Veiled Issues #1 – Perils of, and Alternatives to, Bunny Hunting
Okay, first things first. We like Daven quite a bit. He’s a cool person, and really knows his stuff when it comes to magic and paganism (as his many writings and correspondences attest). We just happen to be diametrically opposed to him on the subject of bunny hunting (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s good when you have intelligent, experienced people on both sides of a debate, because then you get a clearer view of the issue). However, we perceive bunny hunting to be an extreme reaction to problematic pagans.
Neither one of us has participated in a bunny hunt, which as you may have read from Daven’s essay, is the art of proactively preventing the spread of misinformation (including dangerous ideas, such as suggesting that belladonna is good for you) within the pagan community. A bunny isn’t just a newbie, but rather is someone who has access to good information yet remains willfully ignorant. Lupa, however, was a part of an online community for several months that organized bunny hunts, particularly that surrounding Elder Ravenfire (ERF), a twenty-two-year-old self-proclaimed elder of his own Wiccan tradition.
For the record, we have absolutely no problem with making sure bad information gets curbed. The same goes for dangerous people, such as sexual predators and plagiarists (who are dangerous for very different reasons). The problem is that since the pagan community is still relatively young and is still in its formative stages, there really isn’t any proscribed way to deal with such problematic pagans. Most of what we’ve seen has been the “spread rumors and shun” method, along with written diatribes (primarily online) about specific people (usually authors). Rarely is there any moderation or oversight on these efforts, which raises a lot of questions as to the legality, particularly of the written actions taken, but even more importantly when such actions go beyond ethical considerations.
Then there is the bunny hunt itself. This is a relatively new phenomenon that appears to us to be somewhat of a mix between the “spread rumors and shun” method and a good old-fashioned witch war. It’s not intended to be as such, but in its more advanced stages it certainly resembles these. For example, a bunny hunt may start with people who have knowledge and experience enough to be considered authorities being on a forum where a bunny is spewing all sorts of esoteric garbage. Said authorities will do as most sensible pagans do and correct the bunny’s misinformation. The bunny, not being a sensible person hirself, will take offense and get all pissy about the fact that s/he’s just been pwned.
This is where things can get ugly, and where we disagree with what happens next. Rather than ignoring the bunny and letting hir stew in hir own juices (and make a fool of hirself in the process), the hunters may respond to the bunny’s bitching and moaning (albeit in a much calmer, informed fashion). This causes the situation to escalate to a point where nobody’;s going to convince anyone else of the Truth. And this happens in regular situations as well. Ever heard of a flame war? Even if you only have one side actually spewing epithets, the other is still contributing to the argument by continuing to respond to the bunny. This may carry on to other forums and message boards, as bunny hunters may follow the bunny from place to place to prevent misinformation from occurring elsewhere. At the same time, they are also harassing that bunny, to the point that s/he may be discouraged from trying to learn because the bunny hunters show no sign of moderation or restraint in their activities. If there was any chance of salvaging the bunny’s potential to learn saner ways, the experience of being hounded across the internet may kill whatever was left. For sure, the hunters have the best of intentions and may not see what they’re doing as harassment, but as Taylor has pointed out before, the intent you have and the impact it has on others may be entirely different — and does the end really justify the means?
Still, so far there’s nothing here that’s really out of the ordinary. A lot of this is just the usual online politicking. However, it’s the latter stages of the ERF hunt in particular that have caused us to really question the effect of the hunt in general. For example, when Lupa was on the aforementioned hunting community, she observed increased aggression on the part of the hunters. The thing that finally caused her to leave was seeing several people discussing, with obvious glee, how long it would be before ERF cracked, since he was showing signs of mental illness. Is this how community leaders and authorities (and -dare we use the term — elders) are supposed to act?
The Bunny Trail
Now, since this was in a private community, we can’t really show evidence of this particular instance beyond hearsay. What we can show you is The Bunny Trail. This website appeared at the end of January 2007 and appears to be the result of the ERF hunt. The site mainly seems to be composed of ERF’s personal information, as well as a couple of examples of flame wars he’s been in as a result of the hunt, emails (without headers) from people commenting on ERF, and the author’s personal opinions on what s/he has observed about ERF’s behavior.
Some of the site has been edited recently; as of the time of this writing, the address and phone number had been removed; however, thanks to the joys of Google cache and screen shots we have an older version of the site showing the address and phone number. We’re not going to post it here (since that’s one of our initial complaints), but if someone absolutely must have proof of this you may contact us about the possibility of getting a copy.
Obviously, with the help of the internet you can find anyone’s personal information within a matter of minutes. What we disagree with is placing that information in conjunction with a bunch of negative accusations against the person (lacking in sufficient evidence, we might add from an editorial point of view). That’s just begging for people to harass the target, even if it’s just for the sake of harassment. And it’s only recently been that internet defamation lawsuits have been awarded in favor of the plaintiff2 so people often have the idea that they can say whatever they like without fear of being accused of slander or libel. After all, it’s the internet — people say all sorts of things, right?
However, we’re not here to discuss legalities; we’ll leave that to the lawyers in the event ERF decides to sue. What we’re concerned with are the ethics of this practice. For example, one of the criteria of determining a “toxic bunny” is people who are involved in slander or libel.3 To our minds, what the bunny hunters doing is dangerously close to exactly what they’re trying to protect people against. The main difference is their justification: that it’s okay for them to do this because they’re protecting the rest of us from the scourge of ERF.
And it’s that justification of actions that this whole thing seems to hinge on. It seems that whoever has designed the Bunny Trail site has determined for everyone else what a toxic bunny is. While some of these (like the aforementioned sexual predation and plagiarism, as well as teaching minors without parental consent) would probably be agreed upon unanimously, others aren’t so neatly defined. For example, “Those who continually rewrite history to suit themselves and with the goal of making themselves look to be the victim.”4 What the hell does that mean? Are we the only people who think that this statement could be interpreted in any of a number of ways just to get revenge on someone the hunters didn’t like? Granted, right now it would appear that the focus is still on people who spread dangerous information and otherwise are serious problems. However, the Inquisition was also set up to protect the Church and populace from dangerous people — and we all know where that went!
This introduces the idea that there doesn’t seem to be any moderation or oversight by people not belonging to the bunny hunting community. The justification of protecting people is also worrisome, because it brings to mind the Patriot Act and other decisions made by people in power to “protect” others. The question is whether protection is really occurring, and whose agenda it serves to have this kind of protection in place. Who protects us from the protectors? That none of these details have really been addressed by the bunny hunters indicates that in their zeal to protect us from others, they haven’t instituted a means to insure that someone is placing a systems of checks on what they do in their bunny hunting activities.
Additionally, let’s look at one of the details of the fifth piece of evidence: “Those who advocate illegal activities like drug-use.”5 So now they get to make decisions on what people do with their own bodies? I suppose that means that every traditional shaman, chemognosis psychonaut, and anyone else who happens to use peyote, psilocybin and other hallucinogens in their practice, no matter how long they’ve been doing so and no matter how respected an authority they might be, is a toxic bunny. There goes Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, a number of the essayists from the Generation Hex anthology, and a good bit of Shaman’s Drum magazine, not to mention traditional shamanic practitioners worldwide! And what about the right of people to have their privacy? Will “Mabon” start knocking on pagan doors, demanding urine for drug tests? Is an otherwise respected member of the community going to be blacklisted simply because s/he likes to indulge in a little Mary Jane now and then?
Okay, okay. We are exaggerating the effects. But our point remains the same: bunny hunting, no matter how well-intentioned, has the very real potential of leading to the ostracism of people from the pagan community who aren’t actually a danger to anyone. Whether this abuse of power leads to petty arguments turning into modern-day witch hunts, or someone deciding that a practice that they (but not all pagans) find unsavory is a problem, the result is still the same: Big Brother may soon be sporting ritual garb and carrying an athame, telling us how to conduct our spiritual lives and even tell us how we must appear in public in order to “set a good example.”
The Bunny Trail isn’t alone, either. We invite you to peruse the following links:
All three of these go well beyond correcting misinformation and into what is basically trolling and internet harassment. While ERF might not be the best representative of the pagan community, are people who stoop to this sort of petty, immature behavior any better? How is this benefiting anyone? Granted, these people don’t represent all hunters, either, but if this sort of behavior is not only condoned but encouraged among hunters, how is this any better than allowing toxic bunnies to run rampant?
What’s not clear is whether bunny hunters have any ethical constraints or moderation placed on their activity. It seems as if the only authority bunny hunters answer to is themselves, and we question the ethics in such a case, because there is no one to provide an objective examination of what they are doing or provide some moderation on their activities should they start to go overboard. The bunny hunters have basically taken it upon themselves to police the pagan community, with no thought given to how they themselves will be policed for their activities.
What motivates the bunny hunting is also of concern. Suppose a bunny hunter claims, for instance, that hir god/dess has told hir to go and take all of the bunnies out. We have to wonder how this is any different from the far right evangelicals who make similar statements for their activities. Such claims that deity made me do it leave unexamined the hunter’s personal responsibility and why s/he feels personally motivated to do the hunting. In addition, this kind of reasoning leads to the fanaticism that has caused so many wars throughout history. It leads to dogmatism that proclaims that any other way than mine is wrong. We feel that neither fanaticism nor dogma has a place in Paganism and that such activities as bunny hunting must be questioned critically to ensure that fanaticism and dogma aren’t used as reasons for bunny hunting.
The motivation behind bunny hunting must be exposed and questioned. When bunny hunters feel it’s a holy or righteous mission they are on, they need to be reined in and questioned about how they’ve determined that motivation. It’s healthier to educate people, as opposed to harassing or punishing them. The ERF bunny hunt is an example of punishment as opposed to education. While early on attempts were made to simply correct his misinformation and prevent him from convincing people of some potentially dangerous things, we believe that in the latter stages the hunt was carried entirely too far. Not surprisingly ERF lashed back, no doubt because he felt cornered by what he perceived as personal attacks. When the bunny hunters view that as harassment, we want to ask how it justifies their activities and how they feel about the result and its effects on them. Do they spare any thought to wondering if this is how they’ve made people feel when they’ve felt the need to hunt them down and force them to recant their views?
Alternatives to Bunny Hunting
“Well, okay, Mr. and Ms. Smartypants Bunnylovers,”; you might be thinking right now, “if you know so much and you think that bunny hunting is so bad, what are you going to do about the problem?” We’ve thought about this, because we do admit that there are definitely problems that bunny hunting is an attempt to solve. And we do commend the hunters for at least trying to do something about the problems. However, we disagree that the method they’ve been using is a healthy one. So here are some alternatives that we propose.
1. Get more good information out there — We are, of course, biased towards this one because we’re authors, and we like infecting people with the writing bug (more reading material!). Since we both work 40 hour a week jobs at this point along with our writing and other independent business endeavors, we’ve had to learn to be good at time management. This is why we’ve tried to limit the amount of time we spent online, other than networking and checking email. If a person spends an hour a night, five nights a week bunny hunting, that’s five hours a week that could be spent writing. Believe it or not, there’s a lot you can get done in five hours, even if it’s in one hour increments — the trick is to have the discipline to actually sit down and write rather than getting distracted (including by the shiny internet), and it does take practice.
So what do you write? Books are our favorites, but articles work, too. The advantage of writing books and articles is that you not only get to convey information to a wider audience than your average internet forum, but you also get to meet many people in person and teach classes, which can be quite useful for showing bunnies why they might want to do some research. In addition, while anyone can argue on an internet forum, the arguments on forums are mostly perceived as just opinions. Writing your book or article, and most importantly showing your research, can validate and strengthen the claims you make.
2. You can’t save everyone — So you’ve written a bunch of online articles scattered across the internet, and your book is on Amazon, waiting for orders. You’ve promoted the hell out of both, and you’ve got 30 weekends a year scheduled for gatherings and classes at pagan shops. You’re doing everything you possibly can to make your information widely available. And then it happens — there’s a bunny! You counter hir argument with one of your well-written articles and maybe even refer your book. And you get ignored. Or even flamed.
Sometimes it’s best to just accept that people have free will, and they’re going to exercise it no matter what. You can’t make others’ decisions for them, nor can you change their minds if they don’t want them changed. And often, doing anything other than presenting basic information will be taken as an attempt to convert people. After all, conversion doesn’t have to be from one distinct religion to another; it can involve differing viewpoints within the same religion. Though hunters may not think that what they’re doing is conversion, it may be perceived as such by some because of the vehemence with which debates may be made.
You know that saying about horses and water? Yup. This is one of those times. Even when we’re just talking about newbies, you can’t force people to read your words or even accept them. Chances are good that if you keep pressing the issue, you’re going to come across as pushy, and turn people off. Sure, you may have the philosophy that it’s worth it if you get through to just one person — but if in the act of saving that person you turn five more away who had originally liked your work but got disgusted with your behavior, is it really worth it? There’s also something to be said for allowing people to make mistakes. Taylor learned magic on his own and made lots of mistakes over the years. But he also learned from those mistakes. The same can be true for any person, provided they have the room to make those mistakes. Correct misinformation when it can be lethal to people reading it, but if it’s just someone who’s trying to find hir way and doesn’t want to listen to you, let it go. That person will learn best by making mistakes and dealing with the consequences, as opposed to having some bunny hunter hover over hir shoulder scolding hir for everything s/he does.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from life, it’s that you can ultimately only be responsible for your own actions. That doesn’t mean that you should shut yourself in a box and hope the world either agrees with you or goes away; we need activism in many areas of life. However, at some point you have to accept that people have free will, and that no matter how much good information you throw at them they’re simply not going to listen. This is especially true if you try to muscle your way in. Being one of a couple of people on a forum who routinely correct bad information is one thing; being one of a half a dozen or more who follow a person around the internet in order to make sure s/he doesn’t dare say something wrong lest someone believe hir is counterproductive. No matter how good your intentions are, you’re still going to come across as a bully to at least some people. Trying to force people to believe what you believe or forcing them out of the community you’re a part of will eventually result in resistance to what you do, and not just from the bunnies you hunt. You can’t convince everyone to agree with you. For example, chances are there’ll be a lot of people who agree with us on this whole bunny hunting issue, and a bunch who agree with Daven, and probably even some who either don’t care, think we’re all bitching about nothing, or otherwise have another perspective on the matter.
3. Think (and speak) positive — And this is where we get into the next piece of advice — keep it as positive as possible. No, we’re not saying be all sweetness and light and unicorn giggles. But the way you convey your information is very important. You can have the best information in the world, but if you come across as a jerk (even if you didn’t intend to) it doesn’t matter what your content says. For example, at one of the many events we presented at we had several people come up to us and make some pretty outlandish claims, the kind of thing you hear in fantasy novels and roleplaying games — and they’d apparently been believing it for a good long while. Instead of jumping down their throats, telling them that they were wrong, we politely presented our own perspectives and experiences. We even did healing for one of the people. The upshot was that they bought some books and they left a bit more thoughtful than before; we’d had really good conversations with them. There’s no guarantee that they’ll stop being fluff bunnies, but chances are that we got them to think and left to them form their own conclusions, without forcing our views on them.
People are generally more receptive to a positive tone than a negative one, especially if they’re innocent bystanders. Additionally, the newbies that you’re attempting to save from the fluff/toxic bunnies may not really have enough context to understand why people are arguing, and so may side with the person they perceive as the “victim’ (even if that person really is a predator!). They may view you as the predator because you are coming so strongly, without consideration of how your presentation affects peoples’ responses to you. Remember that most professionally published books on paganism tend to deal less with debunking bad information, and more on actually providing information. The reason we point that out is that while you can debunk bad information, providing accurate information is more important than proving so and so is wrong and shouldn’t be listened to.
If you dislike the positive/negative dichotomy, think of it as constructive/destructive instead. Destruction might be easier to do, but construction creates longer-lasting effects. You can tear anyone down, but helping a person learn and knowing when to provide that person space can do much more for you and help spread the good information around. What needs to be remembered is that people remember how you presented yourself long after they may forget the content of your message. Show people a reason to dislike you and they will remember that and tell other people, but show them that you’re professional and chances are they’ll remember and may even come back to you for advice. The impact of how you present yourself is just as important as the intent behind the presentation.
At the same time, we do need to continue dialogue about what to do when someone really is a threat to others. In some cases, such as plagiarism and violent crime, there are legal avenues in place to deal with these issues. However, in cases where the solution isn’t so simple, there’s a lot of questioning as to what the S.O.P. ought to be. As the pagan community matures, we believe more solutions will be found, effective ones. We are still a young subculture, comparatively speaking, and problematic pagans are a part of the growing pains that can’t be ignored. However, while bunny hunting may seem like a great idea, it has the potential to become a toxic well all on its own.
We have no doubt that bunny hunting will continue, but we end this article with the thought that bunny hunters may also someday be hunted down for how they treated people. They would do well to remember that the judgment they cast on others can be cast right back. When there is no moderation, no sign that the bunny hunters answer to any authority other than their own, we must question the ethics and actions of the bunny hunters. Otherwise we risk the rise of a movement in paganism which is just as virulent as the evangelical fundamentalists and just as willing to take matters to an extreme that is unwarranted. By questioning the activities of the bunny hunters and monitoring what they do we can insure that they don’t set the standards by how someone is accepted in the spiritual communities we are all part of.
Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.
Taylor Ellwood is the author of Space/Time Magic, Inner Alchemy: Energy Work and the Magic of the Body, and Pop Culture Magick, among other works. You can visit his blog at http://magicalexperiments.com/.