Sexism, Healthism, Paganism: A Review of Ellen Dugan’s Practical Protection Magick


Disclosure: I am not Wiccan, in case that was unclear to anyone. I read literature from all faith traditions for academic, theological, self-help, or entertainment purposes. So that may cloud my judgment on this, but know that I’m talking from a place of knowledge and respect for other traditions. 

It started when a relative got me a book by Ellen Dugan, well-known neo-pagan author, also known as the garden witch. I read it and really enjoyed it. I learned she had a book on protection magic, a topic I happen to love, and I decided to buy a copy of her book Practical Protection Magic. 

Overall, I was happy with the purchase. There are many reasons to read this book and learn from it…correspondences, spells, discerning psychic abilities, easy to read, humorous, etc. And that’s not exhaustive. Please don’t take this review as an admonition against reading the book for yourself. 

However, the more I read about Wicca, neo-paganism, and New Age philosophy, the more I start to see the same patterns of prejudice that exist in all faith communities. Today, I want to focus on healthism and sexism in pagan literature and use this book as an illustration of negative things I’m seeing. 

The good news is that the sexism and healthism are concentrated in one chapter. The bad news is that it makes that one chapter nearly unbearable to read.

It’s Chapter Five on the element of fire. The central premise of the book is that you can use the four natural elements to increase the power of your magic and promote healing and protection. And ED chose to associate fire with…physical fitness.

Oh, boy. 

ED isn’t the first person to invoke health in discussions of spirituality, and she certainly won’t be the last, especially whereas New Age philosophers tend to believe that like attracts like and in the mind-body connection. But when it’s concentrated in one place in a tone that couldn’t be more condescending if it tried, it deserves its own review, just for this one chapter.

The first rule of healthism is that if you’re too fat or not physically fit enough, it’s your fault. Furthermore, the first rule of pagan healthism is that lazy, fat people equal wimpy witches. And ED wastes no time reminding us. She tells us that we should lay off the sugar and junk food, walk more, eat more veggies, drink more water, insert healthist trope here. No! Way! So! Original! And it gets better. Being unfit makes your aura dull and hence your spells aren’t as powerful. (What’s worse, that ED believes that shit or that she was able to make money peddling it to thousands of other people that believe that shit? I mean, talk about wooooo!)

I accept that there is a mind-body connection, and that like can, indeed, attract like. I understand that all belief systems have an element of woo. But a so-called healthy lifestyle boosting your aura and magic and draining negativity doesn’t just push the boundaries of plausibility, but obliterates them.

But that’s okay, because ED can prove that she’s right. Now that she has made a complete! Lifestyle! Change!  She feels better, and now her magic is so much better. Of course, there’s no chance of self-fulfilling prophecy or confirmation bias. It must be all that law of attraction stuff. 

She tells a story that was obviously intended to be funny, but was instead tacky and insulting and gave me the impression she laughs at her own jokes. After six months of transformation, she sees a skinny woman eating junk food (apparently she is still skinny despite eating like the proverbial fat kid…the irony…) She talks about a sensation that is all too familiar to chronic dieters…craving. She joked about how she has to remind herself that she is sane! And she will! Not! Kill someone to eat her chocolate. Ah, yes, fat, dieting, menstrual or menopausal women eating chocolate and killing people to get their hands on it. Hurr hurr!

Thankfully, she has a new addiction…cutesy pink workout clothes with slogans like Strong. Beautiful. Me! Because that’s what makes women want to work out…being sexy, apparently. Then she repeats platitudes that are all too familiar to fat acceptance advocates, because we said them first before they were repurposed by diet culture. Such as the idea that being strong or beautiful isn’t about big muscles or the size of a garment, but about confidence. This, of course, after spending a chapter’s worth of keystrokes equating fat and “unfit” with being weak and unhealthy, being a lousy practitioner, and complaining about how she looks in pictures. Or about how women who want to have fun should do belly dancing because it’s good for your midsection. Yeah, okay. How dumb do you think I am?

Like all stereotypical fat ladies, she eats for comfort but now that she has addressed the root of her issues (hysteria?) she doesn’t eat emotionally anymore (because women are so emotional!) Clearly, every fat person has exactly this problem and that’s why they’re fat. 

Another trope I saw, right at the beginning, is the most subtle but just as damaging and offensive. She “joked” that she started losing weight when she saw pictures of herself after an event and had to ask what was wrong with her camera. In other words, fatties are delusional and don’t know they’re fat. Where have we heard that? Every joke about fat women ever? So-called studies that shit fit over the alleged fat masses who don’t know they’re obese? I would think so. 

There is also a section on body language that, while not healthist, is covertly sexist. It’s the kind of advice you get when going on job interviews for corporate America…especially if you’re female. Smile! Shoulders back! Eye contact! Walk with confidence/grace! No crossing your arms! The idea that body language can be a legitimate expression of emotion, personality, or a cultural trait, especially with regard to eye contact and other “direct” body language is not considered. And I honestly doubt that changing your body language makes a meaningful difference in the spiritual realm or in the eyes of those that really mean you harm. In fact, it may make you more visible and hence a target. An insecure or otherwise resentful person might not like your confidence and target you for that reason. Maybe you’re actually being overconfident and inviting blowback. Why not? It’s just as plausible as the idea that standing up straight and smiling will deflect the supernatural powers of evil. Maybe, if women are feeling targeted, they *should* be defensive. They *shouldn’t* smile. They shouldn’t saunter like they closed a deal in the boardroom or like they were a case study in “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Maybe they should cut the crap and be supported in doing so. I have a feeling she wouldn’t be giving this advice if she were a man writing explicitly for men. But what do I know?

There you have it. My pet peeve of the week. Read, but exercise caution. Fat hatred and healthism are pervasive and they need to be exposed and challenged if we are going to make progress. 

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One comment

  1. purplesagefem · December 30

    Well I definitely don’t want to read it then!

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