The New Fluff

It’s been years since I’ve gone “bunny hunting”, and frankly, while I do believe that maybe in the past, those I was quick to dismiss as “fluffy pagans” weren’t necessarily so, I do believe that there is a purpose, and indeed a bit of community service to calling out the fluffy in the pagan community.

The thing is, trends morph, shift, and change. It’s no longer fashionable for young people starting to cut a few pagan teeth, as it were, to dub themselves “Lady Gwynndoylinne Unicornia Moonbludz” and talk about how Wicca is only “whight light majickz”, as was common in the earlier years of pagans on the Internet, when (as best as I can tell) the term “fluff bunny” with regards to pagans and witches first arose. The term made complete sense, at the time: These were pagans who, whether consciously or through reading all the wrong books and simply not knowing any better, portrayed such a goody-goody, “sweetness and light” version of paganism that it seemed cute and childish. In this instance, the “fluff” was to allude directly to the soft fur of a bunny, but also carried the double meaning with the figurative use of referencing the soft fibre fillings of plush toys, often referred to as “fluff”, with the implications that the paganism portrayed by the fluff bunny was devoid of any real spiritual weight and content –polyfibre fluff has very little weight by volume, is very cheap and easy to acquire (a medium-sized bag that could easily fill two or three toys, if not more, tends to cost less than US$3 at most craft stores), and is generally hypoallergenic, making it safer to fill cheap pillows with than feathers or latex foam.

From that point, we get to the true definition of “fluff bunny” in Internet pagan jargon: The seemingly unobjectionable, easy to deal with, and simple. Little weight relative to volume, intellectually and spiritually. Little in the way of discernible shape because of the yielding nature of the material that can be mushed, and picked at, and twisted into whatever you want it to be. The fluffy has few, in any, standards and definitions, and those who subscribe to the fluffy can be ironically hostile (considering how yielding such folks typically are) to the mere suggestion that there are either traditions that require a minimum of basic standards and practises, or even that there is a community of people who clearly want standards.

Thus I propose that the latest trend of “pagan” meaning anything one wants it to, where one follows as many or as few rules as they like, where one can worship a pantheon of a billion gods, or none at all, where words like “polytheist” and “god”, “goddess”, “deity” don’t have any meaning anymore, and don’t you dare question this, because any kind of rules, or concepts like “spiritual growth”, and practising established traditions, are practically tantamount to fascism –ay, there’s the rub! This, this latest trend to reject any sort of definitions in favour of what feels right, to shy away from growth because “Mister Rogers likes me just for being me”, and to basically strive for a paganism and polytheism so void of content that, it is assumed, it will be so broad and welcoming that only the Fascist Meanie Poo-Poo Heads would object, regardless of any actual legitimate concerns about the potential ramifications of such blatant misappropriation and undefinition… This is the latest trend of fluff bunny paganism.

Unfortunately, in the peak of the heyday of “bunny hunting” (which, in its original intended form, is the act of older, or at least better-read pagans and witches taking steps to educate young nubs by way of mocking some of the most blatant examples of fluff bunnies), many of who are now in our mid-twenties through mid-to-late thirties might have actually fallen victim to a wannabe bunny-hunter who was all mockery and no sense for educating others. Needless to say, a lot of people about my age only really know the last days of bunny hunting, where the practice became something of a bastion for mean people who either didn’t get the point, or just didn’t care about anything but snarking and mocking people.

I am sorry to admit that I may have been more in the “mean jackass” category than I’m exactly proud of. To be fair, I seldom went properly bunny-hunting, but was instead kind of prominent in the dot_pagan_snark community –where the point was to make semi-private (it was a LiveJournal community which required moderator approval for membership) snide remarks (“snark”) about pagans saying stupid shit. The moderators tried to stress that, if we were going to comment directly to a person who was featured in the community, to try and educate –but at the same time, there were people and places that even the most diplomatic members felt deserved whatever one could dish out at them –like Robin Artisson, or the (now-defunct) MysticWicks forum. Now, there are certainly incidents of which I am not sorry (like anything involving TA, or the guy who was certain that not only has “everybody” seen some spooky mansion guarded by hellhounds on the outskirts of their own towns, but that Republicans “stole the [2004 US Presidential] election with their spooooooky black mages” [paraphrased], and speaking of the Bush Jr years, I also have no regrets over mocking “don’t Mess With Beltaine”-Lady), but I’m alo sure that there were other times where I could’ve eased up on some people, even though I may still believe they were being stupid –cos there are different kinds of stupid.

The Fluff Bunny is necessarily immature and unwisebecause the fluff bunny still has yet to completely unload Christian baggage –from defining religion solely by spiritual beliefs to any gut reaction against attempts to build real community out of a sophomoric mistrust of anything that may vaguely resemble authority. At a certain age from the beginning of one’s spiritual journey into pagan-/polytheism, this can be safely considered stupidity (for most people simply outgrow that stage), but then there are those who may be assumed stupid, but instead are only ignorant. The ignorant don’t know any better because they never learned it; the stupid are given ample opportunities to learn better, but refuse it, or may take it and then declare it useless.

The New Fluff shares some characteristics with the old fluff —like a more-than-average mistrust of any and all semblance of or “de facto” authority (such as long-time bloggers, scholars, and writers, in addition to anyone who may feel a calling toward community building), a refusal to learn better when the opportunity comes, and an almost dyed-in-the-wool hostility toward the notion that words mean things, and there are actual traditions that have a clear way of doing things “properly” (even if there is some room for variation). They aren’t all sweetness-and-light all the time, some may even take pride in portraying themselves as “derk en skerry” and talk all willy-nilly about throwing curses at anyone they simply dislike, but an element of that “sweetness and light” sentiment still remains in the fact that “the feels” are ultimately more important to The New Fluff than actually learning anything: If it “feels right”, then it’s assumed that it must be, even if there are people with years, even decades more experience than oneself saying that it’s improper form –and excuses for why they should be allowed to do so are always the same, and always believed to be “right” because it “feels right”, which itself is highly fallacious circular reasoning and to point out that, say, Picasso broke the rules of painting, or Clara Rockmore broke the rules of Classical music and played the Theremin, and they were geniuses, conveniently omitting the fact that all these “rule-breakers” they may like to cite (though I’ll eat my hat if any one of them previously knew about Clara Rockmore) actually did have a firm foundation in “the rules”, and that’s why they could break them so beautifully, because they busted their arses for years, even decades, and reached a point where experimentation with new techniques, new musical instruments, and so forth would let their brilliance shine through, nobody they like to cite ever truly just made it all up as they went along. Even ancient societies, in learning how best to worship the gods, we must never assume it all just blindly started from a single person’s unverified personal gnosis (UPG), but instead was tested and people interacted with eachother, and group gnosis formed in communities –after all, ancient Mediterranean and Asian societies each independently discovered what would later be codified as “the scientific method”, and most, if not all, ancient schools of science were born of schools of philosophy, the religion.

Or, to put it in terms that Tumblrgers can understand: You wouldn’t write fan-fic without seeing the show, first, would you? So why jump into religion without first becoming familiar with at least some basic framework for it, much less its history and finer details, and THEN personalising things to fit you better? Too bad people don’t put the same kind of thought and care into their gods that they give to Batman or Doctor Who. Another trait of fluff paganism –when ultimately, a person gives more care to the substance of entities they generally regard as imaginary, than to gods they ostensibly claim to be real.

Unfortunately, what was once a powerful religious movement to all who came to it is quickly becoming little more than a hobby to many, and barely one, at that. Sherlock Holmes fandom is more “a way of life” to many pagans and polytheists than their religions.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for almost a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros most of that time. He also paints, makes music, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival subculture of the early 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.
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