On Fluffy Bunnies…
As our religion becomes more prominent in the mainstream media, I find myself feeling more and more getting a feeling of competition within the Pagan community. Given that my exposure to the community of Paganism in general is relatively little, consisting of the Pagan community in my backyard, what is in books and on the Internet from sites like Witchvox.com and Rendingtheveil.com, I don’t entirely know if this is rippling through the Pagan community at large or not.
However, as I see it, there are well written but somewhat short-tempered, self-righteous or outright assertive posts and essays being written about ‘what makes a Pagan a Pagan’ and what a Pagan ‘should and should not be’. Some of these are to be found on Witchvox and Rending the Veil, some are to be found on personal websites and yet more in the pages of books from authors of all stripes.
It would seem that some in the community, whether they are in a prominent position such as that of author, editor or any other seemingly ‘big’ role in our community, are wishing to define exactly down-to-the-letter what makes our religion, our religion.
Mind you, I am in the Georgian Tradition of Wicca as an Initiate, but I still work with Gods and Goddesses that I did as a Solitary, so I understand that tradition and values of a ‘lineage-based’ coven structure can be as important to a person as a ‘free-form experiential based’ spirituality. I know that traditions and codes of practice can make or break a person’s spirituality, both from my time as a Catholic and as a Georgian. I also know from my experience as a Solitaire, that sometimes the complete defining of rules and regulations as to ‘how the world works’ and ‘what Paganism is’ is not only spiritual caging, its spiritually debilitating.
Yet, this view of spoon-fed spirituality and/or religion seems to be what some in the community want, a Codes of Behavior and a ‘This is What We Do as Pagan’ manual. I’ve been there, done that with the Papal, Canonical and Scriptural law of Catholic Christianity. Maybe this is my own bias, but after many of us in the community come from a spirituality and religion of strictly defined relationships with God, Goddess, Spirits of all types, our fellow humans and Nature Itself, why would you build up another faith that embraces the same kind of rules that inspired you to move away from, or not accept?
As an example, recently codes of dress have been examined as to what a Witch should and should not wear. Sometimes the opinions therein were based upon what would and would not offend others, which, to a point I can concede is important that you be mindful of others. However, why would we go to a religion that celebrates life, traditions and paths in its myriad of forms, and then shut up those who celebrate their particular form, tradition or path, self-made or no?
The many ‘anti-fluffy bunny’ websites out there that made extensive use of examples of ‘what not to do’ or ‘what makes a fluffy bunny’ are another example of what I see as community self-hate. Rather than ask what these people believe, and try to see their point of view so even if their information is historically or practically (i.e. rooted in this physical, mundane reality) our community, it seems, has taken to name-calling and elitism.
Yes, I know that some viewpoints cannot be argued with, changed or sometimes understood because they are believed in so fervently. I also know that some individuals should not be tolerated, such as those that seek to harm children or those who exist in our religion for the sole purpose of fattening their wallet. Despite this, many ‘fluffy bunnies’ are picked on, ostracized and in general, swept under the rug or pointedly hushed down by those who do not agree with their views. While I am not asking those who do not agree with what is called ‘White Lighter’ or ‘Fluffy bunny’ views to spontaneously accept or begin dialogue with them, I would ask you this: think upon what impact you have on them.
Let’s do a few what-ifs down this line of thinking, with three differing scenarios with three possible results afterward.
Scenario 1: The person is new to the Craft and Paganism and has a near-to-no understanding of either. They are looking for information on these subjects and things related to them. They read a book or a series of them and look at it/them as canon as to ‘how the Pagan world works’ (whether by cosmology or magick) and so, embrace the book and its author as their religious and magickal foundations.
If you approach this person in a manner that is demeaning or hurtful (i.e. judgment calls, jabs at their inexperience or lack of understanding) then you could do a number of things to them. First and foremost, you could drive them from ever fully embracing Paganism and learning the subjects you would prefer they learn. Second, if you don’t outright drive them off, you could make it so they will have a precedent of what a person ‘who knows what they are talking about’ acts like; would you care for someone to treat you like that and represent your religion as you just did?
Third, if they do not leave Paganism and do/do not adopt your ‘views’ as you gave them to them in your demeaning/hurtful stances, they may yet go further into what might be the very practice you feel is incorrect. Worse, they may get into other forms of the same practice that are much more dangerous or forms that might reflect poorly on the Pagan community.
Scenario 2: The person is one who has been in the Craft a year or so with a little experience of Paganism under their belt and is starting to foment relationships with Goddesses, Gods, Spirits and the like. They tell you that (as an extreme example that I have seen cited elsewhere) the Celtic Triple Goddess, The Morrigan, has tapped them for a special partnership and it involves something like making war on anger with hugs and practicing Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.
While this might make you laugh, think of how your dismissal of their spirituality and personal relationship with Deity affects them. Not only this, but who are we, as people to dictate to others how God/dess relates and shows itself to other people? While we do have precedents of how most of our Deities act, react and go through the cycles of the year (i.e. the general nature, demeanor, etc. of The Morrigan) , who are we to tell them that that particular Deity ‘just doesn’t do that’ or ‘never acts like that’. I would feel for so many peoples’ criticisms of absolutist faith and/or spirituality (this I feel can occur in any faith) in the Pagan community that such thoughts, while they may be true for our realm of experience, may not be true for theirs and so, should not be dismissed out of hand.
Approaching a person with such an attitude can have little effect on them, especially if their faith in their God/dess, path, etc. is strong. However, for those who have just began or are strengthening their relationship with their Deity, I find that this is a particularly vulnerable time for new Pagans or Pagans developing in their faith; one which needs care and gentleness to be heeded when people of the same faith speak with them or work to ‘correct’ (i.e. historical precedent of The Morrigan in this case vs. the person’s personal experience) their perceptions of the Deity in question. An approach that is too strong in terms of confrontation, or too harsh in terms of the ‘correction’ can produce long-lasting harmful effects.
First, among these effects could be a sense of not knowing what Deity is like for them. If they have approached Deity, I would believe most have had a certain list of things that is associated with the ‘presence of’ or interactions with of Deity. When people are then are told such things are wrong and given a differing list, one that feels alien or perhaps even exclusionary to their feelings on Deity Itself, they can be turned off to working with Deity entirely and either focusing solely on magick or other Pagan pursuits, or simply dropping Paganism altogether.
Second, I have seen people whom go through a bout of the possibility listed above, only to come out of it always questioning if they have really perceived the ‘presence’ of Deity, or second-guess conversations and interactions with Deity. This is not to say, ‘get rid of your critical thinking when Deity tells you to do something’ or something similar, it merely means that the entire belief in the Deity, or It’s ‘presence’, faith in It’s existence as the Pagan has experienced it, etc., suffers. Faith that is blossoming can suffer a little or a great deal, and I find this is dependant on the person, their convictions and perhaps how much support they have from their community. Though I have seen a Solitaire friend of mine endure the two examples I listed above, I do not find in my speaking with Pagans (like those I find/listen to in bookstores or in chatrooms or message boards) that this is usually the case. People need a support network, and it serves no good to take the Goddesses and Gods they work with in the way they work with them, out from under their feet via their budding faith.
Third, if they do weather the first two outcomes, it could be entirely possible that they emulate the behavior of snap decisions, judgment calls and judging others’ relationship with Deity by their own experiences or by history’s standards. To reverse the situation: would you want a person who has worked with The Morrigan for twenty years tell you that you are working with/worshipping/etc. Her all wrong, and that the She now and always has wanted Her priestesses/priests to make war on anger with Perfect Love and Perfect Trust?
Let’s say in this hypothetical that the history books and records of The Morrigan’s followers are in line with what this person claims, and that you feel completely different, that Morrigan is (as She is described to us in actual Celtic lore) is a War Goddess, but not just of War, but also Death and Fertility?
Scenario 3: The person is part of a group/coven/order/etc. that espouses what could be considered to be ‘fluffy bunny’ beliefs, doctrines, relationships with Deity, etc. They are devoted to these beliefs, and so on, and fervently believe them, but they make claims that are, for instance, historically inaccurate about The Morrigan and Her followers, priests and priestesses when the Celts as a culture still thrived. They follow these teachings with a deep attachment, despite whatever historical or practical errors there may be in them.
As I have asked before, who are we to dictate how people relate to Deity, or practice said Deity’s teachings in a modern context? Are we to begin the practice of ‘proper way to honor’ such-and-such a God/dess? Are we to eliminate Unverified Personal Gnosis (a sudden spiritual awakening that can be brought about by ritual, possession by God/dess or other methods, with results, such as messages from Deity, internal enlightenments, ah-ha moments, etc.) from our religion?
What if you were told something by your God/dess that It wished to change a practice, ritual or your relationship to It, immediately, contra to history’s record? Would you tell you God/dess no, that’s not how we’ve done things, so you aren’t this or that God/dess? If someone made the move to ‘correct’ you on your beliefs, your coven’s teachings, etc., how would you feel?
From the perspective of the person whose group vision you’d be trying to ‘correct’…
First: they could react to your news in either evaluating their religious, spiritual, magickal, etc. conclusions or otherwise absorb the information you present, or put up resistance of some magnitude. At its worst, this would probably escalate to a screaming contest, whether or not you participate. Putting in the way the Chris Rock as the character Rufus does from Dogma, (directed by Kevin Smith) : “I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can’t generate. Life becomes stagnant.“ It may not, however, be your responsibility to be a catalyst for this growth; it may need to come from within the group.
Second, whether or not they absorb your ideas is moot if they shut themselves off to the ideas of others, replacing their ideas and beliefs with just as much zeal as they previously had, maybe more. So, rather than enlighten, inform or otherwise aid your fellow would-be Pagan, you may just trigger them to shard off from the community at large even further. Teaching them an open mind, much more than the ‘correctness’ of their faith, I feel, is the way to go. You cannot absorb new information if your mind is closed only to what you are told or believe. How are we to expect our children or fellow Pagans to be open to others if we expect them to adhere to hard-and-fast rules about how they ‘are to be like’ or what is ‘officially Pagan.’
Third, they could take everything you try to instill in them the way that you desire, and either assimilate or otherwise consider the application of the knowledge, teachings, what-have-you that you wish to bestow upon them. They could also take everything you’ve said wrong way, become incredibly embarrassed and/or angry, or worse yet, hostile and retaliate.
This is how Witch Wars start, by absolutist thinking.
Absolutism, by its nature, allows no other viewpoints other than the one in control, and so long as two sides disagree and cannot peaceable communicate, there is conflict. This is part of my issue with the Pagan community in general; we bill ourselves so often in public life as being the compassionate, tolerant ones that don’t mind other peoples’ faiths, or beliefs and then we turn on our own people who ‘might make us look bad’. For what?
Why do we even persecute the ‘fluffy bunnies’ real or no? Is it for us to hold up a sign saying ‘We aren’t those flakes! Look at us, we’re Pagans and have as much right to be part of the mainstream! We don’t have weird, counter-culture beliefs or relationships with God/dess, Spirits or any of that crazy stuff!’?
Is it so somehow we feel we get a smidgen of superiority for pointing out that ‘this is only a subgroup’ to people who question us about the attitudes and beliefs we actually normally hold, which are then attributed to ‘fluffy bunnies because we don’t want to explain them, they are controversial or are contra to the mainstream religions?
Look at the Great Rite or Heiros Gamos, for instance; how many of us have explained to others, that though this started off, for instance in Wicca, as a fertility rite between a High Priestess and High Priest of a coven only symbolically? It was performed for real at one point, we’ve only recently stopped doing it, and it’s not some fringe thing.
Pagan rituals are abundantly about fertility, sex and the two colluding between the High Priestess and High Priest and the land for a bountiful harvest. Yet I have seen this practice of the physical copulation referred to by authors and people of the Pagan community as something ‘the fringe’ which, generally, will include fluffy bunnies does, and it The Great Rite is now largely symbolic
In short, it is time to stop using the ‘fluffy bunnies’, ‘goths’ ‘Renaissance Festival freaks’ and all the other straw man labels as scapegoats for the parts of our religion that we don’t want to talk about, that do not jive with the mainstream faiths, or to one-up each other. It is time to stop competing and it is more than time to start coming together and working as a whole for a better future.
If we do not open up our ears and our minds to other people, how can we expect others, i.e. Congress, to do the same for us when we want a bill passed? If we are waging war on people of our faith, regardless of how we express it, then you are doing no one any good, save those who wish for our faith to disappear.
I am not saying capitulate to those whose view you do not believe, but I firmly believe that clinging to dogma, or beliefs for the sake of doing so is not wisdom nor is it courage. It is stubbornness and self-destruction that drive us to doing this, and it is time we stopped arguing with each other, and started conversing.
As much as you may not like it, I feel it is high time we listened to these voices of our community, who may, if we listen, teach us more than our books and personal knowledge can.