Very early on in your exploration of Paganism (and especially Wicca), you will come across the term “Fluffy Pagan” or “Fluffy Wiccan.”
Like most derogatory terms, what exactly constitutes a “Fluffy Pagan” (sometimes also called a “Fluffy Bunny Pagan”) is never clearly defined. Those who use the term generally use it to describe someone who practices Paganism in a manner that they disapprove – usually, in a way that is considered “watered down” or “Pagan-lite.” Typical examples of “Fluffy” behaviour in Paganism may include:
- Not reading much about Paganism, or reading authors considered “Fluffy” (Silver Ravenwolf, Laurie Cabot, anything published by Llewellyn)
- Focussing on the “light” aspects of Paganism rather than the “dark” (this may well overlap with an interest in New Age). Or, conversely, Pagans who focus exclusively on the “dark and spooky” aspects.
- Dressing in a stereotypically “witchy” manner (black, robes, pentagrams)
- Having a liberal attitude to Paganism, e.g. believing “All religions are basically the same”
- Inspired to follow a Pagan path because it is “fashionable” and appears in popular media
As a newbie, eclectic Pagan and as a Goth, I think I definitely display some of these traits!
I’d like to argue that “Fluffy” Pagans are not only absolutely fine in my book, but they are essential to Paganism as a whole. But first, let’s have a look at some of the reasons why non-Fluffy Pagans may have a problem with Fluffy Pagans
Meet Hardcore Pagan and Fluffy Pagan
Let’s look at two example Pagans: A non-Fluffy Pagan (whom I shall dub “Hardcore” Pagan) and a Fluffy Pagan.
Hardcore Pagan has been Pagan for a decade or more. She’s read all the major works by the most respected authorities on Paganism (Doreen Valiente, Ronald Hutton, Gerald Gardner, Robert Graves etc.) as well as books on history, mythology, anthropology and philosophy to better inform her path. In addition to this, she has been instructed and guided along her path by a mentor, perhaps even a family member. Her entire life embodies Paganism on a daily basis; she probably holds some kind of ritual every day and she may even have an occupation that involves her beliefs, such as being a writer on Paganism herself. She understands and uses sophisticated religious and anthropological terms to describe her path, and she is very precise in all of her rituals, right down to the position of the items on her altar. She may even be a Re-constructivist, striving for historical authenticity in her path in order to deepen her connection with the ancestors. She attends Pagan-related events and meetings, and if Wiccan she is initiated into a Coven (where she may well have a leadership role). The reasons why she is a Pagan are varied and complex, but ultimately it’s because she wants to deepen her relationship with the deities and the earth.
Now meet Fluffy Pagan. She’s been Pagan for a very brief time, and indeed she may still be a teenager. She’s not read much on the subject, generally sticking to easily obtainable and accessible books on the subject from the “Mind Body and Soul” section of the bookshop, or what she can find on the internet. She’s a bit slack on rituals and prayers – she particularly likes spells because she feels that they can help her with her problems, and they make her feel mysterious and powerful. She is quite enthusiastic and earnest about her (probably very eclectic) beliefs, but also rather vague on exactly what she believes, and indeed she may frequently change her ideas. She’s a Pagan because she enjoys it and she thinks it’s pretty cool.
Now let’s say a non-Pagan meets either Hardcore Pagan or Fluffy Pagan. Although the two are quite clearly different, to the non-Pagan they’ll probably be seen as pretty much one and the same.
And what’s more, as the Fluffy path is clearly easier to follow than the Hardcore path, there are quite a lot more Fluffy Pagans than there are Hardcore Pagans. Which means, ultimately, that Fluffy Paganism is slowly being accepted as the “norm” of Paganism.
This is understandably rather frustrating for poor old Hardcore Pagan, who’s obviously put considerably more devotion into their religion than Fluffy Pagan. Why should they be seen as equal when one is clearly more dedicated than the other? And even more annoyingly, why should Fluffies grow to dominate the religion?
Fluffy Paganism as Folk Religion
One theme I often write about in this blog is the concept of “folk religion” (spirituality practised by the common populace) verses “organised religion” (religion practised with a particular institution, such as church or state). We often view Paganism as inherently a “folk” religion, but I think the picture is more complex than this.
The respected authors and practitioners of Paganism who helped to make it what it is today were frequently rather removed from the commoners. They were often born into families with greater wealth and education than average, often practitioners of a particular fringe religion themselves. They would then join small and elite groups of occult practitioners and subsequently write and publish their works on Paganism and witchcraft, which would eventually circulate among the masses. This, coupled with the priesthood-like hierarchy and training that is common in paths such as Wicca and Druidry, gives Paganism aspects that begin to resemble organised religion.
But the majority of people out there interested in Paganism simply don’t have the time or the resources to dedicate themselves to Paganism to such an extent. They need a religious path that can easily be incorporated into their busy daily lives while still providing spiritual fulfilment and reassurance as well as escapism from the mundane. Because most people don’t have the time or money to locate and purchase old, stodgy material on the old ways, they’ll turn to what’s most easily available – books and website articles aimed at the general population that distil the obscure complexities of Paganism to its core principals that everyone can grasp, upon which the reader can graft whatever other beliefs and ideas they wish. In this way, Fluffy Paganism is folk religion at its purest.
I think it’s very important to acknowledge that no form of Paganism, fluffy or non-fluffy, is more or less valuable than the other. They are merely different, catering to the different needs of different groups of people in society. Years from now, when academics come to study Paganism in 21st century society, I think they will be looking both at popular, “lite” incarnations of Paganism as well as its more formal and elite forms.
Fluffy Paganism as a Unifying Force
In my own moot Medway Pagans, the various beliefs of its members are extremely diverse. Off the top of my head, members are Eclectics, Wiccans, Druids, followers of a Lefthand Path, people who venerate angels, people who simply worship the earth as Mother Nature and at least one Shintoist (me!). Every single member is unique in their path – and yet, we all get on and worship together. Why?
I think this is very much thanks to “fluffiness.” While our deeper beliefs may differ quite considerably, we all agree on most of the more basic, and some might say “superficial” aspects of Paganism. We all love nature, trees and animals, holding short and simple rituals with basic tools, examining shiny gemstones, and celebrating the “standard” Eight Sabbats that have been popularised within the fluffier writings in Paganism. “Paganism-Lite” enables us to all worship our deities in a cohesive and harmonious manner, whatever those deities be.
Fluffy Paganism as Avoidance of Dogma
It’s interesting that the word “fluffy,” as well as having connotations of something cute and soft and appealing, can also mean something that’s vague, tenuous and amorphous, like a cloud. Fluffy Paganism can have these qualities too, and not necessarily in a bad way. Although you do get more dogmatic Pagans who are labelled as “fluffy” (usually because their dogma is based on the writings of another “fluffy” Pagan), most “fluffy” Pagans are accepting of many different beliefs (even contradictory ones) drawn from different cultures and traditions, often adopting the core elements of these beliefs without going into too much depth into any of them.
While this does mean that these eclectic Fluffy Pagans could be labelled as “shallow,” it also helps to keep Paganism as a whole free of dogma and absolutes, which in turn stops it from stagnating or becoming irrelevant in changing times, or even (worst of all) condemning other beliefs and lifestyles. These issues are currently plaguing more organised religions founded on absolutes that are trying to survive in modern Western society, but thanks to the Fluffies, they are not an apparent problem in Paganism.
Fluffy Paganism as Pagan PR
When Paganism (and especially witchcraft) started gaining popularity, it made a lot of people nervous. It involved magic, cloaked (or naked) people performing strange rituals at night, liberal attitudes to sex, and the veneration of a horned god – all things condemned by the church as inherently evil. It didn’t really help that practitioners were (understandably enough) rather secretive about what they were up to. But thanks to the “fluffier” approach to Paganism, it is now increasingly linked with hippies and the New Age movement than anti-Christian cults in the public mind. And this has done wonders not only in getting more people involved in Paganism, but reassuring non-Pagans that there is nothing sinister at all about it.
Fluffy Paganism as Joy
I made myself a promise when I decided to follow Paganism – that I would stop as soon as it became detrimental to my happiness. I think that one of the most important reasons to follow a religion is because you enjoy it. This may seem selfish, but I would hate to view venerating the deities as burdensome rather than a pleasure.
Many would criticise my thinking as “fluffy” as historically, Paganism has always sacrifice, in many forms. And I still acknowledge this and try to put as much effort into the less glamorous or enjoyable aspects of Paganism and Shinto (such as ritual cleaning or litter picking or making offerings of money etc.) as I do into the more pleasurable ones. But I still think that getting joy and happiness out of one’s religion is essential.
Fluffy Pagans are typically enthusiastic and joyful about their path, and this serves as a reminder to all Pagans to keep Paganism a celebration rather than a chore.