jQuery Slider

You are here

I Have a Secret -- The Rev. Barbie is a Convert

I Have a Secret -- The Rev. Barbie is a Convert


By Mary Ann Mueller
Special Correspondent

Barbie's spiritual journey has been a long one. At one time, the 51-year-old personified culture icon was a pagan and accomplished as a Wiccan who 'cast' White Magick spells. She finally found her faith as an Episcopalian, but not before she explored Islam checking out Judaism along the way.. It is not known if she has been baptized, but she has already become an Episcopal "priest". It is rumored that the fashion conscience, timeless teenie bopper supermodel aspires to wear a bishop's chimere. Apparently, she is also looking forward to one day meeting Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who has her own very colorful sets of episcopal vestments with matching mitres.

Now here is the rest of the story...

The new Episcopal "cleric's" dabble in the occult came in 2003 just as "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" was released. The book describes Harry's on-going struggle at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A year earlier, his movie "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" was released, as was the bogus Harry Potter tale "Harry Potter and the Porcelain Doll."

This is the literary backdrop in which Barbie is drawn to the sorcery world of Wicca, witchcraft and magick. "Secret Spell Barbie" made her debut just before Samhain, the Gaelic pagan harvest festival, better known in the United States as Halloween. Barbie was eagerly joined by her high school friends, Kayla and Christie. The trio become the Charm Girls.

Each Charm Girl has her own enchanting glittery, glitzy and glamorous outfit. Barbie, a blonde, is a vision in soft pink, while red-headed Kayla is stunning in lime green, and Christie's long brunette locks are contrasted by sky blue eyes.

Mattel officially describes Barbie as: "An ordinary schoolgirl by day, this Secret Spells Barbie transforms at night. Open the included book to discover the mysterious compartment holding her secrets. Includes fun, potion-making accessories, including 2 mixes for making magic 'potions' you can really drink."

The Christie's Secret Spells box proclaims: "Watch as Barbie's friend, Christie, rapidly changes from ordinary schoolgirl into a Charm Girl. She puts on her magic Charm Girl jacket and is able to mix up potions that you can really drink. She even has a book that doubles as a secret box."

While Kayla's Secret Spell box says: "When Kayla gets home from school, she puts on her Charm Girl jacket and turns into a Charm Girl, ready to mix up potions for you that you can really drink. Make a wish, drink the potion, and maybe your wish will come true."

Mattel's online product information describes the charmed trio this way: "Secret Spells Barbie and her friends Christie and Kayla are regular high school girls that have special powers. The dolls have a fashion transformation that turns each of them into an enchantress. Girls can help Barbie doll and her friends create 'magical' mixes for love, luck, or happiness. They can actually drink the magical mixes, too."

However, Mattel did put a disclaimer on all the Secret Spells boxes: "Novelty only. This product is for entertainment purposes only and no other medical or other benefits or effects are claimed for use of the powdered drink mixes."

"Yes, Secret Spells Barbie is a witch. Sort of. But not really. Even though she is. But Mattel would never dare call her that, of course," explained 'SF Gate' columnist Mark Morford in his Oct. 29, 2003 'San Francisco Chronicle' online article. "Barbie just, you know, dabbles. Plays around. Casts a 'spell,' then twirls her hair and pops her gum and giggles a lot and then goes shopping. This is what Barbie does."

Barbie's dabble into the occult -- complete with two color coordinated stylized outfits, the spell book, the potions (sugar formulas to mix with water), the cauldron, stand, spoons, stirrer, potion cups, matching decorative bottles, and pet dragonfly -- caused a firestorm of controversy from the Christian right.

"This doll [Secret Spells Barbie] is straight out of the Harry Potter story line," explains "Cutting Edge Ministries" in its October 4, 2003 newsletter. "Now your little daughter can learn the elementary facts about Witchcraft, and get enthused about practicing it, when she is only 3 years old.

Mattel product information states that its Secret Spells Barbie was geared for "ages three and up". However, it was the teenage set that became smitten with the Charm Girls coven.

There was even a television commercial that showed the three girls collaborating like Macbeth's three witches.

"This is a story of three girls... the 2004 Secret Spells Barbie & Friends commercial begins against a back drop of three middle school girls secretly huddled in the school library.

"...at a secret time, in a secret place. Together they make magical spells -- for luck, for money and for love," the Mattel commercial continues while showing the Charm Girls' trio each stirring her own cauldron."

"I have problems with the Wiccan Barbie for children," explained doctor of philosophy Marian T. Horvat, a noted Roman Catholic apologist on her Traditions in Action blog. "It sends the message to a little girl that it is alright to play at sorcery, make spells, follow her horoscope, and dabble in a little magic."

In fact, while the Charm Girls were all the rage, Mattel kept a special Secret Spell Barbie link on its website where youngsters could get their Barbie-generated horoscope. Girls were directed to Barbie's website at the end of the commercial with a: "Have Mom or Dad get you online ... Barbie.com" tagline.

The Wiccan world was thrilled with Barbie's interest in their spirituality.

On Secret Spells Barbie's webpage the following comments could be found: "As a 3rd generation pagan, I think that this is a wonderful idea. Kudos. I appreciate Mattel's recognition of alternative spirituality...."

"I am Wiccan, and all my friends of the same think it's a completely awesome idea. It's about time we were recognized as mainstream, and if it takes Barbie to do it, you go girl. ..."

"A decent idea. I'm not a supporter of Barbie myself, but the fact is that paganism is finally being represented is a good thing."

The Witches Voice website states that Wicca is "the fastest growing religion in America" and that the Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer craze; along with television shows like Bewitched, Tabitha, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch; and Secret Spells Barbie have helped to awaken interest in Wicca and witchcraft with the bulk of the inquirers being high school and college age girls.

Barbie's interest in the occult and White Magick lasted for one toy season. Next Barbie explored Islam, which brought another storm of disparagement.

An Islamic-like Barbie originally showed up in Damascus, Syria, where she is called Fulla. According to Wikipedia, the little Muslim fashion doll is "a role-model to some Muslim people, displaying how many Muslims would prefer their daughters to dress and behave. Some Muslim parents have claimed that if girls dress their dolls in headscarves, they will be more encouraged to wear a hijab themselves."

Then Fulla started to make her way to the United States when Muslim parents and grandparents sent their relatives the little girl's Muslim doll to help promote traditional Islamic values. She came dressed in the classic black Islamic abaya, which is the national dress for the United Arab Emirates.

Once Fulla migrated to the United States, a firestorm of controversy followed her.

Brigitte Gabriel, a television journalist and author of "They Must be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam" wrote, "The true agenda of radical Islamofascists is hidden beneath the sleek deceptive allusion of inclusion and assimilation ... Muslims are courted by American marketing machines. US companies trying to cash in on the untapped demographics of American Muslims have now provided American Muslims with their own brands of essentials. Soon the Middle East version of the Barbie Doll will line the shelves of toy stores throughout America."

One of those essentials is Barbie, or the classic Islamic version of the statuesque doll, Fulla, who is not as bosomy or sexy as the American icon, is. Barbie herself has been banned from parts of the Muslim world for being too provocative and not reflective of Islamic values and culture.

Last year, as Barbie turned 50. With the icon's age milestone, there was a resurgence of interest in an Islamic Barbie, so Burka Barbie was introduced in Italy to a hailstorm of criticism.

The media picked up on Barbie's new duds while some headlines screamed: "Charity Cases: 'Burka Barbie' Angers Everybody"; "Burqa Barbie Backlash"; and "Burka Barbie: Why is the World's Favourite Fashion Doll Wearing a Symbol of Oppression?"

"Outrage over a doll." Gretchen Carlson exclaimed on the Nov. 23, 2009 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday show. "Barbie wearing a burka has caught the attention of eyes all across the world. Does this set women back or it just a way to honor Muslim traditions?"

In a Fox News interview, Ms. Gabriel commented, "This is not a fashion statement. This is an expression of a Islamic religious doctrine ... This is what it is all about, bringing women back into the Age of Oppression."

As a part of Barbie's golden anniversary celebration, Mattel sanctioned a special limited auction of unique Barbies, including the controversial Burka Barbies. The colorfully clad toys were displayed at the famed Salone dei Cinquecinto, a giant exhibition hall in the Palazzo Vecchio, the old palace town hall in Florence, Italy. History tells us that both Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci worked on adorning the impressive late 15th Century chamber when it was added to the then 200-year-old palace.

The various Barbie vividly-colored outfits, including the brilliant turquoise, florescent tangerine, and vibrant green burkas and coal black chadors, were designed by famed Italian designer Eliana Lorena. The various Barbies were then auctioned off for charity by the London-based Southeby's, one of the world foremost auction houses. The money raised was for '"Rewrite the Future", a Save the Children foundation's arm dedicated to helping educate youngsters in war-torn nations helping to save them from poverty, despair and injustice.

"Indeed, although the doll hasn't generated a ton of media attention," explained Sadie Stein on her Jezebel blog. " [I]t's been enough to prompt both reflexive anti-Islam rhetoric and feminist outrage."

"The dolls make a mockery of disempowered women who have been stripped of all human dignity, women with no means of challenging their forced depersonalization," fumed Barbara Kay in her National Post blog last November. "There can be no parallel between these travesties of multiculturalism and other "diversity" Barbies -- brown Barbies, native-dress Barbies, pilot Barbies -- avatars that reflect the natural appearance and truly traditional garb and career choices of free women.

"Burkas are not a sartorial multicultural counterpoint to Dallas Cheerleader Barbie. As a symbol of obliterated femalehood, Barbie has shed her cultural innocence." Ms. Kay continued. "I have seen some pretty tawdry advertising campaigns in my time, but I must say this one takes the cake for insensitivity."

Meanwhile Angela Ellis, one of Britian's greatest Barbie fans with more than 250 of the iconic figurines, stated, "'Bring it on Burka Barbie, I think this is a great idea... this is really important for girls, wherever they are from, should have the opportunity to play with a Barbie that they feel represents them."

Leaving the uproar behind, Barbie then investigated Judaism. In so doing she ended right back in the cauldron of hot water, whether or not she was Bat Mitvahed.

Ultimately, Barbie does have Jewish roots. Her creator, the late Ruth Handler was Jewish. Barbie was created for Mrs. Handler's own daughter, Barbara, who was out growing playing with paper dolls. While on a trip to Europe, the Handlers first encountered the blond hair, blue-eyed beauty Bild Lilli, a German fashion doll. After a little tweaking, Mrs. Hadler had what she wanted -- a small plastic doll for her daughter to play with. The doll was named "Barbie" in honor of young Barbara. The rest is history.

In 1945, Mrs. Handler's husband Elliot and his business partner, Harold Matson, formed Mattel. When Barbie joined the toy line, the toy partnership skyrocketed to eventually become the largest toy manufacture in the world. Barbie accounts for 80% of the company's profits.

So it was only logical that there be a Jewish Barbie. However, the furor based on Barbie's perceived Jewish background was unexpected.

"The anti-Semitic tirade came after the Mutaween learned that Barbie's creator, Ruth Handler, was Jewish - and that the American businesswoman, entrepreneur, and U.S. Business Hall of Famer had named the dolls after her two Jewish children, Barbie and Ken Handler," Annie Jacobsen explained on the Pajama Media blogsite. "But if Barbie is 'Jewish', so is Superman; he was created by two Jews named Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, in 1932."

Newspaper reports state that Mutaween, the Saudi Arabian religious police, have officially banned Barbie from their boarders declaring she is considered an offense to Islam and a threat to national security. By virtue of her Jewish roots -- Barbie's creator was Jewish -- she is considered a Jewish plot designed to undermine Islam in the on-going religious conflict going back to Old Testament times.

According to Wikipedia, the Mutaween is the forceful law enforcement arm of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which is dedicated to making sure that Islamic religious laws and customs are followed and maintained to the letter. It operates under direct command from the King.

A Saudi government web site shows a Barbie doll in a short dress and warns of her "dangers."

"The enemies of Islam want to invade us with all possible means, and therefore they have circulated among us this doll, which spreads deterioration of values and moral degeneracy among our girls," the website states. "Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful."

Although Barbies are illegal in Saudi, they can still be found on the black market.

Apparently, the Mutaween have been known to take their anti-Barbie campaign to local shops, confiscating the dolls from sellers and imposing fines.

The fashionable American icon is not only banned in Saudi Arabia, but also in Iran along with a few of her toy friends.

The BBC reports that Barbie, Batman, Harry Potter and Spiderman are considered to have negative social consequences. As Western culture has become increasingly popular in Iran, steps have been taken to protect the country from Western and American influences in order to maintain Islamic culture and revolutionary values.

Barbie has been singled out by Iranian authorities because of her revealing dress and voluptuous figure. In public, Iranian women must cover their bodily contours -- a rule that Barbie conspicuously fails to follow. Meanwhile in the United States, Tellifin Barbie has hit the scene complete with the proper frum denim skirt of an Orthodox Jew; an orange top with a black cat (Barbie's nod to her many feline pets), a tellifin wrapped around her left arm and head, the small leather boxes containing Hebrew texts ritually worn by Orthodox Jewish men; a tallit with takhalet, the Jewish prayer shawl with blue stripes; a siddur, the Jewish breviary for daily prayers; and a volume of Talmud, a rabbinical text. She also has a Torah scroll. Tefillin Barbie was created by Jen Friedman, the first Jewish soferet (female scribe) to complete a Torah scroll. Her hand-written sefer Torah was commissioned by United Hebrew Congregation, a Reform temple in St. Louis, Mo.

"I put tefillin on a Mattel Barbie doll in 2006, unwittingly creating the Jewish icon," explains Tefillin Barbie's creator. "...a whimsical activity for a vacation morning, she (Barbie) generated an absolutely vast and wholly unanticipated amount of reaction, positive and negative."

The discussion circulating around Tefillin Barbie is whether or not she is a rabbi because of the tefillin.

"Barbie put on tefillin and picked up a gemara, so now she has to be a rabbi?" questioned Ms. Friedman, who describes herself as a post-denominational halakhically-observant egalitarian Jewish ritual scribe and scholar. "Why can't she be an IT engineer who prays with tefillin and learns gemara in her lunch break?

"We managed to create a world where the default level of Jewish education is impressively minimal. The only people who cared for advanced educations were rabbis. The only way to get an advanced education has been to go to rabbinical school," the soferet argues. "So there is an extensive correlation between liberal Jews who - like Tefillin Barbie - lay tefillin and learn gemara, and liberal Jews who have been through rabbinical school."

Barbie's rabbinical predicament has lead to the creation of a series of lessons entitled "Tefillin Barbie: Considering Gender and Ritual Garb."

The Tefillin Barbie-based lessons focus on "Body Image and Gender Roles in Judaism" for youngsters; "Exploring Ritual Garb" for a congregational setting; and "Discussing Women and Jewish Ritual" for adults.

The flurry over Barbie's rabbinical status is minor compared to all the flack she has received as a Wiccan and a Muslim, and in Islamic countries because of her Yiddish heritage.

With Barbie finding The Episcopal Church, she has found a haven of safety. TEC is all embracive and all inclusive so Barbie has found the perfect theological fit.

It doesn't matter that Barbie has dabbled in the occult or been Islamic, or worn the tefillin of a Jewish rabbi. It doesn't matter that Barbie is flighty, flitty and flirty or that she can't keep a job and that she church hops, or that she been thrown out of Saudi Arabia and Iran for her provocative ways. She might even be living with Ken without the benefit of clergy or paper or in a partnered relationship with Christie or Kayla from her Charm Girls high school days.

She is an Episcopalian now. All is forgiven. All is forgotten.

Already, thousands of enthusiastic fans have logged into her Friends of Episcopal Priest Barbie's Facebook page. The number is inching up towards seven thousand.

There is also an Aussie Anglican Barbie-the-Priest who revealed herself in South Australia. She is the creation of Susan Hammond in Torrens Park. This little Anglican priest's picture popped up on the ABC Doll Club site. She is wearing a white cassock over laid by a short matching chasuble with iridescent sequin trim and a pewter cross.

---Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

Get the latest news and perspectives in the Anglican world.
comments powered by Disqus
Barnabas Fund

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee

Drink Coffee

Do Good

Sustainable Ministry

Coffee, Community, Social Justice


Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top