Spirituality has always been a steady fixture in pop culture. Celebrities, rock stars and cultural icons have been known to involve themselves in a large variety of cults, spiritual sects and charismatic religions. The Beatle’s obsessions with Eastern religions and mysticism were clearly apparent. Pete Townsend is a vocal spokesman for his guru, Meher Baba. Richard Gere is a devoted Buddhist, and Mel Gibson is Roman Catholic. John Travolta, his wife Kelly Preston, Lisa Marie Presley, Tom Cruise and Jenna Elfman are all highly involved in Scientology. But the latest trend in pop spirituality is the ancient Hebrew teachings of Kabbalah.
This new religion is now catching the public’s attention. A new phenomenon has been slowly emerging in the last six years. A thin red thread worn around the wrist is the latest telltale sign of a shift in ideologies for celebrities everywhere. This bracelet has been spotted on the wrists of Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Roseanne Barr, Courtney Love and Elizabeth Taylor. Apparently, it is worn to ward off an Evil Eye. The new religion advertised by this tread is Kabbalah, a religion that focuses on self-improvement, life longevity and fulfillment.
The Kabbalah are ancient books of Jewish Mystical Thought. Alternately spelled as Cabala, Qaballah, Kabalah, Kabbala or Kaballah, these writings are part of a sacred written and oral tradition that has been handed down over the centuries. The Kabbalah teachings (Kabbalah means “receiving” in Hebrew) promise many things to its followers.
Many have been flocking to the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles for guidance, healing and spiritual leadership. The London Kabbalah Center is also very popular, offering courses on What Women Want, Overcoming our Hidden Addictions and How to Read People in Five Minutes or Less. The appeal of these courses and others are quite obvious.
Perhaps the most avid follower and spokesperson for this trend is Madonna, who stirred up controversy recently with her music video for the latest James Bond movie. In “Die Another Day,” Madonna sports a tattoo with Hebrew symbols. Reportedly, these symbols have some sort of deeper meaning and ties to this newly emerging religion.
Madonna has been studying at L.A.’s Kabbalah Center and working with its senior teacher, Eitan Yardeni. It has been said that Madonna came to Kabbalah when she was “pregnant, exhausted from Evita and looking for an anchor.” She also is consulting Yardeni for advice on when to conceive her third child. Guy Ritchie, Madonna’s husband, is currently working on a film called The 49th Gate, which is a Kabbalah-inspired drama. The couple also hopes to publish a children’s book based on parables from these teachings.
According to respected rabbinical sources, the form of Kabbalah embraced by Madonna and many others is vastly different than normal Judaism, as well as authentic Kabbalah practices. Philip Berg, the founder of this movement, has come under harsh criticism from rabbis and religious leaders around the world. It has been said that "Berg believes in his own powers; he thinks that he is a spiritual superman.” His response to this? “(They are) jealous; they are simply jealous of how we are teaching people."
The Kabbalah Center embraces many New Age ideas, including Reincarnation. These are not traditionally a part of the Jewish faith. In addition, it has been said that Berg “Reduces the Torah and Jewish tradition into a manual of black magic and astrology to manipulate heavenly forces or energies to attain personal gratification or to avoid personal misfortune."
So why is this quickly growing religion so popular? It is one of the fastest growing spiritual organizations in the world, and with celebrity backers like Madonna, this trend does not show any sign of slowing down. Why have so many turned to these teachings for enlightenment and fulfillment? Undoubtedly, it is the many promises this religion offers. On top of peace of mind and happiness, Kabbalah teachings promise to, among other things, stop the aging process.
Rabbi Pinni Dunner, of the Saatchi Synagogue, said, "What Kabbalah does is make people feel good. They can feel very holy without having done anything more than drinking some water over which someone has chanted a few prayers." He hypothesizes that the reason this new form of Kabbalah is so popular is that it requires very little from its followers.
With the cheap thrills and gimmicks this religion has to offer, and the fact that it requires very little faith or action from its followers, it is no wonder that middle-aged women and men alike have flocked to it. “The Kabbalah is an incredibly powerful tradition dating back thousands of years,” said Jeremy Rosen, a London-based rabbi. “What’s being peddled at the moment is like a comic book version.”
Many attribute Madonna’s indoctrination into the cult to the fact that it “is a mystical cult in every way, with a guru and brainwashing." Madonna was formerly very dismissive and condescending to Scientology, a similar cult with celebrity backing. It has caught many by surprise that she would devote herself to such an obscure and questionable cult.
It is doubtful that Madonna knows all of the details and the history of the cult she is involved in. Madonna has long been known as a strong, independent and influential personality. Only time will tell if this is yet another one of her trendy fads, or if she will truly commit to and embrace this cult religion.