Thoughts on Bashing Fluffy Bunnies

By: Ben Gruagach

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The modern pagan community is diverse and growing. Decades ago, there were a few distinct majority segments: Wiccans, Druids, and Asatruar. At the start of the 21st century there is an ever-growing number of non-Wiccan Witches, assorted Pagan groups, and Reconstructionist Pagans who are working to revive ancient pagan religions.

With growth comes friction between factions, sometimes escalating into conflict. Minority groups sometimes feel offended when they are lumped in with other groups. Individuals are annoyed when others assume that some idea or philosophy might be common among the majority of Pagan groups.

Instead of strengthening one's group identity by clarifying core ideas, it is common for a group to instead spend a lot of energy saying what it's not about. Sarah M. Pike explored this in some depth in her book "Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community." Wiccan groups have worked hard to insist that they are not Satanists. Non-Wiccan Witches insist that they are not at all like Wiccans. Reconstructionist Pagans insist that they are not Wiccans or Satanists, and often insist they are not following "Earth-based" religions as Wiccans do. Within the Wiccan community, there is an insistence by many that they are not "fluffy bunny" Wiccans which they clearly consider to be a perversion of their religion.

It is becoming quite common, at least on the internet, for these attempts to differentiate the "not-me" through what can only be described as bashing. Instead of discussing the issues and sharing different points of view and theories, those who hold whatever idea is not "politically correct" for the majority in the discussion become the target for personal insult and antagonistic behavior. In other forums, when a participant purposefully misinterprets another's postings and writes to antagonize, the behaviour would be labeled "trolling" and would be dealt with appropriately. Within many Pagan forums, however, "trolling" appears to be encouraged providing you are politically correct about it and agree with the majority philosophy.

It has become politically correct in many Pagan forums to bash those they label "fluffy bunnies." The term itself is intended to be insulting -- it implies that some people are air-headed idiots more at home in a Walt Disney cartoon than in the Pagan community. Often the label is applied on any group one happens to disagree with. The implication is usually that the "fluffy bunny" hasn't thought through their religious philosophy, that they are really just concerned about shock value or fashion rather than living a religious philosophy. It is also usually assumed that a "fluffy bunny" has little idea about the historical past and physical reality, accepting any claim that is made at face value.

Some groups, such as Reconstructionist Pagans, strive to match their religions as closely as possible to a specific chosen historical model. They feel that they are therefore "immune" to being labeled "fluffy," because they hold scholarly rigor in such high esteem. It also happens sometimes within Reconstructionist discussions that other groups such as Wiccans are labeled automatically as "fluffy" because of specific discredited historical theories. The problem with these blanket labels is that they are not always accurate. Within the Wiccan community, for instance, there is a surge of scholarly historical research that has thrown new light on the origins of the religion. Many resisted this change at the start, but it is quickly changing so that now it is quite common to find Wiccans who freely incorporate the new ideas about the past into their philosophies. To insist that Wicca is "fluffy" is to ignore many scholarly Wiccans.

Similarly, while there is certainly encouragement within the Reconstructionist community towards scholarly rigor, it does happen that blanket statements are made and assumptions proven false. Like any pet theory, it is often hard to give up even when the evidence starts to mount that it might not be correct. The claim that Reconstructionists are "more scholarly" than other Pagans has lead to a growing arrogance by Reconstructionists towards other Pagans. And as so often happens, with arrogance frequently comes sloppy and uncritical thinking, essentially "resting on one's laurels" from past accomplishments as a substitute for continuing critical work.

It seems rather hypocritical that a community made up of self-professed polytheists (whether "hard polytheists" or not) should be so intolerant of others who have different ideas. It's not just acknowledging that others have different ideas, or accepting that the historical landscape is evolving. The problem is that some are being disrespectful of others and are actively antagonistic in forums where the stated goal is purportedly to share information and debate ideas in a civilized fashion. Bashing is not debating. Debating involves sharing ideas and evidence and discussing the merits of the different points of view. Debating allows disagreements, but does not allow disrespect. When a discussion transforms into personal insults against select participants, or "bashing fluffy bunnies" as some gleefully call it, it is no longer debate but shameful ego assaults.

Perhaps the conflict is a carry-over from the dominant Judeo-Christian-Islamic culture, where it is common for religions to work under the assumption that there is a "One True Way" that is correct while all others are inherently wrong. When there is a "One True Way," individual religions are in jeopardy whenever alternatives are present. If an alternative proves to be reasonable, it implies that others must be inherently incorrect. When there is "One True Way," there can truly be only one. All others must be discredited and eliminated.

Polytheists purportedly accept the idea that there are multiple deities. "Hard polytheists" believe that the deities are all distinct, that the Greek Hermes is most definitely not the same thing as the Egyptian Thoth. Today there are many Pagans, commonly Wiccans, who are not "hard polytheists" but instead accept multiple deities as being aspects or faces of a larger deity and often as one ultimate deity. This point of view is often expressed as "all gods are one God, all goddesses are one Goddess." Dion Fortune popularized this idea in her works in the first half of the twentieth century. Many early Wiccans, who admired Fortune's work, adopted this idea into their Wiccan philosophy.

It is rather odd, then, that with the vast majority of Pagans claiming some version of polytheism as the basis of their religious philosophy, that they would also hold onto the idea that there is such a thing as "One True Way." Some polytheists insist that they do not believe there is "One True Way," yet when they start talking about other groups or philosophies within the Pagan community they act as if they are all pretenders while their own philosophy is the only "correct" one. The most obvious and frequent example of this is the so-called "fluffy bunny bashing" that occurs. Behavior in this case belies the denials.

Debate is healthy and to be encouraged. Discussion that involves personal attack and antagonism should be discouraged. There is a difference between debates of historical theory or the usefulness of different ideas, and discussion that becomes a reinforcement of disrespect. The Pagan community is varied and changing. No one group has exclusive ownership over the labels "Pagan," "Witch," or even "Wiccan." Arguments over who has the right to those labels within our community are just like the arguments within the Christian community over who is a "real Christian." The arguments are divisive and destructive. As a self-proclaimed polytheist community, we should be above these sorts of petty concerns.

Let's resist the shameful bashing that we are committing against each other. Let's encourage and participate in respectful, honest debate and discussion where we allow our evidence and theories to speak for themselves without allowing over-inflated egos to taint the forums. Let's act like real polytheists, respecting others' choices of deities and philosophies. Let's leave the "One True Way" attitudes and behaviour out of our discussions. Those who are "bashing fluffy bunnies" are not winning the hearts, minds, and souls of the Pagan community -- they are defeating the very ideals of polytheism that allow for a multitude of philosophies, deities, and unique paths within our community.

It's time we grew past pointless infighting and arguments over who is "witchier than thou." We need to retire the phrase "fluffy bunny" and other terms meant to demean others in our communities. Issues should be raised, discussed, and debated -- but without insults and trolling. Scholarly criticism should be encouraged if we are to truly grow. Instead of focusing on what we aren't, let's focus on what we are, and respect the diversity that exists within our own community.