RIVERVIEW, Mich. — Oberon Osiris walked into a Detroit CVS pharmacy in 2001 and found himself spellbound by the witchy female vision before him.
Osiris himself had been a witch ever since, as a 12-year-old in the late 1960s, he checked out Sybil Leek’s Diary of a Witch from a library. “I read it voraciously and said, ‘That’s what I am – I’m a Witch, I’m Wiccan, I believe in nature and I believe in the other gods,’ ” he recalled.
Osiris consecrated his path as a 15-year-old when he lit a candle in his small upstairs bedroom and “did the whole scary initiation thing” detailed by Paul Huson in his book Mastering Witchcraft – which required an initiate to recite the Christian Lord’s Prayer backwards phonetically three nights in a row. “I didn’t really find it to be scary, but just sort of enlightening, which I think is what Mr. Huson intended,” he said.
In all his 30-plus years as a Witch, however, Osiris had never seen anything like the vision that enchanted him in that drug store a week after 9/11. She wore a clingy black dress with orange sparkles. Orange streaks weaved impishly through her blonde hair. She was wearing a classic pointy witch’s hat.
She was Enchanted Halloween Barbie.
“I just had to have it,” Osiris said during a phone interview. “I think of it as a 9/11 story. I don’t know if it is exactly. When I look back, I feel that maybe I was looking for something to take my mind off of stuff that was happening at that time. It was like a light bulb went off.”
Osiris had a “kind of sickly and indoors childhood” and as a youngster “gravitated toward playing with dolls,” he said. “I got into this idea of miniature things. I liked playing with dollhouses and looking at dollhouses. It was kind if a cool thing that even in the early ’60s, I didn’t really get teased a lot by my family for playing with dolls at age four or five.”
That attraction was reborn that day in 2001. He soon discovered the Mattel toy company was creating all sorts of holiday and specialty Barbie dolls, and he began collecting them – mostly the Halloween Barbies but others as well.
Having grown up in integrated neighborhoods throughout Detroit, and having an African-American daughter-in-law, Osiris (who is caucasian) naturally collected black Barbies, too.
Osiris also began collecting action figures from vintage Universal and Hammer horror films: Dracula (Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee lookalikes), the Wolf Man, the Phantom of the Opera and others. Vampirella figures, too. He ascribes his monster fascination to being “a Scorpio son of a Scorpio mother” who littered their home with astrology and palmistry books, and invited him as a child to play with her ouija board.
Osiris stopped counting his collection of Barbies and figures at 350, but estimates he now has more than 400.
In 2009 he began designing his own Pagan outfits for Barbies, recruiting Doll Fashions by Alana, a California doll clothier (yes, there is such a thing) he found online to sew dresses to his specifications — with, say, the Covenant of the Goddess emblem (Osiris was a member of CoG until just last year). He enlisted doll clothier Linda Taylor in Las Vegas to craft miniature magical wands and various goddess accoutrements.
His daughter-in-law Tiffany, an artist, occasionally “redraws Barbie faces to look like what I want – a little more witchy or esoteric,” Osiris said. “She knows how to braid hair, so she does beautiful braiding of the Barbie hair.”
Ken is getting in on the action, too.
Osiris’ next project is to recreate Ken and Barbie “as the god and goddess,” he said. “My mission is to find a Ken doll with a beard. That’s not impossible. I would like my Ken god figure to be a bearded type just because I think it’s seemingly more normal in the Pagan community for men to have beards.”
Osiris was inspired to leap into designing his own Pagan Barbies when he encountered the Tempest Smith Foundation, an organization founded in 2003 to advocate for diversity tolerance and anti-bullying campaigns. Tempest Smith was a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after years of bullying spurred by her interests in Pagan/goddess beliefs and goth culture.
When Osiris discovered that at ConVocation, an annual Detroit-area gathering of followers of esoteric spiritual paths, a fundraiser would be held for the foundation, he decided to help out. He enlisted some helpers and created a goth-y Barbie, inspired by Smith, that was “a big hit” at the raffle. “All Hallows Tempest” and “Forever Tempest” Barbies were raffled at various events in later years.
Osiris combines his Barbie passion with public service in other ways. Through his work as a technical assistant in Detroit-area public libraries, he often curates displays of his dolls at various library branches. The displays’ themes – Halloween, Black History Month, women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, Egyptian gods and goddesses – can be educational as well as fun for viewers.
“I remember two young black girls walking up to the case with my Halloween display at the Southfield library,” Osiris said. “I was somewhere in the background, and they pointed and said, ‘I want to be that for Halloween! I want to be that for Halloween!’ and I thought, ‘I’m inspiring dreams here.’ It was such a good feeling.
“I was putting up a display of mermaids, fairies and storybook characters at the Roseville Public Library, and there were a lot of really intelligent and animated older folks who wanted to talk about it. You could see how interested and excited they were.”
Only rarely do Osiris’ Pagan beliefs surface in such encounters.
“Sometimes — not very often — I get an occasion to talk about Witchcraft and magic a little bit, particularly if I’m putting up displays with those images,” he said. “Sometimes people might say, ‘Why are you doing that?’ I might explain it a little bit, but I usually keep it pretty mundane because I don’t expect to really illuminate someone with the full scale of Paganism or Wicca.”
Are Osiris’ Pagan/Witch Barbies just a fun pastime, or do they serve a magical function?
“As I came into the era of Barbie collecting from 2001 — I had my coven going back then — I would say to people, ‘I am building Coven Mattel because . . . they never talk back to you,’” he said with a hearty laugh.
“Going back to the earlier times when I crystallized my views as a Witch and magic worker, I became aware of some legendary sorcerers, one in particular from the Egyptian era — I’m not going to tell you his name because it’s part of my secret, secret name that I don’t tell anyone, but you could probably figure it out if you’re smart enough. He was known for using figures — image magic — to defeat armies whether they were fighting the Assyrians or Babylonians or whoever the heck they were fighting back then.
“I sort of took that idea into myself too, that in a sense it is a form of image magic, maybe more loose or abstract. I don’t sit around with Barbie dolls and do play-acting with them, but I have used a few Barbie dolls that I have purchased specifically for doing some image magic work. I won’t say any more about it than that.”
If, as Aleister Crowley proclaimed, magic is “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will,” then the change that Osiris’ Barbies spur in people indeed may be magical.
“These dolls, these images bring out a lot of joy and pleasure in people,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s their childhood or if maybe it’s the nature of images that’s calling to them. I just get so incredibly geeked over this stuff.”