Coco & Woodward – Discourses of Authenticity in a Pagan Community

Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the “Fluffy Bunny” Sanction

by Angela Coco & Ian Woodward

[Coco, Angela, and Ian Woodward. 2007. “Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the ‘Fluffy Bunny’ Sanction.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36 (5): 479–504.]

Points

  • Discussing “fluffy bunnies” is “a group boundary defining exercise based on moral judgments.”
    • It explores pagan ethics associated with the deployment of pagan artifacts and spiritual understandings.
    • Implicit in the discussion is a sense of a “them” who are seduced by media images and popular practices, or implicated in producing them, and a (serious, authentic) “us” who presumably distance ourselves from such things (480).
  • “In a consumer society one purchases objects—commodities such as Tarot cards, ritual tools, medieval dress—that enhance, edify, improve, and sustain self.
    • These objects then act as material boundary markers that suggest things people wish to cultivate about themselves and exclude polluting aesthetics/others” (482).

 

  • pagans are conscious of and practically engage in discussions about constructions of pagan identity and commodification of the craft which is exemplified in the notion of the “fluffy bunny” (499).
  • “A range of tensions emerges which we argue indicates the ways pagans in late-capitalist (or postmodern) society reflexively create meaning-structures around the production and consumption of goods and services that have become popularized as “pagan.” The nuanced features of these tensions reveal the conceptual distinctions and symbolic boundaries pagans create in establishing an “authentic” pagan identity” (483).
  • “The establishment of an “authentic” pagan identity is formed partly by one’s ability to discern the proper limits of commodification and consumerism in the pursuit of religious practice” (499).

 

  • Fluffy Bunnies defined:
    • “those people who gain a surface grasp of pagan practices but fail to incorporate pagan beliefs into their day-to-day life practices” (500).
    • “uninformed, immature, and lacking in their understanding of the forces of nature and consequently dangerous because they may misuse magic”—informant (500).
    • “a person who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or as was said not steadfast in there (sic) beliefs. I am sure that we have all met the 12 year old who is a high priestess and the leader of huge demonic armies and has alliances with the elves!!!!”—informant (500).
    •  “perhaps what bugs me most about these type (sic) is not so much the superficiality (which the ‘fashion-witch’ has in spades) but the hyposcrisy (sic) which often enables them todo harm whilst preaching love and light, and never once recognizing the results of their own actions”—informant (501).
    • “They refer to the superficial practitioner’s tendency to focus only on the light, happy side of life without balancing it with the dark and difficult aspects of experience” (501).

 

Abstract

The commodification of the religious impulse finds its most overt expression in the New Age movement and its subculture neopaganism. This article examines discourses in the pagan community in an Australian state. Pagans, who have been characterized as individualist, eclectic, and diverse in their beliefs and practices, network through electronic mail discussion lists and chat forums as well as through local and national offline gatherings. We explore community building and boundary defining communications in these discourses. In particular, we examine interactions that reveal the mobilization of pagans’ concern with authenticity in the context of late-capitalism, consumer lifestyles, and media representations of the “craft.” Our analysis highlights a series of tensions in pagans’ representations of and engagement with consumer culture which are evident in everyday pagan discourse. These notions of in/authenticity are captured by invoking the “fluffy bunny” sanction.

Annotation Summary for: Coco & Woodward – Discourses of Authenticity in a Pagan Community
Content: “I first heard the expression “fluffy bunny” one evening at a Pagans in thePub (PITPub) gathering early in 2001. Pagans in the Pub is an eventthat migrated from the UK through the United States to Australia. Pagansselect a central location where they meet on a regular basis once or twice amonth. Over time I observed that most individuals seldom consumed morethan one alcoholic drink during these sessions (if any). ”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ” “ . . . and not all the fluffy bunny stuff.” This expression drewcomment from the gathering who wanted him to clarify what he meant. Hesaid, “Oh you know, people who watch Charmed and Buffy and… .””

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Privately, two of the women confided to me that they were Buffy fans; they thought she was “OK.” Other public figures came under attack for the same reasons. Notably Lorna Horne and Deborah Gray, who were also the focus of Ezzy’s reflections on the commodification of witchcraft (2001), were named as promoting and selling warm fuzzy ideas about the craft through their many publications and Web pages.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “The exchanges between individual pagans at the pub revealed a questioning of the authenticity of media repre- sentations of the craft and of some pagans’ extensive use of advertising, late capitalism’s primary vehicle for promoting consumerism, as a means of pro- moting their pagan beliefs and practices (and making a living).”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “This was a group boundary defining exercise based on moral judgments of the type theorized by Lamont (1992). It explored pagan ethics associated with the deployment of pagan artifacts and spiritual understandings. Implicit in the discussion was a sense of a “them” who were seduced by media images and popular practices, or implicated in producing them, and a (serious, authentic) “us” who presumably distanced ourselves from such things.”

Page 2, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “This was a group boundary defining exercise based on moral judgments of the type theorized by Lamont (1992). It explored pagan ethics associated with the deployment of pagan artifacts and spiritual understandings. Implicit in the discussion was a sense of a “them” who were seduced by media images and popular practices, or implicated in producing them, and a (serious, authentic) “us” who presumably distanced ourselves from such things.”

Page 2, Underline (Red):
Content: “Lamont (1992).”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “In regard to neopaganism, tensions have been noted between spiritual”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “ideals and pragmatic (including economic) concerns, between the idea ofserious practitioners and “dabblers” in the craft, and between those whowould want to mainstream the religion and those who feel that paganism’sstrength lies in its subcultural “cutting edge,” its esotericism (Berger, Leach,and Shaffer 2003; Pearson 1998; Neitz 1994).”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “It should be noted, however, that the term “fluffy bunnies” has a longer history not pursued in this article. We came across it in a poem reported by Pearson (1998), who writes about Wiccans in the European context.”

Page 3, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “It should be noted, however, that the term “fluffy bunnies” has a longer history not pursued in this article. We came across it in a poem reported by Pearson (1998), who writes about Wiccans in the European context.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Coco engaged in participant observation with a neopagan community primarily focusing on the role of information and communication technologies in pagan identity formation,”

Page 3, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “Coco engaged in participant observation with a neopagan community primarily focusing on the role of information and communication technologies in pagan identity formation,”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Identity, Commodity, and Community”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Miller (1987) argues similarly for studies of consumptionthat acknowledge relations between people and goods in industrial societies,switching the frame of analysis from the economic realm of objectificationto the process of consumer objectification. Such work involves identifyingsymbolic boundaries which Lamont (1992) describes as “conceptual dis-tinctions that we make to categorise objects, people, practices” (29). Theprocess of exclusion is based on a person’s judgment that he/she refuses toassociate with certain people for particular cultural or moral reason”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “reasons. In Lamont’s research the idea of moral resources as the basis of exclusivity is especially important, and is often founded in simple assessments that another person is “not like me.” For those who are excluded, feelings of snobbery, dis- tance, and coldness from those practicing the exclusive behavior is common (Lamont 1992). Generally, it is manifested as the feeling of difference from another person.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “An extension that we make of Lamont’s argument that moral outlook is a key resource for social differentiation is the way that aesthetics has become fused with moral and ethical projects of self-development (Coco and Woodward 2003). In a consumer society one purchases objects—com- modities such as Tarot cards, ritual tools, medieval dress—that enhance, edify, improve, and sustain self. These objects then act as material bound- ary markers that suggest things people wish to cultivate about themselves and exclude polluting aesthetics/others.”

Page 4, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ” Pagans indulge inexpressivity and play (c.f. Berger 1999) and both construct and consumemedia images of the craft.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Drawingon ethnographic data we identify the ways consumer values and media rep-resentations of witchcraft are used as foils for the discursive construction ofan authentic pagan identity. We explore pagans’ reflections on ethics andaesthetics and their negotiations of truths, values, and the good in theireveryday discourse. A range of tensions emerges which we argue indicatesthe ways pagans in late-capitalist (or postmodern) society reflexively createmeaning-structures around the production and consumption of goods andservices that have become popularized as “pagan.” The nuanced features ofthese tensions reveal the conceptual distinctions and symbolic boundariespagans create in establishing an “authentic” pagan identity.”

Page 5, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “We explore pagans’ reflections on ethics and aesthetics and their negotiations of truths, values, and the good in their everyday discourse.”

Page 5, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “A range of tensions emerges which we argue indicates the ways pagans in late-capitalist (or postmodern) society reflexively create meaning-structures around the production and consumption of goods and services that have become popularized as “pagan.” The nuanced features of these tensions reveal the conceptual distinctions and symbolic boundaries pagans create in establishing an “authentic” pagan identity.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Observing the Neopagan Scene in Southwest Summerland”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Research in online environments raises particular issues to do with researcher transparence, informed consent, and anonymity (Sharf 1999). Online forums are essentially public spaces and the extent to which a researcher can ensure anonymity and confidentiality to participants is limited (Mann and Stewart 2000). In line with established reporting practices, people’s names, the names of places, and of the e-mail discussion lists have been changed in an effort to minimize potential breaches of trust with the community.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Permission from individuals in both online and offline contexts was sought and granted for all but two direct quotations used in this article. Two people who had posted to the lists were unable to be traced.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “There are several topics that typically provoke heated discussions onlineand in offline community subgroups that are similar to issues reported byBerger, Leach, and Shaffer (2003) and Neitz (1994) in North American con-texts. For example, tensions arise when individuals advertise courses in thecraft for which they charge a fee, and over their qualifications to teach suchcourses in the first place”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Online L2 discussion, 2001—Charging for Courses Pagans in Conversation ”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “One of Miller’s (1987) significant arguments centers on the importantwork consumers do in creating meaning from goods in industrial modernity,and in particular he emphasizes the semiotic and cultural labor involved in,and after, the purchase of commodities. In late-capitalist religions, issues ofcredentialing, organization, identity politics, and perpetuating the movementare inevitably bound up with concerns about commercial enterprise, morals,and spiritual practices. It is instructive to witness how these tensions arerevealed in offline activity. ”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Two distinct types of festivals seem to have emerged in Australia; those that are frequented by pagans and serious acolytes, and those that assume the character of markets where the general public wanders and purchases.”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Offline Magical Fair, 2001—A Public Forum”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “One woman asked the panel, “What do you think about the popularizationof paganism?” I asked for clarification as to what she meant by “populariza-tion.” George, a long-standing pagan who had trained with Jason and joinedhis coven, said in dismissive tones, “You know things like the spell kits forteenagers, you can buy them in the newsagents.” Discussion focused aroundthe proliferation of spell kits, now widely available in Australia, which usu-ally include a candle, some incense and a slip of paper with instructions to doa spell, for example, to make your boyfriend love you. The indirect referenceto young women (young gay men were not usually referenced in this man-ner) resonates with elements of the “fluffy bunny” discussion held at PITPubnoted earlier. In this pagan community there is strong evidence similar to thatrecognized by Neitz in her study of Dragonfest (2000) that even though neo-pagan imagery and practice open up new possibilities for performing sexuality,heterosexuality continues to define gender relations. ”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “In the forum exchanges, a distinction was being made between naïve and experienced members of the craft, where the naïve believe that using a few commodities that have become popular signs of the craft will affect a life change in the direction they wish.”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “There is a strain between surface and deeper meanings of craft symbolism and between the subjective use of tools invested with personal meaning and the objectification of them as commodi- ties. These communally derived meanings about the appropriate attitudes to, and understanding and deployment of craft tools act as generalized mecha- nisms of exclusion of “inauthentic pagans.””

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Pagan Fair, 2002—Personal Conversations”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: ” I inquired as to how he felt about the cur-rent discussions on L2 which were targeting him again. He said, “the pagancommunity is moving on and changing and there are those that don’t wantthat to happen” and I added, “because they can’t do things in the ways theyhave in the past?” Jason went to say he doesn’t waste his time worrying aboutwhat they are saying. He felt that the movement was developing its ownmomentum and it would move beyond those who wished to protect its eso-teric nature. ”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “On the one hand some pagans see commercialization as manifested in events like the Pagan Fair as an outright betrayal of the craft, while others see it as a mechanism for raising public awareness.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “In the pagan festival we can see a reconfiguration of the relations of production and consumption. As both producers and consumers of culture, pagans share knowledge and information with public others who purchase their commodities or services. However, pagan markets not only sell commodities, but in the same space provide ritu- als, and free talks and entertainments that serve to link symbolic meanings to commodities sold in stalls.”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Pagans in the Pub—2002 Unlike one-off events, such as the Magical Pagan Fairs, where membersof a consuming public may or may not be interested in the pursuit of paganspirituality, PITPub is a regular occurrence conducted for the purpose ofallowing seekers to gain an informal introduction to pagan culture.”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Jack said that he displayed his items with a reasonable price but suggested to people that if it was worth more to them then they should choose to pay according to the value it held for them. His solution was to encourage reflexive consumption. He put the decision of cost onto the con- sumer, thus distancing himself from capitalist practices, and challenging the consumer to examine the relationship between their own consumer and spiri- tual values.”

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Commercialization, Capitalism, and Pagan Identity”

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “The examples we have provided suggest that although paganism may bean exemplary postmodern religion it does not follow that its adherents rest ina commodified spirituality bereft of deeper spiritual meanings and practices.In fact, a discourse has emerged in which the “authentic” pagan is being con-structed through ongoing conversations around a series of distinctions. Issuesof pagan identity, commercialization of the craft, and capitalist enterpriserevealed many semiotic tensions regarding:  1. practical issues and religious ideals 2. capitalist values and spiritual values 3. naïve and experienced practitioners of the craft 4. “modern” pagans and traditionalists 5. expansionism and esotericism 6. surface and deeper meanings of the craft 7. practices that were judged to be peripheral or central to community identity (for example the peripheral, pagan-type Harry Potter movie) 8. playful and serious engagement with the craft 9. media representations of witchcraft and pagan reality.”

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Through the production and con-sumption of craft artifacts and services pagans engage in what Lamont (1992)describes as aesthetic and moral projects of the self, by weighing their valuesand judgments against those of others, perhaps renegotiating them, and deve-loping shared values as members of a community that calls itself pagan.”

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “It is pagans’ reflexive engagement in these discussions both online and offline that gives them a sense of belonging and identity and a way of marking bound- aries between themselves and others. Most cogently though, we find that pagans are conscious of and practically engage in discussions about constructions of pagan identity and commodification of the craft which is exemplified in the notion of the “fluffy bunny.””

Page 21, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “we find that pagans areconscious of and practically engage in discussions about constructions ofpagan identity and commodification of the craft which is exemplified in thenotion of the “fluffy bunny.””

Page 21, Stamp (Quote!)

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “A long discussion thread took place on L2 during 2002 in which partic- ipants debated what it meant to be a “fluffy bunny.” Analysis of the various contributions revealed that a “fluffy bunny” would exhibit the kinds of characteristics illustrated by the first terms in the nine tensions listed above, pragmatic, profiteering, dabbling, modern, superficial, peripheral to com- munity, playful, and using multimedia to further practical and capitalist values.”

Page 21, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “A long discussion thread took place on L2 during 2002 in which partic- ipants debated what it meant to be a “fluffy bunny.” Analysis of the various contributions revealed that a “fluffy bunny” would exhibit the kinds of characteristics illustrated by the first terms in the nine tensions listed above, pragmatic, profiteering, dabbling, modern, superficial, peripheral to com- munity, playful, and using multimedia to further practical and capitalist values.”

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Some voices (a minority) argued that being a fluffy bunny was as”

Page 22, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “legitimate a position as any other as not all people come to the craft with experience, for example. The first example links the “fluffy bunny” to those people who gain a surface grasp of pagan practices but fail to incorporate pagan beliefs into their day-to-day life practices.”

Page 22, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “In the following posts the “fluffy bunny” is linked to the person who is uninformed, immature, and lacking in their understanding of the forces of nature and consequently dangerous because they may misuse magic.”

Page 22, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Ummmmm a fluffy For me a fluffy is a person who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or as was said not steadfast in there (sic) beliefs. I am sure that we have all met the 12 year old who is a high priestess and the leader of huge demonic armies and has alliances with the elves!!!!”

Page 23, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “perhaps what bugs memost about these type (sic) is not so much the superficiality (which the ‘fash-ion-witch’ has in spades) but the hyposcrisy (sic) which often enables them todo harm whilst preaching love and light, and never once recognizing theresults of their own actions.”

Page 23, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “They refer to the superficial practitioner’s tendency to focus only onthe light, happy side of life without balancing it with the dark and difficultaspects of experience. Such unbalanced views, if promoted to unenlightenedothers, may have detrimental consequences for their welfare. Superficialpractitioners, offering rituals and spells with only these elements, are likelyto be unaware of how such imbalances can lead to harm for others. ”

Page 23, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “During the fluffy bunny online discussions it became clear that the expression “fluffy bunny” was one that most people felt/hoped did not apply to them, though some people argued the finer points of the “dark” and “light” experiences and why the idea of a “fluffy bunny” engaged people’s attention at all.”

Page 23, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “The expression “fluffy bunny” has come to be used as a shorthand way of signaling people’s inauthentic engagement with witchcraft.”

Page 23, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “At the 2003 PSG, the woman who acted as high priestess for the Summer Rite warned the gathering that the event was not about “fluffy bunny” paganism. The expression “fluffy bunny” is used at all levels of pagan social interaction from”

Page 24, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “interpersonal conversations to discussions at national gatherings and beyond.”

Page 24, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “Conclusion”

Page 24, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “The establishment of an “authentic” pagan identity is formed partly by one’s ability to discern the proper limits of commodification and consumerism in the pursuit of religious practice.”

Page 24, Underline (Magenta):
Content: “The establishment of an “authentic” pagan identity is formed partly by one’s ability to discern the proper limits of commodification and consumerism in the pursuit of religious practice.”

Page 24, Stamp (Quote!)

Page 24, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “These limits are debated by and with oth- ers who may or may not be known to them. Others are “present” communica- tively in online fora (if not in offline places) and it is the negotiation of the proper relation between production, consumption, and spiritual quest that makes possible constructions of authentic personal lifestyles. It is this aspect of pagan communications that reveals one way that postmodern citizens in consumer culture construct identities around the production and consumption of commodities.”

Page 25, Highlight (Cyan):
Content: “We have argued that such an identity is negoti- ated as authentic in relation to what are perceived to be the superficial, play- ful, and naïve features of late-capitalism and consumer lifestyles. The widely used and understood expression “fluffy bunny” acts as a trope to signal these notions and therefore serves to invoke a generally felt collective conscious- ness of an “authentic pagan” identity. Reflexivity proves to be a play of tensions in which the sense of a particular identity is created which aligns with others participating in the conversation. This is constantly up for dis- cussion and debate and concerns the values of traditional normative ideas like elitism, tradition, and history. We have argued that such an identity is negoti-”

Page 25, Underline (Red):
Content: “Berger, H. 1999. A community of witches: Contemporary neo-paganism and witchcraft in the United States. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.”

Page 25, Underline (Red):
Content: “Berger, H. A. Leach, E. A., and Shaffer, L. S. 2003. Voices from the pagan census, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.”

Page 25, Underline (Red):
Content: “Coco, A. and I. Woodward. 2003. Consumption and the authentic pagan, In New times, new worlds, new ideas: Sociology today and tomorrow, edited by P. Corrigan, M. Gibson, G. Hawkes, E. Livingston, J. Scott, S. Thiele, and G. Carpenter. The Australian Socio- logical Association: The University of New England. Coco, A. 2003. Negotiating identity between online and offline timespaces. Unpublished manuscript presented at the Building the e-nation: e-community e-government, e-commerce Symposium, Sydney: Macquarie University and The University of Queensland. Ezzy, D. 2001. The commodification of witchcraft. Australian Religion Studies Review, 14(1):31-44.”

Page 25, Underline (Red):
Content: “Cowan, D. E. 2005. Cyberhenge: Modern pagans on the internet, New York, London: Routledge.”

Page 25, Underline (Red):
Content: “Foltz, T. G. 2005. The commodification of witchcraft. In Witchcraft and magic, edited by H. A. Berger, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.”

Page 26, Underline (Red):
Content: “Lamont, M. 1992. Money, morals, and manners. The culture of the French and American upper-middle class. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.”

Page 26, Underline (Red):
Content: “Mann, C. and F. Stewart. 2000. Internet communication and qualitative research. London: Sage.”

Page 26, Underline (Red):
Content: “Pearson, J. E. 1998. Assumed affinities: Wicca and the New Age. In Nature religion today: Paganism in the modern world, edited by R. H. Roberts and G. Samuel, 45-56. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.”

Page 26, Underline (Red):
Content: “Sharf, B. F. 1999. Beyond netiquette: The ethics of doing naturalistic discourse research on the internet. In Doing internet research, edited by Steve Jones, 243-256. Thousand Oaks, Sage.”

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