicca for the Rest of Us. (There's another essay called Why Wiccans Suck - but as far as I can tell, that's a mean-spirited diatribe against all Pagans, not "fluffy bunnies" or Wiccans in particular).

I agree with many of the criticisms voiced by these folks - for example, dissemination of inacurate information, a "victim" mentality, and pretentiousness are problems in our community. And some of these authors' webpages include many thoughtful, intelligent essays which I appreciate even though I don't necessarily agree with them. However, I still have a number of objections to the "anti-fluffy-bunny" discourse within the pagan community.

1. These authors seem to be obsessed with policing the authenticity of Wicca.

That is to say, they frequently berate "fluffy bunnies" for practicing something that is not properly Wicca at all, but rather "some watered-down, feelgood version of anti-Xian nature worship that an author is promoting under the title of Wicca." (from WWS)

I certainly agree that it's problematic that many Wiccans (and Witches, and Pagans) know very little about the history of Wicca. But I think it is ridiculous to claim that Gardner's Wicca is the One True Wicca (for example, WWS describes Gardner's coven as "the first and purest form of the religion of 'Wicca'.") Come on, folks - Gardner made it up! He borrowed whatever the hell he wanted, wherever he could find it. In this context, what meaning does "purity" really have? Borrowing rituals/ practices and blatantly making shit up is a Wiccan tradition!

Now, I'm not advocating borrowing other cultures' practices, although I don't have a problem with making things up (as long as you don't try to claim they're thousands of years old, like Gardner did). But the point is, Wicca is not set in stone. It comes from a mishmash of various sources, and it's been evolving and changing ever since it was invented. We can certainly talk about what Wicca is now, or what it should be now, but historical authenticity is a poor argument for any Wiccan practice.

4. These essays are vague about what "fluffy" and "watered-down" actually mean.
The lamentation that "fluffy bunny pagans" don't pay any attention to the "dark" side of things is frequently heard from the Anti-Fluffy-Bunny folks, as in this statement that Cunningham's version of the craft is "completely lacking in any recognition of the dark side of nature, life, or the human psyche." What exactly does that mean? Here's a few examples in which I find the logic and/or terminology unclear.

WFRU complains that some "fluffy bunnies" believe the God and Goddess are all benevolent. Here it appears that "darkness" has to do with negativity or destruction. Some Christians believe that God is all benevolent, too, and that evil in the world comes from people being out of harmony with God. Would WFRU describe this philosophy as a "fluffy bunny" perspective?

WWS alleges that a "Real Wiccan" is someone who "actually knows something about Gardner's original Wicca, including its dark side." Although it's not completely clear, the author appears to be referring to things such as the Fivefold Kiss or ritual scourging. Here it seems that Wicca's alleged "dark side" has to do with sex. Perhaps we should ask ourselves why we might consider sex to be a "dark" side of Wicca, since sex is considered sacred by Wiccans and other Pagans. (In addition, I refer back to my earlier point that Gardner's original Wicca is not really a source for historical authenticity.)

In another example of hazy logic, WWS also sarcastically urges "fluffy bunnies": "The Horned God looks too scary? Forget Him... Everything aggressive and masculine and dark should be avoided, not revered, right?" Now, I've never heard "aggressive" and "masculine" qualities associated with darkness - in fact, usually the Wiccan paradigm of polarity typically equates them with "light" (while "passive" and "feminine" qualities go with darkness). Whether or not you agree with that set of correspondences, it's the most common one among Wiccans. So again I have to ask: what is "darkness" supposed to mean here?

Personally, I'm not a fan of using terms like "dark" and "black" to describe things that have to do with sex, death, or negativity (more on that here). One reason is that I think they are vague and unhelpful terms, a point which I think is proved by the above examples. I would encourage the Anti-Fluffy-Bunny folks to articulate their concerns in more specific, concrete terms.
3. These essays unfairly target newbies.
Most of these authors will say that they don't target newbies; and of course, it's true that what these authors describe as "fluffy bunny" behavior also occurs among people who've been practicing for years. However, I think it is normal that when people first get interested in Wicca, they go through a period of trying to figure out what the One True Answer is for every question. This may take the form of things like taking one writer's word as gospel, or having "overly ostentatious ceremonial tools" (both cited by WFRU).

In addition, newbies in particular are less likely to know the history and origins of Wicca (a common gripe of the Anti-Fluffy-Bunny folks). Clearly we all need to take responsibility for our own learning process, and for not believing everything we read/hear. Reading in a book that 9 million witches were burned during "The Burning Times" doesn't mean you should take that number at face value. However, I also think we as a community have to take responsibility for the fact that accurate information about the origins of Wicca is only beginning to be widely available, through books such as Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon (and even that is not a book likely to be picked up by a beginner).

Books are now a primary means of entry into the Pagan community, and newcomers to our community will probably view these authors as experts. Many books by authors I otherwise respect (such as Starhawk) give historical information which is either (a) inaccurate or (b) vague but misleading. Perhaps we should hold these authors accountable for their unwillingness to provide accurate information (or to direct readers to a source of accurate information). But it seems understandable to me that a first-time reader of pagan books, who knows very little about medieval history or about witchcraft, might believe that nine million witches were killed in Europe - and they might need to hear otherwise from several sources before they change their minds.

Anti-Fluffy-Bunny folks do attribute some responsibility to Pagan authors. However, these typically target a few specific authors (Silver RavenWolf and Scott Cunningham are frequent targets), and address a wide variety of complaints such as poor writing, poor ethics, and rituals or theologies which are seen to be "watered-down." Here's an idea: how about a letter-writing campaign demanding that authors replace inaccurate historical information in their books (and cite their sources)? This would be a pro-active solution, and could be directed toward all sorts of authors, even those we don't disagree with on other grounds.

Several of these authors say their problem is not with people who have inaccurate information, but with those who refuse to reconsider the accuracy of their information when given new evidence. For these cases, I refer you to reason #5 below.
4. Harassment and discrinimation against modern Witches do occur.
Now, far be it from me to promote a victim mentality. After all, we (as Witches) are not a minority which has historically been persecuted systematically and brutally as have African-Americans, Native Americans, or gays and lesbians (to name a few). Most of us are White and well-educated, and do not experience race- or class-related discrimination. In addition, unlike the above-named oppressed groups, almost all of us made a choice to become Witches. And unlike most racial minorities, we have a high degree of control over who knows that we are Witches.

However, people should not be pushed around or called devil worshippers for wearing pentacles (as in Obsidian's essay on persecution). Obsidian chooses to define this as not being real harassment because the subject of the essay was asking for trouble by wearing showy clothing and ostentatious jewelry. Sure, maybe the kid in question was being kind of pretentious. I might not describe this as persecution either, since it wasn't systematic and directed against a group. But that doesn't mean it's okay for people to beat you up based on your religion or your style of dress.

Obsidian's proposed solution is to dress in a way that conforms to the most popular local style if you don't want others to know you're a Witch. I'll leave it up to you readers to decide whether you think that is an effective solution to the problem of harassment.
5. Finally - and perhaps most importantly - this type of attack is not an effective tactic, if the goal is to change readers' minds.
Shock tactics do get attention. Perhaps a few people's minds will be changed by being called a pathetic, stupid moron.* But to most people, being called names feels like a personal attack, and the normal response to a personal attack is to become defensive and respond with a counterattack.

When I suggested this on the guestbook of one of these sites, someone (not the site owner) emailed me to explain that when people are insulted, their first response is shock and anger; however, then, when they begin to defend themselves, they are forced to articulate their position, and this causes them to potentially re-think their ideas. This may be true for some people, but in my experience, when most people become defensive, their mindset becomes more rigid and they are less likely to modify their opinion.

Of course, polite and reasonable discussion and debate will not always change minds either. But in my experience it is significantly more effective than rudeness, sarcasm, or name-calling.

I also believe that civility counts for something. Believe it or not, debate can take place without insults and rude language. The Internet is not always the best place for this, since misunderstandings occur easily over electronic media, but it is possible. Let's not bring the debate down to the lowest common denominator.

*An example of this type of insult: Obsidian's essay Morons in the Craft describes how a Pagan author's "pasty haggard face has been permanently stained brown from all the asses he's kissed to publish his mediocre books." This essay is full of examples of ridiculously rude name-calling, such as calling another Pagan author an "Australian whore d'oeuvres." Not all Anti-Fluffy-Bunny folks are as uncivil as Obsidian, but they do tend to use sarcastic and insulting language to make their points.

Constructive Next Steps

Here are my suggestions for the Anti-Fluffy-Bunny folks to make their pages less offensive and more helpful. (A few of these are already happening on these authors' websites, but I would like to see them replace the bile.)

1. Drop the name-calling.

2. Write an educational page about Wiccan history, and do your best to promote it so it's widely read.

3. Cite your sources, all the time.

4. Start a letter-writing campaign to target inaccuracies in Wiccan publications (as described in #3 of the previous list).

5. Write a page called "Ways My Community Can Improve Itself" - without using sarcastic or demeaning language. Offer constructive suggestions for things individuals can do to help the community.

6. If, like many authors of these websites, you are no longer a Wiccan, write a respectful description of the reasons for your choices - without using sarcastic or demeaning language. (Some authors of these websites have already done this.)

7. Write a satire that's as funny and thought-provoking (yet without attacking individuals or groups) as Lady Pixie Moondrip's Guide to Craft Names, and circulate it widely.

8. Write a page called "Common Misconceptions Held by Wiccans" - without using sarcastic or demeaning language. (Heck, maybe I'll try this one myself.)

9. In the same vein, write a quiz called "Test Yourself on Wiccan History" - without using sarcastic or demeaning language, and with links to more information.

A thoughtful response to this page by the Irreverend Hugh, who disagrees with me on several points, can be found here.

Fluff Bunny vs. Hardcore, one person's rant about why "non-fluffies" should stop attacking "fluffies" (even if the "fluffies" are annoying).

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